Kitchen Design Basics

Kitchen design basics are the designer's playground. You'll be putting the puzzle pieces of cabinets, appliances and fittings together - and experimenting with new ways to look at the whole design.

These basics will help you make the right decisions... your kitchen really WORKS - and looks! - the way you want it to.

First step? Let's go shopping!

Start with the exact sizes of the appliances you want so you can draw them into the plan you created in Kitchen Drawing.

Have you picked out your appliances yet?

No need to actually buy a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher or microwave yet. But choose your appliances first!

When shopping, write down the size of the appliances you want...height, width and depth (usually listed on the price sign).

You'll need these to draw your appliances to scale on your kitchen drawing. Then you'll know exactly how much space you have for cabinetry.

Want a more built-in look? Consider a refrigerator and dishwasher designed for adding front panels to match your cabinets.

Don't forget to shop for trash compactors, stove hoods and other non-cabinetry goodies on your wish list. Look at sinks, too! The type and width determines which sink base to use.

Got your appliance measurements?

GREAT! Next stop is back to the drawing board.

Draw in your appliances on your kitchen drawing

Will you relocate your appliances?

Refrigerators and ranges can be "scooched" right or left a bit - there's usually enough cord (and water line for the icemaker). Dishwasher and sink plumbing can be adjusted for small moves.

But things CAN be moved around. The design phase is where you have the most freedom! Try things in new areas on your drawing.

Draw your countertop - then place your sink

Countertops are generally 25" deep. Just draw them 24"’s easier to sketch right on the line of the graph paper.

Use the space you have left (in inches) to "fit in" your base cabinets

Refer to the Kitchen Cabinet Sizes page (print it out) to help you choose cabs that fit.


Use commonsense design strategy, such as where to place drawer bases, storage for pots and pans, etc.

Add wall cabinets

You need 18" minimum between your countertop and the bottom of your wall cabinets.

Base cabs with countertop measure 36" high, plus the 18" gap = 54".

Deduct 54" from your ceiling height. That’s what you have to work with for wall cabs.

How high do you want to go?

This decision in kitchen design basics can make or break your kitchen's storage capabilities!

The trend used to be short wall cabs with frou-frou stuff on top. Today it's taller cabs with crown molding...taller = more storage! OR run 'em to the ceiling!

To break up the towering look of tall cabinets, use glass doors. Or install a second set of smaller cabs on top of the first - perhaps some with glass fronts that you can add lights inside. Fabulous look!

Symmetry is nice though not required. Match widths of upper and lowers where you can. For a 30" wide range, choose 30" wide cabinets above.

Note the 15" height of the cab I drew in over the stove. That's to accommodate the microwave under the cabinets.

Deduct the microwave's height (usually 16"–18") from the height of adjoining wall cabinets. Then choose a cabinet that height – or less. Better to raise the micro a bit for more room on the stove top. If the tops of the wall cabinets match up, you're golden.

I added a pantry cabinet to the drawing. If you don't know the code just write in all the info as I did. Make it understandable to YOU!

Cabinets over the fridge or not? They're a pain to get to BUT can make a freestanding refrigerator look built-in. I hate dinky 12" deep wall cabs over a big hulking refrigerator...use 24" deep cabinets, please!

Checklist for kitchen design basics

Does each area fulfill a purpose?

  • Do you need a "coffee station?"
  • A place for spices near the stove? Downsize the cabinet next to the stove and tuck in a narrow pull-out base.
  • Storage for pots and pans? Do a deep drawer base – holds more than slide-out shelves.
  • A place to roll out dough for baking? The countertop here should be lower: 32"-33" high is standard, or go as low as 28". Don't place over a dishwasher or other under the counter appliance that needs a standard height. And put it at one end of the counter - or on an island - so it doesn't break up the countertop flow.

Are there adequate “landing areas?”

Ignore this kitchen design basic at your peril! "HOT casserole dish - where do I sit it down?"

The NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) says allow - if you can! - at least:

  • 15” by the fridge
  • 15” by the microwave
  • 15” by a wall oven
  • 12” on one side of the stove and 15” on the other
  • 24” on one side of the sink and 18” on the other

A landing spot by the fridge is handy but optional...areas by the sink and other appliances are really important.

Are there enough drawers – in the right places?

  • Large kitchen? Door/drawer bases can supply enough drawer space (though you may want more).
  • Small kitchen? Add at least one drawer base.

Where will you put the...

  • toaster
  • trash can
  • paper towel holder
  • hand towel rack
  • canisters, knife block, etc.?

Sketch on each copy (saving the original) of your plan. Experiment with layout. Try wild ideas, crazy notions, angles, and every variance you can think of. This is the most fun of kitchen design – enjoy!

This is the time to move things around...

…for beauty, purpose and functionality.

It LOOKS pretty - but does it work? Beware of sacrificing function for beauty.

The owner of this beautiful kitchen regrets one thing: the wall oven corner placement sacrifices important counter space.

Instead of having a countertop flow along two walls, she now has two shorter unrelated counters.

Blocked corners - or any area of  countertop - disturbs the "flow."

Don't try to squeeze anything into your design...always allow a little extra room. Any space too small for a cabinet can use a filler piece attached to the face frame that looks like part of the cabinetry.

If a wall is a bit irregular, a filler piece at the end can be scribed to fit the wall. ALWAYS ALLOW ROOM FOR SLIGHT VARIANCES: 1"-2" per wall of cabinets.

Double check the space measurements to make sure you can comfortably work, walk around, open the dishwasher door, etc. THIS IS A KEY ELEMENT OF GOOD KITCHEN DESIGN!

Follow any applicable building codes and your own common sense.

CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve completed Kitchen Design Basics – AND your design!

Now you're ready to... order kitchen cabinets! Learn everything you need to know before you go to your favorite home center or kitchen showroom – for the final design stage!

Kitchen Design Planning

Kitchen Drawing

Kitchen Cabinet Sizes

Order Kitchen Cabinets

Back to Design MY Kitchen

Return to Home Page from Kitchen Design Basics

Thinking of remodeling?

Keep a notebook or scrapbook of notes, clippings and ideas.

Kitchen magazines are expensive - look through them in the grocery checkout line. If you see pix of a kitchen you really like, buy that magazine.

Stop in at home centers and pick up any free cabinet manufacturers' catalogs.