17 Simple Ways to Improve Your Kitchen’s Functionality

June 21, 2017

The key to great home design is in the details—especially those that are so well done you don’t even notice them. As a kitchen designer, I use a number of special techniques to create kitchens that are beautiful in aesthetic and functionality. Here are 17 of my best kitchen design secrets.


All About Outlets

1. Color-coordinate your outlets.

Local building codes often require an electrical outlet every 4 feet in the kitchen. Electricians often choose white outlets, which are practical for functionality but the bane of my design existence. White outlets against a non-white backsplash offer a glaring contrast that detracts from the beauty of the tile.

Fortunately, you can avoid this design dilemma by coordinating your outlets and wall plates to match the color of your backsplash tile (as seen in the photo above). Both colored outlets and wall plates are available from your local lighting and big-box stores as well as on Houzz. It’s an easy, low-cost way to bring your kitchen’s design full-circle.


2. Install under cabinet plug molding.

Create a clutter-free backsplash by installing plug molding beneath the wall cabinets, either towards the front or back of the cabinet. This visually clears up your backsplash while keeping your appliance cords organized. And because plug molding is available in finishes like chrome or matte black, you’ll be able to find one that complements your backsplash and cabinetry.

3. Mix outlet styles.

In designing a client’s kitchen, I ask them if they will keep certain appliances, such as a toaster or coffee maker, indefinitely on their counter. If they will, I add a wall outlet behind where they would place that appliance. Since it will always be plugged in, having the electrical cord dangling from the plug molding above is dangerous. Remember that a combination of outlets and plug molding is the most practical route. If you can, envision where certain appliances will go—this way you can put outlets and plug molding where they will serve you best.


4. Try implementing pop-up outlets.

If you’d prefer an outlet-free backsplash but don’t like the idea of hanging cords, look into installing a pop-up outlet. As its name implies, pop-up outlets disappear into the countertop when they aren’t needed. These can be especially useful in kitchens where there are no wall cabinets to hide a plug molding strip (e.g. floating shelves).


5.Turn the outlet sideways.

If you decide to go with wall outlets, install them sideways and closer to the counter. This way, they have a less obtrusive profile than the common vertical orientation and keeping them close to the counter avoids excessively hanging cords.

Read more about hiding switches and outlets


6. Create a charging station.

From tablets to smart phones, you and your family own a plethora of electronic devices that need charging. Keep your kitchen and devices organized by creating a charging station. An easy way is to make a docking drawer with a hidden charging station. Never lose your charging cables by keeping them tucked in the drawer when they aren’t needed, and keep your devices safe and out of sight when they need to charge.



Lighting Secrets for Style and Function


7.Provide task lighting.

The primary purpose of under cabinet lighting is to illuminate the countertop, which in turn makes food preparation easier on the eyes. That’s why it’s known as task lighting. During installation, keep the light towards the front of the cabinet, not the back. If the light is toward the back of the wall, the light will highlight the backsplash instead of the counter and defeat the purpose of this lighting.


8. Make your cabinets glow.

Having lighting in your cabinet is a great way to showcase your favorite dishes. In the past, lighting a wall cabinet’s interior required all shelves to be glass: The light was at the top of the cabinet and needed to travel to the shelves below. But this meant that the top shelves were more illuminated than the bottom.

Now, LED lighting strips offer an easy solution to equally light the cabinet. I prefer to install them on both sides of the cabinet so each shelf can glow, as shown in the photo above. Hide the LED strip behind the cabinet’s face frame. If your cabinet is frameless, embed the strip in a prepared groove in the cabinet’s sidewall.



Appliance Tricks


9. Hide the dishwasher with paneling.

Paneling your dishwasher gives your kitchen a clean, harmonious look that isn’t interrupted by a stainless steel appliance right next to the kitchen sink. In this photo, the dishwasher lies to the left of the sink, and they opted to leave the refrigerator as is.

10. Conceal the microwave.

Microwaves are still an integral part of most kitchens for reheating beverages and leftovers, but most of my clients prefer to keep them out of sight. To keep them from occupying valuable counter space, you can hide your microwave in a wall cabinet with a lift-up door, as shown in this photo. You will want to make sure that it is at an accessible height; putting it too high increases the potential for accidents.



Hood Smarts



11. Don’t crowd the hood.

When using a chimney hood, always leave at least 2 to 3 inches between the hood and the wall cabinets to the left and right. Visually, the hood will not look cramped. The cabinet sides will stay cleaner longer and will be easier to clean when the time comes.



 12. Rethink glass cabinetry next to a hood.

While glass cabinets can be a lovely focal point next to a hood, they aren’t practical. Unless you’re prepared to constantly clean the glass of the grease and grime emanating from cooking, it’s best to install them elsewhere in your kitchen.


Avoiding Annoyances


13.Define the zones.

Think in terms of food preparation and cleanup zones when planning your kitchen. Do you really want your cleanup sink to be in the island filled with dirty dishes? Keep it as clutter-free as possible: Put the prep sink on the island and tuck the cleanup sink out of the way.



14. Maximize your prep space with an island.

I love symmetry, and for years I would center the sink in the island. But unless the island was 9 feet long, the prep area on both sides of the sink was limited. These days, I hold the sink to one side of the island to allow for maximum prep space. If you divide your island into thirds, the sink should be in the center of the left or right third.

Another consideration when placing a sink in an island is the height of the faucet. The taller the faucet, the more of a focal point it becomes.


15. Countersink the screw.


The cabinet next to a Lazy Susan cabinet with a bi-fold door often shows scratches over time. That’s because the head of the screw holding the Lazy Susan’s cabinet hardware in place protrudes and scrapes across the adjacent cabinet when the door is being closed.

An easy fix for this issue is to have your contractor countersink the screw so that the head of the screw is flush with the wood and no longer protrudes.



16. Account for lid storage.

Having to store pot lids can be frustrating. While there are many ways to solve this problem, my favorite is to create a divider in a pullout drawer, as shown in the photo above. It helps keep your pots and lids organized without causing too much hassle.


17. Clear the decks.

The main goal of designing a kitchen is to keep it as aesthetically pleasing and organized as possible. Consider adding elements like a soap dispenser and or an air switch to keep clutter off the counters and backsplash. Adding in these elements beforehand will ensure your kitchen’s design is always in harmony.

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