6 Kitchen “Rules” You Can Totally Ignore, According to an Interior Designer

published Feb 6, 2020
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They say that rules are meant to be broken. And while we don’t know who “they” are, we definitely agree. That’s why we spoke with New York-based designer and architect Anjie Cho to identify six kitchen design rules that you don’t need to feel obligated to follow anymore, just as these forward-thinking homeowners already did in these inspirational kitchens.

Ready? Here are six design rules that can now, officially be broken!

Credit: Lula Poggi

1. You must obey the Work Triangle.

The work triangle (aka the idea that your sink, refrigerator, and stove should be spaced equilaterally apart) has long been held as the gold standard of efficient kitchen layouts, but it’s not always possible — or necessary. In small spaces, Cho says you should worry less about achieving that perfect cooktop-sink-refrigerator configuration and more on maximizing your work surfaces in general. Everything in a small kitchen is already pretty close together as it is, so focus on what you can do to make your room feel bigger. 

Opt for some open-front cabinets rather than the expensive custom ones packed with drawers and dividers, which might seem like they increase space, but actually ultimately limit the flexibility of your storage, according to Cho. Feel free to skip the pull-out trash can, too.

“Pull-out trash cans take up lots of room, and you can use the area under your sink for so much more.” A small trash can strategically placed in a corner or next to your island actually forces you to take the trash out more often, which will keep the kitchen smelling better. And don’t choose a huge apron-front sink just for the sake of having it. “Lots of people make sinks too large, which takes up precious counter space,” Cho says. 

Credit: Aaron Markus

2. Kitchens should be white and bright.

White kitchens will always be classic, but people are starting to explore color again. According to Cho, designers are going dark, tending toward black with their cabinets, appliances, paint colors, hardware, and more. Navy and midnight blues are also on the rise. “The last white kitchen I did was because my clients were thinking of selling soon, so they wanted to go the safe route,” Cho says. “White’s safe, but black is also timeless.” If you want to go dark but are worried about making your kitchen too dim, balance out dark cabinets — Cho has been seeing a lot of ebony wood cabinets — with light countertops. “You want lighter countertops, so you can make sure they’re clean,” she says. “But with cabinets, dark is better because it won’t show as much debris.” Moreover, light countertops are reflective, so they’ll help bounce light around the room.

Credit: Bree Kerr

3. Kitchens must have hard flooring only.

It’s absolutely okay to add some softness underfoot, even in a kitchen. Area rugs and runners introduce color and warmth to a room — bonus points if they’re extra-cushy for more comfort when you’re on your feet cooking. As long as you choose a rug with a busy pattern, like vintage Heriz carpet or even a colorful medallion flatweave as seen above, you can have some fun with your floors. Both designs can camouflage stains and be spot cleaned relatively easily.

Naturally, Cho says, you should stay away from white and other light colored rugs, and don’t choose anything with a high pile. “You’ll lose food in there,” she says. You know what’s also great about rugs in a kitchen? They can protect wood floors from water stains with the inevitable splashing and spraying that goes on while cooking.

Credit: Sweeten

4. Open layouts are ideal.

We’re still living in a post- “Fixer Upper” and HGTV world, where nearly every renovation show touted the airy open kitchen concept. But Cho says she’s seeing a return to closed and semi-closed kitchens. “Lots of people like having their kitchens separated,” she says. Doors and walls helps keep smells from wafting into the rest of your house and make it easier to hide a mess or two when guests come over. You can separate your kitchen from the rest of your home without making it feel totally closed off by adding a cutout or interior opening that looks into the living room. That way, your dirty dishes stay hidden when you’re cooking and entertaining — but your friends and family don’t. 

Credit: Viv Yapp

5. You need all the appliances.

Maybe it’s all the Instant Pots and air fryers we’re using for making meals these days, but microwaves are becoming less and less common, Cho says. “Visually, they’re not very nice to look at, and a lot of people say they just don’t use microwaves anymore,” she says. Consider foregoing the microwave and letting your oven — or one of the above-mentioned storable countertop appliances — do your food reheating to save yourself space and get a cleaner overall look. If you aren’t ready to part ways with your microwave just yet, avoid placing yours at eye level, Cho says. Microwave drawers are a great option for hiding this less-than-beautiful appliance. Or you can hide yours in an island if you have one.

Credit: Viv Yapp

6. You need to maximize every inch of space.

Kitchen layouts were once about packing as much function and design into the space as possible, but today things are trending toward a “less is more” ideology. Cho’s seen a lot of clients choose to leave walls blank rather than fill them with upper cabinets. “People are willing to have less space if it means a cleaner, more seamless look,” she says. The same goes for backsplashes. The subway and patterned tile backsplashes that were so popular recently are now being pushed out by smooth materials like marble and quartz. “They don’t have grout lines, they’re easier to clean, and they have a clean look,” Cho says. The upshot? Form is no longer always second to function. 

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 6 Kitchen “Rules” You Can Break Right Now, According to an Interior Designer