When a kitchen functions correctly, you can feel it. Your workflow, from food prep, cooking, and serving to clean up and use when a meal isn't in the works, is smooth and free of issues. All kitchens start off with the potential to be highly functional, but choices in where things were installed, what cabinets were picked, or what changes have been made over the years can all lead to a space that doesn't quite work as intended for you and the way you need it. When evaluating your kitchen for a remodel, there are 5 key areas where the function of your kitchen resides.
1. The Kitchen's Basic Layout, aka The Working Triangle
The way that the various appliances and features in your kitchen relate to each other is the foundational element of function in the space. Often referred to as the "working triangle", the three-point arrangement of the sink, cooktop, and fridge form the core of the kitchen's basic layout. When these three elements are arranged correctly for your working style and needs, that's when you'll feel like your kitchen is functional in a general sense. The kitchen is more than these three elements, however. Building off a working triangle that suits you, you'll add in the placement of additional appliances like the dishwasher, wall oven, or microwave, where specific cabinets or drawers for specific items go, and how much space to have between elements for walking around and through the room. The arrangement of these items relative to each other in the floor plan of your kitchen is the heart of functionality.
2. Ample Work Surfaces
Kitchens often need a particular balance between too much and too little counter surface. When it is too little, it becomes hard to work and find places for everything you may need out at the same time. When it is too much, clutter can begin to creep in, or you find that you never use certain areas. The right amount of work surface is dependant on your needs and processes, so there is no "one-size-fits-all" square footage number we can toss out. As a general principle, however, it will typically be better to have more than you need than less. Working surfaces can come in the form of counters along the perimeter of the kitchen, islands and/or peninsulas, sideboard counters, and added kitchen tables. As you use your kitchen, you'll develop preferences for what types of work you do where. Perhaps you prefer to sit when you're slicing vegetables, or maybe you like to really spread out from a single spot when you're baking. It may be helpful to take notes as you use your kitchen when you realize you'd rather have space in a certain area, or if you can see when you've intentionally not used a space that you have. Then discuss what you've found with your kitchen designer who can plan around these needs.
3. Enough Cabinets and a Variety of Cabinetry Types
When a kitchen has a variety of cabinet types, including drawers, cupboards, pull-outs, and open shelving, it's easier for everything to have a proper place. While some items can be stored in any type of cabinet, other items are best stored in a specific arrangement in a certain type of cabinet. This also applies to the size and arrangement of cabinets. You may need a larger cupboard for items like small appliances, but if that size were the only size cabinet in your kitchen, then you may struggle to store smaller items like cups or pantry goods in the over-size spaces. A kitchen with cabinets that are too few in number or too small in size ends up with counterspace pulling double duty as a storage spot. The best way to go about determining the cabinet variety you need is to evaluate what you have to store and to brainstorm what you'd prefer for the smoothest use. Our Guide to Kitchen Design has more information about these considerations.
4. Interior Cabinet Organization
There are several varieties of interior cabinet accessories that extend the storage function of a drawer or cupboard, including pre-made and custom solutions. We've got a separate post outlining our top picks, but in general, any interior organization you can include that keeps cabinet contents orderly will do wonders for the function. Items such as utensils, pans & lids, trays, food containers, and dishes are the most common benefactors of some type of organizational system, but any cabinet or drawer can be outfitted with a solution for its contents that makes them easier to find, use, and store.
5. Proper Task, Cabinet, and Room Lighting
The importance of lighting is a topic that can't be overlooked, and we've often touched on lighting on the blog. A kitchen that is properly lit is not only safer and more comfortable to work and be in, it can also help a great deal with the work you do simply by allowing you to see it better. When looking at functional lighting in the kitchen, look at three main areas: task lighting, cabinet lighting, and overhead room lighting.
Task lighting is oriented to a specific spot in the kitchen and is meant to ensure that an area where you are working is light well enough. Overhead room lighting can take the form of recessed lighting or light fixtures and illuminate the space in a general way. Cabinet lighting can be interior lighting or under cabinet lighting that makes it easier to see into the spaces that the other types of light won't readily reach. Lighting in this manner makes it easier for you to get the item you're reaching for instead of fishing around for it in dim light. Interior cabinet lighting used in cabinets with glass doors will also add to the room's general lighting.