Find the right recipe for your kitchen

Why your next kitchen remodel should be driven by the way you cook


When it comes to kitchens, we’re all suckers for glamour and gleam.

And the bevy of home-related TV programming generously feeds our attraction. But before you set your sights on a European oven or ceiling-high cabinetry, consider first: What really goes on in your kitchen?

Cooking, for sure. But we have different cooking styles, according to an in-depth report from the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) that links needed kitchen elements and design with meal and cooking habits.

Luckily, glamour isn’t sacrificed in the pursuit of functionality. The NKBA study of 800 adults who recently remodeled their kitchen or are planning to soon, shows that updated style and design was a priority for all, whatever culinary segment they fell into.

First, start with the basics—the redesign elements that are universal no matter your in-kitchen style. Then figure out what kind of cook you are and add those elements that fit your specific style.

For Cindy Wills from Carpet One, those basics start from the ground up. “When I look at a kitchen and look for a smart upgrade, I start at the bottom, and that means the flooring,” says Wills. “Your flooring is the foundation that you build your kitchen upon. Keep it simple. A simple or neutral foundation will show off your cabinets, countertops, appliances, and backsplash.”

Lighting is also regularly listed as one of the most important elements in a well-designed kitchen. “No room is complete without a focal point, and lighting is an easy way to introduce a statement piece,” says Sarah Horacek from Ashley Home Furniture. “Whether you are looking to finish off your farmhouse-inspired space or want a more modern flair, finding the right lighting is key. Try a statement-making pendant light above your island or dining table for a look that ‘wows.’ Remember, sometimes the smallest changes make the biggest impacts.”

And it’s not just the main lighting, either. “Every homeowner should change out their old under-cabinet lighting or add new LED under the cabinets,” says Valerie Rabe, a lighting specialist at Bright Ideas. “The latest LED lighting options offer energy-saving and high-light output, and a variety of styles to fit any application.”

Once you’ve solidified those standards, it’s time to self-evaluate. Figure out which type of cook you are, and add those design details that suit your style.

1. The Struggling Cook

What defines you: Does scrambling through the freezer, looking for ways to whip up dinner for a hungry crew at the end of a busy workday sound familiar? You have plenty of company: NKBA finds about half of us are time-constrained and seek to minimize the time and effort of food shopping, meal prep and clean-up.

You are more likely than the “confident cooks” to share kitchen duties with a spouse or partner. Many of you have tried meal kits, and rely on frozen and prepared food to get dinner on the table in a pinch.

Your kitchen gets good use, though, if not always for cooking. It’s the space for the kind of low-key, easy entertaining you prefer, with guests often pitching in or bringing a dish to share.

In fact, non-cooking uses often take priority in a remodel, like a space for kids to toss backpacks or do homework.

Design tips: Drill down into your daily habits to find your particular needs within the broader “struggling” cook category, says Elle H-Millard, a certified kitchen designer for industry relations, NKBA.

For instance, “If one of you does the food prep, and the other clean-up, you may want extra clearance between counters and an island, and ensure there’s a clear workflow pattern for each,” says H-Millard.

Or, if you’re both busy with food prep, your priority might be adding another sink.

If there’s as much non-cooking activity in the kitchen as meal prep, features that do double-duty may be the answer.

A homework desk can be fashioned from existing lower cabinets, while gaining refrigerator space, for instance, explains H-Millard. Refrigerator cabinet drawers that don’t protrude as far as the original cabinet space can be tucked underneath the newly fashioned-desk, “and you can reach down for a drink when you’re sitting there,” she adds.

Since this category tends to entertain informally in the kitchen, refrigerator drawers like these are also a good option so you can reach down, grab a prepared food, and place it on the counter.

The very time-pressed may want to look into induction cook-tops. In the past decade, the price has been sliced by more than half—you can get one for about $800—but they boil a pot of water nearly instantly, and are safe because the surface won’t heat paper or other materials that mistakenly land there.

2. The Confident Cook

What defines you: Meal planning is one of your skills, whether it’s keeping a running grocery list so you don’t run out of needed items, timing a dinner when all the family can eat together, or preparing items ahead of time when you’re having guests.

Entertaining is fun for you, and you’re inviting friends and family over more than most—at least nine times a year. Sometimes, you host a sit-down dinner, and on other occasions it’s a more casual kitchen gathering.

Space to experiment with new recipes would be a welcome extra, because you tend to cook from scratch involving many ingredients.

One reason you work well in the kitchen is because you’ve organized it, but any extra storage is on your wish list.

Design tips: Your problem will be selecting from among the many appliances and devices that will enhance the culinary masterpieces you’re aiming to create.

Among the notable ones, says H-Millard, are steam ovens, which preserve nutrients better than other ovens, and produce better results for things like cakes, which emerge crisper on the outside but moist inside. The steam oven is generally pricier than a conventional one, though.

Since confident cooks are likely to chop vegetables and fresh food rather than buying ready-cut, most will want an efficient food

prep area.

Sinks outfitted with a cutting board and a wire rack that can be lifted and placed over the sink are a practical, space-saving option. And if you need a large, single bowl sometimes, but then need a double one at other times, there are models with removable divides.

Sinks with ice dispensers might be perfect for confident cooks who frequently entertain. “When the ice melts, it drips into the sink,” says H-Millard.

Confident cooks tend to skew older, explains Tricia Zach, the NKBA market research analyst who parsed the study data. “They might want to investigate more accessible design,” H-Millard adds.

3. The Techy Cook

What defines you: You’re using your kitchen to recharge phones and devices, and use the internet to follow recipes or make grocery lists.

Maybe you have a personal assistant device on the counter so you don’t even have to mark an item on the list yourself, but you can just call out a command and it’s done. Or, when you’re cooking, you can watch a wall-mounted, flat-screen TV that’s still in view of other family members who might be comfortably seated nearby in an open plan room.

Manufacturers are rolling out more “smart” appliances, but adoption is slow because consumers tend not to replace until they need to or are remodeling.

Design tips: Anyone with a techy bent will love refrigerators with tiny cameras inside that can be wirelessly connected to a smartphone.

“When you’re in the grocery store, you can call up pictures of what’s inside, so you know what you need,” says H-Millard.

The time-pressed will appreciate smartphone links to an oven, “so you can pre-heat when you’re driving home, and save 20 minutes on dinner prep,” she adds.

Tech means convenience, whether it’s motion-sensors that turn on task lighting when you approach, or grocery lists made with voice commands.

So, be honest. What kind of cook are you? When you figure that out, you can plan your kitchen accordingly.

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