12 Common Kitchen Layout Mistakes to Avoid

The kitchen is the heart of your home. It is not just a place to store and prepare food; it is also a place for families to gather and spend quality time together. The table and the counter can become makeshift desks for homework or bill paying, and guests may gather around the island for a drink or an appetizer while chatting with the chef. All of this activity calls for a space that is comfortable, welcoming, functional, and attractive.

If you’re building a new home, your kitchen deserves extra time and attention.

If you intend to stay in your home, but your kitchen doesn’t fit your lifestyle and add enjoyment to the time you spend there, it’s time for a renovation.

Updating a kitchen takes a lot of planning, and it’s easy to overlook some crucial things—especially in the layout.

Here’s a list, along with the highlights that are common kitchen layout mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Not Considering the Workflow

You’ve probably heard of the “work triangle” in the kitchen, which consists of the cooktop, refrigerator, and sink. For the optimal workflow, make sure that the space between these points remains unobstructed.

If you have a large kitchen, beware the temptation to make the work triangle large, too. Having to walk across the room to get something from the fridge or to fill a pot will reduce your efficiency. Professional cooks tend to work in small spaces for just this reason.

Another thing to consider when preparing your layout is the flow of traffic through the space. Identify the entrances and exits, and the locations where people tend to stand or sit. Is there a clear path through the kitchen to the next room? Can people sit at the counter without feeling crowded when someone walks past? Take care to keep the cook’s workspace out of the main traffic flow to avoid disruption.

Finally, think about the small motions you make while working in the kitchen. Where will you set a pot when you take it off the stove or out of the oven? Where will you stand when loading the dishwasher? And is it too cramped with the door open? Are there any low-hanging cabinets or fixtures where you’re likely to hit your head?

A kitchen design expert can help you make decisions about how to lay out your kitchen. You can also take note of the layout in your friends’ homes, or visit model kitchens. What feels best to you?

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2. Picking Cabinets That Don’t Do Enough

Sure, basic cabinets with a shelf or two have sufficed for generations, but you don’t have to settle for empty box-shaped shelves when there are so many new-and-improved models to choose from.

Pull-out shelves can make a world of difference when you’re trying to reach items stored in the back. Or try pull-out racks specifically designed to hold pots and lids. Corner cabinets can be built with turntables inside so you can spin them to find what you need.

A slim cabinet next to the refrigerator can pull out to display rows of spices, or open to the side to store brooms and mops.

And if you really want built-in functionality, consider an appliance drawer. Refrigerator drawers, microwave drawers, warming drawers, and dishwasher drawers are all possible in today’s high-end kitchens.

Some luxury kitchens even have refrigerators built into the cabinetry, creating a seamless look that is suited to either traditional styles or highly modern looks.

12 Common Kitchen Layout Mistakes to Avoid

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3. Not Allotting Enough Space for Storage

Are you tempted to choose small cabinets to keep your kitchen from feeling too crowded? Think again. Cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling make the room look taller and more open, and your kitchen will be tidier when rarely used items are stored out of sight.

If you’re concerned about being unable to reach the highest shelves, use them only for once-a-year items, like holiday tablecloths or cookie presses. And if you’re worried that the walls will look too bland, add in a few glass-front cabinets to break up the expanse.

Make a big, deep pantry work with pull-out shelves, and don’t forget you can add cabinets on both sides of an island. Many have regretted a lack of storage space, but it’s rare to find anyone who claims to have too much.

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4. Not maximizing counter space

Your countertop should be beautiful, of course, but it also needs to be large enough to handle all of the functions you’ll use it for. Look at your kitchen floor plan and see if there are any places you can make the countertop deeper without sacrificing space to move through the kitchen.

The island is a great place to maximize. If you’re prepping food while someone on the other side keeps you company or does homework, make sure there’s enough distance that they won’t be doused with vegetable spray.

Even if you don’t need deep cabinets for storage, consider installing them anyway; deep lower cabinets mean deeper counters. If you need an excuse, call it a safety issue; you should be able to set a pan on the counter without risking that it will fall or be in reach of curious young hands.

5. Failing to Install a Backsplash

A backsplash may seem like a minor aspect of your kitchen design, but it can add a lot of personality to the room. And don’t forget that it is, first and foremost, functional: a backsplash should be easy to wipe and waterproof so it can protect the walls from water damage and food stains.

If you choose a backsplash made of tile, make sure to choose grout that won’t show discoloration easily. And if you’d rather avoid grout altogether, consider natural or manufactured stone, which can come in a single slab.

12 Common Kitchen Layout Mistakes to Avoid

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6. Not Lighting Up the Right Areas

Kitchens have multiple uses, so they need flexible and robust lighting.

  1. Task lighting is important for prep work and the stovetop.
  2. Overhead lighting works well when counters do double duty as desks.
  3. Under-cabinet lighting is a great way to get more usability for minimal cost.
  4. Accent lights, such as large and beautiful pendants, add style. A statement fixture can be the wow factor your kitchen needs.

Don’t forget to install dimmers—they’re a must for setting the right mood.

If you layer your lighting properly, there’s no such thing as too much light. Just make sure you can turn off any light you’re not using.

12 Common Kitchen Layout Mistakes to Avoid

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7. Neglecting the View

When laying out your kitchen, think about the direction you’ll be facing while you do your work. Will you see the living room as you wash dishes? The back corner as you cook on the stovetop? Will you be facing your guests as you prepare food on the island?

The view is largely a matter of preference, but it’s a factor worth considering, given the amount of time you’ll spend in the kitchen. Keep in mind the people who will share the space with you, what you’ll want to watch for as you work, and your orientation relative to the windows.

8. Choosing Appliances Last

It’s easy to get caught up in planning the materials for your countertop, cabinets, and flooring, while ignoring the appliances—but ignoring the appliances until the end is a mistake.

Your refrigerator, oven, stove, microwave, and dishwasher provide some of the major functionality in the kitchen, so consider choosing them first and designing around them. Appliances come in a variety of standard sizes—they vary in depth as well as width, so you’ll need the models you choose to fit the depths of your countertops and cabinets.

Once you’ve decided on the footprint of the appliance, look for a high-quality brand and model in that size.

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9. Picking the Wrong Island Shape or Size

An island of the proper size, laid out well in your space, can be a kitchen workhorse. It can serve as the main prep space, a lunch counter, or a cocktail table for conversation with guests. It’s a place to roll out dough or chop vegetables. It can even be a desk or an arts and crafts table.

An improperly placed island, though, can make it difficult to move through the kitchen and make sitting or working at it uninviting. An island that’s too small can look unmoored in the kitchen and can cause you to miss out on workspace.

Islands can also come in different shapes; while rectangles are standard, they are not the only option. Consider rounded corners for safety, a T shape to create zones, or a two-level island for bar-height seating adjacent to the work surface.

And don’t to forget to ponder the island’s attached-at-one-end cousin, the peninsula. Because it doesn’t require space on every side, it can work well in some smaller kitchens.

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10. Accepting Popular Wisdom as a Given

Designers and builders have been hearing the phrase “open concept” for so many years now that it has started to seem like a given for homeowners. After all, why wouldn’t you want to be able to see into the main living space while you’re cooking?

Maybe you would—but consider your lifestyle before you make that decision. Do you really want to be able to see your kids playing while you cook, or will it be distracting? Does kitchen noise bother people who are watching TV? How clean do you keep your kitchen? (Do you want to see dirty dishes piling up while you’re relaxing on the sofa?)

Whether you put too much faith in layout trends or are completely unfamiliar with newer options, it’s a good idea to ask a design professional to show you some appealing alternatives. You might end up making the same decision, but you’ll know it was intentional.

11. Omitting Landing Spaces

A kitchen needs landing areas next to the sink, stovetop, and refrigerator. When redesigning the space, make sure that you have a place to set things down. It is a practical feature, one that lets you free your hands from something that you’re holding.

Without a landing space, you’ll end up reaching too far for the things you need to cook. You’ll also wind up holding onto things that are heavy, cold, or hot for longer than necessary.

Prevent this problem by making sure that you have 12 to 15 inches available next to the stove and refrigerator, as well as 18 inches to 24 inches of empty space next to the sink.

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12. Skipping the Launchpad

If the kitchen is the hub of your home, it may also be a magnet for the clutter of daily life: mail coming in, keys, backpacks, paperwork and more. If the kitchen is the natural location for such things, embrace it by creating a launchpad—a spot near the door where you keep things that go in and out.

This can be a separate counter area, a rolling cart, a bookshelf or a bistro table. Just make sure you save space for the room to perform this essential function.

If you intend to use another room for this purpose (the entryway, mudroom, or office, for example), be realistic. Do you already have a routine that uses the other space? If not, it will likely migrate back to the kitchen. Better to be prepared to handle it elegantly.

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With all of their appliances, countertops, and fixtures, kitchens are usually the most expensive room in a home, and the most expensive to redesign. Take your time to plan, especially when it comes to things that are hard to change later—particularly the layout. The extra effort now will pay off in the countless hours you’ll spend in your kitchen in coming years.

All of the decisions involved in kitchen design can be enough to make your head spin. Luckily, help is available in the form of professional designers. While you’ll spend more up front for the service, a professional kitchen designer can help you understand how the different aesthetic and functional elements of the space come together.

Using a professional designer for your kitchen design or kitchen renovation can also reduce your stress; in addition to good taste, he or she will bring experience, connections to industry professionals, and a deep understanding of how to get the most from your space.

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