Kitchen Design Don'ts

Designer Dave Stimmel deconstructs the successful kitchen.

By: Kathy Mccleary

Don't Insist on the Triangle

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Stations, not the old kitchen triangle, are the key to today's modern working kitchens.

He has designed a kitchen around intricate pink toile wallpaper, created a modern kitchen for a converted pre-Civil War stone barn and even worked on a kitchen for a woman who didn't cook but wanted a beautiful kitchen — without appliances. Flexibility and versatility are integral elements of the design process, says Philadephia-based designer Dave Stimmel, whose Stimmel Consulting group has won numerous awards including multiple Kitchen of the Year Merit Awards from Kitchen & Bath Business magazine. Yet, perfection is never the goal, Stimmel says. Here, he talks about some of the biggest kitchen design mistakes.

The "working triangle" philosophy the refrigerator/sink/range was "developed in the 1950s to sell cabinetry," Stimmel says. "It's not apropos for this day and age." In fact, in today's large kitchens, design works better in "stations" — a station for clean up, a station for food storage, a station for cooking. "You can't have a triangle in a 25 by 40-foot room," he says.

Don't Design for One Person

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There should be room at the table (or counter) for everyone in the house, short or tall, says Stimmel.

Relax. This mistake rests squarely on the designer's shoulders. Often, Stimmel says, designers don't look physically at the people who are going to live in and use the kitchen. If the wife cooks a lot but the husband doesn't, the designer will meet only with the wife. Say the husband is 6-foot-5 and the wife is 5-feet tall. The designer creates a kitchen island with space for bar chairs. "She's perfectly comfortable sitting at the island," Stimmel says. "And even though the husband tells you 50 times that he doesn't care about the project, when he can't fit into a chair at the kitchen island, he's going to care."

Designers must involve everyone in the household at some point in the process, Stimmel says. "Drag them kicking and screaming, but get them involved."

Don't Skimp on Storage

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Open shelving and glass-door cabinets can be pretty, but don't forget to plan for enough closed cabinets so you don’t have to "see all the cereal boxes," says Stimmel.

"People will buy a large double oven or 48-inch range so they can do a lot of baking, but don't plan storage space for oven racks and cookie sheets," Stimmel says. Or clients will want "a lot of glass doors and open shelves to make the room look pretty, but the reality is you have to have some concealed storage, some doors you can't see behind. Do you really want to look at those half-eaten boxes of cereal and bags of kidney beans every day? And what about the juicer, toaster, blender, mixer and other small appliances?"

Don't Hang on to the Old

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When planning your kitchen, think "big picture" to estimate the kind of space or seating you’ll need for holiday meals or family get-togethers.

"I have clients right now who have just moved into a new kitchen with lots of added appliances. But they still have all their pots and pans and accessories from their old kitchen. Do you still need a George Foreman grill and 20 different pans when you have a built-in grill?" People need to focus on their new space and how they'll use it, and get rid of whatever they don't need."

Don't Take the Short View

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"The hardest thing for people to do in their own spaces is to envision what they are going to have, as opposed to what they have now," says Stimmel, who insists on having all meetings in clients' homes, not in a showroom.

"I say to every client, it's a process: you are not going to nail this down in one meeting." Clients will argue to add more counter space to a design, for example, saying they don't have enough room to sit four people and still do food prep. "And I'll say, that's true in the kitchen you have now, but when it's bumped out five feet you're going to have plenty of space."

He's even encountered the problem in his own home. When he and his wife bought a small second home on the Chesapeake Bay, she wanted a "house where I can have 10 people for Thanksgiving dinner." Stimmel said it was easy to look at the space and realize that the little kitchen they had would never accommodate that, so it would be necessary to knock down a wall to join the kitchen to the large dining room. "But then I looked at the house as a whole and said to her, 'Think big picture. If you want to have 10 people for dinner, will you need a living room that's going to fit 10 people comfortably, too?' People don't usually let the ball roll down the hill that way."

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