How To Plan The Perfect Modern Kitchen / by Tash South

A new kitchen is a big investment that can set you back tens of thousands. With space at a premium, especially in big cities, we expect a lot from our kitchens, they have to provide a cooking, dining and working space. Planning a new kitchen can be daunting, the sheer volume of choice and trends that are meant to be helpful, can stop you in your tracks.

But fear not, as with every huge task; break it down, start with the basics, and go from there.

My head is firmly in kitchen-land. Over the past few weeks I've been planning two beautiful modern kitchens, one with a lovely big budget, and the other - not so much!
I've put this post together with both in mind, including tips on how I would approach kitchen design projects for myself, and for my clients, and I hope that it helps you too.

This kitchen in a fantastic mix of materials is by AUHAUS Architecs, Australia

If you’ve inherited your kitchen with your house purchase, or haven't renovated it for a while, you probably already know what really annoys you about it. The sink might be in the wrong place, or the entire kitchen might be in the wrong place! Start by noting all the things about the kitchen that you’d like to change to make it more practical and user-friendly.

This stylish kitchen is by Copenhagen-based Garde Hvalsøe who also designed Noma star chef René Redzepi's kitchen

Usability is obviously very important, but to get the absolute most out of your design, flip this thinking, and focus on enjoyment for a minute, consider where you, family and guests would want to sit to relax and eat, and include this in your planning too.

Having the main work area face the seating area makes for a great sociable layout.

Then start on the placement and planning. Most of us living in big cities don’t have the luxury of large kitchens, so we have to be clever about how every inch of space is used.  

When space planning there are a few main things to consider: The shape of the room will usually help to decide the kitchen layout (U-shaped, L-shaped, galley etc.)

Golden triangle or Bermuda triangle?

I’ve planned and lived with city kitchens so small that the long-standing rule of including a ‘kitchen work triangle’ has pretty much had to vanish!

The idea of optimizing kitchen layouts by using the triangle started in the 1920s when the concept was developed to determine the most efficient use of space by drawing an invisible triangle between the hob, sink and fridge, and kitchen designers and architects still use it today.

A modern kitchen sits beautifully in this Edwardian home.

To summarise the concept: No side of the triangle should be less than 4 feet (1.2 m) or more than 9 feet (2.7 m). The sum of all three sides of the triangle should be between 13 feet (4.0 m) and 26 feet (7.9 m).

Zoning and Space Planning

If you are not lucky enough to have the space to accommodate the triangle, use zones instead, for example, a single wall kitchen can be arranged into definite cooking, prep and food storage zones.

Other recommended measurements to consider so that you and your selected sous chef are not constantly crashing into one another are:

  • Aisles should ideally be 42 inches (110cm) for one cook, or 48 inches (120cm) for multiple cooks. (In very small kitchens you can get away with 90cm to make the most out of the space).
  • The hob should have a clear 15 inches (38 cm) area on one side, and at least 12 inches (30 cm) on the other side.
  • Leave about 36 inches (91 cm) for food prep next to the sink.
If the thought of space planning your own kitchen is just too much to bear, then head to akitchen store - most good kitchen companies will offer a free planning service where they will sit with you and discuss your exact needs and requirements. 

In a large kitchen it's easy to plan a perfect golden triangle, but it's not always a possible in smaller kitchens.

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Always a place to sit

This can be a breakfast bar, nook or simply a chair in a cozy corner – depending on your kitchen size, but what better way to cook than to have good company (and a taste-tester) sitting nearby – probably enjoying a glass of wine.

Adding little nooks will make a kitchen much more sociable and cozy.

Drawers, drawers, and more drawers!

Once you have your layout sussed, turn your attention to storage. You will always need more storage than you think, so maximise every inch.
In my opinion, large drawers are the best thing to happen in the modern kitchen in recent years. They are fantastic for storing everything from crockery and large saucepans to food storage, and compared to cupboards, everything can be found at a glance. No more rummaging around the back of the cupboard for that bottle of soy you just know you bought a few weeks ago!

Drawers can even fit appliances like fridges and freezers and are a really neat solution for hiding bins and recycling. I know you can get amazingly attractive bins these days, but my preference is too always keep them integrated and hidden for a sleek look and to maximise floor space.

When I plan a kitchen, I only include cupboards where drawers are not an option, otherwise, it’s drawers all the way.

Have a look at this brilliant kitchen by Vosgesparis using only drawers as storage.

The wall cabinet dilemma

The problem is, wall cabinets really close in a space and cause shadows over worktops, but if you remove them, you lose a lot of storage space, but I think that the benefits of removing them far outweigh the loss of storage.

Besides, with some clever planning, like adding a kitchen island, a wall of cabinets or open shelving, you can create much more user-friendly storage elsewhere. Clearing the walls of cabinets will instantly make the room seem larger and more spacious, as well as provide an opportunity to add more modern touches like a picture ledge or statement tiling.

These geometric wall tiles are much more interesting to look at than wall cabinets!

Ten Insider Tips To Get A Designer Kitchen Look

Style and colour

This is a difficult one, it’s so tempting to follow trends and to copy the beautiful kitchens in the latest interior mag, just this week I spied a leopard print kitchen in my local kitchen design store! I’ll bet you a lot of money that whoever chooses that kitchen, will probably want to change it in a year or two.

Choose your style and colour carefully, you’ll probably only ever re-do your kitchen every 5-10 years, so you have to love it. I always recommend mixing neutrals with long-lasting and robust natural materials for a timeless kitchen.

This sleek neutral kitchen is by Balthaup.

This sleek neutral kitchen is by Balthaup.

White, black or dark grey mixed with wood, metals and marble (or Corian) is a great place to start, but if you love colour in your kitchen, a painted kitchen may be for you, that way you always have the option of re-painting the doors if you want a change – at not too much expense.

Rich wood textures, concrete and copper sit together beautifully in this kitchen by Espresso kitchens. The wall cabinets have been painted white so that they recede into the white wall behind.

And don’t forget the flooring, in an average-sized open plan space, I always try to keep the flooring the same throughout, continuous flooring makes the room appear larger.
I’m a big fan of wooden plank or parquet flooring in a modern space, it’s so versatile and the correct type will be hard-wearing and will work with most kitchen finishes.
If you are lucky enough to have the problem of an open plan area that it too large, the space will benefit from zoning areas by using different flooring in the kitchen and living or dining areas.

Wooden flooring always looks beautiful in a kitchen - large or small.

We expect a lot from our kitchens, they have to work hard and look good, so it pays to take the time and really think about the materials and the details.

The statement island

Ah, the statement island, another of my absolute favourite things in a modern kitchen. It has truly changes the ways we use our kitchens in recent years. Add drawers to the island and I am in kitchen heaven!

My advice would be to always add an island in an open-plan kitchen, it will zone the space perfectly as well as provide an opportunity for style, storage and seating, all in one. If you just don’t have the space for an island, a peninsula might be an option to achieve a similar effect.

This kitchen with an attention grabbing island is by Blakes London.

An Island will transform how you use your kitchen and make it a much more social space to spend time in with family and friends. It’s not always possible to have a hob or sink in the island, but even just having an island with prep space will make a difference. It doesn’t have to be permanent either, in my own kitchen design for the new house, I’ve planned to build the entire island on heavy duty castors so that it can be wheeled to the side when I’d like it out of the way for big parties or get-togethers.

To really make a statement, consider cladding or topping it in a special material that is different to the rest of the kitchen – like marble or brass – and it will become an instant focal point.


Go for the best appliances you can afford, these beauties are from Gaggenau, if your budget can handle it!

Appliances can make a big impact in a kitchen, and never before has the range of brands and gadgets been so vast. You can appliance-up your kitchen to your heart’s desire – from combination micro steam ovens to teppan yaki grills built-in to the countertop – the choices are just endless!

Once you have worked out the best sizes for your family needs, try sourcing appliances with the best function and design for your budget. This is where it does count to use big name brands, they will add a sense of luxury and may even add to the re-sale value of your home.

The Designer's Edge

Adding individual elements to your kitchen will definitely add a designer’s edge. You don’t have to have a designer budget either, in fact adding some thoughtful and unique touches to an inexpensive kitchen, like architectural details and considered lighting, will make it seem like you’ve had the interior professionals in!

Simple brass detailing like this can easily and retrospectively be added to your kitchen for an instant designer update.

We’re all too familiar with Ikea kitchen hacks, with good reason too – as their cabinets are almost impossible to beat on price and are guaranteed for years, I just love this piece from Dezeen that talks about how well-known architects are taking the Ikea hack to a whole new level. There’s even a mention of BIG, the Copenhagen and New York studio led by Bjarke Ingels (Netflix’s Abstract).

Reform Ikea kitchen hack by BIG via Dezeen

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