Kitchen Design Dos and Don’ts

Alaska’s Design Experts Weigh In

Story by Jamey Bradbury • Photography by Dave M. Davis Photography


Whether you’re looking to do a complete remodel or just sprucing things up, Alaska’s kitchen design experts have some advice for creating a well-designed kitchen – and some pitfalls you’ll want to avoid.

Do Plan Ahead, But Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

One of the biggest mistakes design professionals see is when homeowners jump straight into a remodel without doing any planning. “People will do things in little pieces,” says Jenekah Preece, interior designer with One of a Kind Design. “They’ll do the countertops, wait a while, then do cabinets. Which is fine, but when you don’t have an overall design concept, you get a kitchen that looks patchworked.”

Another mistake is designing in a hurry, says Pamela Hodgson, owner of Kitchen Cabinets & Design. “Take your time and really think about your appliances, which will dictate a lot of the layout.” Going slowly will help you avoid problems like cabinet drawers that won’t open because they’re blocked by a baseboard heater.

Don’t go into planning overdrive, though, warns Carolyn Foelsch, owner of Kitchens & Baths by Design in Fairbanks. “It’s a mistake to buy a lot of products and accessories before you’ve figured out what works for you or whether they’ll fit.”

Hodgson suggests installing cabinets and drawers that come without dividers, then buying after-market items that will let you customize your kitchen to your needs. “Don’t be afraid to move things around three or four times so you can see which accessories will help you get organized for functionality.”  

Do Let Form Follow Function, But Don’t Fill Every Space

Hiring a professional can help you narrow your focus and avoid another big no-no: Being a copycat. “A lot of people look in magazines or at their friends’ homes and get great ideas,” says Hodgson. “But the features you love in someone else’s home might not necessarily be functional for your family.” A professional designer can consult with you to learn how your family will use the kitchen, then plan the layout of the room according to your specific needs.

Have kids that like to help with the cooking? “Then you might consider different levels of counter space,” suggests Foelsch, “like lower counters for the kids, which can double as a snack bar.” Do you stock up at Costco once a month or make daily stops to pick up just a few things at Carrs? Those factors will help you decide how much storage you need.

“Workstations are a grand idea if you have enough space,” says Stacey Dean of Grayling Construction. Depending on your interests and needs, you might create specialized areas tailored to the main activities you’ll do in your kitchen. For example, says Dean, “We did a kitchen that had one half for baking and one half for cooking, with the baking area and wall oven to the right of the island, and the fridge and cooktop to the left.”

Don’t assign a use to every corner of your kitchen, though; you’ll need to leave some areas free to serve as “landing strips.” For convenience, “countertop space next to the refrigerator or stove is essential,” says Foelsch. She suggests at least three feet of countertop next to each appliance.  

Do Change It Up, But Don’t Use The Wrong Materials

If you’re not ready for a remodel but still looking to shake things up, there are plenty of small changes you can make that will have a big impact.

“Once you’ve planned the footprint of your kitchen and get your cabinets and floors in, everything else can be switched out pretty easily,” says Foelsch. Painting is the quickest fix; a new, bold color can really spruce things up. “Backsplashes are easy to switch out, too. There are a lot of ways you can cut corners but still do something artistic.”

Marble, granite or glass tiles can create a dramatic backsplash effect, and trendy new hardware on cabinets and drawers will transform your cabinets. But be careful when choosing certain materials, warns Preece.

“I see a lot of homeowners putting the wrong products in certain areas,” she says. “Like people who do marble countertops. Marble is beautiful to look at, but it scratches easily and won’t be durable enough to last.”

Consult a design expert to figure out what materials are best in the kitchen, or – if you’re working with a small budget – “get a finish carpenter in to do some small tweaks to free up cabinets or get more counter space,” Hodgson recommends. “Little changes can make a lot of difference.”  

Do Go To The Light, But Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

Especially for smaller kitchens, good lighting is key. “Light bulbs get dingy over time and you don’t even notice it, but it makes the whole room darker,” says Foelsch, who advises her clients to switch to LEDs when possible, both for the efficiency and the brightness. “Keeping your colors light and using glass on cabinet doors to reflect the light can make the room seem lighter.”

Lighter finishes, like maple, and open shelves keep a kitchen feeling open and airy, too. But, says Hodgson, “if you have well-placed lights, you can still go dark. Dark colors are restful and can actually be really effective when you make use of under-cabinet lighting.”  

Do Look To The Future

Alaska’s population is fluid, constantly changing, with military folks taking new assignments, retirees building summer homes, and growing families moving into bigger houses. So when you redesign, remember to keep your kitchen’s basic palette simple for potential resale, advises Dean.

“Keep the things that are hard to change in a simple, neutral palette,” she says. “Cabinets are the anchor of a kitchen, so avoid styles, wood species or stain colors that are unusual, unless you plan on living in the house a long time.” While you may want to keep the main elements simple, you can get creative with countertops, faucets, flooring and appliances, all of which can be easily changed out at a later date and, in the meantime, allow you to create a personal space where the whole family will want to be.