Kitchens: should you renovate or cosmetically update?

Yesterday, I was reminded of the kitchen in my previous home, as the new owners posted an image on social media (yes, we became friends!).  This morning, as I unloaded the dishwasher in my current kitchen, I considered, not for the first time, the difference between a kitchen that looks good and one that works well for its owners. 

You see, my previous kitchen was designed for us, by us, from a blank slate. My husband and I took an inventory of everything we needed to house, what functions it needed to fulfill and considered how we were likely to work in it. It was 'only' an Ikea kitchen, built on a relatively low budget, but tidying up was a breeze, as the dishwasher was merely a hip-swivel away from where the crockery and cutlery lived, the pots and pans were housed in deep drawers next to the cooker and the large island running parallel to the hob meant that it was easy for two or more people to work at once.


My current kitchen, which is beautifully made, doesn't work for me (which is not to say it did not work for the previous owners of course).  I find the storage inefficient, can't seem to find a way to store the dishes close to the dishwasher, and every small job entails multiple treks back and forth. I will be addressing this soon, but even I am beset with thought that 'If it cost a lot of money it should work' or 'Maybe a fresh coat of paint will help'.

No-one relishes the thought of major work, but if you're weighing up whether to redesign your kitchen versus simply refreshing it, try being especially mindful as you use your kitchen, while you consider the following:

Reasons to consider redesigning your kitchen:

  • Simple jobs (making tea and toast, blending a smoothie etc.) take longer than they should because things are scattered over a wide area
  • It's difficult to find ways to store things where they are most needed (pans next to the cooker, crockery close to the dishwasher, mugs near the kettle, etc.)
  • Storage is at odds with your physical frame, e.g. wall cabinets too high, work surfaces too low, narrow gaps between wall units and kitchen island)
  • Too many functions are centred on small areas of the kitchen (e.g. the kids getting breakfast while you make a cup of tea creates stress and friction)
  • Inability to work alongside your partner without stress emanating (if you would otherwise enjoy cooking together of course!)
  • The kitchen feels fundamentally unsafe for small children e.g. because garden access is close to the cooker
  • Counters are full of small appliances and jugs of utensils, limiting work space
  • Insufficient seating space
  • Insufficient *accessible* storage, for example, storage is very focussed on conventional cupboards rather than incorporating deep drawers and pull-out larder units.

Reasons to consider cosmetic upgrades or a more straightforward overhaul:

  • The appliances or surfaces look tired or are not working effectively (both can be retrofitted)
  • Cabinets are sound but look dated or shabby (most can be painted, even laminates, if you know how, knobs and pulls can be replaced etc.)
  • Lighting is inefficient
  • Storage is in basically the right places but the contents are difficult to access; it's a relatively straight-forward job to retrofit cabinet interiors with pull out baskets, swing-out corners etc.
  • You have not yet exhausted the possibilities of rearranging the contents of your kitchen.  Ask yourself where the optimum place for your pans, plates, utensils, cleaning products,  tea towels actually is and endeavour to implement this first!
  • Space is being taken up by things that could be removed,  stored elsewhere or on additional open shelving, such as cookery books, vases, jam jars and Tupperware.

In short, if there are fundamental functional challenges with your kitchen, no amount of cosmetic tweaking will help and you will continue to lose precious minutes every single day. Cosmetic improvements still take time, cost money and create disruption so it's worth making sure you're taking the right path rather than facing doing it all again in a year or so because it didn't address the fundamental issues. 

And if you're about to embark on major work, or are in the midst of it; take heart: a kitchen specifically designed to meet you and your family's needs will be well worth it in the end!

Check out Blum for useful information about kitchen zone planning, and Hafele for retrofitting cabinet interiors.  Struggling to know which route to take? Drop me a line via my contact page!