Sanity check, please

lwernerMay 4, 2012

Hi all,

This is my first post, though I've been lurking for a while. I'm in the design process on a huge remodel / expansion of a house I just bought. It's a great location and a huge lot (by bay area standards) but an old, tiny, and somewhat run-down house. The remodel is going to add a totally new great room, kitchen, and master suite, so it's almost like getting a brand-new, custom house.

I want to get a sort of a sanity check on the kitchen / dining area that my architect has proposed. It's an unconventional design that I found weird at first but grew to like after doing a model of it in SketchUp. Let me see if I can paste in the floor plan here:

A few notes:

  • The area at the top right, at the funny angle, is the dining area. It will have big corner windows, assuming I can afford them.

  • Off to the left is the living / family area. It extends about 18 feet past the end of the counters. To make the areas feel a bit distinct and not be one huge barn, the ceilings will be different. The living area will have a cathedral ceiling, and the kitchen / dining area will have a 10' or 11' flat ceiling. At the dividing line the ceiling will be 9' high. (There's going to be a big beam up there holding up the cathedral ceiling roof, and the flat ceiling has to be at least 12-18" above the bottom of the beam to make the roofs tie together right.)
  • I'm thinking of putting a medium-size sink at the lower-left corner of the island, with a hot/cold water dispenser. Sort of a combination bar / prep sink.
  • The area labeled "oven" will be a wall oven, probably a convection oven / microwave combo.
  • The fridge next to it will probably counter-depth, maybe with a cabinet sort of thing built around it if that's possible, so the left side of the fridge isn't as visible to the dining area. (A built-in fridge might be a possibility too, but a) they're crazy expensive, and b) I haven't found one with the features I want.)
  • That door at the lower left leads to a pantry that's roughly 6'w x 4'd
  • The doors at the top lead to a patio.

This layout isn't perfect, but I think I like it. The negatives I can see are:

  • The corner sink. I don't think that will bother me too much while working at it, and I don't plan on spending too much time there. The main down-side I see is that while someone is at the sink it will be hard for anyone else to sneak in and get some water or whatever. I thought about putting the main sink on the island but I'd rather keep that for prep space since that's a more social activity. I also thought about putting it on the south wall (right side of the drawing) but that wouldn't leave room for the fridge and oven.

  • The fridge is kind of off to the side, making the "work triangle" a bit wide. (Are "work triangles" the in thing in kitchen design any more, or is it all "zones" now?) I thought about putting...
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Annie Deighnaugh

A few initial comments.

Love the dining space...that can be exquisite...I would even think about doing a vaulted ceiling or a tray ceiling or beamed ceiling in that space too to really define it.

Not a fan of the corner sink for a couple of reasons...some of which you mentioned, but also because I like corner sinks where there is a corner window...this layout looks very asymmetric with the window on one side and not the other. Further, that corner can be difficult to reach to clean as it is so deep. Also you lose a lot of valuable storage space as the corner is the place to put a lazy susan...we have a large pantry near our kitchen and still the lazy susan is the go to place for frequently used items.

Is there a reason the kitchen stops so short? In kitchen design, even 2' makes a huge difference. I would extend it all the way to the pantry door and extend the island with it. I would then put the oven stack on the end of the right wall, the sink and dishwasher on the right wall with a window centered over the sink (bump out?). I would then move the fridge next to the pantry door, and center the cooktop on that bottom wall with a lazy susan in the corner. This will give you 2 tall stacks of cabinets to symmetrically define the kitchen space. This also gives each wall a focal point. Then put the prep sink in the island and you will then create 2 work zones....fridge, cooktop, prep sink for cooking, dishwasher, main sink for clean up. Plus, I'm a "chop and drop" cook so I need space around the cooktop to do my chopping...this layout will give you lots of that.

I recommend a prep sink in the island but be sure to leave at least 18" on the side....don't put it up against the edge as it won't be as functional.

Also, in my island, I gave up a few inches of useful cabinetry in order to put an outlet in the front...I use it all the time as so many appliances have such short power cords.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 8:51AM
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what is the prohibitive factor of a dining bump extending straight back? Then you could place some small cabinet and counter to the left of frig.With that diag cut behind the frig,you get very little aesthetically,somewhat of a dead zone,because the frig side end is tall and boxy. Wouldn't it be cheaper on your construction budget to go straight back the 4 ft or what you need,and place windows galore on the straight wall across the back?? Or starting at the frig,push the right side wall out a foot or 2 for this extention...that way you can sink the frig back in hugely in not requiring "built in" frig.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 9:49AM
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Sophie Wheeler

I'm not one for angles, as they waste space, but I actually like the room layout. What I don't like is the kitchen layout. I'd want the fridge next to the pantry. Looks like there's room, too, as the cabinets stop short. Then scootch the sink out of the corner down towards the dining area a bit. That will make a big difference in how the kitchen works. Make the island a bit longer and put the prep sink there and you have a nice tight prep triangle. You could even do a hutch cabinet at the end of the sink run next to the dining area. That would give you a great china storage and provide a bit of visual stopping point and separation between the two spaces.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 11:39AM
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Thanks for all the comments, everyone! Here are some responses....

I love the dining space too. Good ideas on the ceiling. My architect has suggested doing a coved ceiling (coves just around the edges, probably), which I think might look nice too. He's supposed to get back to me with some drawings in a few days.

I see what you mean about the sink being asymmetrical. That was sort of my initial reaction as well. Plus I'm afraid that when I'm cleaning up I'll feel like I've been naughty and sentenced to stand in the corner doing dishes. I'd much rather be looking out at the nice trees that are outside that window. (A huge loquat tree and a couple smaller citrus.) I was hoping to put the sink along that wall and slide the window over to the left a few feet, but realized there's not room for it if the fridge and oven stay where they are.

I really like your idea of moving the fridge over on the bottom wall near the pantry. Maybe hanging out into the living area, or maybe not. Earlier my architect had talked me out of putting anything boxy on that wall because he thought it would break up the open sight lines from the living room. But I think this may be a case where function wins over form. I need to play with that in sketchup and see what it would look like.

If I do move the fridge, I think your ideas of where to put everything else are spot-on. And you're right about the outlets. I've already told the architect to put lots of outlets in the kitchen, including the island. (And in the garage too, since I do some woodworking and have tons of tools to plug in.)

The reason the kitchen stops short in the current design is that there's a natural boundary there: that's where the ceiling transition needs to happen. (It needs to be lined up with the corner where the dining area hooks in, for structural reasons as well as aesthetic. I'll try to post more of the floor plan so you can see the context.

I thought it would be weird to have the counters and island hanging out into the 'living' area past that ceiling transition. Plus this way I can put a big skylight above the center island in the flat roof there. I don't see a good way to change the roof, but I'll ask the architect because I'm no good at visualizin this stuff. I don't think the structural engineer has started working on the plan yet, so there may be time to change things. (BTW, I admit it's already a bit weird to have the pantry out there in the living area. I figure that the pantry door will be closed most of the time so it won't be much of an issue, but I may be wrong.)

The architect drew a floor plan with the dining area extended straight back, with a sort of a bay at the back of it. At first I liked that better, maybe just because it was more conventional. But after a bit of thought and after seeing it in 3d, I decided I like the funny angles better and found the more conventional one a bit boring. I'm...

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 5:24PM
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I am not a pro but just looking at this it seems a little heavy with appliances on one side. Also you might want a counter on at least one side of the refrigerator. Right now you have the wall oven there so no place to put things you take out or are wanting to put in. The work triangle is still the thing as far as I know so look at this and try to think how you function now and how it would work for you. I had to change my design a few times and give up some ideas that were my ideal and be more realistic on what was really functional for day to day living in the space we had to work with.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 6:59PM
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A couple of things...first, you need at least a 12" cabinet (or filler) b/w the corner sink and DW to be able to stand at the sink and have the DW open at the same time...18" is better.

Second, is that a window b/w the pantry door and the end of the bottom counter run? It seems to be an interior wall, but it looks like that's a window it?

Yes, work triangles still have validity. Zones haven't superseded them, they've "extended" the concept of designing a cook-friendly kitchen. Zones are important, but you also don't want to have an appliance integral to a work zone too far should meet the "work triangle" guidelines of no more than 9' away.

Keep in mind the kitchen workflow: Refrigerator & Pantry --> Prep Zone and (prep) sink --> Cooking Zone and range/cooktop --> Cleanup Zone and (cleanup) sink and DWorRefrigerator & Pantry --> Prep Zone and (prep) sink --> Cooking Zone and range/cooktop --> Serving Zone with table/counter and chairs --> Cleanup Zone and (cleanup) sink and DW

A "functionally" well-designed kitchen will facilitate this workflow without having to cross other zones or to run around islands or other barriers.

A word of caution: Architects are generally not very good at designing functional kitchens. They're best at designing for "looks", not function. For "architectural" interest, see an architect. For a functional kitchen, see a certified kitchen designer (not just a cabinet salesperson who designs cabinet layouts). Ideally, the two would work together...

Don't get caught up in your architect's enthusiasm at creating a "work of art"...closely scrutinize that "work of art" to ensure it will functionally work for you. You will have to live with the results for a long, long time - your architect never has to live with it. S/he designs and implements it and moves on to other projects and never has to live with the adverse consequences of that "work of art".

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 7:25PM
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Regarding the tall appliances - I would rather have them on the bottom wall than the right wall. I think they will work very well there and not obstruct views...

On the right wall, they seem to be "in your face" when looking toward the Dining Area and the outside and will definitely obstruct views out the back! You could have even more windows if you got rid of the "wall of tall"!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 7:31PM
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Thanks for all the good feedback! I think you're all correct about the corner kitchen not being a good idea, for all the reasons you've stated. I hadn't thought about the dishwasher issue, but you're right. Space there with the door open would be very tight or non-existent. I just finished changing my SketchUp model to put the fridge over on the bottom wall, and it looks much better that way. Here's a screen shot of the new drawing.

The big diagonal line near the lower right is a beam that will be holding up the roof.

That's pretty close to a design I could live with, I think. (At least in the broad outlines -- I was sloppy with dimensions and took various other shortcuts, so don't laugh. :-) It has well-separated prep and cleanup areas, and the oven is close to the end of the island so that could be a nice baking area.

The big, tall oven on the wall by the dining area is still slightly annoying, both because it looks odd from the dining area (though hollysprings's hutch idea might allleviate that) and because it makes the kitchen area feel a bit boxed in with big appliances on each end. I left some room in the drawing for a hutch or shelves or some such. I haven't thought of a good way to get both big appliances on the other wall. I could eliminate the problem by going with a range instead of a wall oven, but I really don't like ranges because you have to bend over to get at the oven. I much prefer having the oven up at a good working height. If anyone has ideas on what, if anything, to do here, let me know.

Having a counter next to the fridge is definitely a good idea. I'd been thinking of using the island behind the fridge as its "landing zone", but that's awkward. In my latest drawing with the fridge at the left end of that 'bottom' wall, there's about 30 inches of counter to the left of the fridge. (That's with a 36" cooktop centered on that counter.)

I think you're right about my architect not being so good at kitchen design, especially from a functional point of view. I'm not sure he actually cooks. :-) And it's definitely after a "work of art" with all the funny angles and corner windows. Fortunately our tastes coincide on that part.

Even if I can't get rid of the whole wall of tall, moving the fridge away from that wall (and keeping the oven) lets me slide the window a couple of feet to the left. That should make it feel like a more central part of that wall and light up the kitchen better, rather than having it half hidden in the corner. And the window could conceivably be expanded by a foot or so in either / both directions. If it got any larger than that wall wouldn't quality as a shear wall, which is important since I'm ~30 miles from the San Andreas fault.

The segment that looks like a window on the bottom wall of the plan...

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 8:15PM
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Great minds think alike! I just got done coming up with two designs...the first one is my favorite and is very close to yours - with a significant (to me) difference - the location of the MW. The second one is probably almost identical to yours! :-)

In the first, the MW is:

  1. on the periphery of the kitchen so it's accessible from people working in the kitchen as well as "outsiders" looking for a snack - without the snackers getting in the way of those working in the kitchen

  2. near the refrigerator where most MW'd food comes from (leftovers, frozen veggies, etc.)

  3. near a water source since many MW'd food needs water added to them

  4. no zone-crossing needed to go from the MW to the refrigerator

Personally, I think the tall end cabinet + tall refrigerator "anchor" the kitchen and give you just a bit of separation without closing it off from the other areas...but, that's my personal opinion!

Layout #1, my favorite...


Layout #1 with a zone map...



Layout #2

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 8:50PM
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Another difference - no upper cabinets on the sink wall...I think it helps open up the space better.

Note that I added a 7" bump-out behind the window. It gives you more room behind the sink for a faucet and for cleaning as well as provides a "splash zone" to help minimize splashing the window. The window is counter-height - flush with the counter rather than a few inches above. Another thing that opens up the kitchen to the outside more.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 8:54PM
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(It could be a range or cooktop. The range gives you an extra oven if you ever need it. The cooktop gives you more storage space.)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 8:55PM
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Wow, buehl, that's really nice! Want a job? :-)

I've never heard of a microwave drawer before. I assume it's more than just a big drawer with a microwave in it. Time to go do some Googling. Locating it near the fridge is a great idea. The one downside is that I'd lose the feature in some oven/microwave combos where you can use the microwave as an extra oven. But I think there have only been one or two times when I ever would have used a second oven, so that probably doesn't matter.

I need to think about whether I want to extend the kitchen those 2 or 3 extra feet out where you have the fridge. That might be strange, because I think those are going to feel like two different rooms with the ceiling transition there. Maybe I'll try to draw it both ways and see what they look like.

I like the idea of no upper cabinets on the sink wall. There are plenty on the cooktop wall, and I'm going to have more storage space than I know what to do with already, especially with the big pantry. And it lets that window be larger.

My architect had proposed a counter-height window there without mentioning a bump-out. I need to ask him what he was thinking. I don't know if he had a specific kind of window in mind that wouldn't need the bump-out, or if he just hadn't gotten down to that level of detail yet.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 10:20PM
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MW drawers are MWs built as drawers. They're a great idea if your MW is under-the-counter like ours is. Putting a regular MW in an under-counter alcove was not an option for us...we're a tall family and having to squat or lean way over to access a MW in an alcove was not going to work for us (nor was an under-counter oven)! BTW...while you can find Sharp MW drawers, Dacor, etc., they're all made by Sharp and are re-badged as other manufacturers. So, get a Sharp as there is less of a markup.

Would you like to see some pictures of counter-height windows with bump-outs? See the thread linked below...especially MamaDadaPaige's window - I love it!

Here is a link that might be useful: Thread: counter height window pictures please

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 10:58PM
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"I need to think about whether I want to extend the kitchen those 2 or 3 extra feet out where you have the fridge. That might be strange, because I think those are going to feel like two different rooms with the ceiling transition there. Maybe I'll try to draw it both ways and see what they look like. "

If the extra couple of feet are an issue, you could eliminate the 12" cabs flanking the range/cooktop. There's still enough landing space on both sides and there's enough workspace not only across the aisle on the island but also b/w the sink and range/cooktop. It won't be quite as open, but I think it would work.

Another option is to modify the ceiling "transition" to accommodate the extra space.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 11:03PM
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Those microwave drawers are way cool. The photos on Sharp's site where you slide it you, set a plate or cup on it, and slide it back in are great. I want one.

Changing the ceiling transition would be difficult and would have some bad side effects. The transition isn't just for aesthetic reasons -- there needs to be a big beam up there to hold up the cathedral ceiling on the living room side and the flat ceiling on the kitchen side. (The latter will probably be a foot or two higher, sitting on the top of the beam.) So moving the beam requires moving the corner where the dining area ties into the living room, which requires pushing in or pulling out other walls, which .... you get the idea.

I'd originally thought about just having one big cathedral ceiling over the whole space, but the roof line just won't work that way. Due to the width of the back part of the house, the roof would get too high and stick up over the top of the roof on the front of the house, which would be too bizarre even for me. I'm not explaining it too well, so at some point I'll post a shot of my sketchup model of the exterior

I'm experimenting with how it will look without those two 12" cabinets as you suggested. I think there will probably still be plenty of space on either side of the cooktop / range, and storage space won't be a problem at all.

There are some great photos in that counter-height windows thread!



    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 11:28PM
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I did another iteration on my drawings incorporating a lot of your ideas: From Kitchen plans

The main things that are different are:

  1. I didn't go out into the living area past the natural boundary there, though I'm still thinking about that.

  2. I don't really like appliance garages I've seen, so I'll keep those in drawers or the pantry. That let me shrink the oven cabinet to 30" and expand the sink base to 36" to fit one of those nice Blanco sinks.

  3. I punted on the MW drawer for now. I discovered one thing I don't like about them: too shallow. The deepest one I found was 7". And leaving that out lets me have the sink closer to the end of the island (20" or so) which leaves more work space at the other end. But I'm still going to think about this one.

I'm pretty happy with most of this, though I'm sure I'll change some of the cabinet dimensions. And I still need to think about sliding the fridge out into the living room and about the microwave drawer.

The other thing I still need to figure out is what to do above the cabinets, especially above the cooktop. The ceiling is going to be at least 10' and maybe 11', due to the way the roof is going to hook together. I could just leave things as in the drawing, but there's nowhere for the hood exhaust to go.

The architect suggested upper, windowed cabinets, with the hood exhaust and blower hidden in the middle. That could work, though with the crazy high ceilings those cabinets might look overwhelming and be super-expensive. I'm going to ask the architect if it's possible to just route the exhaust back into the wall, then up, then out the other side of the wall when it gets up above the roofline on the rest of the building.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 5:36PM
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