How to design a kitchen – a step-by-step guide to planning the perfect space

This essential guide brings you all the expert advice on how to plan a kitchen, from researching, designing, buying and fitting

Wondering how to design a kitchen? Choosing a new kitchen is one of the most exciting home renovation projects. It can also be the most expensive, stressful and time-consuming.

Designing a kitchen involves a lot of thought, from picking the right style, to finding a designer and agreeing the kitchen layout. 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 you really want.

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

Our simple steps offer tips on everything from design inspiration to appliance installation.

How to design a kitchen: step-by-step

The first step in how to design a kitchen is simply to have a good clear-out. This means you won't factor in items you haven’t used for years. Then take a look around your existing kitchen and make a list of all the things you like and dislike.

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. And avoid all the things not to do when designing a kitchen.

1. Assess all your needs

kitchen with counter and cabinets

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Still)

Next, address what the kitchen is going to be used for. It sounds obvious, but to decide how to design a kitchen you need to think about who will be primarily using the space. What sort of meals will they be cooking? How often will you want to entertain? And do you need separate areas for laundry and dining?

Once you have a good idea of what you need, as well as what you want, you’re on your way.

Think about whether the existing space and layout work or if it would benefit from a kitchen extension. The most common building work involves knocking down a wall between the kitchen and dining room. This creates a more open-plan kitchen design idea if you have the chance.

‘Consider things that your current kitchen is restricting you from doing and try to build in features that enhance your experience,’ advises Paul Gibbs, Kitchens Buying Manager, B&Q (opens in new tab).

If you’re planning a larger refit or build, make sure you talk to your local council about Planning Permission or Building Regulations approval. Visit the Planning Portal (planningportal.gov.uk (opens in new tab)) for further information.

 

2. Calculate a budget

kitchen with counter and black door

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Merewether)

Before you start selecting the finest granite worktops and the latest electrical gadgets, it's important to know how much a new kitchen costs and set yourself a budget with an upper limit. This way, you have an amount in your head that you know you cannot go over.

Remember, when it comes to how to design a kitchen - plan for the unexpected! Once you have ripped out the old kitchen, you never know what might lie beneath. There could be costly problems to fix before you go any further.

Make a list of all the elements you’ll need to allow for – cabinets, worktops and kitchen splashback ideas, sink, tap and appliances.

If you want to create wow factor, there are plenty of ways to do so with LED lighting, electric doors and smart storage solutions. But these will cost extra, so be prepared to compromise if your budget is tight.

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.

Then there are the installation costs and any preparation work. This includes plastering and painting, heating and flooring, as well as plumbing, gas and electrical work.

Don't forget to include all plumbing, electrics and builder's quotes into your overall budget. They are quite easy to leave out in the heat of the moment. It's good to make sure your budget includes a 10 per cent contingency fund to cover any unexpected extra costs.

kitchen with cabinet and white wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Ben Anders)

3. Consider plumbing and heating

kitchen with counter top and chair

(Image credit: Future PLC/ David Giles)

Will you be using existing plumbing for sinks and appliances or will you require additional pipe work?

If you're planning to include a sink or other appliances as part of your kitchen island ideas, 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 and check you have plug points where you need them.

Consider the best kitchen appliance layout for your space. ‘Wherever you decide to locate your sink, it’s a good idea to install your washing machine and dishwasher nearby,' says Paul from 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, installing it prior to laying the kitchen floor is essential.

4. Look for lighting options

When planning kitchen lighting ideas, it’s good to make the system quite flexible. This will allow you to regulate areas of the room independently. Secondary lighting, such as spots above cooking and preparation areas, is also useful.

kitchen with blue chair and counter table

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Richard Gadsby)

Consider your kitchen must-haves. Do you long for sleek worktops for modern kitchen ideas, 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 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. Make a moodboard

kitchen with white wall and wooden spoon

(Image credit: Future PLC/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 to create a mood board or kitchen file with all the things you'd like to include in your design.

This is your wish-list so just throw in everything at this point. But do give it some order as your budget will probably require you to choose between certain items at some point.

Try to be realistic about how to design a kitchen, too. You might really want a steam oven, coffee machine and warming drawers but you need to have a big kitchen to take lots of extras on top of the standard kitchen appliance list. Finally, talk to family and friends who have been through the kitchen buying process to get as much advice and inspiration as you can.

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. Maybe you've always loved cream kitchen ideas, or want to go for something bold and bright.

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 your favourite styles.

6. Consult a kitchen designer

kitchen with cabinets and wooden flooring

(Image credit: B&Q)

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

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.

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 oversees the project from start to finish or not.

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

7. 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, even with small kitchen ideas, 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 needs to be clear about what needs to be done when, as delays and mistakes in how to design a kitchen planning can be costly.

Kitchen with cabinet and open shelves

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Nick Smith)

Often your budget will dictate how much project management is needed. If you're buying off the shelf from a DIY store for budget kitchen ideas you'd still expect to have to employ and co-ordinate a 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 of your how to design a kitchen process 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 prepare to pay a premium for this service.

There are so many things to think about when considering how to plan a kitchen. Sometimes we forget to ask some very basic questions, such as how long it’s going to take from order to delivery. If any mistakes are made with the order, how quickly will it be rectified?

What about guarantees? For both products and installation, is the kitchen company doing it or sub-contracting it out? Find out if the cabinets have solid tops and backs and what they are made from. You’ll also need to know if they arrive flat-pack or pre-constructed, as you’ll need somewhere to store them prior to installation.

8. Prepare for cabinet and worktop fitting

kitchen with sink and book

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Depending on what kind of kitchen you've bought, your units may arrive flat-packed for you to put together yourself. Or they'll arrive with rigid carcasses the kitchen fitter just places together and adds the doors too.

Most kitchen fitters will then install your chosen appliances and connect them to the services created by the plumber and electrician. Many painted kitchens receive their final coats on site. So, be prepared to not be able to use the kitchen until the paint is dry.

The final element in how to design a kitchen is usually the work surfaces. If you've chosen wood or laminate in simple lengths then this can easily be fitted by a competent DIYer.

However, if you've bought composites, stone kitchen worktops or anything else that needs tempting (cutting out holes for hobs, sinks etc), then be prepared to have to wait up to 10 days between the measuring up by the worktop supplier and final fitting.

It's likely that you will be offered a temporary surface to work on by many of the mid and high-end kitchen companies while you wait for the tempting to be done.

9. Choose your finishing touches

kitchen with cabinet and sink

(Image credit: Future PLC/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 kitchen.

‘When choosing the style, it’s important to consider the long term. When deciding how to design a kitchen, consider what’s in and what will quickly go out of fashion,’ advises Adrian Stoneham, MD, Stoneham Kitchens (opens in new tab).

Rather than buying everything from the same supplier, source furnishings and accessories from a variety of places. Mix things up to create an individual look.

Thea Babington-Stitt
Thea Babington-Stitt

Thea Babington-Stitt is the Assistant Editor for Ideal Home. Thea has been working across some of the UK’s leading interiors titles for nearly 10 years. 

She started working on these magazines and websites after graduating from City University London with a Masters in Magazine Journalism. Before moving to Ideal Home, Thea was News and Features Editor at Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc and Country Homes & Interiors.