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Often I'll visit a recently finished home where the kitchen has obviously been given a lot of attention but doesn't really work well for the homeowners. Sometimes this is because the kitchen designer hasn't taken the time to ask the client some simple questions: For example, will the kitchen be used by a single cook only to prepare meals? Or is the kitchen the family's social center, where parents and children gather at the end of a busy day to catch up with one another? There's no "one size fits all" when it comes to kitchens, and getting the answers to such questions is the beginning of good design. But sometimes the reason a kitchen doesn't work is because basic guidelines have been ignored. In this article, I'll share some of the most common errors I see in kitchen design - most of which I have made at one time or another. Hopefully I can help prevent you from doing the same. I'll also provide some design rules that I follow in my kitchen design work. Some deal with safety, some with appliance placement and work flow, and some with aesthetics.

Safe Cooktops & Ovens

My clients are usually concerned with aesthetics and convenience, but for me there's no issue more important than safety. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), a cooktop should have at least 9 inches of open countertop on one side and 15 inches on the other (see Figure 1).

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Always provide at least 15 inches of counter space next to a range, flush with the cooking surface. This allows the user to slide a pot off the burner without lifting. For open-ended counters, there should be 9 inches on the other side. This prevents pot handles from hanging over the counter edge. When the cooktop abuts a wall, maintain at least a 3-inch clearance, and protect the side wall with a flame-retardant material, such as ceramic tile. For safety, install the oven beyond the common traffic area, within 48 inches of a counter at least 15 inches wide. This rules out installing a cooktop or range at the open end of a run of cabinets, where pot handles might hang out over the edge, leading to spills or scalding accidents. These dimensions are minimums. More counter space would be better, but it's not always possible in smaller kitchens.