Your guide to kitchen renovation


Planning your kitchen

Planning a kitchen can seem like a bit of a nightmare. There are so many decisions to be made. Where do you start? None of us design kitchens every day. It’s likely you will only need to design a kitchen two or three times in a lifetime – if that. However, by working through the process in an ordered way, you can make sure you ‘tick all the boxes’ and arrive at the end of the process with a kitchen that suits your lifestyle, appeals to your aesthetic sense and doesn’t blow the budget!

Most of us are not aware of exactly how we use our kitchens, other than to cook. It’s not something we tend to think about much. Consider recording exactly how your kitchen serves your needs (or doesn’t) on a daily basis. To do this it may be worth keeping a log over several days. Note how many people use the kitchen regularly, who cooks, what height they are and whether they are right or left-handed? Other questions relevant to planning are: how many people need to be in the kitchen at the one time, what kind of cooking do they regularly do and how do they shop and store food? Note the traffic flow and ask yourself whether your kitchen needs to function as a dining area where you can host guests or whether it only serves as a place for the family to grab a quick bite.


When it comes to cold hard cash, the old advice ‘choose a budget and stick to it’ could have been written first and foremost with kitchen planning in mind. Budget blowouts with kitchens are no joke but sadly quite common. A kitchen you guesstimate might cost $14,000 can easily end up costing $28,000. Unless you rigidly adhere to a budget, your beautiful new kitchen may leave you feeling miserable rather than delighted. 

You need to research, research and research some more. Check out what’s available on the market today. Visit showrooms, magazines and trade shows and explore as many online resources as you can. Make a wish list that takes price into account. You’ll quickly discover that cabinetry is way up there in terms of the proportion of your budget it will eat up.

You need a list of the things you ideally want AND a default list of alternatives that are less expensive. Why? Because that way your designer has some wriggle room to deliver a kitchen with the ultimate style and functionality you want and still keep within your overall budget. It’s advisable to set aside 20% of the budget to deal with unexpected costs. What are these? Well, if you’re one of the many people who are renovating a kitchen in a house built before the 1970s it is not unusual to have to upgrade wiring, remove asbestos or replace rotten woodwork.

A major contributor to cost blowouts is the client changing his or her mind on the materials and finishes to be used. There is no such thing as a light, tile or backsplash when it comes to the budget, there are only particular tiles, lights and backsplashes and particular associated installation costs.

Over-capitalising is another issue to consider. Just because you have the money to spend, should you?  Experts differ in opinion on exactly what percentage of your home’s value should be spent on a kitchen renovation but no more than 10-15% is considered prudent. With careful planning and nifty strategies you can avoid the dangers of over capitalising.

Layout and design

Now begins the fun part. You’ve developed a good idea of your family’s particular needs and a ‘big picture’ idea of the type of kitchen you need and the appliances, cabinets, surfaces and extras on your wish list.

Traditionally, a well-designed kitchen was thought to depend on the work triangle, the proper positioning of refrigerator, sink and stove. These days we want our kitchens to look good, work well and provide a space for people to congregate. Now designers tend to plan designs based around activity zones. These might be work zones or social activity zones.

Lighting is one of the most neglected elements in kitchen design with many people only considering it as an afterthought. However, lighting can determine the overall mood of the space. Forgetting about lighting until late in the process means you may be left with peanuts to spend on it – big mistake! Poor lighting can make cooking a chore if it’s too dim or leave your guests feeling as if they’re under interrogation if it’s too bright.

Lighting is functional yet also creates ambience and gives your kitchen an individual personality.  It can make tasks easier, draw attention to aspects of the room, or simply add interest as in the case of a chandelier. Layering your lighting, that is, having a variety of types of lighting will give the room depth.



Kitchen materials and finishes

  • Floors

When it comes to floors, know what questions to ask. The challenge with floors is to choose materials that are durable without compromising on style. As well as durability another factor which may be relevant to you is softness under foot. If standing for long periods may cause you discomfort, this is another factor to consider.

  • Cabinets

These are, architecturally speaking, the scaffolding of your kitchen. These days cabinets are becoming more ergonomically friendly with base cabinets tending to have drawers rather doors. This means less bending to find what you need – desirable for most and essential for some. Wall cabinets typically extend to the ceiling, eliminating wasted space and dust traps. Particle board and melamine have well and truly taken a back seat to materials that do not give off gas but remain just as long lasting. Wood has moved to the forefront and textured looks are big. Frameless cabinets are more space efficient and soft close doors, de rigour. Touchless doors are an exciting innovation and especially useful for waste or recycling drawers. Hardware is becoming more functional as well as being decorative.

  • Countertops

Countertops can determine kitchen design so they need to be chosen fairly early in the process. There is a wide choice of materials.  All have their advantages and disadvantages. At the pricy end of the scale are granite and engineered stone. Laminates are a good solution if the budget is tight. Soapstone is rich in character but requires quite a bit of upkeep. Ceramic tiles are wonderfully versatile but require grouting. Concrete is tough and can be treated so it’s less porous and dyed with many colours. 

Stainless steel is mighty strong and sleek but can scratch.

  • Appliances 

The smart person chooses the kitchen layout first and then appliances to fit. It’s futile trying to fit an enormous fridge into your kitchen once the cabinetry has been decided. Let’s take a look at the newest features of kitchen appliances. If you’ve had your current kitchen for many years, they might be news to you. Cooktops are now designed to waste less heat and ovens to cook much faster if you wish. Range hoods can be designed with exterior motors so when you turn them on it doesn’t sound as if your whole kitchen is about to become air-born. 

Freezers and refrigerators can be hidden away and look like built in units. Refrigerators can have dual compressors which keep food fresh for longer and may justify the additional cost. Some fridges will purify water which is appealing to many people. Microwaves need not be an eyesore and can be built into cabinetry and a convection microwave can make a double oven unnecessary. Dishwashers come with drawers which are easier to load, can be installed at different heights and can handle smaller loads so are more efficient.

Sinks come in a variety of depths shapes and sizes and have cutting boards and other innovations. Materials include but are not limited to: acrylic, fiberglass, quartz and solid surface.Warming drawers not only warm plates but, can keep side dishes warm without them drying out, allowing them to be served at the same time as the main meal. 

Choosing a professional

By now you may feel somewhat overwhelmed by choice so it’s important to consider who is qualified to help you plan and install your new kitchen. First the designer – what qualifications should he or she possess? Technically, in Australia there aren’t any legal requirements to adopt the title ‘kitchen designer’. However, there are some ways to make sure a designer is up to the task. The kitchen and bathroom Designers Institute of Australia’s (KBDi) provides a yearlong course to ensure designers are well-equipped with knowledge and skills. Once qualified and sufficiently experienced, designers can become a Certified Kitchen Designer which means they undergo regular assessments of their work and are required to engage in on-going professional development to ensure they are up to date with trends, technologies and building regulations. Of course there will be excellent designers out there with extensive experience who are not Certified. Finding them will rely on word of mouth recommendations from previous clients.

When employing contractors, explore what the letters after their name really mean. Once you’ve got a handle on that, other homeowners’ references are extremely valuable. Ask the contractor to allow you to speak to a couple of their clients. Ask for proof of insurance. Check out local licencing requirements. These can vary from state to state. Ask to see the licence and make sure its current. If you’re engaging a general contractor who will subcontract, ask who they’ll use to carry out the work. Interview more than one contractor and ask for written estimates.


What style of kitchen should you choose?



If your home already has an overall style, this may be an easy decision. In other instances there may be a number of kitchen styles that will work well in your home. Here are some of the most popular kitchen styles in Australia:


Traditional Style

The traditional kitchen is elegant and has a timeless aesthetic. It has a modern look and feel and uses crisp white and fresh colours. It is comforting and inviting with traditional and contemporary elements carefully included. 

Details can vary considerably, yet vintage or period accents are common. Crisp white is often contrasted with the warmth of wood.



In essence, the contemporary kitchen is modern and minimalist. It contains artistic elements and characteristic straight and horizontal lines giving it a geometric appearance. It is sleek, with a bold colour palette.

The contemporary kitchen abhors clutter and incorporates a mixture of old and new without unnecessary detailing. There is an emphasis on the complimentary relationship between materials, surfaces and colours.  The materials themselves take centre stage and the effect is one of serenity.


The modern kitchen shares many features with the contemporary kitchen. It too is minimalist, sleek and sophisticated with clean lines and timeless contouring. However, there is greater emphasis on exotic and high end materials. Clutter and detail is again kept to a minimum so that the dominant features are beautiful, clear and polished counter tops with only a hint or two of colour to break up the space.

The overall look sought is one of uncompromising luxury and exotic materials with interesting tactile qualities help achieve this end.


The transitional kitchen is, not surprisingly, one that melds contemporary and traditional elements. It makes use of the warm elements of the traditional style and integrates these with elements of the contemporary style. In so doing it delivers a ‘best of both worlds’ design that is simple, minimalist and versatile.

There is no real definition of the transitional style kitchen. The one common denominator is the considered way in which the proportions, characteristics and materials belonging to the traditional and contemporary styles are carefully integrated to produce a style ‘all of its own’.

French provincial

The French provincial kitchen is one of the most readily recognised kitchens. It often features cherished objects that have been passed down from earlier generations. The style has a farmhouse feel and a natural and relaxed ambience. It is elegant, understated and chic. 

It was originally less wealthy Parisians who developed the French provincial style. Their kitchens were small and featured large cabinets to maximise storage space. Larger cabinets remain a feature of many French provincial style kitchens today.

Stone, wooden or tiled counter tops and white porcelain sinks are all considered hallmark

s of the French provincial kitchen. Wrought-iron handles and racks for pots are additional features. The style depends heavily on curves and small details. There is nothing minimalist about the French provincial style.

A monochrome colour palette is incompatible with this style. Soft colours are the order of the day and hand-painted finishes are common, though costly. Budgetary considerations often mean that imitation hand-painted finishes are employed to achieve the same effect.


The industrial kitchen is common in buildings and apartments whose original purpose was to house industry. The style reflects this original purpose and has an open concept. Original warn floorboards, aged paintwork, exposed brick and high ceilings are retained in these older buildings. In newer spaces, the signature architectural features are often recreated as a backdrop.

Cabinetry is varied but is often paired with open floating shelves. Brick, metal and wood are essential elements of the style and old items that might have come from the factory floor are often included to enhance the vibe.

Chunky or heavy modern appliances are often chosen for their visual compatibility with other aged metal features. Light fittings are also heavy. The overall appearance of this style is functional.


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