“Keep your eyes on the prize,” is what the Town building department clerk said when she handed me the construction permit for my kitchen renovation. Offered as a kind gesture toward project completion, for me the prize would also be a new place to cook, eat, have a coffee, work, sort the mail, entertain, feed the cats— the hub for life at home.
Putting together a home kitchen is both an exciting and challenging proposition. It's also the perfect opportunity to incorporate elements of what’s truly a "Chef's Kitchen." What does this mean? It’s about having an inviting kitchen where making things to eat is a pleasure instead of a task. I believe the best way to achieve this is to begin the project with planning from a functional perspective before speaking with designers, contractors, and visiting the showrooms. This will benefit the design, take precedence throughout the installations, and ultimately serve the end result.
Having worked in and around just about every kind of commercial kitchen, I’ve always felt there is much from how they operate that can be applied for the betterment of the home kitchen. For example, by focusing on organization first, the workflow in my kitchen was established so tasks could be performed with ease. I allocated areas so cooking and mingling would not crossover. Storage needs and eliminating countertop clutter were prerequisites for cabinet sizing. Everything had to be easy to clean. At the same time, I was realistic with what’s made for residential use. Appliance choices were based on tangibles like utility consumption and the cookware I have. Lighting was given much attention for purpose and décor in tandem with code requirements. Thinking through these kinds of things early has brought much value to my new kitchen life at home.
Of course, there’s always a thing or two I wish there was room for. And conforming to the structural limits of the house had a big influence on the design. But what transpired is functionally sound and aesthetically pleasing. From my experience as a fine dining chef as well as having designed and managed my home project, I’d like to share a baker’s dozen topics to help you plan your Chef’s Kitchen.
What's the Story?
What do you like or dislike about your kitchen? What kind of cooking will you be doing? What can a new or reworked kitchen provide for the lifestyle you want to enjoy? Is there a particular style or something from a place you’ve visited that can be put into your design? In my kitchen, the finishes were inspired by mid-century modernism, a classic lounge chair, cabinetry I saw in an airline lounge, and to serve as a neutral backdrop so the colors of food stand out.
Thankfully, there are many resources to see pictures of beautiful kitchens. Assemble mood boards composed of looks, elements, or a style you find attractive. I also recommend learning a little about what it takes to build what you admire. At the same time, envision your life in the pictures— mail on the counter, dishes in the dish rack, your kids’ stuff on the island, and if you’re thinking of exposing the kitchen, how it will coordinate with the other parts of your home. Putting your life in the pictures will give you an idea of what needs to be incorporated in your kitchen design.
The Real Tinsel
There’s a famous quote in the movie business, “Scratch beneath the phony tinsel and you will find the real tinsel.” For a kitchen remodel, this translates to an important question: What’s going on behind the sheetrock? How old is the plumbing? Are you thinking of moving, removing, or adding any walls, doors, or windows? Do you want to change the location of the sink or the stove? How much space is above your ceiling? What direction do the ceiling joists go? Knowing what’s going with your "real tinsel” will be a big influence on the scale of your project. It can also change the word “remodel” into “renovation”.
In most cases, you’ll probably have sufficient utilities coming in to your home to satisfy the needs of your appliances. However, when doing your appliance search, a tally of their power requirements should be part of early fact finding to make sure you’re good with the amount of amperage you have. For example, a change from an electric stove to induction cooktop may need extra power or a new dedicated circuit. And with todays needs to plug in and charge, four-way receptacles in strategic locations will be useful.
What Moves You?
I’ve always liked the modernist decree “form follows function.” How will you get around your kitchen? Is cooking a daily or twice-a-year event? How many people will be in the room for breakfast or when you entertain? How can the location of the major appliances help make your cooking easier? Will open doors or drawers restrict any movement or access? Are you planning to stay in your home for a while? Thinking through your moves points the ergonomics of your kitchen design in the right direction.
What's in the Box?
Have you ever seen the videos from consumer testing agencies where a robotic arm is opening and closing a cabinet door or drawer for what looks like days on end? These are tests to replicate the thousands of times you’ll be opening and closing yours. Behind the decorative front panels of your cabinets, the materials and construction methods of the carcasses and drawers is important to know for quality and durability. So are the kinds of hardware used for the drawer slides, door hinges, shelf pins, and bumpers.
The basic methods of cooking haven’t changed for thousands of years. What you can do with a pot or pan over a heat source is endless. It seems a bit superfluous to get email notifications from refrigerators or use the telephone to control oven temperatures. Therefore, a bit of restraint might be prudent with technology in the kitchen. Perhaps having some low voltage wiring for things like a tablet adapter or USB ports can be useful. However, it’s USB today, and before you know it, a new type of adapter makes it obsolete. I say let connectivity be your senses and your kitchen the place for respite!
Hang out with me in the kitchen and you’ll probably hear, “A clean kitchen is a happy kitchen.” Cleanliness applies to surfaces, corners, material choices, major appliances, flooring, and hard to reach areas that can help or hinder keeping the kitchen clean. The clean factor can also add years of use to just about everything that gets installed. Think about how you operate, what you have, or what you’re getting that can help make your kitchen happy. You’ll be glad you did later on.
Depending on how invasive your project will be you may need a building permit that might include code upgrades. And if you’re adding or changing anything that affects the exterior of your building, you may also need to pass the proposal through your planning department. Then there’s your area sewer authority when it comes to adding sinks or dishwashers. Do this homework early as permitting can take time and comes with costs. The benefit to getting permits is you’ll most likely be required to hire licensed contractors. This is really important if issues arise later or if you sell your home.
An Apron and a Tool Belt
I would not be telling the truth if I said I was born to cook anything and everything. Same with construction. There are contractors who are genuinely interested in building kitchens and are good at it. Even better is when you find a contractor who likes to cook. This can be a valuable asset when it comes to the many details that can make your kitchen lasting inside and out. It’s also helpful to keep the standards high when coordinating and managing the parade of subcontractors who will be on your job.
What’s for Dinner?
How you’ll cook, store food, and wash the dishes during construction may be a little challenging at first but it can be helpful for learning how to be nimble in the kitchen. Plan how a makeshift kitchen will be set up and mention this early to your contractor so temporary hook-ups can be part of the estimate. Resourcefulness will go a long way. It can also be a factor when deciding what time of the year you’ll be doing the remodel. Portable induction burners are easy to clean and safe. Just make sure your cookware can be used with them. Or maybe it’s time to embrace the thrill of the grill!
When the Honeymoon is Over
Know your guarantees early! For the most part, installation will be covered for a year. Try to negotiate two years especially for your cabinets. Materials, appliances, and fixtures have manufacturer’s guarantees. Do a thorough walk-through for everything before the service providers disappear. Then get in your kitchen! Anything that moves needs to be used to get a sense of what works, needs a tweak, a fix, or replacement. As fate will have it, things will start to go south after the guarantee period. So as much as possible, get everything done before the guarantee honeymoon is over.
Dollars and Sense
I saved the best for last: Budget. Every project is different. With so many variables—your purse, your space, your wants, needs, desires, and a plethora of material choices it’s hard to put an absolute dollar amount up front per square foot. Smart planning will help you get there. Collect the dots. Immerse yourself in the details. Be an informed shopper. Consider having a budget range. Pad yourself so you’re covered for possible “surprises.” You’ll be in great shape going into your project when you can weigh costs, benefits, and value.
Great cooking is all about the ingredients. In the evolution of a kitchen, it’s all about planning. There are so many benefits from this important part of the process that can make your kitchen a great place to be. And that’s a bonus for everyone.
I want to help you plan yours. In a four to five hour consultation, I can provide you with enough information to get underway. We’ll start with a site survey or review of any drawings you may have. Then I put on my toque – chef’s hat – and ask a lot of questions. We’ll go through the tips above and much more. I’ll share with you my proprietary space planning method that will be customized to your project. I will also provide you with an outline of details to start to think about so when you speak with your designer, contractor, and visit the showrooms, you’ll be ready and informed for the needs of your project.
Please contact me to arrange your personalized consultation. I look forward to learning about your project and working with you to create your Chef’s Kitchen.