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Drees complete guide to kitchen design

Posted on Feb 26, 2024 by dreeshomes

For most families, the kitchen is the heart and hub of the home. It also tends to be the most expensive room to build, so getting the kitchen right is key to your overall custom home plan.


As you plan your kitchen design, think about:


  • How you use your kitchen. Do you entertain? Do you like to cook? Do you have kids?
  • What you hate about your current kitchen. Not enough cabinet space? Counter too cluttered? Now’s the time to fix all of that.
  • Your stage in life. Are you just starting out? Nearing retirement?
    How long you expect to stay. A few years? A dozen? Forever?


In any kitchen design, the big three elements -- both in terms of style and budget -- are cabinets, countertops and flooring. Get these three decided before you move on.


Get started on your kitchen design plan


In any kitchen design, the big three elements -- both in terms of style and budget -- are cabinets, countertops and flooring. Get these three decided before you move on.


Kitchen cabinets

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Your choice of cabinet style will set the tone for your overall kitchen design.

Typically, kitchens have two sets of cabinets – base cabinets and wall cabinets -- but you may also have a tall cabinet going from top to bottom that can serve as a pantry cabinet. If you have a high enough ceiling, you may have room for an additional row on top. To-the-ceiling cabinets can produce a truly stunning look, but will add significantly to your costs and may not be practical given that the third row will be difficult to reach.


Cabinet construction types:


Though a cabinet is essentially a box with a door, there are some fundamental structural variations. Here are some terms you may hear:

  • Face-frame cabinets: A thin strip of wood frames the cabinet box, and the doors are attached to the frame. The frame adds strength and hides edges when the box is not solid wood.
  • Frameless cabinets: There is no frame, so door hinges attach to the inside of the box. Requires less building material, and adds slightly to interior space.
    Partial overlay: In face-frame construction, a portion of the frame is still visible when the cabinet doors are closed.
  • Full overlay: When closed, the doors completely cover the box and frame.



  • Wood cabinets: Some are solid wood while others are wood veneer over one of several engineered wood products such as particle board, plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF).
  • Laminate cabinets:  These can be flat and unadorned, but they can also mimic the appearance of stained or painted wood. However, laminate is not intended to be painted, so you have fewer options to update the look down the road.
  • Metal cabinets: Stainless steel and other metal cabinets are durable and easy to clean, but can seem cold and industrial.


Kitchen cabinet styles:


Although specific variations are virtually endless, cabinet styles generally fall into one of these broad groupings:


  • Shaker cabinets The most popular cabinet type in the U.S., these are constructed of a frame with a center panel, but within that fundamental structure there are countless decorative variations.
  • Flat-panel cabinets: Sometimes called European cabinets, they have slab doors with minimal ornamentation. Flat-panel cabinets have a sleek, timelessly modern look and are easy to clean.
  • Glass kitchen cabinet doors:  While usually of the standard Shaker pattern with the central panel replaced by glass, they they can be structured in a variety of other ways. Before choosing glass-fronted cabinets, think about what you will be putting on display -- your fine china or your collection of mismatched Tupperware.


Resources on Kitchen Cabinets:


Kitchen cabinets

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If the kitchen is the hub of the home, the island is the hub of the kitchen. Kitchen islands have been a standard feature in open floor plans for decades, but have continued to evolve.


Island features can include:

  • More countertop space for cooking preparation.
  • Seating at bar stool or standard chair level.
  • Location for a mini-fridge, cooktop, cutting board or prep sink.
  • Additional cabinets, drawers and open-shelf storage.
  • Kid Central station for after school activities.


Kitchen islands are also a great place to add a splash of color or a contrast in countertops or cabinetry.


Resources on Kitchen Islands:


Working pantries

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When it comes to pantries, more is more. Custom-built homes increasingly have walk-in pantries in which every cubic inch of space is optimized. Pantries can have their own countertop areas for small appliances to keep them off of the main countertop space.


With adjustable shelving, you can create the most efficient spacing for your needs.  Wire mesh shelving is fine for some uses, but small items can slip through the holes.  Solid shelving tends to be more reliable.


Of course, clever organizing is not limited to the pantry itself. Here are some efficient storage features that could be used inside the pantry or elsewhere in the kitchen.


  • Deep drawers: Base cabinets are a great place to store large pans and seldom-used appliances, but retrieving them may require more stooping and kneeling than you want to do -- especially as you get older. Deep drawers can be a more practical alternative.
    Appliance garages: A seldom-used appliance can be stored in a cabinet, but a coffee maker or toaster tends to sit on the counter. An appliance garage provides a place to tuck these appliances away from view when not being used.
  • Pull-out spice racks: These built-ins take advantage of a narrow vertical space to slide out near the stove.
  • Wine racks and wine glass holders: Put your fine wines on display and keep glasses handy with built-ins for both bottles and glasses.
  • Lazy Susans & corner drawers: The far back corner of a kitchen cabinet -- especially under the counter -- is almost inaccessible. Another option is a corner drawer, which pulls out diagonally, but these tend to be less effective than the Lazy Susan approach.
  • Hidden trash bin: A pull-out cabinet keeps your trash bin handy but unseen until needed.
  • Tilt-out drawers: These make use of the limited space in front of the sink, and can be used to stow dish cleaning tools. However, tilt-out drawers are not compatible with all sink designs.



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Choice of countertops is a big commitment  because this is not something you will change very often. In addition to appearance, countertop materials differ in more practical respects, with some being more maintenance-free than others.


  • Granite countertops: For years this has been the top top choice for higher-end homes. A natural stone carved out of the earth, granite is beautifully busy with specks and patterns -- what designers call “movement” -- that can be a little unpredictable. You can’t go by the sample square you see in the showroom, so most custom home builders encourage buyers to pick out their own slabs. Granite is absorbent so it needs to be resealed on a regular basis, and in rare instances they can chip or crack.
  • Quartz countertops: If granite patterns seem a bit too busy for your taste, you might prefer quartz. Man-made from ground quartz mixed with resins, polymers, and pigments, quartz countertops can come in any color or pattern. Quartz never needs sealing and is virtually indestructible. However, it’s more expensive than granite, and for some, the man-made patterns may seem a bit too predictable.
  • Marble countertops: Though a beautiful stone, marble is not an ideal material for countertops. Softer and more porous than granite, marble requires much more maintenance to avoid scratches and stains.
  • Soapstone countertops: If you want a natural stone that is less busy and less glossy than granite, soapstone is worth a look. These do need to be resealed periodically, and because of their matte finish tend to show water marks more easily.
  • Butcher-block countertops: Wood countertops are a nice touch in some kitchen designs, but they  do require  more maintenance.   They are perhaps best used in moderation, such as a cutting board area or island, rather than as your complete countertop material.
  • Tile countertops: Tile is great for floors and backsplashes, but not countertops. The surface is too uneven and the grout is likely to stain and trap moisture.
  • Stainless steel countertops: Definitely easy to clean, but the cold, industrial look has limited appeal, so this could be a disadvantage at resale.
  • Laminate countertops: The most economical option, but often not a good choice for higher-value homes as it could be a negative at resale time.


Resources on Countertops:



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The time to decide on a backsplash is after you have chosen cabinets and countertops. Consider how different backsplash materials blend in with and complement those other choices. This is also an opportunity to introduce color or decoration, but keep practical matters in mind. It’s called a “backsplash” for a reason, so if you do a lot of cooking pick a material that will be easy to clean.


  • Subway tile: The term refers to the horizontal shape, but beyond that you can find many variations in size and color. Retro square tiles are an option, too. Go with a glaze for easy cleaning.
  • Travertine tile: Probably not a good choice for backsplashes. Travertine is a natural stone and is extremely porous, so the end result is lots of grout. It’s a beautiful option if you’re willing to accept the burden of cleaning, sealing and regrouting.
  • Metal accents: A bold touch that your guests will notice. Copper, bronze and aluminium lend themselves well to decorative accent slides anywhere you use wall tile.
  • Ledge: Depending on the value of the home, it may not have a full backsplash but simply a painted wall. At minimum, though, you need a ledge to keep water from getting behind your base cabinets. If you’re thinking of adding a backsplash later, plan on incorporating the ledge because it’s not easy to remove.  If you’re looking to cut cost to fit within a budget, it is often better to spend the money here and save on things like plumbing fixtures that are much easier to update later.


Read more about backsplashes:


Kitchen flooring

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Kitchen flooring options used to be limited to vinyl and linoleum at the low end and ceramic or porcelain at the high end. Now, there are additional choices, though these come with some risks.


  • Ceramic tile: Generally the most desirable choice, especially for higher-end homes, tile comes in a multitude of colors and sizes. There are, however, some downsides. Grout will need to be periodically cleaned and resealed. Anything breakable that you drop on a tile floor is quite likely to shatter spectacularly, and tile can be cold under one’s feet in winter. Heated floors are an option, but come with additional risks. They’re fabulous when they work, but any repair work will be a major undertaking.
  • Vinyl or linoleum: These options are economical, easy to care for and come in many styles and colors, but could be a drawback at resale time.
  • Hardwood, laminate & engineered hardwoods: Years ago, these wouldn’t be on a list of kitchen flooring options, and for a sensible reason -- wood floors can easily be damaged by water spills and leaks. That’s still a risk, but less so with laminate, which provides a very realistic wood look while being less susceptible to water damage. However, even laminate can be damaged by too much water if is not quickly mopped up. For example, if the water line to your ice maker springs a leak in the middle of the night, you’ll have a problem.
  • Luxury vinyl tile: Also known as luxury vinyl plank, this is a safer choice in kitchens because it achieves the wood look while being generally impervious to water damage. However, even with the word “luxury” in its name, this is still vinyl and therefore can be a resale negative.
  • Wood-look ceramic tile: This is the safest way to get a wood plank appearance without worrying about water or future homebuyers. However, the drawback, is that tile is more expensive than other plank flooring.


Resources on Kitchen Flooring:


Kitchen lighting

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  • Recessed ceiling lights: Unlike old-style ceiling lights, which would be attached to the surface of the ceiling, recessed lights are flush with the ceiling and are most successful when unnoticed. They provide ambient light for the whole room, but can also be strategically placed above task areas.
  • Track lighting: Similar in function to recessed lights, track lights are attached to the ceiling in a straight line. They’re an easy add-on when remodeling an existing kitchen, but in a home-building situation, recessed lighting is a more up-to-date choice.
  • Pendant lights: These mini-chandeliers hang from the ceiling, often above the island grouped in twos or threes. Unlike recessed lights, pendants are meant to be seen and come in many styles and sizes.
  • Under cabinet lights: Similar to recessed ceiling lights, these provide subtle light where needed without calling attention to themselves. They can also be used inside of cabinets to showcase decorative objects in museum fashion, and to provide a general night-light glow
  • Wall-mounted lights: Decorative sconce lights are often used to enhance ambient light, while adjustable swing-arm fixtures are ideal for task lighting.


Resources on Kitchen Lighting:



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If you’re building a custom home, you’re probably not keeping your old appliances. Now is the time to upgrade to built-in appliances that are part of your kitchen design instead of something you have to design around.


  • Cooktops: In higher-end kitchen design, the burners are usually separate from the oven for both practical and decorative reasons. Want more than four burners, or maybe a griddle? You’ll find many combinations to suit your cooking habits.
  • Wall ovens: Freed from being under the cooktop, ovens can be raised higher off the floor so you’re not stooping. If you do a lot of baking, you can get a double oven, and one might be larger than the other.
  • Microwave ovens: These can be located in several places depending on preference. Consider upgrading to a convection microwave, which functions more like a regular oven, but at the speed of a microwave.
  • Refrigerators: As with cooking appliances, you have a combination of options -- all of which can be built in. Maybe you need a small fridge built into the island where kids can retrieve the snacks and drinks you want them to have and not whatever happens to be in the main refrigerator. High-tech refrigerators  have an interior camera that communicates with your phone so you  can peek inside to see what you need to pick up on the way home from work.


Resources on Kitchen Appliances:


Sinks and faucets

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Kitchen sinks: The most important thing to get right the first time is location. Where do you want the sink? You can swap out the fixtures later, but the location is pretty well set. That includes the decision of whether to have a second sink. This could be a standard double sink, or two sinks in separate locations, or maybe a small sink built into the island for food prep.

Kitchen sink materials typically include fired clay, stainless steel, copper and more recently a granite composite. Farmhouse sinks are extra deep and often the front of the sink is exposed as an apron. If you go with stainless steel, be warned that your belt buckle may scratch it.

Faucets: The big decision with kitchen plumbing fixtures is how many holes get drilled into your new countertops and where to drill them. Fortunately, most kitchen sink faucets nowadays are the same in this regard -- a single hole with the valve on the faucet. The rest of it is just a matter of style and color -- chrome, nickel, bronze. Black fixtures are great for a modern look.

Most kitchen sink faucets also have a pull-out sprayer with styles varying on whether the sprayer retracts all the way or snaps back in place with a visible lip.

Touch vs. touchless: Hands-free technology now enables you to turn the water on and off without turning the handle. Touchless faucets are activated by motion sensors, while touch faucets are activated when any part of your hand or arm touches the sensors built into the handle and spout.

Pot-filler faucets: In addition to your sink faucets, you can install a “pot-filler” faucet on the wall above your cooktop. This has practical value if you frequently cook for a large group, and it certainly adds a “wow” feature that your friends will envy. Although it is a bit pricey, this is the type of feature that is best done during construction instead of added later.


Resources on Kitchen Sinks & Faucets:


Read more at the Drees Guide to Custom Home Building


About Drees Homes


Family-owned and operated for 95 years, Drees Homes has earned the title of "America's Best Builder" (twice) from Builder Magazine, "National Builder of the Year" from Professional Builder Magazine, as well as the "National Housing Quality Award" from the National Association of Home Builders. This is known as the prestigious “Triple Crown” of national homebuilding awards. Headquartered in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky, Drees operates in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Nashville, Raleigh, Washington D.C., Austin, Houston and Dallas. The company operates as Drees Custom Homes in Texas. For more information, visit


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