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Kitchen Renovation-Big Picture Planning

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Recently I had my Kitchen completely gutted and renovated. I am an architect so here was a case where I knew the needs of my client (me) very well. The work is through and there are many things that have proven to be a pleasant surprise. Part 1 of this 2 part blog entry will cover some of the big picture planning items that can make your new Kitchen a success. Even if you aren’t planning a new Kitchen, you might want to have a look at PART 2, which wiIt will cover some of the little things that can make a big difference in the usefulness of the Kitchen. If you are doing work on your Kitchen they are worth considering, but many of these items can be added to an existing Kitchen without doing a total renovation. Some are things you can't appreciate until you actually use them day to day. Several were things I almost left out to keep the project under budget. Instead I scraped up the money and added them back in to the scope of work. Lastly there are some organizational items I picked up which helped me get even more out of my Kitchen.

Work Zones:
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Part of the work on this Kitchen involved adding about 6' (1.75 M) of new wall and base cabinets. I didn't just add cabinets for the sake of adding cabinets. I analyzed what the various uses for these areas would be. I spent a good deal of time doing this and I actually went back to square one several times. One of the things I created was a dedicated Baking Area which also does double duty as a Staging Area for items going out to and coming in from my grills. This Baking / Grill Staging area has proven to be a great success. I only started Baking in the last 6 or 7 years and so the gear and supplies had been a bit of a nightmare in terms of finding a home for it. Most of it ended up being stored outside of the Kitchen. When I needed to bake something, I had to go digging in two closets outside the Kitchen and 2 widely separated base cabinets and a wall cabinet before I could get going. Dividing the Kitchen into task related work zones makes the whole Kitchen work efficiently. I mentioned the Baking Area does double duty as a Staging Area for items going back and forth from the grills. This was possible by analyzing the tasks I do in the Kitchen. Baking, with its multiple stage and long rise times, is usually the first thing I do when making a big meal. Often once I get my bread or rolls started, I clean up and it is hours before I need to do any more work on my meal. So this Baking Area gets used early and then can serve as the Staging Area, for grilling which happens later in the day when the baking related tasks are done.

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I also created a Prep Area where I do the majority of my prep. The cabinets in this area house my glass prep bowls to hold the ingredients, measuring cups, cutting boards, spice blenders etc. The Prep Area is also is adjacent to the sink/disposal on one side and the refrigerator on the other. Also the area between the stove and oven is dedicated to cooking related tasks, you might call this a Indoor Cooking/Baking Staging Area. The stove is also near the other side of the sink. This third work area, the Indoor Cooking/Baking Area has the cabinets that houses the pots and pans used on the stove, the bakeware that goes in the oven and the plates the food is served on. A lot of this sounds like a no brainer, but not necessarily. I took me 3 tries before I came up with what has proven to be the ideal arrangement for my needs. Be sure to analyze not only your intended usage, but also look at your work flow to avoid inefficient circulation patterns. You need to be able to tell your architect, kitchen designer or who ever is doing the planning how you use your Kitchen. While there are many typical layouts or traditional workflows your needs may not fit the norm. Be sure to take the time to analyze how you use your Kitchen now, your likes and dislikes and finally how you'd like to use your new Kitchen going forward. After all you are starting with a clean slate, why bring things that don’t work so well forward into the new Kitchen.

In the last section I mentioned work flow. Be sure to take the time to analyze the workflow in your new Kitchen. This can be done on paper or in the full sized model that is your current Kitchen. Put some masking tape down on the floor to represent the new cabinet layout and you have a life sized version you can walk around in. Make sure there is adequate room, good circulation and a logical workflow. It took me three tries before I found something that had the best work flow for my needs. It is a combination of several items. First there is The Task and where it originates from and where it moves onto, the Items Needed for that task (sink, stove and storage cabinets for gear) and the physical Movement needed.

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Let’s look at my Prep Area. The Task is the initial prep of food to go on the stove or out to the grill. When standing at the Prep area counter the refrigerator is to my immediate right and the sink is to my immediate left and the Bakery/Staging Area is behind me. The stove is further to my left beyond the sink. The typical workflow is the food comes out of the fridge and gets placed on the adjacent Prep Area counter next to the fridge. My cutting boards are located in the base cabinet below. The measuring spoons, and food graters are found in the drawer right in front of me. The measuring cups and glass bowls I use to measure out the portions are in the wall cabinet above along with things like a mortar and pestle and the spice grinder. The spices I use are 6 feet behind me in the wall cabinet of the Baking Area. They are all in one place there and I can make one trip to gather them up. Many of these spices do double duty are used in Baking, and this cabinet was big enough to house all of the the spices all in one place. The countertop in front of me in the Prep Area has my knife set, my electric knife and a paper towel holder. To my immediate left is the sink. So to move from the Prep Area to either the fridge or the sink is one step. The typical work flow is from the fridge, one step to the left to the prep counter, one step to the left to the sink and two more steps tot the left to get to the stove or oven. The only detour I may need to take is to go directly behind me to gather the spices housed over the Baking area. This was planned as well. I mentioned that the wall cabinet over the Baking Area was larger and big enough to hold all of my spices. When I Bake I used these spices as well and when something is waiting to go out to the grill I may hit it with a few final spices too. So the spice wall cabinet is serving 3 tasks. When I am doing general prepping, I am through doing the baking prep so the Baking Area counter is cleaned off. I can gather the spices needed for my general prep work and land them on the now vacant baking counter. Once I am done I can move all the spices back to the Prep Area. So this is a very linear workflow: from the fridge to the stove in one direction, with a possible one time detour to the spices 6 feet behind me. In my old Kitchen the spices were in a cabinet above the stove. While you could reach up an grab a spice to add to an item on the stove, there were times grabbing a spice conflicted with someone cooking at the stove.

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The new Baking Area is another example of work flow. In this case everything is right there. The buckets & bags of flour are in the base cabinet in front of me. The various large mixing bowls are in the base cabinet immediately to my right. The whisks, spatulas, wooden spoons, rolling pin and other tools are in the drawers. The spices and various sugars and baking related ingredients are in the wall cabinet above. The counter houses the stand mixer. The only thing that isn't within immediate reach is the sink, which is slightly to the right 6' (1.75 M) behind me. Before I literally used to have to go all over the house to gather things and get ready to bake. Now I stand in one place to do my work, save for a trip to the sink to draw some water. Most days I think this easily saves 15 minutes of extra running around.

The last thing about analyzing workflow is you can avoid conflicts, interference and inefficient use of space. My original plan for the kitchen had the Baking Area to the left of the stove at the corner and then running over to the oven. This area would have had 50 percent more counter space, but the counter space would possibly have conflicts. Also there wasn't as much usable storage space, so some of the baking related items would need to go elsewhere. Some of the space was corner space and wouldn't have been as efficient. Instead I finally ended up with 3 separate areas Prep, Baking/Staging and Cooking that were nicely separated in a triangle with 6' long legs. It has the potential for three different people to be able to working in each of these areas and not interfere with one another. At first I looked at this as a nice touch, but since I do all the cooking, the odds of having 3 people in Kitchen all cooking were slim and none. Well I was wrong. About one month after the Kitchen was back in service I actually had 3 people in there all working at the same time. I was making a leg of lamb and several sides out on my grill, and the worse case scenario happened. One item finished early, another finished late and the third item finished on time-and all of these times were within a minute of each other. I don't care how good you are, you still cant be doing 3 things at once. So I pressed a couple volunteers into service. And sure enough all 3 of us were able to do our own things without getting in each other's way. So to my great surprise my nice touch proved to be essential. Be sure to analyze your workflow and all of the possibilities. Then make sure whoever is doing your design work has this information and takes it into consideration while preparing the plans.

Make Use of All Available Spaces:
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Be sure you take advantage of all of the potential space in your Kitchen. Is there a coat closet off the Kitchen that might serve you better as a pantry vs. a coat closet? In my existing Kitchen the corner area of the base cabinets was actually closed off on both sides and was totally dead space. For some reason the wall cabinet at the same corner was open so you could use the corner space, but for whatever reason the corner cabinet was not. I made sure the new cabinets allowed you to use the corner cabinets in the base and wall cabinets. Also look at some of the accessories available to help you take advantage of all the available spaces within the cabinets & throughout the Kitchen. I will cover this in greater depth in PART 2 of this blog entry.

Pre-Plan your Storage Space:
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When I packed away my Kitchen, it filled just under 40 boxes: 25 small U-Haul boxes and 15 medium U-Haul boxes. About half of the base or wall cabinets were going to house the same items as they did before. These items I packed away and didn’t really fret over them. The other half of the cabinets were either totally new or a slightly different size or configuration than previously. Any item that was going to end up in a different cabinet when it was unpacked, I measured and sketched up on a note pad full of graph paper. This was quick and easy to do as I was wrapping and packing them away. One of the other goals of this renovation was to get some less used Kitchen items, currently stored in closets throughout the house, beck into the Kitchen. For example my 12 pails of flour for baking were housed in a base cabinet in the new Baking Area. So anything outside of the Kitchen I hoped to get back into the Kitchen were measured. Once the cabinets and their shelves were installed I took measurements of the cabinets interiors: clear interior width, depth & total height, also the clear height at the shelf(s) and clear opening at the doors. This last measurement is important because, depending on the cabinet style, there may be less clearance at the doors than inside the cabinet. It doesn't matter how big the cabinet is on the inside, if you can't pass an item through the door.

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While the work in my Kitchen was finishing up, I was able to plan out the storage in all of the cabinets that were new or I planned to use differently. I made sketches of each cabinet with a plan view of the bottom shelf and each of the middle shelves. Then I started overlaying the items I wanted to store in the cabinets. This was a VERY useful exercise, because once I got around to unpacking, everything had a home. Also there were no surprises. Like opening a box and saying: "Oh no! Where the heck are these going to go?" It also pointed out the need to get some additional storage solutions to make better use of the space inside the cabinet. Instead of finding out halfway through unpacking, that I needed to make a run to a Kitchen storage specialty store I had all of this type of thing on hand and ready to go. This pre-planning the storage resulted in a much better final solution than what I would have come up with originally. An example of this is what I ended up doing with the so-called Kitchen electrics: blender, food processor, FoodSaver etc. In my other Kitchen they sat on the counter unused, collecting dust and taking up valuable space most days of the week. This time around I could see that I could house the kitchen electrics on the back shelf of one of the new cabinets. This solved the “collecting dust” issue somewhat and freed up a large amount of counter space. You might think this is less efficient because I have to go into a base cabinet to get the item I want to use first. The reality is: I never used the items in the place when they were on the counter. I'd end up moving these items to another section of counter first. Now for the majority of the time I am making far better use of my countertop. When I do need to use these items, it is not much different than it was before.

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This next bit is going to seem self serving, where I am an architect and I charge for my services, but you need to think about who is doing the planning. These days most of the stores selling cabinets will have one or more people who will plan your Kitchen for you. This may just be a person whose only background and training in Kitchen planning is someone taught them how to use the computer and software used by the store. Some stores will possibly have an interior designer on staff. The first person really isn't formally trained in how to design a Kitchen. The stores advertise "free design" service. Nothing is free. Either way an on-staff person's salary is paid for from the profits the store makes on the cabinets. This will put a cap on how much time and effort they can realistically be expected to spend on your behalf. If you hire an architect, interior designer or independent kitchen planner their time is being paid for by you. To some extent the time spent is limited only by what you are willing to pay. So when you begin thinking about a new Kitchen, also analyze your planning needs. How much help will you need? If you are basically just reworking your existing kitchen with new cabinets and appliances, the free planning services the stores provide should be fine. But the more involved and complex your planning needs are, the more you should consider hiring someone with formal training in Kitchen design to help you out. Think about how much you are spending on your new Kitchen, how much time you spend in the Kitchen and how long you will be living with the end results. This should help put any potential design fees into perspective.

Hopefully some of this has given you some ideas about the items you and your architect , interior designer or kitchen planner need to consider when planning out your new Kitchen. In my case I was an architect, familiar with planning Kitchens and my client was me. So I knew how my client used the Kitchen and what my wants and needs were. But if you are the client and someone else is doing the planning, be sure to arm them with all of the information they will need to design a Kitchen to serve YOUR needs. Part 1 of this blog was about some of the "big picture" items to consider when you are redesigning you Kitchen. PART 2 will cover some of the items that were "nice touches" that were relatively short money but made big improvements to the Kitchen and it's usability. Many of these can also be added to an existing Kitchen and will have the same effect.

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