The layout, furnishings and decoration of the kitchen depend to a large extent on the place we have at our disposal, on our lifestyle and, of course, on our financial possibilities. Below you will find advice for those who want to arrange their kitchen from scratch or renovate or rework an existing one.
1. open or separate kitchen?
This is the first decision we will have to make – usually already at the stage of choosing a flat. New developer flats mostly have kitchen annexes. In such a situation, the design of the kitchen must be in harmony with the arrangement of the room connected to it. In older buildings, on the other hand, you can quite often find closed kitchens in separate rooms. It is also worth noting whether the flat can be modified in case we change our mind (the wall between the kitchen and the room is not load-bearing, only partitioned, which makes it possible to demolish it; and vice versa, it is possible to separate the kitchen functionally and possibly erect a wall).
Open kitchens are still fashionable. One of their advantages is the visual enlargement of the living space. Such a kitchen will work well for people for whom cooking is a social activity and who do not want to lose contact with household members or guests during this time. Parents of small children emphasise that such a kitchen layout allows them to do their homework and at the same time observe what the child is doing.
The main disadvantage of open kitchens is that everything that takes place in the kitchen automatically affects the space of the room connected to it as well. It is difficult to avoid the spread of kitchen odours, even if we have a good quality hood. The use of household appliances can prevent household members from relaxing. This can be particularly troublesome when the room connected to the kitchen is also used as a bedroom. Besides, an open kitchen has limitations when it comes to arrangement, as it has to harmonise with the rest of the flat’s decor. It also requires exceptional attention to order. You cannot afford to leave unwashed dishes in the sink or food products on the countertop because you can see them from the room all the time.
When it comes to the advantages of a separate kitchen, it allows more freedom in the selection of furniture and household appliances. We can afford a completely different style than in other rooms. Moreover, it is easier to plan the space in an ergonomic way, e.g. to place the appliances on the principle of a working triangle or place a longer worktop.
A separate kitchen does not impose on us such high requirements in terms of keeping order as open. If we don’t have time or willingness to wash dishes right after a meal, we can close the door and guests won’t have to watch the mess. You can also afford to leave things on the counter.
While staying in a separate kitchen, you cannot always watch what small children are doing, but on the other hand, you can make it more difficult for them to access items that could harm themselves (e.g. hot plate or knives in drawers).
A disadvantage of a separate kitchen, especially one with an entrance from the corridor, is more difficult communication. Usually, you have to cover a longer distance carrying hot dishes and dirty dishes. A person working in the kitchen may also feel isolated from the rest of the household. However, this is not a disadvantage for everyone – some people need quiet and concentration when cooking.
A separate kitchen also requires more space, so not every flat has room to accommodate it. For it to be properly lit and ventilated, it must also have a window. Unfortunately, so far, we have seen so-called blind kitchens, especially in older buildings. In such cases, it is better to open the kitchen to the room if it is technically possible.
Both solutions presented above have both advantages and disadvantages. If neither of these factors seems more important to us than the others and we cannot make a decision, a compromise solution is also possible. The kitchen can only be partially open, separated from the room by furniture, a partition or a wall. A practical solution, although one that works rather well in larger interiors, is a kitchen island.
Another variant is separate rooms, but with a direct passage, e.g. with sliding doors, which allow you to modify the space. Thus, if necessary, the kitchen can be both open and separate. As we mentioned earlier, you can also take into account the possibility of rebuilding – dismantling the partition or erecting it.
2 Kitchen equipment
Many of us still remember the times when kitchens were very similar. The limited choice of furniture and equipment forced us to buy what we found in the shop, rather than what we liked and matched our needs. Fortunately, nowadays we have a wide range of different variants of kitchen and household furniture that can be adapted to almost any space and nearly every taste.
As far as furniture is concerned, we can choose between ready-made sets of cabinets or custom-made furniture, individually selected for our kitchen. Mass-produced furniture is usually cheaper. They work best in larger rooms, with a typical shape. There are also sets for self-assembly, which can be easily disassembled and transported to another flat if you move. They offer some possibilities for modification, but they are not unlimited. Therefore, if our kitchen is very small or untypical and we want to make maximum use of the space, it is better to choose furniture to size.
The prices of custom-made furniture vary and depend, among other things, on the number of elements and the raw materials they are made of. Companies specialising in such furniture also provide advice and help in the selection of individual components. We have a lot of freedom here, and we can realise the vision of the kitchen from our dreams. However, even in the budget version, such furniture is more expensive than ready-made, especially as it requires specialist assembly, the cost of which must be added to the price. Besides, such furniture is adapted to a specific room, so if we move out, we cannot take it with us. However, ready-made kitchen furniture can be an argument for a higher price if we want to sell it.
Kitchen worktops can be made of different materials, with other properties and prices. The worktop is exposed to various factors that may cause damage. It is therefore essential that it is resistant to high temperatures, scratches and deformations, as well as easy to keep clean.
Laminated tops are trendy, mainly due to their affordable prices. They are available in a vast selection of finishes, so there is something for everyone. Laminate is resistant to abrasion, stains and chemicals. Laminate countertops are easy to install. However, the problem here is the resistance to scratches, as well as the lack of possibility to repair the damage – a damaged board is only suitable for replacement.
Also popular are wooden countertops, which give the kitchen a warm climate. They are easy to renovate – if necessary, they can be sanded, varnished and painted. However, they are not resistant to staining, discolouration and scratching, and some types of wood do not tolerate moisture well. That is why it is best to choose durable and waterproof exotic wood for your kitchen.
Stone (mostly granite) countertops are almost indestructible. They are resistant to moisture, scratches and high temperature. They heat up slowly, so they can be near cookers. To be stain-resistant, they require impregnation. It is also recommended to clean them with appropriate preparations, as they become dull under the influence of some chemicals (e.g. containing acids). Small damages can be repaired by sanding and filling the cavities. Such countertops also have a timeless look and fit different styles of kitchen equipment. Their disadvantage is their high price. They also require specialist installation.
Countertops made of conglomerate are also made of stone, but in ground form, combined with epoxy resin. Different types of stone are used for their production, so the countertop will have such properties as the stone from which the conglomerate was made. They are resistant to temperature, humidity and scratches. They also offer great possibilities in terms of appearance, as various ingredients can be added to the conglomerate, including dyes. The countertops can be of various shapes (also suitable for non-standard kitchens) and different thicknesses. They are lighter than concrete stone countertops and slightly cheaper, although still quite expensive.
The fronts of kitchen cabinets can also be made of many materials differing in appearance and properties. The most common are MDF fronts covered with foil, melamine or paint. MDF gives excellent possibilities when it comes to shapes and patterns. Such fronts are inexpensive and quite durable, but damage to the outer coating leads to deformation of the board.
Another popular and inexpensive material is chipboard. Board fronts are also affordable and are available in many colours and patterns. However, they must be adequately protected (painted), as they are not very resistant in themselves.
Wooden fronts are impressive and durable. Their price, appearance and properties depend on the type of wood. Therefore it is recommended to choose more rigid and more resistant to moisture, which will not deform.
Glass fronts are becoming more and more popular, but rather only for upper cabinets. They look impressive and fit into almost any arrangement. However, it is worth choosing tempered glass, as ordinary glass is not very resistant to damage.
Let’s also pay attention to the mechanism of opening the doors to the cabinets. The most popular and cheapest are the wing mechanisms. However, they are not comfortable to use everywhere – for example in corners, when it is impossible to open two pairs of doors at the same time, or when a piece of furniture is complete, and the open winged door takes up a lot of space and looks disproportionate. In such places, a swing door is more suitable, although it is more expensive. Another solution, convenient but costly, is a blind door. They do not require additional space in front of the cabinet, and the door opening can be adjusted. Another possibility is the sliding door on guides.
It is also important that the interiors of the cabinets are properly arranged. Cargo systems will significantly facilitate the organisation of space in a small space. When we use traditional cabinets with shelves that cannot be pulled out, and especially when they are deep, it is sometimes difficult to reach items that are deep inside. However, thanks to cargo systems, things are visible and easily accessible, and narrow spaces between furniture can be used more efficiently. On the other hand, special organiser inserts will make storing small items in drawers easier.
The choice of household appliances will depend on the conditions in our kitchen (amount of space, type of furniture), but also on our needs and habits. Usually, it is a compromise between what is important to us and what we can afford (both in terms of money and space).
The first decision is to choose between built-in or freestanding equipment. It depends on the amount of space available in the kitchen, on the kitchen furniture we already have or want to have, and on the distribution of the connections. Small kitchens with furniture are often fitted with built-in appliances, although this does not mean that some appliances cannot be freestanding if we like them and if they fit in. Sometimes you see arrangements with a built-in cooker and dishwasher, and there is a freestanding fridge next door. If the furniture does not include built-in appliances, we will choose freestanding appliances and place them in the free spaces for connection. This is, therefore, an individual matter.
When it comes to the appearance of the appliances themselves, there is little choice among the so-called large devices. The design depends on the brand. Sometimes we have several colour variants, but mostly it is a choice between white, silver or black. Few manufacturers also have other colours or, for example, retro designs in their offer. Small devices, such as coffee machines or cordless kettles, are sometimes fancier.
Energy-saving household appliances
The energy efficiency of household appliances is of great importance as it translates into lower electricity bills. It is essential in the case of refrigerators, because of the electrical appliances in the household, they are the ones that use the most energy – because they work all the time. Modern energy-efficient fridges used several times (even up to 10 times) less electricity than appliances 30-40 years ago. However, even new appliances have different labels. What do they mean?
The requirement to determine energy classes is regulated by the Act of 14 September 2012 on the obligations to inform about electricity consumption of energy-using products (including the amendment of 2015). The classes are determined by calculating the ratio of annual energy consumption of an appliance to the standard energy consumption of such devices.
On the equipment currently on sale, there are energy labels with stripes showing the classes. There is usually a scale of seven levels, from D to A+++. However, the full scale is the tenth class – it also includes E, F and G, although the latter categories refer to outdated and very inefficient appliances. Next to it is an arrow indicating the energy class of the device. Currently manufactured machines usually belong to the classes marked with the letter A, A+, A++ or A+++. If we take A+ equipment as a starting point, it is assumed that A+ equipment consumes up to 25% less energy, A++ equipment consumes up to 40% less energy, and A+++ equipment consumes up to 60% less energy.
Is it worth buying an energy-efficient appliance? You have to reckon with the fact that the higher the energy class, the higher the price. However, the cost returns, although the time after which this occurs depends on the type of appliance, its size, the conditions in which it operates (e.g. fridges should not be placed near heat sources), as well as users’ habits. Besides, the price differences between A and A+ and A+ and A++ are not usually large, while A+++ appliances can be much more expensive.
Cookers and hotplates
When choosing an oven, let’s pay attention first of all to the way it is powered. Here we have a choice between gas, electric or gas-electric cookers.
The advantage of buying a gas cooker is the lower cost of gas consumption in comparison with electricity, as well as the lower price of the appliance itself. Gas burners allow you to cook in almost any dish. However, if the oven is also gas-fired, its disadvantage is the uneven heating of the plates – only from the bottom, so it is easier to burn the dish. It is even more difficult to achieve a specific temperature. It is also indicated that gas cookers are less safe than electric ovens. We are dealing with open fire, so it is easier to burn the food. Besides, there is a risk of leaking the installation. It is also not possible to connect to the gas network everywhere. However, you can use replaceable gas cylinders for propane-butane after changing the nozzles.
Electric kitchens are more expensive, and the cost of electricity consumption is also higher than gas. However, they are considered safer than gas. At present, cookers with cast-iron heating elements protruding on the hob are rarely used. Ceramic and induction cooktops are becoming increasingly popular. An electric oven ensures even heating of the food and makes it easier to achieve the desired temperature. Usually, we can choose between several or even several settings. The oven should have an upper and lower heater and thermo-circulation. It is also useful to be able to switch on only the top or bottom heater, as well as the grill function.
Quite popular are also gas-electric cookers with gas burners (usually four) on the cooktop, while the oven is powered by electricity. The cost of this type of equipment and its use is slightly higher than in the case of kitchens powered exclusively by gas but lower than in the case of kitchens powered solely by electricity.
Let us now concentrate on the hobs themselves, which can also be bought as separate appliances, without an oven. As mentioned, you can still sometimes come across electric hobs of the old type, with cast iron heating elements. They are the cheapest to buy, but most expensive to use. They are also not very comfortable to use – they stay hot for a long time, and it is more difficult to keep them clean than boards without protruding elements.
Ceramic tiles have an aesthetic appearance and are easy to clean. They are energy-efficient because they adhere well to the dishes and heat them evenly. Modern tiles also have different sensors and protections, which makes them safe to use. However, they heat up for quite a long time and remain hot after switching off.
Induction hobs are the most modern and safest. Even after prolonged cooking, they are not hot, so you can use them without the risk of burning yourself. They are also the most energy-efficient because they only heat the pots when they come into contact with them. They require unique vessels with ferromagnetic bottom – that is why when buying pots and pans, you have to pay attention whether they have the induction symbol. If the hob has separate heating fields, the diameter of the pots and pans must match them – it must be the same or smaller. If it is bigger, the hob does not detect the pot and does not work.
A good hood is necessary, especially in an open kitchen, as it prevents kitchen odours from spreading throughout the flat. The hood should guarantee effective air exchange and at the same time, work as quietly as possible. We recommend hoods that allow you to change all the air in the kitchen at least ten times per hour while keeping the noise level below 55 dB (A).
As far as the principle of operation is concerned, we have a choice of hoods and absorbers. The hood operates in an open system – it draws in air and lets it out. It is connected to a flue pipe. The absorber works in a closed system – it draws in air, purifies it and then blows it back into the room. There are filters in the absorbers, which should be replaced from time to time. At present, absorbers are more often installed than extractor hoods, as in many flats there is no possibility of connecting to a flue pipe.
The shape of the eaves and place of installation depends on the size and equipment of the kitchen. The hoods are small and, as the name suggests, they are mounted under one of the upper cabinets, although they can also be mounted directly to the wall. They are suitable even for the smallest kitchens but are not very efficient. Wall (chimney) hoods are common, quite efficient and cheap to use. They are mounted next to the wall. They have a chimney, in which a pipe is hiding, which leads polluted air to a ventilation shaft. They are usually large and require a lot of space in the kitchen. Island hoods are similar to wall hoods and also require a connection to the ventilation hole. They are mounted on the ceiling so that they can be placed in the middle of the kitchen. As the name suggests, they are placed above hobs located on so-called islands. Their disadvantages are high price and large size. Telescopic hoods are designed for installation. They can be pulled out and retracted. They do not take up much space and are quite efficient.
Refrigerators and freezers
The choice of the fridge is a very individual matter. It depends on several factors – including available space, number of household members, frequency of cooking and shopping as well as culinary tastes.
As we mentioned, the fridge can be built-in or freestanding. This depends on the amount of space in the kitchen, on the existing or planned furniture and whether we are very keen on a consistent kitchen appearance. Built-in fridges are usually shallower and have a smaller capacity, while freestanding models are often huge and roomy.
It is important to choose the size and capacity of the fridge. People who live alone or often eat outside the house will need a small one. If they have little space, e.g. in a studio apartment, they may consider buying an under-door fridge. This is not very expensive and consumes little electricity. Such a fridge is also suitable for hotels or student houses, for example. It is assumed that a fridge for one person with average needs should have a capacity of 120 l (under-counter and built-in ones have a smaller ability). In contrast, for each additional household member, 30 l is added. For a large family or people who rarely do large shopping, a fridge with a capacity of 240 l may be useful.
The most popular refrigerators are fridge-freezers. They are divided into a cooling section and a compartment with negative temperatures (freezer). Single-door fridges have a small freezer placed on top. For singles or small families, they are usually sufficient. Slightly larger are combi fridges, with a refrigerator compartment at the top and a freezer compartment at the bottom. Both rooms are similar in size, possibly the lower one slightly smaller. Large families and people who need to store more stock and at the same time have plenty of space are recommended side-by-side refrigerators, which are two devices in one. On one side there is a large refrigerator, on the other side, there is a large freezer. Such models are also often equipped with an ice cube and a beverage bar.
The proportions between the fridge and freezer are also important. There are large fridges with a tiny freezer compartment and on the other hand small fridges, half of which are occupied by a freezer. The choice depends on how often we shop – if less often, we will freeze more things. A larger freezer compartment is also useful for people who cook large quantities of food for stock or like to stock up on frozen semi-finished products.
You will also find refrigerators without a freezer function and freezers themselves. Refrigerators can be used, for example, in hotels or cottages, where food is stored for a short time and does not need to be frozen. However, they may not be sufficient for domestic use. Freestanding freezers are currently purchased less frequently in addition to the refrigerator you already own. Box freezers are the most efficient appliance of their kind – they can achieve the lowest temperatures and store food the longest. However, they take up a lot of space.
Until a dozen or so years ago, dishwashers in Polish homes were a rarity. Today they are widely used, and many people cannot imagine life without them. They are comfortable, save our time and reduce water consumption.
The size and capacity of the dishwasher should be adjusted to the number of people in the household, the amount of space in the kitchen and the habits of the household. Please note that the capacity of the dishwasher is defined in sets of dishes. A group is understood here as a set containing one piece of each type of dishes and cutlery: deep plate, plate for the second course, dessert plate, cup, glass, wine glass, knife, fork, spoon, spoon.
The smallest are compact dishwashers, a bit like a microwave. None of their dimensions exceeds 55 cm. If the existing furniture does not include space for a dishwasher, some models can even be placed on a countertop. Such dishwashers are an excellent solution for small flats and small households (for 1-2 people). They can hold up to 6 sets of dishes. Dishwashers are 45 cm larger. They usually hold 8-10 sets of dishes. They are generally sufficient for a couple or small family. 60 cm dishwashers, on the other hand, have a dozen or so sets of dishes and are recommended for larger families or people who often receive guests. If we fluctuate between two dishwasher capacities, it is always worth betting on the larger one if the space in the kitchen allows it.
Let’s also pay attention to other features which influence the dishwasher’s economy and comfort. The issue of energy efficiency and energy classes has been discussed earlier. Dishwashers usually allow you to choose between programmes that are energy efficient but slower and programmes that are faster but use more electricity and water. A programme that will enable you to wash only half the load is also useful. We do not have to wait until the dishwasher is full, and the water and electricity consumption is adjusted to the number of dishes.
In addition to energy efficiency, dishwashers are also known as washing efficiency. This is indicated by the letters A to G, depending on how the dishwasher handles difficult dirt. Some dishwashers have special zones for more and less soiled dishes.
Another indication is the drying class, also indicated by the letters A to G. As far as the drying technologies available are concerned, several are possible: condensation drying when water condenses on the back wall of the chamber; static, which involves raising the temperature inside and evaporating the water; fan, which causes warm air to move; zeolite, a mineral that absorbs moisture.
Other useful functions are e.g. a blockade against opening by children; regulation of water hardness and adjusting the consumption of tablets and rinse aid to water hardness; a silent programme enabling washing dishes at night; a delayed start – the possibility of setting the washing for a specific hour; a system protecting against flooding in case of a device failure.
The sink is essential in any kitchen, even if we have a dishwasher. You need to adjust its size to your needs, but also choose the right material.
For those who have a dishwasher and don’t seem to need to wash by hand, a single-chamber sink or 1.5-chamber sink is sufficient. The latter has an additional, small auxiliary bowl in which you can, for example, wash vegetables and fruit. The two-chamber sink is necessary when there is no dishwasher at home, so washing up is done by hand.
As far as the way of installing the sink is concerned, we have a choice of sinks that are placed on the kitchen worktop, recessed in the worktop or hung under it. Overlay sinks are easy to install, but it’s harder to keep them clean as food residues can get into cracks at the edges of the sink. Recessed sinks are available in most models. They are easy to keep clean as the surface of the countertop remains even, without gaps or protruding edges. Suspended sinks are installed similarly as countertop sinks but from below. Thus, each bowl can be installed separately.
As far as the material is concerned, stainless steel sinks are currently the most common. Stainless steel has an admixture of chrome and nickel. It is easy to keep clean and resistant to detergents, heat and impact. Unfortunately, on the surface of such sinks, water leaks are easily formed.
Enamelled sinks used to be very popular. Nowadays, they are still found, although they have fewer buyers. Their advantage is their low price. Enamel is easy to keep clean, but after a long period of use, it rubs off and scratches. It is also easy to damage it when it hit harder. Some cleaning products (containing acids) damage the enamel surface. It becomes dull, and dirt and deposits easily penetrate it.
The properties of plastic sinks depend on the type of plastic. They are relatively resistant to scratches, but sensitive to high temperatures, so hot dishes cannot be placed in such sinks.
Ceramic sinks are scratch resistant and very high temperature, easy to keep clean. However, they are more expensive than steel or made of plastic.
Granite sinks are also quite expensive, but practically indestructible, resistant to high temperatures, mechanical damage and cleaning agents. They are very heavy, which is something to pay attention to during assembly.
Composite (conglomerate) sinks are made of a combination of minerals (granite, quartz, silicon) with synthetic resins. The appearance and resistance of the conglomerate resemble natural stone – it is resistant to high temperatures and impacts. If the material contains more resins, the sink is shinier but less resistant to scratches.
3 The workflow in the kitchen – equipment layout
Proper arrangement of furniture and kitchen appliances ensures comfort and ergonomics of work and even saves energy. Conversely, poorly adjusted can become a nuisance and discourage you from using the kitchen.
The correct working sequence is that the equipment is set up in the order in which the kitchen work takes place. First, we usually take the products out of the fridge, then we wash them, and finally, we fry or bake them.
It is best to position the fridge away from heat sources such as a cooker or a radiator. Otherwise, it will be uneconomic to use the fridge as it will use more electricity to maintain the right temperature.
Behind the fridge (if space permits) it is good to place an additional worktop. This place will be useful for lining the products we are going to put in the fridge or those we just took out of it. Near the fridge, there should be a sink where we will wash products after they are taken out of the fridge and before preparing the dishes.
It is best to place the main worktop between the sink and the cooker, which should be at least 60 cm long. If possible, it is better not to place the hob right next to a sink. If they are placed directly next to each other, there is a risk of flooding the hob. Besides, if you intend to fry something on the hob, the accidental splashing of water on a hot pan containing oil may cause a burn.
The next item in a row should be a cooker. It is good to place pot cabinets next to it so that you can reach them comfortably. If we have enough space, it’s worth planning another small countertop behind the cooker to put away fried or baked food.