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5 things I learned about kitchen design by cooking for myself

I’ve never been a big cook so when it comes to kitchen design, I’ve always just relied on what I learned in design school to guide me in creating efficient, functional kitchens for my clients.

Recently, though, I’ve started cooking for myself more. Actually putting my kitchen to use has revealed much about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to my own kitchen, but more importantly, kitchen design in general.

Read on for my top five realizations.

#1 Workstations still matter

The idea of the ‘work triangle’ is as old as the hills. For designers, it’s so central to everything we’re taught that it’s practically the golden rule for kitchen design.

Woman with dog in luxury custom kitchen
Image via

The triangle centers the kitchen’s overall layout and flow around three main work areas: One for prep, one for cooking, and one for clean up, with the sink usually located in the middle and the stove and refrigerator making the other two points of the triangle.

In my own kitchen (which I have not yet redesigned), the sink is currently on one end, then the refrigerator and the stove are on the other end. It’s definitely not an ideal setup and now that I’m cooking more for myself, I can really appreciate the benefit of a classic work triangle with the sink in the middle. It feels inefficient to have to walk all the way across the room to get from the stove to the sink, and it can even result in added cleanup when something drips or spills en route.

Although I’m more convinced than ever that the work triangle is still highly efficient overall, I still think it’s vital to look at it as more of a personalized workflow based on what works best for you and your specific space. Importantly, the classic work triangle doesn’t take into account our storage needs or limitations due to a lack of space, etc.

At the end of the day, any good kitchen design starts with knowing what you have available to you and then adapting the placement of the workstations to make sense for the flow of your specific kitchen.

Our Yellow Ferry project is a great example of adapting to the space and the individual client to create a kitchen that functions ideally for how they live and cook. Because the home is actually a docked houseboat, the space available for the kitchen was very limited. Instead of only relying on textbook design principles and one-size-fits-all solutions, I approached the kitchen’s redesign by first asking the client, “Where in this kitchen do you feel stuck? What feels awkward to you?” Based on her responses, I was able to create a layout that felt flow-y and natural to her.

Luxury custom kitchen design in a docked houseboat in Marin County, CA by Robin Heard Design.
Image via Robin Heard Design
Kitchen design showing large countertop for baking.
Image via The Pastry Project

#2 Counter space is king

There are no two ways about it: You can never have too much counter space.

That said, no matter how much you have, the less stuff you store on those counters, the better. This maximizes the space you have for cooking and lets you wipe down the countertop easily when you’re done.

A true ‘chef’s kitchen’ will have at least one large island (if not two) to provide lots of workspace, but most home cooks can get by just fine as long as they have a good run of clear countertop along the kitchen perimeter.

The small bits of counter in between the sink and stove or the refrigerator and the wall don’t count! I can’t imagine anyone being able to use those spots for any form of food prep whatsoever and consider them completely useless. Avoid these in your kitchen’s design at all costs!

One item of note here is that I benefit from having an electric induction cooktop in my kitchen, which I use as an extension of the countertop at least 50% of the time. I highly recommend these for smaller kitchens that don’t have much counter space. Topped with a good, large cutting board, they’re perfect for all kinds of food prep whenever you don’t have anything simmering away on the stove.

#3 Items that are used together should be stored together

I love this idea! It takes the idea of storing like items together even further by considering what’s needed to accomplish specific types of tasks in the kitchen and creating organized centers for those tasks.

Kitchen design and organization with baking center including a custom mixer stand cabinet.
Image via S &W Supply Cabinets

For instance, if you bake often, creating a baking station where you store your mixer with your measuring cups, mixing bowls, flour, and sugar makes good sense. Similarly, creating a coffee or tea station where everything needed to brew the perfect cup is stored near the coffee pot or kettle saves steps and keeps anyone wanting a beverage out of the way of anyone preparing a meal.

I personally tend to eat a lot of salads and vegetables and have found that it saves me time and trouble to store my knives and other veggie-chopping tools near the cutting boards and the salad bowls. It’s such a simple tweak but it can make a huge difference in how well your kitchen functions for you.

Even with all of these great ideas, keep in mind that when it comes to storage, the most important principle to follow is to always store the items you use most often so they’re easy to see and get to. Put those big platters you only use once or twice a year up high or in the back of the bottom cabinets to make room at eye level and within easy reach for the things you use every day.

#4 I have corner storage envy

For my clients, I always design corner cabinets with pullouts that maximize those dead corners. Sadly, my own kitchen does not have this, and simply put, I. Am. So. Jealous.

#5 The best kitchens let you connect with your guests

I know people love a separation between their workspace and their guests, and there’s something to be said for being able to hide the messiness of meal prep. But being able to enjoy a sense of connection with your guests where no one is stuck in the black hole of the kitchen (and no guest has to commit to disengaging from the rest of the group to go into the kitchen and keep the host company!) is such a nice feeling.

Guests visit with a cook as they prepare a meal in a beautiful kitchen design.
Image via Pinterest

Flawed though my kitchen may be in other ways, it opens onto a hallway that provides an opportunity for guests to rest their elbows on a passthrough as I cook and clean. This layout creates a lovely dynamic that I’ve come to truly appreciate. I love that the kitchen is separate from the dining room but there’s still an opening that allows me to visit and connect with my guests while prepping and cleaning up meals.

In a large kitchen, an island can create a similar feel or better yet, a bar-height counter with a pass-through that allows you to hide the messy busyness of the kitchen while still accommodating conversation between the kitchen and dining room. Your guests can feel like they're with you without having to be in the kitchen space itself.

Whatever the solution, the idea is to create a layout that provides a feeling of community where people can be connected to the host and the experience of prepping the meal without having to be in the thick of it.

Whether they’re just visiting with you or helping out by pouring glasses of wine or cutting bread, it’s a lovely feeling to be connected together in this way.

Believe it or not, that’s the power of a good layout!


It’s been truly enlightening for me to experience kitchen design from this new perspective. I’m happy to know that the design principles I’ve used in my clients’ homes are all sound and create well-functioning kitchens from the user’s perspective.

But it’s also been great to gain insight into some of the finer details of kitchen design as I’ve experienced not only that certain things work better than others but why they work well.

Best of all, I have a new appreciation for many of the aspects of my own kitchen (and maybe only a slightly more pressing desire to fix those that aren’t my favorites!).

If you’d like a taste of the transformational results we achieved for our Yellow Ferry client and others, reach out to talk with us about your project!


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