The Magic Formula for Making Kitchen Cabinet Plans

How a pro gets it right every time.

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It only takes living in an unoptimized space once to realize just how important kitchen cabinet plans are. But between figuring out where all the appliances should go and trying to establish a clear footprint for all future cooking ventures, dreaming up the perfect layout for your needs without an expert is tricky—so, we called one in. Jean Brownhill is the founder of general contractor company Sweeten, and with more than nine years of experience under her belt, she’s exactly who you want weighing in on your next renovation. 

To start, she suggests familiarizing yourself with the three most popular types of floor plans: 

  • U-Shaped Kitchens are good for both large and small spaces and provide the most countertop area. They also allow more than one person to move around comfortably, so if you have couples cooking classes or family gatherings on the horizon, this is a safe bet. 
  • L-Shaped Kitchens use only two planes, freeing up valuable square footage in the middle of the room. Pro tip: If you’re able to squeeze in a small island, do it—your future self will be thankful for the extra storage. 
  • Galley Kitchens are a small space go-to and can fit one person comfortably. Just be sure to keep larger appliances as separate as possible, so your fridge doesn’t open up into the stove. 

With the basics in mind, here are five rules Brownhill swears by for choosing the right blueprint every time: 

white kitchen marble countertops and open shelving
Photography by Mia Baxter

Don’t Forget the Magic Formula

An efficient blueprint is all down to the “work triangle”: the placement of your sink, fridge, and stove. Start by visualizing where that trio will fit, which will influence the type of layout you can have. Then, if possible, consider the location of existing gas and plumbing lines—the less you have to move, the more seamless (and affordable) your remodel will be. 

large cream-colored kitchen with island and lots of open shelving
Photography by Laure Joliet

Ask Yourself the Right Questions

Do your kids need a spot to do homework in? Do you eat in the kitchen, instead of the dining room? Do you have an open floor plan? “At the end of the day, your design depends on how much flexibility you have and what your lifestyle is,” continues Brownhill. Examine what your day-to-day habits are (if helpful, make a list) to figure out your priorities, then map out the room based on those. 

For example, if you need a dedicated space to keep an eye on children while they study, go with a U-shaped style, and add an island to double as their workspace. If you want to separate the area from the nearby living room, try an L-shaped layout and build out that bar to keep clutter and dirty dishes hidden from the viewpoint of anyone hanging out on the sofa.

Be Strategic About Specific Cabinet Placement

First of all, doors, appliances, and drawers shouldn’t open into each other. You can also position certain dynamic duos near intentionally: Brownhill recommends putting your utensil drawer facing the dishwasher to make unloading the silverware a more efficient task. Or, plan for a cabinet under the L-shaped peninsula that can house your microwave oven when it’s not plugged into the outlet, to keep counters clear. 

grey-green kitchen with white tile backsplash
Photography by Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Maximize Your Storage By Going Up 

“Vertical pantries provide the most amount of storage and take up the least amount of square footage,” explains Brownhill. Designate the tallest area of the room as your pantry—canned goods, snacks, and baking supplies always require extra space—and get creative with the insides: Slide-out bins and removable racks will help you make the most of every precious inch. 

Factor In the Unglamorous Parts, Too

Don’t forget to make room for trash and recycling bins. If you build cabinets that are the right height, you should be able to squeeze them in, keeping your floors free and clear—just as planned. 

See more kitchen design ideas: 7 Small Kitchen Islands for Food Prep, Storage, and Everything in Between Which Kitchen Cabinet Hinges Are Right for You? This Forgotten Kitchen Feature Is Popping Up Again During Quarantine

Elly Leavitt

Writer and Editor

Elly enjoys covering anything from travel to funky design (tubular furniture, anyone?) to the latest cultural trend. Her dream apartment would exist on the Upper West Side and include a plethora of mismatched antique chairs, ceramic vessels, and floor-to-ceiling bookcases—essential to her goal of becoming a poor man’s Nora Ephron. You can probably find her in line at Trader Joe’s. You will never find her at SoulCycle.