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

This essential guide brings you all the expert advice on researching, planning, buying and fitting your the heart of your home you'll need
  • We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
  • 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, how to plan a kitchen involves a lot of thought. 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 of finding the ideal kitchen idea a little easier. Think of it as a journey, and give each step all the time and consideration it needs.

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

    How to plan a kitchen: step-by-step

    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, avoiding common mistakes and what not to do when designing a kitchen.

    1. Assess all your needs

    White kitchen with mixed wooden cabinets

    Image credit: Future PLC/ David Still

    The next thing to address is what the kitchen is going to be used for. It sounds obvious, but you need to think about who will be primarily using the kitchen, what sort of meals will they be cooking, how often you’ll want to entertain and whether you need separate areas for dining and doing the laundry. 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 works or if it would benefit from a kitchen extension. The most common building work involves knocking down a wall between kitchen and dining room – creating a more open-plan feel 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.

    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) for further information.

    Key questions to ask yourself

    • What don’t you like about your current kitchen?
    • How do you want the new space to work?
    • Are you a lover of modern or traditional design?
    • What’s your total budget?
    • What are your top 5 kitchen must-haves?

    2. Calculate a budget

    How to plan the perfect kitchen

    Image credit: Future PLC/ David Merewether

    Before you start selecting the finest granite worktops and the latest electrical gadgets, set yourself a budget with an upper limit that you know you cannot go over. Remember, plan for the unexpected! Once the old kitchen is ripped out, you never know what might lie beneath and 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 the 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 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, any preparation work such as 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 as they’re 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 geometric flooring

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Ben Anders

    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.

    3. Consider plumbing and heating

    Galley kitchen makeover with pale blue cabinets roof lantern and parquet flooring

    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 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.

    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 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.

    4. Look for lighting options

    When planning kitchen lighting ideas it’s good 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.

    white kitchen with metro tiles and wrought iron lights over the kitchen island

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Richard Gadsby

    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. Make a moodboard

    How to plan the perfect kitchen

    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, 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 styles you are drawn to.

    6. Consult a kitchen designer

    blue kitchen

    Image credit: B&Q

    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.

    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 will oversee the project from start to finish.

    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.

    The KBSA (Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom Specialists Association) has these guidelines for choosing a 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 per cent 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. Where to buy a kitchen

    Green kitchen at Wickes

    Image credit: Wickes

    There are three main options when it comes to choosing your kitchen supplier.

    •  DIY retailers like B&Q, Wickes (who supplied this bold U-shaped kitchen idea) and Homebase, as well as Ikea. Though they’re at the lower end of the market price-wise, you’ll still get planning advice and good quality fixtures and fittings. Expect to pay from £5,000 (price for a whole kitchen including appliances and fitting?)– less if you install it yourself.
    • High street showrooms such as Harvey Jones, John Lewis, John Lewis of Hungerford and Magnet have branches throughout the country. For around £10,000 to £15,000, you’ll get a more personal approach, good quality cabinetry and fittings and a larger choice of designs.
    • Independent retailers. These are often family-owned businesses with years of experience and expertise just waiting to be tapped into. They sell branded kitchens such as Second Nature, Metris, SieMatic, Stoneham, Nolte, Alno and In-Toto. Don’t be afraid of popping in – their designers are there to help and most good showrooms will offer a free consultation to get things underway.
    • Bespoke kitchen companies such as Mark Wilkinson, Underwood, Roundhouse, Smallbone of Devizes, Prentice Furniture, Figura, Simon Bray and Holloways of Ludlow will create a kitchen to your exact specification, right down to the thickness of the carcass and the tailor-made storage inside. This costs however, and you can expect to pay upwards of £25,000.

    8. Call in the professionals

    So, you’ve found your kitchen designer, chosen your kitchen 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 needs to be clear about what needs to be done when, as delays and mistakes in kitchen planning can be costly.

    sea green kitchen scheme, sea green cabinetry, sea green wall tiles

    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 you’d 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 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.

    There are so many things to consider for 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 if the kitchen company is 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.

    9. Prepare for cabinet and worktop fitting

    wooden kitchen with quartz worktops

    Image credit: Future PLC

    Depending on what kind of kitchen you’ve bought your units will arrive either flat-packed for you to put together yourself, or arrive with rigid carcasses the kitchen fitter just places and adds the doors to. 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 a kitchen is usually the worksurfaces. 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 or 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 finial fitting.

    Many of the mid and high-end kitchen companies will ensure you’ve got a temporary surface to work on while you wait for the tempting to be done.

    10. Choose your finishing touches

    How to plan the perfect kitchen

    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 idea.

    ‘When choosing the style, it’s important to consider the long term. Decide what’s in and what will quickly go out of fashion’ advises Adrian Stoneham, MD, Stoneham Kitchens.

    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. This is also where you can experiment with some DIY if your budget is tight: our guide to how to grout tiles has all the advice you need for tiling a splashback, for example.

    All the latest from Ideal Home