I was sitting in a coffee shop with some of my dearest lady friends: a real estate agent, a professional buyer (what a dream job!), an actress, a retiree and me, a food writer. Somehow the conversation came around to designing our perfect kitchens.

While the theatre buyer wanted the most unique and quirky look, the actress was a minimalist and wanted very little in pure white. The retiree thought that investing in high quality materials made for a solid kitchen, while the real estate agent was married to the open concept trends that are so popular with the younger homebuyers today.

So what’s your ideal kitchen look like? I think it’s interesting that not one of my friends talked of the kind of cooks they are. Not one of them talked of designing a kitchen that worked for their cooking style. I cook in my kitchen more than I eat, so my ideal design would be a place where the process of cooking is easy, efficient and yes, even enjoyable: it has a window with a view and natural light; plenty of countertop space, nice things to cook and work with, a few friends always on call, laughter, music—and a big island. For it all to really work, the kitchen would need to be part of an ensemble of spaces that would include an equally wonderful dining area.

Does your kitchen have all of that? I find it disheartening that homebuilder’s work with a one-size kitchen fits all approach. Some allow for a bit of alterations, but the ideal scenario would be to design a kitchen from scratch, to customize it so well, it becomes a part of you and your lifestyle.

Kitchens are the soul of the house and yes, their primary function is all about cooking, but they’re about so much more. They’re also a place we congregate, where the kids do their homework, where we teach our children to cook. Kitchens are both a workspace and a casual space for dining and entertaining; it’s where we cook with a glass of wine in hand surrounded by friends and a place where family nibbles while we put the final touches on a holiday meal.

Kitchens are fundamentally about a lifestyle around good food and if it’s the heart of the house, then design it with heart. Here are a few thoughts to get you going in the right direction.

Budget

If you’re thinking of renovating your kitchen you probably have a budget already drawn up. There are a lot of line items on it and you need to pick and choose where you spend those limited dollars. Prefab cabinets are beautiful these days so I would spend my money on a double wall oven or good induction range. I had a gas range for many years until I got my induction cooktop and now, I would never go back.

Layout

Don’t be restricted by yesterday’s kitchen triangle layout. Instead, think ergonomically, the refrigerator and the sink need to be linked with lots of workspaces in between but the cooking section can be a little more independent.

Light

Besides all the bells and whistles, the most desirable element in a kitchen is light! There is a real benefit to a sink with a view and one that fills your workspace with daylight. It’s really pleasant when that can happen. If not, then face the sink to the people that might congregate in the kitchen with you.

Kitchen Islands

Todays kitchens need a set up that separates the wine-drinking guests from the dinner action and an island is the perfect way to do this. Depending where your island is, it can include a stovetop or sink. If your kitchen table is on the other side of the island, plan on your stovetop fitting there. That way you can chat with guests, face-to-face while cooking. Islands are perfect for extra storage as well. Hide the unsightly microwave in the island.

Kitchen Appliances

Everyone’s kitchen needs appliances but the size and kind you have will be different from one cook to another. For example, serious home cooks are opting for commercial, sliding glass door refrigerators and a separate upright freezer. If you’ve got the space, go for it. Double wall ovens are popular but you’ll need counter space on at least one side of it. Don’t forget small appliances. For a well-designed kitchen, keep your counters clear of lots of little appliances. My heavy Kitchen Aid stand mixer is on a roll-away butcher block so I can roll it in and out of the pantry.

Countertops

If you like to cook, you’ll want a good amount of countertop space to make cooking easier. One of the best places to maximize countertop space is between the cook-top or stove and the sink. This area is commonly used for prepping dinner and storing pots and pans and should be as large as possible. It matters less what the countertop is made of and more about its uses. For kitchens that serve as an eating place as well as a cooking place, multi-level surfaces ensure that kids and adults alike can easily access eating spaces without getting in the way of hot pots and pans.

Kitchen Sink

I work in the kitchen with a sink full of hot soapy water and I clean as I go. I prefer a traditional, double, undermount sink and a commercial extendable faucet. My dream is for a built-in drain board on the other side of the faucet. Building it back there means my washing area is compact and not overflowing on prime prep areas. Resist the urge for a square, deep sink. They don’t drain properly, are difficult to clean and take a huge amount of water to fill for dishes.

Glass Doors

Glass doors on your upper cabinets give a sense of depth and openness to the kitchen. To pull it off well, the glasses and plates inside need to be coordinated. It’s a great opportunity to show off your collection of teapots or antique plates. You can use frosted glass but don’t be fooled, you can still see the collection of mismatched mugs behind it.

Range Hoods

Some people go all out for those manly range hoods that dominate the visual appeal of a kitchen. Resist this big toy. As long as it does its job, pick one with small, simple lines that will blend into the kitchen design. Proper ventilation is imperative in the kitchen and a quality hood will extract cooking smoke and smells without making much noise.

Microwave

Let’s talk microwaves – my pet peeve. I hate the look of them and even more, I dislike the use of them. I may use a microwave once a week and yet, it has wormed its way into my kitchen as a major appliance. If you need a microwave, build a small one into the island or have electricity built into a pantry and put it in a pullout shelf. Consider one of those in-wall speed ovens that serves as a second oven and microwave.

Corner Cabinets

There’s no perfect storage solution for corner cabinets but I was leafing through a magazine and discovered a tall garbage pail in the corner cabinet that had a second access from the outside of the building for removal – brilliant! I somehow don’t think it would work in our cold Canadian winters but I love the idea.

Pantry

A pantry is like a one stop shopping centre for the food you have on hand and if it’s big enough, for kitchen equipment as well. If you’re storing kitchen equipment inside a pantry or cupboard, plan on installing an electrical plug so you don’t have to keep pulling out your equipment to work in the kitchen.

Written By: Lynn Ogryzlo