07 July 2009

SENSIBLE STYLE: 10 Most Common Kitchen Problems... And How to Avoid Them

Sensible Style is about kitchens that work as hard as you do. It's about materials that are durable and easy maintenance, and a work flow that fits your hectic schedule. Sensible Style is about creating a kitchen that reflects your priorities, your budget and your lifestyle.

Problem #1: Poor Work Flow

Too many homes have been built with badly-planned kitchens. One I encountered recently had an over-sized island, (probably 18 feet in length), that awkwardly cut off the sink from the refrigerator and ovens. Preparing a meal in that household involves unnecessary steps that could have been avoided had the architect planned for two reasonably-sized islands with a work aisle between them. Another home had the refrigerator at one end of the room and pantry in the opposite corner, doubling the steps involved with grocery unloading. A proper food storage zone would have put the two together.

Although large, this kitchen works efficiently,
with distinct work zones and an aisle between
the dual islands for easy access between them

Problem #2: Inadequate Ventilation

The average American family generates a gallon of kitchen grease a year. This grease ends up on walls, furniture, pets and clothing, unless it goes where it's supposed to go: Outside of the home via effective cooking ventilation. Many systems are under-powered, recirculated or poorly ducted, resulting in lingering food odors and grease dispersal. Be sure that your designer factors in a functioning ventilation system for your kitchen remodel.

This kitchen blends style and function with appliances --
including a cooking ventilation system -- by Electrolux

Problem #3: Poorly-planned Storage

Most clients tell me that they lack sufficient storage in their kitchen. This typically results from two problems. One: The builder failed to take full advantage of the storage space built into the kitchen. Replacing base cabinet half-shelves with roll-out trays, adding drawer organizers, backsplash systems and pot racks can alleviate that problem to a great extent. Two: The homeowners want to store items in the kitchen that don't factor into daily meal preparation. I recommend that these be stored elsewhere.

Even very affordable cabinets, like these by American Woodmark at Home Depot,
offer the added storage opportunity of roll-out trays

Problem #4: Overly-narrow Work Aisles

A couple was unhappy that their architect hadn't included a kitchen island in their new, custom home and insisted there had to be one. The architect was right, in my opinion; even a small island allowed only three feet between its sides and the refrigerator and cooktop. Code in many regions allows this. The National Kitchen & Bath Association planning guidelines I follow recommend a 42" minimum work aisle for one cook and 48" minimum for two. These work much better, and should be followed whenever possible.

The work aisle in this kitchen exceeds NKBA planning guidelines
and allows ample room for cooking and entertaining

Problem #5: Insufficient Light

This is a problem I see frequently, that's easy and helpful to address in a remodel. Older homes often have one light above the sink, a light for the vent hood and a central light box in the middle of the ceiling for overall illumination. Overall illumination is called for, and can be achieved with well-spaced recessed lights. Task lighting can be improved by adding lights under all the wall cabinets for better-lit countertop work space. Additional task lighting - often stylish pendants -- should be factored in for islands, bars and peninsulas where prep, serving, eating and homework can be illuminated.

A coordinated lighting plan,
featuring task and ambient lights by Kichler,
makes this kitchen look bigger and work better

Problem #6: Outlet Shortage

Older homes suffer the most from this problem. There aren't enough backsplash outlets for all the countertop appliances you want to use. Newer building codes have largely solved that issue. A related problem in older homes is that those outlets probably aren't protected against water shock. Newer codes also call for outlets near sinks to be connected to a GFCI circuit that can keep you from a painful or deadly accident.

Problem #7: Utility Wasters

Older homes also are likelier to have older appliances. Many of these are energy hogs or water sloths that are costing you more to run than their newer replacements. Look for EnergyStar ratings when you go shopping, and ask about water-saving features that may be available on washing machines and dishwashers.

Save water and electric with a new dishwasher --
This one is the new, ultra-quiet 800-plus by Bosch

Problem #8: Hard Wear

Tile and stone floors are tremendously popular today. Considered more luxurious and resale-friendly than vinyl, they can be found in updated kitchens everywhere. I love their look; so do my clients. The gripe I have with these floors are the toll they take on your feet, legs, hips and back when you have to stand on them for extended periods. The solution to this problem for tile and stone lovers is a cushioned mat underfoot where you'll spend the most time.

Cushioned mats make kitchen work easier on your feet, legs, hips and back
Shown here is the Designer Size Basketweave Truffle by GelPro

Problem #9: Fire Hazards

Kitchens are a prime space for fire hazards. One I see most often is lack of a fire extinguisher in the area. That one small purchase can save your entire home, and can be tucked out of sight in a pantry. as long as everyone who uses the kitchen knows where it is and how to use it. Another fire hazard are window treatments that come too close to a range or cooktop.

Problem #10: Style Disconnect

This problem is a pretty common one in remodeled kitchens. The homeowners want a Tuscan kitchen, which has no visual connection to the home's modern Florida architecture. Or they replace their traditional kitchen's leaky builder faucet with one of the new oversized commercial-style faucets. Neither instance will hinder the kitchen's functionality, but both will strike dischordant notes.

This Hansgrohe faucet is very much at home in
this contemporary kitchen

Visit the Sensible Style box on the right column for links to all the posts in this ongoing series.


  1. hey!
    Your blog is comprehensive and contain a large number of step-by-stop photos and that's what makes it very impressive.

  2. Great article! This is amazing help because we're currently building. And I love the wonderful Hansgrohe fixtures.

  3. Angelle and Carol, Thanks for your kind words. Glad you're enjoying Gold Notes. Please stop by often!

  4. Those kitchen look pretty nice to me...

  5. Your blog is one of the few comprehensive ones available these days!
    Many people living in Metropolitan areas fail to realize the importance of a neat and well-made Kitchen. And since the best things in life ( super delicious food for instance ) originate from there, I believe blogs such as yours add value towards building much better kitchens.
    Kudos! :)

  6. Thank you, Norman. I greatly appreciate the feedback and hope you'll continue to visit.

  7. your blog helps me a lot in doing my design assignments. Currently, i'm doing a design for kitchen. Knowing the common problem faced by people really helps me in finding the best solution to overcome it. Thanks! ;)

  8. So glad you found my info helpful, Izhar! I hope you'll continue to drop by and share your inputs in the future.


  9. Such a great site, Jamie! Even though I've already done my kitchen, I still love looking at kitchens. Maybe I'll get to help a friend with the info!

  10. Thanks so much, Jean. I'm glad you like my blog, and that I could be helpful. That is always my goal!

  11. hey, this site gaveme a lot of information on kitchen problems... as i am doing my kitchen study, its been a great help :)

  12. Thanks, Firzen. Glad you found the information helpful. Feel free to email me if you are interested in an online consultation about planning your kitchen effectively.


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