Designing a more functional kitchen

By Kelsey Sinclair

The kitchen is where the family comes together, whether filling the house with the cozy aroma of homemade chocolate chip cookies in the oven, teaching your kids some secret family recipes, or just enjoying a family meal together. As the heart of the home, your kitchen needs to be perfectly functional for all your family’s needs.

When designing or redesigning a kitchen, give careful consideration to how the space will be used.

“If there’s more than one person that’s going to be cooking, or if there’s going to be anyone baking, it’s important to see if there will be sufficient space for everyone that’ll be working in the kitchen,” advises Leslie Hepburn a designer at Anchorage’s Kitchens by Valerie.

When making design decisions, first consider who is going to use the space, says Carolyn Foelsch, owner of Kitchens & Baths by Design in Fairbanks. “In multigenerational homes, for instance, kids will be learning to cook and grandparents are around to help out. When creating a design, you can address everyone's needs, like whether the walkways are wide enough and whether the countertops are the right height,” she explains. Also, pay attention to placement of appliances to make sure they’re accessible and reachable to family members and the chef. A kid-friendly kitchen, for example, may require the microwave placed at a lower level for safety.

When deciding on a kitchen layout, Leslie suggests following “the golden triangle” rule, referring to the invisible lines drawn connecting the stove, refrigerator and sink, creating a triangular shape. When following this rule, each leg of the triangle should be between four and nine feet and the middle of the triangle should not be obstructed by cabinets or islands. This concept ensures there is movability and flow in the kitchen.

Another space saver is utilizing European cabinets, suggests Leslie – a trend that is increasingly popular among American homeowners and apartment dwellers. These sleek, modern cabinets feature a frameless box construction, allowing more cabinets to fit in the same amount of space. In addition, taller cabinets allow for more storage space and cut down on culinary clutter as you can store more items.

“If you can afford it, put the cabinetry as high as you can,” says Leslie. “When storing seasonal dishes or dishes that aren’t used often, having a taller upper cabinet definitely helps. There’s no more square footage taken up, but you’re getting the maximum height possible.

Remodeling a kitchen, especially when trying to stay up-to-date with new trends, can be costly. The rule of thumb for remodeling a kitchen is that it should cost 15-20 percent of the home’s value, notes Leslie. Many homeowners take a DIY approach to cut down on costs; if so, Leslie advises at least shelling out the money for a skilled carpenter to install the cabinets.

“It’s a lot harder to install cabinets than people think,” she explains. “It really does pay to have an experienced carpenter or finisher because they can install all the cabinets in two to three days. They’re worth their weight in gold and can ensure that everything goes smoothly.”

Still working in the shadows? Consider under-cabinet lighting. This added illumination on countertops will help make all those meal preparation tasks so much easier (especially on the eyes!), such as chopping veggies and reading recipes. Placing these fixtures at the front of the cabinet (not toward the back) ensures the entire countertop is illuminated (and not just the backsplash which would defeat the purpose of the light). The under-cabinet lighting options, such as strips or tape, are all thin enough to be hidden underneath the cabinet when you are looking at it straight on. The right under-counter lighting can make your kitchen not only more functional but more beautiful.

Planning to sell your house and thinking about updating your kitchen? Carolyn advises homeowners against redesigning the whole kitchen to help sell the house, as the new owners will likely want to tear it out and build their own kitchen. Instead, she suggests making minor repairs and style changes.

“Paint is always a great thing to do. It’s economical and it can really brighten up a space. Maybe even replacing the countertop if it’s old or damaged,” she says. “Proper lighting is also important, especially in small spaces. LED lights are the best option these days, as they are bright and easy to install. Keep it simple with one or two decorative pendants as focal points and to add a little pizzazz.”

With all the time your family spends in the kitchen, preparing meals, baking, washing dishes or just bonding, a functional kitchen remodel may be challenging but the reward is well worth it!

How do these popular kitchen layouts measure up?

While every kitchen design is unique, layouts typically fall within these five major floor plan shapes: L-shape, U-shape, G-shape, central island, or galley. As you plan your dream kitchen remodel, explore which design may be best suited for you.


An L-shaped kitchen layout is characterized by two conjoining countertops perpendicular to each other, forming the shape of an “L.” This popular layout is often chosen as it is a space saver and allows for an open and easy movement. This is a great way to maximize space in a smaller kitchen. Unfortunately with this layout, you’ll likely be facing the wall whenever doing dishes or cooking so it isn’t ideal for socializing. It can also be too spread out if the kitchen is large, resulting in an awkward flow when cooking.


The U-shape was more common in previous decades but you can’t go wrong with the classics! Similar to the L-shaped kitchen, this layout has two perpendicular walls of cabinets and cupboards as well as a countertop that juts out, creating a “U.” This added countertop is often used for serving or preparing items for cooking. The U-shape maximizes the storage and counter space in the kitchen and is especially efficient when preparing big meals. However, for cooks used to open and free-flowing kitchens, a U-shaped design may feel boxed-in.


A G-shaped (or Peninsula) kitchen has three sections of countertop, like the U-shape, with the added benefit of a partial countertop for serving that juts out, thus creating the distinct “G.” The added countertop is often used as a breakfast nook or for small, casual meals. While the G-shape is great for maximizing kitchen space, it is best saved for larger kitchen spaces as the additional jutting countertop will stifle movement in a smaller kitchen.

Central Island

This kitchen layout is characterized not by the number of countertops, but instead by the unattached “island” counter. Usually this island is used as a serving space for casual meals or for serving buffet-style family meals. Like the G-shape, this kitchen layout is best used in large kitchens so as to not stifle movement around the kitchen.


The galley layout is a space-saving design that works well in smaller kitchens. In this layout, the kitchen has just two parallel countertops with a walkway between them. When designing a galley kitchen, it is important to plan the layout of appliances and countertops to ensure that the space isn’t cramped or inefficient.