Interior designer Ayca Stiffel has worked in her field for 26 years, most currently with local firm By Design Interiors, and can tell right away what’s causing a headache in the kitchen: “Often I find that clients who want to do remodels, that they don’t quite know why the kitchen doesn’t work well,” says Stiffel. “It’s because it wasn’t designed well from a functional standpoint.” For those looking to remodel, the interior designer shares tips for pinpointing the problems and transforming the kitchen into the workhorse it’s meant to be.
1. The layout should suit your unique needs.
Don’t know where to start? “I would ask, ‘What is your dream kitchen?’” says Stiffel. She would study the room’s existing layout, ask how you prefer to use and cook in the space, and then suggest an improved layout that fixes problem areas and accommodates lifestyle preferences. Then looks and style come into play. “Let’s address the function and then while we’re doing that, we can make it as stylish as they want,” says Stiffel. That way, no one spends money on say, new countertops, if the cabinets underneath them are sagging and falling apart. “You wouldn’t want to embellish something that’s not working,” says Stiffel.
2. Prioritize the “golden triangle.”
The golden rule of kitchen design is pretty simple: the main three components – the range or cooktop, sink, and refrigerator – should each be a point on the triangle. This just means that each is within a comfortable distance to one another – no one wants the roux to burn because they have to walk clear across the room to grab the milk.
3. Think about what needs to be within arm’s reach.
Once the main points are triangulated, it’s important to support the variety of activities that occur in a kitchen. Prep space needs to be near a sink for washing hands and vegetables, but not encroach the dish wash station. The refrigerator should have an open counter near it to rest grocery bags. Same with the stove – is there counter space adjacent to the cooktop to drop the cutting board once it’s been cleared?
Each component of a kitchen affects the next, Stiffel says, and these “adjacencies” matter. You don’t want things “out of order.” “If you’re standing at the sink, you want one side to have garbage and one side to have your dishwasher,” says Stiffel, as that facilitates the natural procession of cleaning dishes after a meal, rinsing, and loading them.
When such spatial relationships are ignored, malfunction reigns. Case in point: Stiffel commonly sees a lack of clearance between the perimeter counter and the island. When they’re too close, someone can’t pass by the open dishwasher easily. Also a frequent mistake? Certain drawers or doors around the range that can’t be opened when the oven door is also ajar, which can make grabbing the meat thermometer to check the roast a challenge.
4. Start with one pattern and build from there.
When it comes to how the kitchen looks, it helps if the materials, like the countertop stone, strike a personal chord. “You have to find the stone that speaks to you,” says Stiffel. “You’ll know it, when you’re walking [in the stone yard] and just stop in your tracks.” Stiffel will often start with a slab, then assemble the palette by pulling hues from the colors in the stone, so there’s no mismatch in the finished room.
5. Consider your materials carefully.
Stiffel says soft and porous stones are a no-go for high-use kitchens. “There are some stones that you should not use in a kitchen, like limestone,” says the interior designer. “And of course, marble.” This is because softer stones will show etching marks and require extra maintenance to keep them looking good, as opposed to something denser and more durable, like quartzite, granite, or porcelain.
6. Don’t get too trendy.
“The last thing I would want is to design a house that’s going to have a time stamp,” says Stiffel. “You can have something trendy, but I wouldn’t do it on anything permanent.” Consider being sparing with trends, and limiting them to elements that can be changed easily, like lighting or paint colors.
7. Create drama—sparingly.
Stiffel likes to let some elements be “prominent,” while others go “quiet.” For example, “If you picked a slab that’s gorgeous, that has so much drama, you want that to be the focal point,” says Stiffel. “And not add drama in other places,” like the perimeter counter, tile backsplash, and wall colors. It’s all about finding the right balance that works for you.