How to plan a kitchen – your step-by-step guide to the perfect space

Follow our simple steps on how to plan a kitchen, from inspiration to installation

Choosing a new kitchen is one of the most exciting projects when it comes to renovating the home. It can also be the most expensive, stressful and time-consuming. From picking the right style to finding a designer and agreeing the layout, there’s a lot to take on board. However tempted you are to rush into a showroom and choose your design, it’s vital that you take plenty of time to consider what it is you really want.

Breaking the planning process into manageable steps will make the process easier. Think of it as a journey, and give each step all the time and consideration it needs.

Whether this is your first, or you need a little help with planning your second or even third design, then read on.

1. Assess all your needs

How to plan the perfect kitchen

Image credit: David Still

First, have a good clear-out, so you’re not factoring in items you haven’t used for years. Now take a look around your existing kitchen and make a list of all the things you like and dislike about it. This could be anything from how much storage there is – and where it is – to the types of appliances and colour of the cabinetry. This will help you focus on retaining or improving particular aspects.

Think about whether the actual space works or if it needs opening up or extending. The most common building work involves knocking down a wall between kitchen and dining room, so consider creating a more open plan feel if you have the chance.

It might help to ask yourself a few questions about how you want to use the space. Do you simply need a place to prepare meals, or are you dreaming of a multifunctional area where you can also have lunch or dinner with family and friends? Who do you cook for, what do you cook and how do you cook it?

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2. Think about plumbing and heating

Will you be using existing plumbing for sinks and appliances or will you require additional pipe work? If you’re planning to include a kitchen island containing a sink or other appliances in your design, you need to ensure that plumbing and electricity supplies are in place before flooring is laid. Work out where appliances, both big and small, are going to be to ensure that you have plug points where you need them.

‘Wherever you decide to locate your sink, it’s a good idea to install your washing machine and dishwasher nearby,’ says Paul Gibbs, Kitchens Buying Manager, B&Q. ‘It’ll help keep plumbing simple.’

Underfloor heating is a popular choice for kitchens as radiators can take up valuable space. If you’re opting for underfloor heating, this will need to be installed prior to laying the kitchen floor.

3. Consider lighting options

When planning lighting it’s a good idea to make the system quite flexible so you can regulate areas of your kitchen independently. Secondary lighting, such as spots above cooking and preparation areas, is also useful.

Consider your kitchen must-haves. Do you long for sleek worktops, a statement island or lots of cupboards for storage? Or are there some specific appliances that you think will make your life in the kitchen much easier?

Everybody likes to work in their own particular way and each person has a different list of priorities, so it’s important to write yours down right at the beginning to ensure your kitchen is tailored to your family’s specific needs. This will also save a lot of time and trouble when it comes to discussing your project with a kitchen specialist.

5. Be inspired

How to plan the perfect kitchen

Image credit: Simon Whitmore

How you want your kitchen to look is, of course, a very personal choice. It really helps to collect images and magazine tear sheets and put together a scrapbook or mood board. Also, make a note of surfaces, materials or accessories you’ve seen that work well together.

Even something as simple as a pretty plate, tile, piece of furniture or scrap of fabric can be a great starting point for choosing a theme or colours. Don’t worry too much about cost at this point, just focus on things that inspire you, and soon you’ll be able to identify styles you are drawn to.

6. Consult a kitchen designer

To get the absolute maximum from your space, input from a professional kitchen designer can prove invaluable. Their experience and expertise will offer you plenty of simple ideas – as well as innovative ones – that you might not have even considered.

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Kitchen designers will also have up-to-the-minute knowledge of products, fixtures and fittings, and can source everything on your behalf. Ultimately, they’ll help ensure your new kitchen works as efficiently as possible.

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Only agree on a quote for the design and installation of a kitchen once the designer has looked at the space. Once the design has been completed, make sure you have a full quotation for the cabinetry and installation. Always check what is included in the cost, including whether the company will oversee the project from start to finish.

Never pay a deposit of more than 25% of the total contract value and ensure you have a written schedule for further payments. Don’t pay in full until you have received delivery of your goods.

The KBSA (Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom Specialists Association) has these guidelines for choosing your kitchen company:

  • Visit a company that has a showroom so you can inspect the quality of the product and the standard of installation.
  • Choose a retail member with a track record of good installations and ask to speak to some previous customers.
  • Be careful about paying in full for your kitchen in advance. You shouldn’t pay a deposit of more than 25% and as it’s likely that you’ll be asked to make an interim payment, ask for a written payment schedule.
  • Make sure you have a written quotation that covers every aspect of the job including fitting, flooring and any structural alterations you have discussed.
  • Don’t sign anything unless you are prepared to honour your side of the contract. Some terms and conditions have expensive cancellation clauses.
  • When using a KBSA retail member, don’t forget to keep your insurance certificate in a safe place and if you haven’t received it within a few weeks of paying your deposit, contact your retailer.

7. Set your budget

How to plan the perfect kitchen

Image credit: David Merewether

Always be honest about your budget so that your designer can help you decide where to save and where to invest – even if you haven’t got large sums to spend. Open shelving is less expensive than closed cupboards, for example, while capacious low-level, pull-out storage may mean you need fewer wall units, which saves on cost.

It’s easy to get giddy when faced with a wealth of shiny appliances with countless programs and functions, so only invest in things you think you’ll genuinely use. And don’t forget to include installation fees, as well as the kitchen itself.

Finally, make sure your budget includes a 10 per cent contingency fund, to cover any unexpected extra costs.
If you’re is a bind about where to splash the cash, here are our top tips on where to spend and where to save:

  • Always go for the best worktops you can afford, as they are one of the most hardworking elements of any kitchen. Granite, composite and solid surfaces are all good investments as they are tough, durable and will give your kitchen a luxurious finish.
  • Next, make sure your cabinets are of good quality. Don’t be tempted to skimp on thin carcasses, as they’ll not last very long. You want at least a 15mm thickness all round – if not more.
  • Think about savings on your choice of doors. We can’t all afford rich wood veneers, so why not recreate the same look with a laminate or PVC foil finish instead? Even hi-gloss doors come in different price brackets depending on whether they are lacquered or laminated. ‘While they all essentially look the same, a lacquered kitchen can cost considerably more than the laminate equivalent,’ explains kitchen designer Paul Bagguley from In-Toto Batley.
  • Spend wisely on appliances, too, buying the best oven and hob you can afford – but perhaps consider a less expensive brand for the laundry and do without the coffee machine and wine cooler. It’s all about compromise if your budget is under strain, so make sure you spend on the things that matter – you can always add luxury small appliances and accessories in years to come.

8. Call in the professionals

So, you’ve found your kitchen designer, chosen your layout and style and you’ve paid your deposit. What happens next? You need to find a team to install it.

It’s important to remember that the way your kitchen is installed can make all the difference. A bad fitter can make any kitchen look terrible, but a good one will ensure even inexpensive units look amazing. Ask friends and family for recommendations, or source a skilled person through a registered trade association, such as the FMB (Federation of Master Builders).

It may be a simple refresh so you’ll only have the kitchen supplier and fitter to co-ordinator. However, if it’s a big project, then there might be builders, electricians and plumbers to consider, too. It’s important at this stage to get some form of project manager in hand, whether that’s yourself, your kitchen company or an architect. Everyone need to be clear about what needs to be done when, as delays and mistakes in kitchen planning can be costly.

If you’re planning a larger refit or build, you may also need Planning Permission or Building Regulations approval. Visit the Planning Portal (planningportal.gov.uk) for further information.

Often your budget will dictate how much project management is needed. If you’re buying off the shelf from a DIY store you’d expect to have to employ and co-ordinate an variety of craftsmen including builders, plumbers and electricians. A number of mid-price kitchen companies provide fitting services but often you’ll have to get them to liaise with other trades for work outside their fitting remit. Always check with your kitchen company at the start about which services they can and can’t provide.

Even many bespoke companies will not undertake first-fit electrics or plumbing so you will have to co-ordinate these elements yourself. Some of the high-end bespoke companies do offer ‘turn key’ services, where they will co-ordinate all building plumbing and electrical work but be prepared to pay a premium for this service.

9. Choose your finishing touches

How to plan the perfect kitchen

Image credit: Jonathan Jones

Make your kitchen feel more coherent by subtly linking finishes – pair a timber breakfast bar with wooden stools, for instance, or upholster the seats with fabric that ties in with your splashback. Little details, such as cabinetry handles, can make a big difference and transform a simple white scheme.

Rather than buying everything from the same supplier, source furnishings and accessories from a variety of places, and mix things up to create an individual look. Unusual objects picked up on your travels or gorgeous vintage finds will all help to create a more homely and characterful environment.

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