Our guide will talk you through all the things you need to think about when planning your new kitchen - whether from scratch or if you're adapting a current design.
Before you start planning a new kitchen, the first thing to decide is whether you want to update your current kitchen or start afresh.
Look at what you already have, and think about what you like and don’t like about it. It can help to draw up a list of what you want to keep, move or remove completely.
If your kitchen layout already works well, you'll save money by keeping things in the same place, particularly your sink and appliances.
Kick off your kitchen planning by measuring the space you have to play with and noting what can and can't be moved.
Our review reveals the kitchen companies rated highest by their customers, plus details of each brand's planning services. It also includes information on our new lab-based kitchen unit assessments, which saw three brands scooping a Best Buy. One brand got an impressive score of 88% for one of its units.
How to plan your new kitchen
The planning process is the key time to consider big changes to your kitchen's design, so think carefully about how you use your current space and how you would like to use the new one.
Ask yourself these questions before you start:
- How do you move around your kitchen? Elements that you often use at the same time, such as the fridge and work surface, should be close together.
- Where do you prepare food? Put your worktop space where you like to prepare food – possibly next to the hob.
- How much storage do you need? Do you need more than you currently have? Open shelving or big, deep cupboards?
- Who will you be entertaining in your kitchen? You may want space for a table or a breakfast bar where people can sit and talk to you while you work.
- Which utensils and crockery do you use the most? Ensure they'll be easily accessible in your new kitchen design.
- Do you have a lot of gadgets? If you want them on display you'll need lots of worktop space; if they'll be tucked away you'll need deep cupboards.
- Do you have room for the large appliances you want? For example, or will take up a lot of space.
Remember to consider your kitchen's constraints, such as its size and the positions of doors, windows and plug sockets. If you're not planning any structural work, you'll need to be realistic about what your space can accommodate.
How do I measure my kitchen?
Map out your current kitchen layout (or empty kitchen if you plan to start from scratch) on graph paper using metric measurements, as this is what kitchen manufacturers use.
Take a look at the images below for an example of how to measure your kitchen. The first shows an overhead plan of the whole room.
The image below shows how to measure your walls and plot the location of windows, cupboards and appliances.
The image below shows a 'kitchen triangle', which helps you plot out the distance you need to leave between key locations in your kitchen.
Ceiling and floor
Take measurements from the ceiling to the floor and across each wall. It's worth taking the measurements of the same wall or floor at a few different points, as rooms can be slightly asymmetrical and not completely square at every point.
For the width across the walls, measure along the floor, half way up the wall and near the ceiling. For the ceiling, measure at three points across the wall from the floor to the ceiling. It's a good idea to note down the measurements for each wall individually and name them, for example 'wall one, wall two etc'. Make a note of any architectural features, such as cornices.
Windows and doors
Note the location and size of windows and doors. Add in the distance between them and the floor, as well as between each other. When measuring windows and doors, you should include the door or window frame (sometimes called the trim) in the measurement, so measure out from these.
Also make a note of which way they open and how much room they will need to open fully. Name all the windows and doors too, for example 'window one' and 'window two'.
Existing kitchen units
If there are any kitchen units you want to keep, add these to your plan with their measurements – width, height and depth – and distances between them and the walls and floor where it makes sense to add this. For example, if a unit is on the floor in a corner, you would only measure the distance to the other wall, or if it's a unit fixed to the wall, you would want to include measurements to the floor and other walls.
Electric sockets and waste pipes
Highlight where the electric sockets are, the cable routes from them to the relevant appliance, and where the plumbing and waste pipes are - moving these will add to the costs, so plan to keep them where they are if possible. If you can, measure the height, width and depth of these too, and ideally how far they are from other walls, the floor and ceiling. Make sure you note anything else that is a fixed feature, such as radiators.
Mark which kitchen walls are external or internal.
Kitchen design tool
Most of the national kitchen companies have a kitchen planning service, where you will be able to discuss your requirements with a designer who will create a digital plan of your kitchen. Many also have an online design tool that you can access from home, before or after an appointment.
We've listed which companies do what below - click on the links to go to each review page where you will find more information about their design services as well as what their customers think of the company.
Online kitchen planner
These companies have both a design service and an online planner you can access from home without having to speak to anyone beforehand or making an appointment.
Appointment-only design service
You can only use a design service with one of these companies if you book ahead. None have an online planner you can access without having spoken to someone.
It's worth noting that for independent kitchen companies, although most won't have an online planning tool, their designers are more likely to have specialist expertise than with the more general DIY kitchen stores.
Kitchen planning checklist
- Keep the work triangle distance (see the image above) between the sink, fridge and cooker at 7m or less. This makes cooking easier, as you’ll have shorter distances to travel.
- Allow for a 40cm clearance between an open kitchen door and the nearest opposite unit. Aim for at least 120cm clearance between parallel runs of kitchen units, so that two people can move around at once.
- Most unit doors open up to a maximum of 60cm. Dishwasher doors usually open by 60cm and oven doors by 50cm. A typical worktop height is 90cm, although this will not be ideal for everybody. Ensure that elbow height is a few centimetres above kitchen worktops.
- Standard 60cm-deep units will be a tight squeeze if your kitchen is less than 180cm wide from one wall to the other. Solve this by looking for slimmer 50cm-deep units.
- Leave at least 40cm clearance between the worktop and wall-mounted cupboards.
- Make sure you include space for end panels (where necessary) when calculating the dimensions of your units.
- Check the height of wall units to ensure you'll be able to fit the cornice (the section of wood fitted along the top of wall units to give them a finished appearance).
- Work out the number of door handles and the amount of cornice and plinth (the section that runs along the bottom of base units) that you'll need. You may want to order extra to save time and hassle if any are damaged during delivery or installation.
Kitchen owners' regrets
Two thirds (66%) of the kitchen owners we spoke to said that they didn't have any regrets with their kitchen. However, more than a third (33%) did.
We wanted to find out what issues frustrate them, to help you avoid making the same mistakes. Subject to space constraints, all of the gripes listed by kitchen owners can be dealt with if you plan your kitchen design correctly.
Freestanding kitchens vs fitted kitchens
A fitted kitchen is exactly what it sounds like - a kitchen that is fixed into place on the walls and/or floor. A freestanding kitchen - usually made up of lots of different pieces of furniture - isn't fitted and can, theoretically, be moved.
There are pros and cons to both types. Creating a freestanding kitchens allows you to mix and match styles and items, materials and colours, old and new - making your kitchen truly unique.
In fact, it opens up your kitchen design to almost anything - you can reuse an old sideboard, team it with a moveable butchers block, buy an ex-display kitchen worktop and add in a standalone kitchen larder unit. It's the perfect option if you haven't seen any kitchen styles you like.
It's also likely to be cheaper as you may be able to buy a lot second-hand and you probably won't need a kitchen fitter, although you will need to consult a professional if you need any water or gas work done.
Despite the positives, it may take extra work. You will need to make sure the furniture you use will work in a room that will get a lot of wear and tear and splashes from water and cooking. There are a lot of items available to buy new, which will have been treated in the right way. But if you upcycle, you'll need to make sure it's going to be suitable.
It's also worth remembering that although you can move the kitchen around or change it, the furniture is likely to be heavy and may have left marks if left in place for a long time.
You also won't get the sleek, seamless look a fitted kitchen can offer, but if that's not your style, then a freestanding kitchen could be for you.
You can also mix both styles to get the best of both worlds. For example, you could marry a movable kitchen island on wheels and freestanding dresser with a fitted kitchen. You can draw on as many elements as you like from each style to create the perfect balance.
The obvious benefit of this is that your kitchen will completely suit your lifestyle and needs, will make use of every inch space and be unique. The downside it the cost - as you can imagine, this level of work comes at a higher price.
If you're interested in this sort of kitchen, we'd recommend speaking to a few companies, including the bigger chains, local kitchen companies and carpenters. That way you can get an idea of what would work best for you and the cost, which is likely to vary between the three.
It's worth keeping in mind that even a specialist kitchen company, particularly the larger chains, is likely to use the basis of a kitchen design in its range, so it might not be completely individual.
In addition, many of the standard kitchen companies offer a variety of options to help you to create a design that is tailored to your needs.
You can find a local kitchen company or by using our Which? Trusted Traders service. All professionals displaying our logo have been through our rigorous checks. You can also see how customers rated independents vs the bigger brands on our page.
Lack of storage was a key regret for many of the people we asked, so this should be a key consideration when designing your kitchen.
Assess your needs:
- What do you need to store and how much storage space will you therefore need?
- What do you use regularly and what do you use less often?
- Of the things you use regularly, where would make most sense for them to be stored?
For example, if you like to try new recipes and experiment with spices, having cookbooks and a spice rack to hand near the hob would be useful. Or if you’re a seasoned baker, storage for baking utensils and ingredients might be best placed by the area where you’ll do most preparation.
Once you’ve thought about what you want to store and where it makes most sense to place things, have a think about the different types of storage available: kitchen islands, open shelves, pull-out units, corner storage racks, hooks, freestanding units such as dressers, floor-to-ceiling cupboards, plate racks and wine racks (built-in or freestanding).
Kitchen storage ideas
Kitchen cupboard storage
These days, kitchen cabinets don't just house shelves - there are a whole host of other storage solutions that make life easier and untilise otherwise wasted space. This includes:
- racks and hooks that sit on the inside of the door
- plate stackers that use the height of the unit
- pull-out wire baskets so you can easily get to everything
- rotating holders that enable you to look at items at the back
- under-cupboard racks that sit on the underside of shelves
- corner units that pull out so you can get to items at the back
- pull-down shelves and baskets so you can access items in high-up cupboards.
Kitchen larder unit
A kitchen larder is an incredible useful way to organise and store all your food supplies - as well as keep them out of sight.
But not many of us are lucky enough to have the space for a traditional, walk-in larder, where you have a dedicated space (or even an entire room) for your food. There are, however, lots of other ways to acheive a similar thing.
Lots of the big-name kitchen companies offer pull-out larder units in thin floor-to-ceiling units that make the most of the space. These usually contain racks as shelves that can be fixed or moved around and added to.
You can also get open larder shelves (there is an example in the gallery above) where open shelves also run the full height of your kitchen, or utilise a shelving unit by buying boxes to sort your food into sections.
A dedicated larder unit or dresser is also an option. These freestanding pieces of furniture usually come with racks and shelves inside and on the doors.
Kitchen unit and appliance dimensions
Using the dimensions of your kitchen you’ve mapped out, take a look at the typical kitchen unit dimensions in the table below to see how much you can fit into your kitchen and where things will need to go.
A lot of the big-name kitchen brands sell kitchens pre-assembled, ie to the standard measurements below. If you have the budget, you could consider getting storage made to your home's exact specifications.
Kitchen unit measurements
|Kitchen unit dimensions|
|Sizes||Base unit||Wall unit||Worktops||Sinks|
|Height||72cm plus plinth||72-90cm||2-4cm thickness||15-18cm|
|Width||30-1,000cm||30-1,000cm||2.5m, 3m or 4m and cut to fit||76-95|
|Depth||Up to 60cm||30cm||Depth of cabinet plus 3cm overhand||44-50cm|
|Cooker||Fridge/Freezer||Dishwasher (full/slimline)||Washing machine/tumble dryer||Built-in oven|
Even if you don’t opt for bespoke design, many kitchen companies have design services to help you come up with the best design for you and your lifestyle, including which types of storage could work best.
Buying and storing kitchen appliances
Keep these measurements in mind as you plot out how much you can fit into your kitchen, as well as how many power sockets you'll need.
Think about the electrical goods in your kitchen currently and whether you want any more. Consider how often you use, or would use, these items and how they should sit in your kitchen.
You might want to keep some of these on the work surface. In this case, think about whether you will have enough plug points or workspace free – and if you could do with any additional shelves or built-in storage for appliances such as microwaves, toasters and food processors.
Most people have a kettle, toaster and microwave in regular use, so these should be easily and quickly accessible. Are they currently in the best place in terms of how you use the kitchen?
Other kitchen gadgets to consider are breadmakers, coffee machines, food processors, stand mixers, hand blenders and mixers, grills, jug blenders, juicers, slow cookers and steamers.
Make sure you kit out your new kitchen with the best and right gadgets for you by taking a look at our section to find Best Buys that don’t cost the earth. In this section, you will find everything from cookers and fridge freezers, to toasters and blenders.