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If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that my company designs custom IKEA kitchens and that I used to be a partner in a remodeling company that installed them. Hundreds of them. Thus, I do know about kitchen layout although I am nowhere near as knowledgeable or as talented as the professional kitchen designers who design for my company, Modern Family Kitchens.
I wanted to provide some tips because many people start out their kitchen remodeling process by going to the free IKEA planner or some other basic layout software and do their best without really knowing what makes a great kitchen.
While there is no easy replacement for professional design, and expecting that you can design a kitchen as well as a professional isn't reasonable. I also recommend hiring a professional, using our services, of course. I don't want to say bad things about IKEA's $199 design service other than to say it's not.
However you proceed, I do want to offer some guidance so that if you really can't afford the cost of expert design, you don't make major errors and end up spending way more time and money than you need to.
1) To the extent possible, draw out the kitchen AND surrounding areas. In other words, if your kitchen has a pass through window to a dining room or a family room, or a hallway, include these in the shape of the overall room. If you have a small galley kitchen, this is less important. But to ensure the proportions of things are optimal, you wan to include the bigger area related to the kitchen, even if you won't be putting cabinets beyond the obvious kitchen footprint.
2) A row of cabinets that FIT, is not necessarily a row that LOOKS BEAUTIFUL. Try not to use too many door sizes. A 36 inch wall cabinet has two 18 inch doors. Try to use other 18 inch doors, or place other-sized doors symmetrically so that it's not a mishmash of sizes. This is more important for wall cabinets than for base cabinets, and more important where the kitchen is viewed from another room. But even if you have a small galley kitchen, you might was well have an elegant one.
3) Make allowances for filler. Filler means pieces of the IKEA material that is used ordinarily for panels to cover sides of cabinets, or to trim the foot of wall or base cabinets. A row of cabinets almost always has to have some filler so that appliance and cabinet doors open without hitting adjacent items. Filler can be placed arbitrarily or artistically. It can be installed sloppily or elegantly. Filler is an important part of kitchen layout and aesthetic.
4) Keeping the kitchen work triangle in mind, design a kitchen that you'll enjoy. You might want to avoid glass door cabinets above or next to a cooking surface because they get greasy quickly. You might want to ensure you have adequate space for two cooks at a time. You want to make sure you have a place to put glassware that is near the dishwasher so you don't have to carry glasses across the room when you are unloading.
5) Don't let your budget determine the layout. You might spend LESS with a more elegant and functional layout so do the layout so that it really works and then, if you need to, trim down the cost of things overall. One larger cabinet requires less labor to install than two small ones. Consider using laminate or butcher block counters for a year or two and later replacing with solid surface. This can allow you to use your current budget for expert design, more cabinets, better and more lighting, better appliances, etc.
6) Make sure you really like the way horizontal cabinets work (by going into IKEA and trying them out in a display kitchen) before using them in your layout. It's really different to access a cabinet you use frequently when there is a horizontal door to lift, versus a vertical door to swing open.
7) Consider buying crown molding at a third party supplier, like a lumberyard, if you like a more traditional style kitchen. Have your contractor paint or stain to match your cabinet doors.
8) Don't let your contractor ALSO be your designer. Keep these two things entirely separate. No IKEA kitchen-skilled contractor has a professional kitchen designer on staff, or is also a skilled designer him/herself. It's much better to give a contractor a finished design you love and ask for a bid to turn the current kitchen into THAT one. Nothing ambiguous, nothing the contractor has to guess at. Keep in mind that plan errors can cost you in labor since if you have some, the contractor will try to solve the problems and will not only turn into your designer, by default, but is likely to charge you for the time the errors take to correct.
There are many more tips I can offer and I will write on this again. Feel free to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation with me if you have specific questions.