The ultimate kitchen design guide – based on real experience

The ultimate kitchen design guide – based on real experience

Let me tell you a kitchen renovation disaster story, the inspiration behind this ultimate kitchen design guide. I had an interesting conversation with a prospective client recently.  He was confused about his kitchen refurbishment project.  Didn’t know whether to change the layout or not?

Thought the ceilings were too low. Wanted to change the look but didn’t know where to start? But doesn’t really use the kitchen because they have another one ‘out back’, and this kitchen was more for ‘show’. Wants the kitchen to be ‘grand’. Wanted to add a sky light but wasn’t sure.

He went on to explain that he has already blown his budget.  Is currently working with an interior decorator but they’re not able to help him with his kitchen.  That he has spoken to at least four cabinet makers and then finally called me. He said that he could easily spend $70,000 on the kitchen but his budget to engage an interior designer was $500. I explained my process and fees and he said he needs to think about it.

Honestly, this situation makes me sad on many levels. I’ve seen many people waste so much money by not working with an interior designer from the outset of their project. I hope he calls back I really would like to help him, alleviate his confusion and ensure he has a stunning kitchen by making the right design decisions based on functionality. 

I wanted to share with you a couple of my client experiences to provide you with the ultimate kitchen design guide. I’m a firm believer of learning from other people’s experiences or mistakes.

First thing to know about kitchen design is everyone uses their kitchen differently.  Which is why it’s important to ignore trends such as butler’s pantries. But if the way you use a kitchen requires a butler’s pantry and the space and budget allows for it, then of course have a butler’s pantry. Below I’ve outlined a kitchen renovation guide I hope you find useful.

List your kitchen’s functional problems first

Most kitchen design guides will tell you to start with a wish list.  Don’t start with a wish list, start with your problems.  Make a list of what the problems are in your current kitchen or the problems you have experienced in kitchens you’ve used in the past, if you’re building from scratch.

When I work with clients, I want to know what they don’t want as much as what they do want but the bottom line is function and interior design is about resolving functional problems to create a space that works and looks good.

Let’s take the prospective client example above. Firstly, because he doesn’t use the kitchen in question he’s not sure whether he needs to change the layout or not.  He mentioned there are some ‘weird’ sections in this kitchen but changing the layout or not has big budget ramifications. 

In another client, they didn’t need to change the layout because they didn’t have any significant functional problems, they improved internal storage within their cupboards and draws and that’s it.  The focus was then on style, materials and colour.

Another client’s kitchen counter was too small for their family of four.  They didn’t have enough counter space for their appliances.  Light was also an issue for this client.  By addressing these problems first then we could discuss what they wanted such as a bar.

Working with an interior designer and going through a comprehensive brief stage will get to the bottom of the functional problems and priorities. Knowing this your interior designer is then able to present amazing solutions.

Find a suitable layout for your kitchen design

There are a range of standard kitchen layouts that work. Pick one. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel based on an inspo pic you’ve seen, or something they’re doing on The Block.  The kitchen is the heart of the home and one of the hardest working spaces, so it needs to work.

These existing kitchen design layouts are tried and tested and work. Here are some of the most common kitchen design layouts. Bear in mind your space as well. Don’t pick a standard kitchen design layout that doesn’t suit your space. 

Reflect on the space, where the existing services are, what your budget is, what your problems are and see which kitchen design layout will work for you.

Again an interior designer will help you resolve your space problems, and ensure your goals are achieved through sound kitchen design solutions based on the comprehensive brief.


None of my clients, even the ones with a big budget, have an unlimited budget. It’s important to be realistic about what YOUR budget is and what you can achieve with that amount. To be realistic with your budget you need to do some research.

There are so many online resources that will give you an idea of the cost of kitchen design projects.  But don’t be afraid to ring a local interior designer to ask questions. An interior designer should be able to give you an indicative cost based on their experience, not necessarily what your project will cost but an indicative cost based on real experience is useful.

To give you an example, the cheapest kitchen I’ve worked on cost the client $10,000.  For this project we kept the layout, and the splashback but updated the cabinetry.  I extended the counter, improved storage solutions such as adding a spice and wine rack and used a laminate counter top instead of stone.  A stone counter top wasn’t important to this client.

I’ve worked on kitchens that cost $30,000 and $100,000, my fees vary for each project.  My kitchen design fees start at $3,000 for a kitchen specification project where there is no change in the layout. For a complete kitchen renovation project my fee starts at $6,000 and could increase depending on the level of drawings required for the project.

Best Kitchen Design Solutions

If you choose to work with an interior designer come with ideas not solutions, that’s your interior designer’s job. Tell your interior designer the functional problems in your kitchen, what your goals are and what your budget is. I also ask all my clients what their ‘must haves’ are and their ‘absolute nots’.

Come with an open mind for some really mind blowing design suggestions you would never even conceive. Let your interior designer’s creativity, experience, skill and intuition deliver you an outstanding result for your kitchen design project. A result that works AND looks good.

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