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Renovating the kitchen: where to start?

The kitchen is the heart of the home. It's where the whole family gathers for meals, for entertaining, doing homework and paperwork, so it's important to make it user-friendly for the entire household. Clever cabinets, spacious work surfaces, practical layout, intelligent equipment and storage: make functionality your goal. Here's the recipe to help you design an ultra-functional kitchen, one that combines practicality and good taste.
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Meeting everyone's needs

To maximize your investment and make the most of your kitchen's new, functional features, it is crucial to plan carefully.
To plan your project, you will need to:
  • Establish the household's needs by thinking about everyone's lifestyles
  • Set a budget
The family's different needs and lifestyles

There are several factors to consider when working out what you want from your kitchen. These include:
  • The size of the household and everyone's specific needs. Plan for sufficient space so everyone can circulate with ease. Take each person's unique features into consideration: wheelchair, reduced mobility, young chefs wanting to cook up a storm, etc. Such needs can be catered for by applying a few universal design rules; for example, by adjusting the height of counters and the kickplate space under the base cabinets.
  • Activities and lifestyle: family dinners, lunches grabbed on the run, homework, bill-paying, meal preparation – these can be hectic moments in the daily routine. Accommodating everyone so that they can carry on their pursuits certainly makes life easier.
  • Eating habits: got an amateur baker or pastry chef in the family? Consider fitting a purpose-designed surface into the worktop, such as marble. If you make your own preserves, expand the pantry and fit high shelves. If you love to entertain, increase the seating at the counter and plan a “bar” corner.
  • Kitchen equipment and appliances: every kitchen is home to an abundance of items requiring storage, from small kitchen appliances to table linen, cookware, tableware and utensils. Minimize the to-and-fro between cabinets by creating storage areas close to the food preparation area.

Setting a budget

Your kitchen renovation budget should provide for using quality materials as well as the cost of installing everything, of course. Your budget must include estimates for each aspect of the project:
Some major or specialized work will call for qualified professional help, which can sometimes swell the costs considerably. Now is the time to budget for it.

Optimizing the space

To optimize your kitchen space, plan it so that several family members can use the kitchen at the same time. Currently, the trend is towards setting up work stations or areas, following a natural sequence, with each area equipped for a particular task.
  • A food preparation area including a work surface to prepare food and use various utensils. This area should be near a sink for rinsing food, and close to the stove. This is also the most practical area for a second sink, if you're planning one. Drawers for knives, utensils, bowls and small kitchen aids also belong here. If you're thinking of installing a butcher's block or a compact refrigerator for your often-used ingredients, the food prep area is the perfect place.
  • A clean-up and storage area including the main sink and the dishwasher, storage for cookware and utensils, and a cupboard for cleaning products. Don't forget a space for recycling bins, the trash can and a bin for compostable scraps.
  • A cooking area designed around the stove, the oven and the microwave oven. The surrounding countertops should be made of heat-resistant materials, such as tile or stone, suitable for hot dishes. Make sure cooking utensils and equipment, spices and condiments are stored close at hand.
  • Any other area which makes the everyday easier: an office recess with a charging station, a computer, a filing system, telephone, notebook, etc. Or how about a bread-making area with a stone countertop, a corner equipped with a bar where your guests can enjoy a pre-dinner drink, or a dinette? It's all about you and your lifestyle.
  • Traffic flows more smoothly in L- or U-shaped kitchens.
The work station strategy is a good basis on which to organize the kitchen and to optimize the triangle principle. This is a kitchen design concept whereby each of the three most important elements in a kitchen – the refrigerator, cooktop and sink – all represent one corner of a triangle. Observe the sequence of food preparation to reduce distances and unnecessary kitchen gymnastics.

Lighting

Given that we ask our kitchens today to be so multi-functional, good lighting is essential. Plan your lighting scheme in “layers”, i.e.:
  • General lighting, that is adjustable and can be adapted to the room's natural light source as it changes throughout the day. Recessed lights, hanging lights and track lights fitted with dimmer switches are all ideal.
  • Specific lighting for each work station. Each work area needs to be well lit. Recessed lights fitted beneath wall cabinets are hard to improve on, because the light shines between eye-level and the level of the work surface.
  • Decorative lighting, which lends atmosphere to the room and increases brightness if needed.

Anticipating your changing needs: universal design

Here are a few ergonomic considerations, in order to continue living comfortably as you get older:
  • Seamless countertops, for sliding pots and pans;
  • Outlets and switches installed nearer the ground and more accessible for wheelchair users;
  • A minimum of 60" left between the different kitchen areas, such as countertops, to manoeuvre with a wheelchair or a walking aid;
  • Faucets with a motion detector or with twin lever controls;
  • Countertops 34" or 36" high, which are more ergonomic for smaller people or wheelchair users;
  • Drawers rather than cabinets;
  • Countertops whose colours contrast with the colour of the tableware and utensils, making these items more visible and preventing accidents.
Once you have identified your needs and drawn your kitchen layout, draw a scale plan showing the plumbing, electricity, sinks, countertops, island, appliances, windows, doors, etc.

Choosing materials

Don't stray from the idea of the environment you want to create, and trust your personal tastes. Remember, however, that certain materials are more appropriate. Above all, make quality a priority; the kitchen is the most-used room of the home, every day, from morning to evening. The investment will pay off.

Cabinets and drawers

The range of kitchen cabinet styles and materials on the market today is vast:
  • Melamine comes in all styles, from ultra-traditional to ultra-contemporary. What's more, it's reasonably priced and easy to clean.
  • Wood makes a kitchen feel warm and gives it character. Admittedly, it's more expensive, but lasts for years.
  • PVC can be shaped to fit any style, and there is a wide spectrum of colours and textures to choose from.
  • Glass-fronted cabinets brighten the room and can showcase your finest dishes or crystal. Glass is low maintenance.
  • Metal panels offer an eco-friendly option. Metal is practically indestructible and easy to clean.
Ultimately, you cannot go wrong with cabinetry that requires minimum maintenance, whose design is timeless and which you just simply like. It is worth buying quality handles, knobs and kitchen accessories, since they enhance the look of any cabinet or drawer.
In base units, drawers are often more practical than cabinets, since you can easily see and access their contents. Pay attention to the closing mechanism, especially if you have young children or if a senior uses the kitchen. Some pull-out systems are now fitted with a soft-close mechanism which allows drawers to close gently.

Countertops

Finishes, textures, colours, materials – the options are endless:
  • Laminate comes in different shades and textures and convincingly imitates noble materials like stone, concrete or wood. It can be cut to different shapes and sizes, is budget friendly and requires little maintenance.
  • Solid surfaces (synthetic materials), such as Corian, mimic different materials and are available in a wide palette of colours, designs and finishes. Solid surfaces are stain resistant and remain stable even when exposed to sunlight.
  • Tiles – ceramic, stone or porcelain – are the most versatile; they have the potential to harmonize with absolutely any kitchen decor, and they are heat resistant.
  • Metal means modern and professional. It is eco-friendly and easy to maintain.
  • Natural stone symbolizes luxury and adds elegance to any kitchen. Treated with a sealer, natural stone spurns stains and is heat resistant. Engineered stone has the same advantages and is available in a large range of shades and finishes.
  • Wood implies warmth and has a long service life. Just buff it with the sander to bring back its youthful glow.
  • Concrete gives a modern industrial look. It withstands heat and knocks.

Maximize the potential and style of your work surfaces by combining various materials.

Flooring

Spilled food, high heels, toys on wheels, knocks, scrapes and scuffs: the kitchen floor is certainly put to the test! All the more reason to choose a tough, easy-to-clean and comfortable floor covering.
Avoid surfaces that are too smooth; they become slippery and dangerous as soon as a few drops of water are spilled.
  • Ceramic tiles win top marks for being versatile and hard wearing. Available in as many colours and designs as you can imagine, ceramic tiles always outlast the trends.
  • Stone is particularly tough and elegant and, once sealed, repels stains. In the kitchen, pale slate and granite can be particularly successful.
  • Some, more resistant wood varieties, such as bamboo, are a popular choice. They create a cosy atmosphere and give a rich character to the kitchen. If need be, they can be sanded.
  • Almost indistinguishable from solid wood, laminate needs no special maintenance or waxing. It is an excellent compromise for those wanting to give a warm feel to the kitchen, at a more reasonable price.
  • Vinyl and linoleum come in a multitude of colours and textures, some with designs even replicating ceramic and wood. They are inexpensive and easy to install, can be easily cut to shape and require minimum maintenance.

Sinks and faucets

One or two sinks? Single, double or triple basin? Sizes, shapes, depths, materials – it's all a matter of what you're used to and what you need. Today's trend is to install two sinks: a single-bowl sink near the food preparation area and another, bigger one, near the clean-up and storage area.
Faucets must, obviously, be easy to use, not only in terms of being more practical than the faucets you are replacing, but with a view to being better adapted to your needs as you get older, and to encouraging the children to be independent. Motion detectors, single lever faucets and pivoting models with spray nozzles have, happily, made their way from professional restaurant kitchens to our homes.

Here's a practical idea: a pot-filler, a faucet near the stove for filling deep pots and pans.

Ventilation

Cooking smells, steam, humidity; not all emanations from the kitchen are appetizing! Various pollutants also attack the air quality in the home and good ventilation is a must in any kitchen. Therefore, choose your range hood carefully.

Carry out the work

Ready to get started? Yes, but where? The vital working order:

Plumbing and electricity

The water supply is crucial in the kitchen. Make it your top priority to ensure that the plumbing is correctly installed. Unless you're an experienced do-it-yourselfer, leave this to a qualified professional, who will complete the work faster and according to safety standards.
The same goes for the electrics. Unless you're confident you have the know-how, let a competent electrician fit the air ducts, electrical outlets for the lights and sockets for the electrical appliances, etc. You'll be certain that everything has been done safely.

Painting and flooring

Use the opportunity to get any paintwork done before the cabinets, flooring, appliances, counters and the island are fitted. It is so much faster when you don't have to paint around obstacles and in awkward spaces.
Next lay the flooring. Whether you've chosen a hardwood, laminate, vinyl or ceramic surface, laying the floor is something you'll be able to do yourself.

Cabinets and counters

Now you can start fitting the items from which your kitchen's personality will start to emerge, like the cabinets and countertops. Start with the cabinets and drawers. It is better to fit the sink into the counter and then lower the counter onto the base cabinet unit.

Now for the rest...

You can now go ahead and install the equipment you have chosen for the kitchen:

Decorating the room

Decorating your kitchen is your opportunity to put your personal stamp on the room and give the kitchen the atmosphere you want to create.

Storage

Pay special attention to cabinet organization. Pull-out racks, adjustable shelving, various storage modules and corner turntables for pans make each item accessible, easy to store, and ensure you get the most out of every inch of cabinet space.

Furniture

If your new kitchen includes a dinette, a sitting area or an office alcove, aim for comfort when selecting relevant items of furniture like chairs, comfy seats or a desk. After all, you are furnishing the most lived-in room of your home. Remember to allow enough space for traffic to move freely.

Decorative accessories

A golden rule regarding kitchen accessories is to avoid cluttering the work surfaces. Surfaces that are unencumbered promote a soothing and relaxing effect, as well as leaving you more room to work. Apart from a few wall hangings, a mirror or an attractive fruit bowl, limit accessories to useful items such as shelves, attractive kitchenware or your best dinnerware in a glass-fronted cabinet. You don't need much to bring your kitchen to life and create a feel-good space.

Window treatments

All that remains to do is window dress – literally! Easy-to clean fabrics or materials are best, especially if the windows are near the work surfaces and the clean-up area. Food stains, splashes from the faucets and the pans will soon soil them.

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