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How To Plan Your New Kitchen Like An Interior Designer

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

A shaker style kitchen designed by London-based interior designer Catherine Wilman in Fulham, South West London
A shaker style kitchen designed by London-based interior designer Catherine Wilman

For many of us, the kitchen is the hub of the home, often the centre of family life and socialising. Great design can elevate these spaces to make cooking a joy, improve functionality and sociability. Get it wrong, however, and the chances are you'll be stuck with the after-effects for a long time (on average, most of us only remodel our kitchen every 10-15 years – and some wait even longer.)

Here, London-based Catherine Wilman, gives her tips on how to plan your new kitchen design like an interior designer.

Kitchen in Fulham, West London, designed by Catherine Wilman Interiors with island and hand-made cupboards
Kitchen work triangle with sink, fridge and oven within reach of prepping the area in this design by Catherine Wilman

The Work Triangle

Traditionally, kitchen ergonomists suggest we create a triangle, where we can move with ease between our cooker, fridge and sink – the three key workstations in any kitchen.

Beyond the triangle basics, think in terms of creating different 'task' zones. If you are looking for new home kitchen design ideas you may wish to plan a prepping zone, an eating zone and a food storage zone, for example. Some kitchen islands feature different worktop materials to delineate prepping and eating areas.

Most importantly, consider how you live your life day-to-day, what things irritate you, and what you can't live without. If you're a coffee nerd, for example, you'll want to prioritise a place for your espresso machine, and somewhere nearby to store beans and cups. If you love baking, a proofing or warming drawer could be an essential.

Microwave and other kitchen items are hidden behind tall sliding door in this basement kitchen in Chelsea, West London, designed by Catherine Wilman Interiors
Microwave and other kitchen items are hidden behind tall sliding door

Storage Solutions

To keep worktops clutter-free, consider installing a workstation behind cabinet doors, where you can hide kettle, toaster and other gadgets, such as the kitchen we designed, pictured. Many modern fitted kitchens incorporate a pantry that provides a home for food packets and spices. Deep pull-out drawers for housing pans and plates are a modern must.

Consider floor-to-ceiling cupboards to maximise every inch, and folding doors . To retain a feeling of space, wall cabinets with glass fronts help open things up – and are ideal for displaying beautiful glassware and crockery. Similarly, cabinets that appear to float above the floor can stop things feeling too cramped or crowded.

Designer kitchen workstation keeps area clutter-free at this home in Fulham, West London, designed by Catherine Wilman Interiors
A workstation hidden behind cabinet doors keeps a kitchen clutter-free

Think about small details as well as the big ones. The internal arrangement of your cupboards will make a big difference to how organised you feel. There are lots of ingenious solutions around these days. Spice racks, shelf dividers and drawer inserts stop chaos reigning, and mean everything has its right place. You may wish to include a slot for chopping boards or oven trays, a built-in wine-rack or other bespoke touches that make life that little bit easier. Again, focus on your own lifestyle and the needs of your home.

The Key To Contemporary Kitchen Island Design

A contemporary kitchen island – they're a great way to maximise worktop space, and a natural divider in a multifunctional kitchen-diner.

First of all, you'll want to get your dimensions right. As a rule, you'll need 100cm or more of 'clearance 'zone' around each side of your island, so you don't end up 'shuffling' around it. Avoid positioning drawers and doors so they open towards each other.

In general, it's wise to go as large as possible, otherwise your island can end up looking lost. Most are at least two metres long, often much more - too small and it could simply be impractical.

Boffi contemporary kitchen island in basement design by Catherine Wilman Interiors with polished concrete floor
Boffi kitchen island in this contemporary basement design by Catherine Wilman Interiors

The oversized island, pictured, by Boffi Kitchens showcases clever storage solutions as well as creating a large social hub to cook around. The island in this roomy kitchen gets it just right. It suits the size of the room, offering a space for a hob, but also plenty of practical worktop.

When planning an island, obvious questions include: Will it be used as a breakfast bar, a place to prep and wash-up, or all of these? Is it going to incorporate a sink or hob, and if so where will the cooker hood sit – and is there room to incorporate a dishwasher?

Choosing an induction hob that sits flush with your worktop, and a undercounter sink will help keep things sleek and unobtrusive. There is a range of appliance suppliers out there to fit all sizes of budget. If you are deeply invested in your cooking time or just looking for the best on the market you could consider Sub-Zero Wolf, or Gaggenau - a midrange alternative, but still extremely good quality, are brands such as Bosch, Neff or Siemens. You may wish to choose an antique finish tap and butler sink, for a touch of rustic chic that adds character - it's all about your personal style.

White open plan kitchen-diner with contemporary kitchen island and banquette seating by Catherine Wilman Interiors in Maida Vale, West London.
Kitchen-diner extension in Maida Vale, West London

bespoke sliding door at the open plan kitchen in Maida Vale, West London, designed by Catherine Wilman
Bespoke sliding doors can close off the open plan kitchen at the Maida Vale home

Don't forget to think about your general run of cabinets. The latest trend at Catherine Wilman Interiors is for kitchens to forego wall cabinets entirely (if space allows) for a more relaxed, open, less 'kitcheny' vibe, and maybe add a shelf to display some decorative items.

Remember to consider the view from your dining area. You probably don't want to be looking at piles of washing up while you are relaxing over dinner with friends. A bespoke sliding door can be used to separate the living room or dining area from the kitchen. At our project in Maida Vale, West London, we made a wooden door, pictured, that can be pulled out from the wall to close off the living room.

Which Layout For Your New Kitchen Design?

Kitchens have moved on in recent years: they're no longer just spaces dedicated to cooking and washing up, but family hubs for dining, socialising, even the kids doing their homework.

Layouts have moved on accordingly, with open-plan kitchen-diners becoming the norm in larger homes. Your overall layout will largely depend on the shape and size of your room, and factors such as the position of windows. Think about flow – how you'll move around the space. Will it be safe for children? Will your island block the natural pathway to your garden? Will kids be able to get a drink from the fridge without getting under the feet of the chef of the house?

If your kitchen is an awkward shape, a professional interior designer will be able to help you make the most of it, and come up with solutions you probably haven't considered. When working for a client I like to have a wooden mock-up of the correct sizes for the island and kitchen cupboards so you can walk around them and get a feel of the space before deciding on the final layout.

Using a simple wooden frame, I planned the kitchen island location at a property we renovated in Fulham, South West London, see images. The space was tight as the kitchen wasn't very wide, it worked on the 2D plan but I wanted feel what it was like to move around the space before we confirmed the final depth of the island and distance from the worktops, so we mocked up a frame. It is a useful exercise and reassured my client it the layout would work.

A simple wooden frame helps plan kitchen island ideas at the home in Fulham, West London
A simple wooden frame helps plan the location of a kitchen island

Classic Kitchen Layouts

Galley: This usually features two parallel banks of units with a walkway in the middle - often it's the default option in slim spaces and small apartments. If you've a narrow galley kitchen, look for smart solutions like the Neff Slide & Hide oven – it features a clever 'disappearing' door which doe not jut out into the room.

U-shaped: This can be a fantastic way to maximise worktop and cabinets along three adjacent walls, especially if space is fairly limited – a typical U involves units and sink running beneath a window.

L-Shaped: A classic, versatile design: an L can be a godsend in a smaller flat, for example, but can also be incorporated with an island in a larger space.

Don't forget to think about your general run of cabinets. The latest trend at Catherine Wilman Interiors is space allows we for kitchens forego wall cabinets entirely for a more relaxed, open, less 'kitcheny' vibe, maybe add a shelve to display some special decorative items.

Shaker style bespoke kitchen cabinet and white quartz worktop at new kitchen design in Fulham, West London, by Catherine Wilman Interiors
Shaker style bespoke kitchen cabinet

Shaker Style Kitchen Cabinets

Shaker cabinets are the gift that keep on giving. Their classic rustic style can appear more traditional or more contemporary, according to the finish and hardware you choose – handles can add a chic, modern detail that's also super-practical.

If you prefer a more modern look, choose plain doors with push-click mechanisms to keep things simple.

bespoke cabinets at new home kitchen design ideas in Maida Vale, West London, by Catherine Wilman Interiors
Having hand-made cabinets mean you will be able to incorporate unusual dimensions

Bespoke Kitchens

Your choice here will probably be largely down to budget. But bespoke kitchens are worth the extra expense. Having hand-made cabinets means you will be able to incorporate unusual dimensions and ensure you don't have odd-shaped gaps that need to be filled at the end of a run of cabinets. Quality materials are also more likely to last the distance.

Your kitchen isn't just about stylish cabinet doors. Choosing the right carcasses also makes a big difference. Consider how these will appear not just when doors are shut, but also when they are open. If you have the budget, it’s well worth thinking about a slightly more luxurious look and feel. A lovely solid wood interior, for example, really exudes a feeling of luxury.

Don't be afraid to mix things up either. For example, if your budget is restricted, you could choose cheaper off-the-shelf carcasses for your lower units, to house appliances such as fridge, dishwasher and oven. Then you could get bespoke units made for the top cabinets to help create the feeling of a more expensive kitchen.

pale grey bespoke handmade cabinets in Fulham, West London, luxury kitchen design by Catherine Wilman
White or pale grey units are a classic look that will not date, such as this one designed by Catherine Wilman in Fulham

Choosing Colour Schemes For Kitchens

Colour is a big decision in any kitchen. White or pale grey units are a classic look that won't date and but will keep things light and uplifting. If your space is light and bright, you may feel confident enough to go for darker shades. Matt-painted colours such as “Little Greene, French Grey” are timeless and particularly popular in kitchens right now.

If a dark shade everywhere is a little too bold for your taste. The idea that you need everything to be uniform and matching is no longer in vogue. This gorgeous kitchen features light, bright units round the edges, but the island is painted a modern grey, to keep things grounded and add a stylish, modern edge.

Think about the future. A hand-painted kitchen is a smart choice for multiple reasons – it will look beautiful now, but also means you can easily switch cabinet colours as fashions change, and give things a freshen-up when things start to look tired.

kitchen island quartz worktop and arenastone in the extension design by Catherine Wilman Interiors in Fulham, West London.
Kitchen island quartz worktop and, in the rear, the arenastone worktop at our project in Fulham

The Right Worktop

A significant part of the look of your kitchen will be down to your worktop choice. Marble is a classic, luxurious option. It's heat-proof, hygienic and will never date. If it’s not within budget to have it everywhere, consider just installing it on your island for an elegant statement. Light-coloured marble such as Carrara are more affordable and popular.

Remember, however, that marble doesn't suit everybody – it's a natural material that can easily stain from oil, juice or wine spills, so will need to be sealed. It can also easily scratch, chip and crack, so special care should be taken. However due to its natural origins, every couple of years this can be polished to minimise any previous scratches.

If you're looking for a practical, super-durable alternative, there are lots of great composite stones out – these include Silestone, Caesarstone and Neolith composite.

Bianco Eclipsia quartz, as seen in the worktop we installed at the kitchen extension project in Fulham, pictured. For the worktop by the sink and splashback we used arenastone (venato bianco) - which is composed of a siliceous quartz and special resin.

Corian is another popular worktop choice. It is an acrylic polymer-derived man-made material that is super-sturdy, stylish plus scratch and stain-resistant - and can be moulded into sinks for a seamless effect.

Herringbone mosaic tile pattern splashback and Perrin and Rowe brass kitchen taps with white quartz worktop in London kitchen design by Catherine Wilman
Herringbone mosaic tile adds a subtle detail to the splashback at the kitchen in Maida Vale

Kitchen Splashbacks - Make Them A Feature

Don't just automatically reach for plain white tiles. A splashback can become a gorgeous feature in your kitchen, adding personality and a touch of luxury. These elegant herringbone pattern tiles at our project in Maida Vale, West London, pictured, add a subtle detail that really brings the kitchen to life. The gorgeous muted, pale quart worktop contrasts with the antique brass tap by Perrin and Rowe.

You can create a dramatic effect by using mirror as a splashback. Smoked mirror is elegant and timeless, adding depth and the illusion of extra space. Coloured glass makes another great low-maintenance splashback. A growing trend is continuing your worktop up the wall as a splashback, for a simple, seamless look. This could even incorporate a shelf for displaying decorative items and storing essentials. Splashbacks don't need to be fancy. If budget is an issue, look for a simple, durable wipeable eggshell paint. Avoid emulsion in kitchens, however, as this will be harder to keep clean.

kitchen ceiling lighting pendant above island at the project in Maida Vale, West London, by Catherine Wilman Interiors
Pendant lighting at the kitchen in Maida Vale

Kitchen Ceiling Lighting

Last-but-not-least, lighting is a vital component in any designer kitchen. Remember, you'll be using your kitchen at night and during dark winters as well as in bright daylight. Think about mood as well as practicality so your kitchen is enjoyable to hang out in, any time - playing with lighting effects can really alter the feel of your space.

Here at Catherine Wilman Interiors, we create whole lighting plans to set the perfect mood for entertaining as well as functionality. However, we also collaborate with specialist lighting designers. The absolute perfectionists in this sector are John Cullen Lighting, with ample variations for any mood and beautifully subtle fittings. A run of two or three industrial-chic pendants above an island has become a modern style staple for a reason – it adds character and offers practical task lighting, such as the pendants pictured from our Maida Vale project. Other lighting options range from recessed spots to under-cabinet LEDs.

As a rule, keep spotlights at least 30mm from your wall units. If you have kitchen units that reach up to the ceiling, ensure the doors will open without interfering with the lights – an easy mistake to make. Don't forget to put your lights on a variation of circuits. This means you can quickly create different moods; for example, you may want dimmer lights when guests are coming over for dinner, and spotlights to highlight particular items.

Lighting can be tricky so talk to a professional designer as well as your electrician to help you make the right choices.

Thanks for reading.


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Dawn Watters
Dawn Watters

I love the lights over in the island and in the corner. Could you please tell me where you found them?

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