Posted by Dan O'Malley in Home Design

We’re all spending a lot time in the kitchen these days. At its best, your kitchen can be a place that replenishes you—where friends and family love to linger.

Jill Mastrostefano, Creative Director and Lead Designer of P[four] in Alexandria, Va., believes you can set up your kitchen in a way that brings pleasure.

The placement and flow of your appliances and cooking equipment, meaningful artifacts for added beauty, and even small artwork propped against the backsplash can all enhance your time in the heart of your home. “The goal is to work less and enjoy more,” Mastrostefano says.

Let’s look at each section of the kitchen for practical ways to make it a place you love to be.

The Kitchen Is the New Dining Room

Once upon a time, Mom was hidden away when she cooked, finally emerging from the kitchen with dinner for her waiting family in the dining room. That dynamic changed when everyone wanted to be together to prepare and share meals.

Walls came down as homebuyers favored open floorplans. With those open plans, homeowners wanted their kitchens to be prettier. Beautiful kitchen cabinets and islands began serving as a type of furniture.

Kitchen and Dining Area

Mastrostefano took the concept further in her own house and turned her kitchen into the new dining room. She installed two chandeliers over her 11-foot island, where her family likes to eat.

Whether it’s a striking light fixture, green plants and flowers, your go-to cutting board, or your favorite cookbooks, think of what you’d enjoy seeing on display in the kitchen every day.

Devote at least a portion of your decorating budget to the kitchen. Don’t lavish it all on a dining room that’s mostly “beautiful jewelry” you use twice a year and walk by the rest of the time, Mastrostefano advises.

White cabinetry is still popular, but for cabinetry to impart that dining room feeling, consider navy or two-toned cabinets, with white on top and a natural color below that works well with the floor color. Modern, flat-panel cabinets have the added benefit of one-wipe cleaning because they don’t give dirt a place to gather.

Another tip for dining in the kitchen: try arranging bar stools around your island at a 90-degree angle so that your family can see each other and the great room, rather than in a row with a view of the cooktop.

Consider the Kitchen’s Flow

Professional chefs refer to the idea of mise en place, a French term meaning “everything in its place.”

They often prefer a long stretch in which to work, with sink, countertop, cooktop, and fridge close to each other in a line.

Ideally, your kitchen will follow the Working Triangle layout, meaning you are able to imagine a triangle drawn between your sink, refrigerator, and cooktop. This design allows for easy movement from each station as you prepare meals. It’s also convenient for when there is more than one chef in the kitchen because it opens up the space for traffic through the area.

Use this concept to your advantage by identifying your favorite spot for prepping ingredients and setting up what you need there. You might have attractive, small pinch bowls with salt and pepper, a bottle of olive oil, plus measuring spoons and cups easily accessible.

Mastrostefano uses her countertops when she’s cooking, but she moves to her island for baking to have more room for her ingredients and bowls.

Storing Your Stuff and Gadgets

People tend to worry about having sufficient cabinet space. But when’s the last time you looked through your cabinets to see what’s really in there? Chances are, you’ll find plastic bowls with no lids and other things you haven’t used in years.

“That plastic beer cup you got at the ball game five years ago? Get rid of that. Who needs that?” Mastrostefano says. “That clutter ruins your day.” She recommends buying a set of inexpensive, but attractive glasses from Ikea or a similar store, so everything matches.

Kitchen Storage closet

Heavy dishes, pots, and bigger items are best in the lower drawers, where you can access them with one pull. You can also store infrequently used kitchen equipment in the pantry. That move frees up cabinet space. Show off your wine glasses, colorful mugs, or pottery in glass-front cabinets.

Place dividers in top drawers to corral items you use often, like wooden spoons or the garlic press. Stow that grill spatula and other occasional-use gear elsewhere so you don’t have to root through the drawers each time you look for what you need.

Gathering at the Kitchen Table

The way you set your table is important because it influences three things: it indicates the tone or feeling that people have about being together, it lets people know that you think they are important enough to put in extra effort for them, and it influences the appearance of the food served.

Couple Eating Breakfast at Kitchen Table

Mastrostefano finds that couples without children often like to be at counter height when they eat, especially if their kitchen doesn’t have an island. A standard height table is safer and more practical once kids join the family.

The space dictates the shape of the kitchen table that may fit best. If the space is square off the kitchen, choose a round or square table.

If it’s a rectangular or oval space, pick one of those shapes for the table. You might also like a buffet or other piece for storing holiday glassware and dishes. Consider warm wood pieces if the rest of the kitchen has lots of cool surfaces, such as quartz, granite, or Corian.

Looking for a custom kitchen table for your space? Check out Carolina Farm Table or Overlin Designs.

Make Your Kitchen Your Own

What’s most important is to make your kitchen your own. We all have memories of how our parents arranged their kitchen. Those memories can harden into assumptions that what Mom and Dad did is what you should do, too.

“I love the day when you wake up and realize, ‘I don’t have to do it like that,’” says Mastrostefano. “I can do what I want. This is my house.”

How will you turn your kitchen into a space you love?


Dan O'Malley
Dan O'Malley


Dan O’Malley is the Vice President of Product Development for M/I Homes.With over 30 years of expertise in residential architecture and design, Dan has been overseeing the product needs of the company's 16 divisions located throughout the Midwest, Southeast, Nashville and Texas for the past 12 years. Before joining M/I Homes, he was a partner in the Chicago office of BSB Design, a national residential architectural firm, for 14 years. Dan is an expert in all aspects of single-family and multifamily design and has received several awards for his successful projects. He is also a popular speaker at various industry events, including the International Builder’s Show, Midwest Builder’s Show, and Multi-Housing World.

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