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The kitchen is the heart of the home. As well as being a food preparation area, it is also a place for entertaining and for the family to congregate. A well designed kitchen will be a pleasure to work in, so it's important to get professional help from the design stages of your new kitchen or kitchen renovation.

Kitchen Design Basics

The kitchen design process starts with the layout. Kitchen designers usually start with one of four basic layouts:

The U-shaped kitchen has three adjoining sides The L-shaped kitchen has two adjoining sides and may have a detached kitchen island for storage, work and/or seating The galley style kitchen has two parallel banks of cabinets and cupboards The straight line kitchen has one bank of cabinets and cupboards.

One of these designs will suit most every kitchen, from a small apartment kitchen to a spacious home kitchen. With the exception of straight line kitchens, kitchen designers will include the ""work triangle"" in their layouts. The three points of the triangle are the sink, the cooktop and the fridge. The total distance between these three points should be between 7 and 10 metres, with 7 metres being ideal for easy access.

While you work on your kitchen layout, ask yourself some questions. Will I be able to work comfortably in the kitchen? Does cross-traffic have a place outside of the work triangle to pass? Is there enough room for guests and family to congregate? Is there a place for people to sit down for a cuppa, a snack, a meal or a chat?

Also take a look at your storage areas. A basic kitchen will have one set of drawers in a single cabinet. Would a row of top drawers suit you better? Do you want to store your pots and pans in your cupboards or would pot drawers suit you better? Today, you have more options for kitchen storage and a good kitchen designer can help you arrange your storage areas for easier access to everything you need to work in your kitchen comfortably.

Choosing Materials

Once you have a kitchen layout you're happy with, you can start choosing materials. You want your kitchen to be stylish, but you have to stay within your budget. Fortunately, you don't have to sacrifice style to have an affordable kitchen. For cupboard doors, drawer fronts and exposed panels, these are some of your options:

Melamine (sometimes called laminate) is the cheapest material. It comes in a wide range of colors, textures and gloss levels. Vinyl wrapped doors and drawer fronts (also called thermoform) allow you to have rolled edges and routed panels. Two-pack polyurethane is more expensive and is usually chosen for a high-gloss look. The polyurethane is more scratch resistant than vinyl or melamine, but may not be appropriate for a busy family kitchen because it is not scratch-proof. Solid timber is still a favorite. Depending on the timber you choose, it can be a mid to high priced option.

For your benchtops, some of the most popular options are plastic laminate, timber, engineered stone, natural stone (usually granite) and stainless steel.

You'll also have to decide on the kind of splashback you want. Tiles are still popular, but today a number of other options exist. Acrylic splashbacks are stylish and reasonably priced. Glass splashbacks are more expensive, but look stunning and are easy to clean. You can even choose an LED splashback that can change colours or be dimmed or brightened as you choose. For ideas and inspiration, see our Kitchen Splashback Ideas pages.

Lighting, flooring and the paint you choose for your walls are also important considerations.

Choosing a Kitchen Builder

There is a lot to think about when designing a kitchen, but you don't have to do it alone. Most reputable kitchen builders provide a free design service. A kitchen designer will work with you to create a perfect layout and help you choose your materials. If you go over-budget, they can suggest less expensive alternatives. For example, a granite benchtop might tip the scales, but a granite-look benchtop can make your kitchen more affordable without sacrificing style.

It's always best to get at least three quotes for kitchens. While cost will be one consideration, remember that you will want to enjoy your kitchen and have a kitchen that will last for years. The service you get at the design stage will be one indication that you have chosen a reputable kitchen builder, but to be sure you're getting value for money, you'll need to carefully compare your quotes. Do they all have the same inclusions? Do the quotes include plumbing and electrical work? What about the quality of construction? The cupboards, cabinets and drawers should be well built to ensure you have a kitchen that will give you years of trouble free use.

A number of trades are involved in kitchen building. Aside from your builder/installer, a plumber, electrician and tiler will probably be involved in the project and if your kitchen renovation includes alterations to your house, your kitchen builder will need to have a builder's licence. To find out what licences are needed in your state or territory, visit licensedtrades.com.au . Any tradie working on your premises should hold a current licence and also carry insurance.

How Much Does a Kitchen Cost?

Assuming you are replacing an entire kitchen, including the appliances, and having your kitchen professionally installed, these are the average prices for new kitchens:

Budget: $22,000 Luxury: $34,000 Ultimate: $40,000+

Average prices can be deceiving. One budget kitchen might cost $15,000 while another can cost $30,000. It depends on the size of the kitchen, the inclusions and the cost of kitchens in your area. Getting quotes is one way to make sure you're getting the best kitchen for the best price, but if a full renovation is still outside your budget, you have other options. For example, if your cupboards are still in good condition and you don't need to change the layout, a kitchen resurfacing specialist can make an older kitchen look like new again. For more information about designing a budget kitchen you'll love, read How to Design a Kitchen on a Shoestring .

Cost and prices in this article are indicative and should only be used as a guide. They also vary locally and are subject to market forces. This article was updated 30 July 2015 to reflect current market pricing.

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