3 Pieces of Advice for Your Kitchen Renovation

This is going to sound sacrilegious coming from an interior designer, but I design kitchens to be functional above all else.

I cook, so I know the difference it makes having everything I need within reach and set up in a logical layout. You may stand in the doorway, admiring your kitchen, before flicking off the lights at night, but if your prep area’s on the other side of the room from the sink and the island separates the fridge from everything, your kitchen’s not fulfilling its basic purpose.

We’ve all come to appreciate the value of a kitchen renovation. It’s one of the most meaningful upgrades you can make to your home, whether you have an eye toward selling it sometime soon or you simply want to enhance the time you spend in it. But the kitchen renovation can also become a money pit when you let Pinterest take the wheel.

What follows are a few basic guidelines I’ve honed through countless kitchen redesigns. This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive strategy. (What use would you have for the likes of me, then?) Rather, it’s meant merely to steer some of the most critical decisions as you start to figure out what you really want from your kitchen.

Design around technology

Again, this is probably going to seem a bit out of line for an interior designer, but I start with the major pieces of equipment—the fridge, the oven—and design my kitchens around them. In this one room, technology should rule.

It goes back to designing the kitchen to be functional foremost. The equipment’s going to dictate the layout. And, in doing so, they also become the focal points. So, search for what you need and then find the most stylish pieces that meet those requirements.

I’d build my dream kitchen around a La Cornue oven. It’s this massive hunk of equipment, but the design is so thoughtful, the oven reads more like a piece of custom-crafted furniture. Not to mention, it’s a cook’s dream. I also pine for a glass-front refrigerator.

Once the equipment’s ordered, practicality should guide your decision-making. Envision yourself moving about the space, and ask the questions that come naturally: Where’s the glassware going? How much room do we need for cookware storage? Do I need the pantry within easy reach or can I tuck it around a corner?

For one client, recently, I installed a mini-fridge and a microwave, side by side, in the island so that the kids could grab their own snacks when they got home from school. It was a pretty simple thing to pull off, but it’s had a big impact. It’s kept them from rooting around the kitchen and, more importantly, pestering mom to no end.

Bottom line: A kitchen renovation is your golden opportunity to shape the most active part of your home according to your lifestyle. Take full advantage.

Design the kitchen you want, not the one you want to sell

HGTV’s made us all a little (a lot) too conscious of the way our homes appear to potential buyers—even as the thought of selling our homes would never otherwise have crossed our minds. And the kitchen’s caught the brunt of that because, like I said, it’s one of the most significant upgrades we can make to our homes.

Inevitably, I reach a point with many of my clients where they’re caught between what they really want for their kitchen and what they think they should want. My advice is this: Design the kitchen you really want. Unless you’ve got a FOR SALE sign sitting out front, this kitchen is yours to live with. It could be months, it could be years. Either way, make the most of that time.

That said, if you’re planning to put your home on the market the instant your kitchen renovation’s done, an all-white palette is a smart move. It’s sort of like a blank canvas for potential buyers, because, no matter how impressive your style, the chances are good that your home’s next owner is going to want something else.

Design with an eye on the bigger picture

The kitchen is the heart of the modern home, but that’s not entirely its own doing. The modern home has a lot fewer walls than the ones we grew up in, which has made it much easier to gravitate to the kitchen.

If you’re entering into your kitchen renovation with an open-concept floor plan, do everything you can to preserve it. If you’re not so fortunate, take a step back and talk with an architect or an interior designer. It’s not as simple as removing a wall that stands between the kitchen and the living room. Structural concerns aside, you’ll need to figure out how to replace the storage that’s disappearing with that wall. That’s the tricky thing about kitchens: Every wall serves a purpose.

I recently opened up a galley kitchen in a Center City apartment, and, in doing so, not only replaced the cabinetry we removed, increased her storage. There are plenty of ways to go about it, but there are even more ways that it could go horribly wrong. When you start tearing down walls, it becomes more than a kitchen renovation. Plan accordingly (with a professional) and you’ll be fine. Try to figure it out as you go and you’ll end up with a patchwork living space.

One last note: Removing walls is expensive. On TV, they come down and support beams go up in the literal blink of an eye. In real time, they’re a mammoth undertaking. But there are ways to cut costs in other spots of your budget that no one will ever notice, including you.

In the Center City apartment, for example, we went with porcelain tile over stone. And the faucet and sink are from Home Depot. I promise you, though, you never would have guessed it if I hadn’t tipped you off.