Last week I began brainstorming how to reconfigure the existing kitchen layout at our project house. I was very quickly reminded how complex such a project can be. Decision fatigue is already setting in – and we’re only getting started!
In case you missed the big news, we bought another fixer-upper. As I mentioned in my introductory post, renovating with the intention of selling is proving to be so, so different from renovating for yourself. I’m constantly having to reign in my insane ideas and settle on good enough.
If you know anything about me, “good enough” is not my cup of tea – even if “good enough” is, like, really, really good.
Oh, the woes of being a perfectionist!
As promised, today’s post is all about reconfiguring the kitchen layout. So, whether you’re looking to do the same – or you’re simply curious about my design process – this post is packed with lots of information (in case the length wasn’t enough of an indication!)
Because this house is an investment project, the most cost-effective approach would’ve been to paint the existing cabinets and update the aesthetics with new lighting fixtures, hardware, etc. That alone would’ve done wonders for this space. But when I first walked into this kitchen, I immediately noticed several major issues with the layout. So we made the decision to reconfigure the layout but to stay within the existing footprint – which I’ll explain in more detail further in the post.
Current Issues + Room for Improvement
1. The existing footprint was quite small, and to make matters worse, the kitchen layout felt really cramped. Unfortunately, we weren’t looking to knock down any walls, so we had to get creative within the existing footprint.
2. The placement of the fridge was very awkward and possibly the biggest contributor to the kitchen layout being so tight. Even a counter-depth refrigerator typically sticks out beyond the cabinets. Not only is it a total eye sore, but it also impedes traffic flow in already limited kitchen space. Even if this fridge was counter-depth – which it wasn’t – the 12″ corner cabinet was nearly impossible to access and was basically wasted space.
3. Speaking of wasted space, the upper cabinets were only 30 inches tall. I’ve never understood the purpose in having that major gap between the top of cabinets and the ceiling. Such a waste of perfectly usable storage space – not to mention a telltale sign of a dated kitchen. To add insult to injury, the door style of the upper cabinets was very dated, ruining any potential for simply painting the current cabinets.
4. Last, but not least, was that awkward angled peninsula. No need to expand on that, as the visual evidence is more than enough.
Solutions: Getting Creative with the Existing Footprint
My first idea was to switch the location of the stove and fridge. The fridge is the bulkiest of kitchen appliances. So, if you can find a way to recede it into a wall or a built-in pantry – somewhere away from the main part of the kitchen but still within the work triangle – you’ll gain additional counter space and obtain a more clean and finished look.
This train of thought is what pushed me onto the idea of built-in pantries flanking the fridge in its new location.
The next item I considered was the exhaust range hood. Ideally, the stove should be installed on an exterior wall for the shortest distance to the outside. This will ensure the least expensive ventilation solution. Unfortunately, the new location of the stove is on an interior wall – not the end of the world, but definitely a factor to keep in mind.
As far as ventilation itself, my three options were: 1) a microwave mounted under a cabinet, 2) an under-cabinet exhaust fan, or 3) a wall-mounted range hood. I quickly crossed out option 1, as it tends to make a small kitchen feel even more cramped. Besides, more and more people are moving away from using microwaves altogether for health reasons.
Once I entertained the possibility of a wall-mounted range hood, I got the idea of completely doing away with upper cabinets and replacing them with open shelving. Sure, it’s a polarizing decision; you either love it, or you passionately hate it. But even if you’re team “OMG THE DUST!” you can’t deny the aesthetic appeal – and this kitchen desperately needs some aesthetic appeal.
“But looks aren’t everything,” you say. “Where will I put all my stuff?”
Because of the pantry addition, the new kitchen layout will have the same (if not more) storage space as the old – just reconfigured storage for a more streamlined look. What’s more, without the heft of upper cabinets, all of a sudden the kitchen felt so much bigger!
Of Course, There’s Always a Stumbling Block
Just like that, we eliminated three of the four design dilemmas…which brings me to the angled peninsula. This questionable design decision was all the rage in homes built in the 90s, but much like all trends, it dates a kitchen. A straight peninsula is, obviously, a more classic and timeless design choice.
But with that decision, we ran into two major problems: 1) There was no tile under the cabinets, which would mean we’d need to add tile if we went with a different footprint. That would be fine and dandy, except 2) this particular tile was nowhere to be found.
So, if we realllllly wanted to update the angled peninsula to a straight one, we’d need to demo and re-tile the entire kitchen, breakfast nook, hallway and laundry room since the same tile connects all these rooms. Talk about a domino effect!
Although this tile was not my favorite, demoing out and re-tiling approximately 350 square feet of perfectly fine tile was not the best use of our budget. A much-more cost effective alternative would be to paint the current tile – which we decided against for timeline reasons.
How to Reconfigure a Kitchen Layout: General Advice
In conclusion, I’ll summarize tips I’ve scattered throughout this article in one succinct list.
- Start by evaluating the current kitchen layout and analyzing what works and what doesn’t. Usually, when you address the biggest issue, the rest begin to sort themselves out. At the very least, the solutions to the rest become a little more obvious.
- Many cabinet manufacturers and retailers offer free design help. Take advantage of this, especially if you’ve never designed a kitchen before. A professional designer can help you answer questions like, “Can I install a stove in a corner?” or “How big is a standard fridge?” At the very least, research minimum clearance guides to ensure your new layout is actually functional.
- Think how the kitchen will be used, and eliminate unnecessary steps. For example, installing a drawer base next to the stove lets you store utensils right where you’d need them. By thinking in terms of convenience, you create a kitchen that functions seamlessly regardless of its size.
- If you can find a way to recede the fridge into a wall or built-in pantry, you’ll gain additional counter space and obtain a more clean and finished look. Try relocating it to a wall that is still within the work triangle but far away not to take away from counter space; you can easily access it while cooking, and other people can also access it without being in your way.
- But also think in terms of traffic. For example, you don’t want little ones running around past the stove every two minutes, so don’t put the stove along a major walkway. This is another reason why switching the stove and the fridge, in our case, works really well for this space.
- Maximize vertical space by extending the cabinets to the ceiling. Doing so will elongate the room, tricking your eyes to think it’s quite bigger than it really is. By expanding up instead of out, you add more storage at a fraction of the cost.
- If installing upper cabinets, consider the extra-tall, 42-inch ones for more storage. Or move existing 30- or 36-inch cabinets closer to the ceiling, and install shelves underneath for a more cost-effective alternative.
- Hide large kitchen appliances such as microwaves, blenders, toasters, mixers, etc. These items tend to clutter up the countertop, making an already small kitchen feel even smaller. If your budget allows, customize the pantry with extra features like a stand mixer lift or hidden drawers or slide-out shelves.
- Pair down what you own. Some people may see open shelving as a limitation, but it actually forces you to evaluate what you own versus what you actually need and use. Reality is that unless you’re regularly entertaining a crowd, you don’t need multiple sets of dishes, glassware and serveware sets.
- If possible, place the stove on an exterior wall. Doing so will make it easier and less expensive to install proper ventilation.
I’ll be back next week with the actual design plan, where you’ll be able to see the styles, colors, finishes, etc. that I chose for the kitchen. I’ve been ordering so many things from Wayfair – I’m so excited to start showing you sneak peeks!
By the way, if you have any home improvement projects planned for this year, I highly, highly recommend Wayfair. Since we purchased our very first fixer-upper, Wayfair has been my go-to for everything from lighting fixtures to cabinet hardware to door knobs and everything in between. Their product selection far exceeds that of big box stores. Their shipping times are amazing. Last but not least, their customer service is, honestly, the best.
They even have a ton of home improvement guides on their site – a couple of which I actually contributed!
And although I am a long-time Wayfair partner, this recommendation is not sponsored. I am simply sharing in the spirit of passing on good advice!
I’d love to know: If you were buying a house, what are your kitchen must-haves?
If you want more updates on our latest renovation, feel free to join me on Instagram, where I share more behind-the-scenes and have an entire highlight titled “Our Latest Reno.”
Last but not least: Because everyone loves a comparison, I’ve included the “before” photos alongside the renderings of the new layout.