Kitchen Plan: Cabinets, Part 1

OK, down to the nitty-gritty: selecting and ordering the cabinets. This one is a doozy. Because it was a somewhat complicated process and I had to figure it out every step of the way, I’m going to get down to the details. Maybe it will be helpful to someone who is looking to go the same route.

Cabinet and door choice

I knew from the get-go that I wanted to get Ikea kitchen cabinets with Semihandmade doors. We had Ikea cabinets in our Bayou St. John kitchen, and I really loved it.

our BSJ kitchen | photo by Kayla Stark

Ikea is known for somewhat disposable furniture, but their kitchens are really high quality. At the time we did our BSJ kitchen, I used the local Bluebag service to order, deliver, and assemble the whole thing — they were so great! Tragically, that company is no longer in business. But in theory, I could do all of this myself, right?! We’ll see…

What I love about Ikea kitchens is that you can design it online using their inventory of cabinets. The choices are pretty awesome — including corner cabinets, pull-out pantry drawers, lazy susans, trash bin pull-outs, etc. The sizes come in 3-6″ increments so you can make your kitchen look almost custom by puzzle-piecing cabinets to fit your room dimensions. They even have a ton of interior organizers for cutlery and such. They’ve thought of everything! What I don’t love, however, are the door front options. We used gray Bodbyn in our BSJ kitchen, which I really liked… but honestly, I didn’t even have a “next favorite” and I wanted something different for this house. (Actually, I do quite like Lerhyttan if you can commit to a black kitchen. I think it could be very cool.) Thankfully, I didn’t have to think too hard about the solution given the amount of blog content that I consume on a daily basis. Even more ubiquitous in the blogosphere than Ikea kitchens are Ikea kitchens with Semihandmade doors. Semihandmade makes door fronts for Ikea kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities. Their doors are better quality (thicker etc.) and offer better style and materials options, including doors that are paint-ready for your chosen color.

The kitchen above is a great example of using Semihandmade doors and some customizations (including paint color) to achieve a really tailored look. Since painting the doors is a massive task on its own, I decided that I wouldn’t put myself through that and just chose one of Semihandmade’s available finish options. You can order samples online or make an appointment at one of their four showrooms. I did the latter when I happened to be in L.A. and I gotta say, it was awesome to see the finishes on full-size doors instead of a 3″ x 3″ sample. I opted to use the Supermatte fronts in Desert Gray:

Pretty, right? Desert Gray is a soft, warm gray with green undertones — like an earthy, clay color. I also considered the two grays (a bit too cold and too similar to what I did in BSJ) and the navy (but I got a lot of navy going on in the front room). I’m going to have a combination of shaker style doors on the cabinets and slab/flat style fronts on the drawers. The door style in the above picture is different, but it was the best representation of the color I could find in a full kitchen.

Cabinet and drawer layout

I’ve talked about the kitchen layout before and how the appliances were situated, but fitting the cabinets around that layout was a whole other battle. Ikea has a kitchen planner where you can build out your room and then plug-and-play with different cabinet arrangements.

I built out our kitchen including the doorways, window, and fireplace bump-out, and placed the appliances where they were planned. Then it was a matter of placing cabinets where they were needed or where they just fit. In somewhat logical order:

  • the sink cabinet [6] is centered under the window where the sink is planned
    • the size of the sink cabinet is based on the size sink that I wanted – so 36″ wide
  • to the right of the sink is the dishwasher, so no cabinet necessary
    • BUT I did get a panel-ready dishwasher and ordered a custom door panel for it, because we intend to get a new fridge and stove down the line and I didn’t want to worry about them matching the dishwasher
  • next to the dishwasher is the refrigerator, which has a cabinet [10] above it — 36″ wide (same as fridge) and 20″ high (to bring it to the height of the tall cabinets on the other side of the kitchen)
    • the cabinet is 24″ deep but will be bumped out to be flush with the fridge — 30″ from the wall
  • the corner cabinet [4] has to be in the corner, of course
    • Ikea has a couple of options for corner cabiners, but I like the one with a full lazy susan
    • the cabinet itself is 38″ by 38″ total, with two 13″ doors on the inside corner
  • now I have a 27″ space between the sink and corner cabinets, so gotta fit something there — like a 24″ cabinet [5]
    • I like the symmetry here: the sink cabinet is flanked by two 24″ doors (since dishwasher will have a door panel too)
    • this leaves another 3″, but that will be a covered by a custom-cut filler piece
  • on the other side of the corner cabinet is the stove
    • the stove placement wasn’t exactly set in stone, so the corner cabinet [4] size determined its exact location: 38″ from the wall with a 13″ door to the right of it
  • the narrow cabinet [3] on the left side of the stove
    • since the stove has a 13″ door to the right of it, I wanted the door to the left of it to be somewhat symmetrical — the options were 12″ or 15″ and I opted for 15″ for a bit more space
  • the tall cabinets [1 & 2] had a lot of considerations…
    • since I have no upper cabinets and limited shelf space, these tall cabinets will have to fit a ton of stuff
    • I wanted some pull-out drawers for pantry items and some shelving to house the microwave and other small appliances
    • I had about 53″ of space to fill between the narrow cabinet and the end of the room, but because the room ends with a doorway, I knew I would have to stop short of that distance
    • tall cabinets come in two heights (80″ or 90″), two depths (15″ or regular cabinet depth of 24″), several widths in 3-6″ increments, and a bunch of options for the innards of the cabinet itself
    • I went with 90″ because why not?
    • I went with 15″ depth, because I think this narrower profile will look better from the open doorway into the kitchen
    • I ended up going with two 18″ wide cabinets (total 36″, leaving some breathing room between the cabinets and doorway), one with drawers and one with shelves that will have electrical outlets within it for those appliances
  • trash pull-out [9] in the island was essential
    • we had a 18″ wide drawer cabinet for trash and recycling in our previous kitchen so I knew that size worked for us
    • I placed this at the end of the island so that it would be adjacent to our main work surface and fairly close to the sink too
    • this cabinet has a fake front — it looks like 3 drawers of 5″, 10″, and 15″ heights
  • to keep the symmetry, I put another 18″ wide drawer cabinet [7] with the same configuration of drawers on the other end of the island
  • for the middle cabinet [8], I went with the same configuration of drawers again, but had to decide on the width
    • this is where the clearance between the end of the island and sink determined sizing — a 30″ wide drawer cabinet gave me a good 45″ for the aisle

The above are two angles of my kitchen in the Ikea planner. It’s not a perfect tool, but it is pretty cool to see your design come together in a 3D space (you can move around all kinds of angles in the planner). Most importantly for me, these straight-on images reassured me that the cabinet placement looks balanced and symmetrical from the most common point-of-views into the kitchen.

By the way, you may have noticed, but I used cabinets on the perimeter and drawers on the island only. This goes back to one of my guiding principles to keep things simple. Not only did this make my design process easier, I think it will work out well in real life too. Aesthetically, the shaker cabinet doors will all be in a row with the same knobs, and the slab drawer fronts will be confined to the island with matching pulls almost like a separate piece of furniture. It will help with organization as well, since all larger items will live in the cabinets and smaller tools in the drawers. Speaking of organization, here is an old Instagram post of my very organized (thanks to Ikea) drawers in our BSJ kitchen:

I will have that again one day…

So how do you go from the Ikea plans to actually ordering all of the components? Despite the internet being full of Ikea/Semihandmade kitchens, this part of the process was somewhat of a mystery. If you have a local Ikea, you go into a store and make an appointment with a kitchen planner who takes it from there. The closest Ikea to New Orleans is 8 hours away, so you have to rely entirely on the online ordering process. It took some trial-and-error and meticulous planning, but I figured it out. Next up, I will describe that process from beginning to end — hoping it will help anyone who wants to venture on this path themselves one day.

Kitchen Plan: Aesthetic

When it comes to my Pinning habit, my kitchen board probably gets the most action. I’ve been saving inspiration for years. But when it comes to actually designing and building a kitchen, the reality is a little overwhelming. Since almost everything in a kitchen is permanently installed (not to mention, expensive), choosing design elements is a real commitment. All that being said, I do have some idea of the aesthetic I’m after — which corresponds to the guiding principles I have for the house as a whole.

I could close my eyes and point to any kitchen from DeVol or Plain English and say “I’ll take it!” I am sure I have major trend blinders on, but I have convinced myself that this is the ultimate timeless kitchen style. These British kitchens are the perfect balance between rustic and elegant. On the one hand, you can plop down the bounty from your garden on the island and start canning. On the other hand, you can escape from the bustling city streets into your quiet and peaceful townhome. Sounds ideal — I would like my petite manse to straddle that same line.

There is a certain formality and refinement to this this style that I really appreciate. Since our kitchen is open to the living room and dining room, I would like it to blend seamlessly into those spaces, as opposed to feeling like another world. Inevitably, any kitchen has plenty of utilitarian aspects, and I don’t intend to hide them altogether. But I do want to add enough layers found in other parts of the house to make it a natural transition — similar textures, art, and styling. It definitely helps that the same hardwood floors span the whole space.

This kitchen has many of the actual elements that I have planned. I swear I didn’t just copy it. In fact, I was surprised to find one particular kitchen that utilized so many of the same choices I had already made.

  1. soapstone countertops — one of my favorite types of stone, for many reasons. First, I love the velvety (or “soapy”) feel and look of it. Second, it is pretty indestructible when it comes to stains and heat (although it can chip). Third, it seems appropriate for an old home, because it has been a trusty go-to for a very long time. Fun fact: school chemistry lab tables are made of soapstone.
  2. stone slab backsplash behind the stove — I hemmed and hawed over what tile to use for the backsplash. I love the zellige from clé tile, I do. I have Pinned it, obsessed over it, and even ordered samples of it. But as much as I wanted to use it, it didn’t quite feel right for this kitchen, ya know. As I mentioned, I want this kitchen to feel somewhat formal (and tile is just so kitchen-y). I think a matching vertical slab of stone will do the trick and really elevate the kitchen.
  3. stone perimeter countertops and butcher block island — I’m dreaming of a custom end-grain butcher block island. It’s yet to be determined if this will fit in my budget, but I think I can make some sort of wood island top work. It would break up the monotony of the materials a bit and provide a lot of warmth. Plus, I would go with a mineral oil finish, which would make the surface food safe and age with time. You know I love that patina.
  4. hidden hood — the covered or built-in vent hood is such a distinct feature of British kitchens. Again, I feel good about hiding a rather kitchen-y element and making it feel more sophisticated. I like the simplicity of the trimwork on this hood, as well as the little ledge to place small items or art etc. I might make my trimwork look more like the trim around my doors and windows, just to create some cohesiveness.
  5. white and beige color scheme — I have this same combination in the dining room already, with white walls and kinda greige trim. Because it looks so beautiful and somewhat old-timey in this kitchen, I feel very validated in choosing this combo and carrying it over to the kitchen.
  6. painted cabinets — I suppose this one goes without saying, but the cabinets will be painted a color as opposed to wood grain. The color will be close to the greige trimwork, so the overall tonal effect will be similar to this kitchen. The doors will be a combination of shaker and flat styles (big cabinet post to come).
  7. brick accent — one of the “walls” of the kitchen is the exposed brick chimney between the kitchen and dining room. Here, the brick is an old hearth, but it does show how much character that additional texture brings into the design.
  8. bonus round — totally coincidentally, our dining room chairs are the same Marcel Breuer Cesca style as the stools in this kitchen.

The kitchen above really gets to me. A lil bit too country, yes, but it’s just so warm and inviting. It has some of the same architectural elements as our house — brick chimney and wood floors — so that makes this vibe “doable” to me. I also like all the stuff that makes it feel lived in — books on the counter, vase of wild flowers, art leaning on the hood ledge, light fixtures that could belong in any room of the house. This is what I mean by bringing in the layers of life from other rooms into a space that could so easily feel sterile or utilitarian. (Or am I unduly influenced by that pug?)

This kitchen is my reminder to introduce some quirk into the room. That yellow roman shade makes this space for me. It seems like it doesn’t belong in a kitchen at all, which is exactly why I love it so much. (If you look at the rest of this home, you’ll see that same shade in the living room.) So many kitchens look the same, and unfortunately, they kind of have to. It’s a practical space. It brings resale value to your home if you appeal to at least some portion of the mainstream. I accept all of that and want to make good choices. But where I can, I also want to rebel just a little.

Kitchen Plan: Layout

We’re starting to get more serious about kitchen plans over here. I’ve been tweaking these since last August when I saw the house for the first time (even though we didn’t buy it until December), so it has been a target of obsession for a while. But to be honest, the basic layout hasn’t changed much since then — there’s kind of only so many ways it can go.

To revisit, here is the old floor plan where the now-kitchen was the dining room. The “kitchen” in this house was just a collection of appliances and random cabinets in an oddly-shaped room. Following that is our new floor plan where we switched the kitchen and dining room — and opened up the walls in-between.

And now for the zoom-in of all the nitty gritty:

Sorry, you’ll have to re-orient yourself a bit — 180 degrees, in fact. For whatever reason, I draw the overall floor plan one way and the kitchen floor plan another. Maybe because, as I designed it and as I sit here typing now, I am viewing the kitchen from the dining room table. Anyway… Step one was planning out where all of the appliances/fixtures will sit, which had to be decided very early in the renovation so that plumbing and electrical could be set in the correct places. In my order of logic:

  • Sink — centered under the window, of course. This is a classic choice, even if I am just looking at my neighbor’s asbestos siding.
  • Dishwasher — to either side of the sink for easy rinse-and-load. In this case, it landed on the right (on the left, the dishwasher and oven doors would overlap when open).
  • Refrigerator — since a refrigerator sticks out farther than kitchen cabinets (30″+ as opposed to 24″), it has to be at the end of a run of cabinets. This kitchen will be L-shaped, so there’s really only two options. It ended up in the upper-right corner there, because 1) there’s space to open the doors and 2) it buts up against a wall that will disguise one side of it.
    • Minutia note about depths: I am actually bumping out this whole cabinet wall (the counters will be 27-28″ deep) so that the sink and faucet will fit in front of the window ledge — which means the fridge will only stick out a couple more inches here. Win.
    • Another note: I don’t believe in counter-depth refrigerators. For us.
  • Stove — so if all the above is on one wall of the kitchen, then the stove must be on the other. “Work triangle” and all. Ideally/initially, I would place the stove right in the middle of the wall for symmetry, but two other important components of the kitchen are here to interrupt: island and pantry placement.
  • Island — this was a whole conundrum on its own. Naturally, it would float in the middle of the kitchen, right? But however I placed it, there just was not enough clearance all the way around for working and sitting and all the chilling/congestion I know inevitably happens around an island when you have guests. So we attached it on the brick wall, et voilà, peninsula. I will continue to call it an island though.
  • Pantry — this is just some tall cabinets to hide various things, food and dishes etc. Since we do not plan to have any (significant) upper cabinet or shelf storage, these tall cabinets are essential.
  • Back to stove placement — basically, it ended where the door could be opened easily without bumping into the island work space. And moving it over towards the corner opened up some real estate for an extra wide pantry cabinet.

We’ve been living with this layout for a while now — and it works! Just like the original kitchen, ours is also just a collection of appliances and random shelving right now. I’m going to show you just so you can enjoy some schadenfreude. Dirty dishes and all. You’re welcome.

Some other notes about the final layout:

  • Pull-out trash cans and recycling will live in the island. Since the island is the main prep-space in the kitchen, having garbage right there is super convenient (it worked for us in our last kitchen).
  • This time around, we’re gonna have actual stools at the kitchen island! You can see from my drawing that there is 15″ of overhang in the island for that purpose.
  • The tall pantry cabinets will be slightly more shallow than the lower cabinets (15″ deep). If they were the regular 24″, then the side wall of the pantry would look/feel somewhat oppressive from the dining room. Plus, shallow shelves will allow us to see what’s in there.
  • Microwave and toaster will be hidden in the pantry cabinet.
  • Lights — I guess this needs addressing. There was a chandelier centered and hung low over the dining room table.

There have been so many changes in this space that it’s almost comical to compare. When the kitchen is done, I will do a angle-by-angle before and after series. But anyway, back to lights in the kitchen.

  • Lights — the only lights in this kitchen will be three wall sconces above the sink and two pendants over the island (and light over the stove from the hood vent). We just have temporary fixtures now, but the amount of light has been sufficient. Plus, when I get around to picking the permanent light fixtures, they will add some character to the room (which recessed can lights never could).

Layout has been set. Cabinet choice to come. Lots of other design decisions too.