Why These Kitchen Mistakes Are Glaringly Obvious—and How to Fix Them
Through years of honing their craft, interior designers come to know every nook and cranny that makes a room special. Especially in kitchens, where most of the "décor" is actually built-in, this attention to detail can make or break a space. Where we only see beautiful white subway tile backsplashes and marble countertops, they see cabinets that don't extend to the ceiling, porous materials that stain easily, and lighting fixtures that are inadequate for the space. When we gush over gorgeous farmhouse sinks and patterned ceramic tiles, they point out the lack of storage or misplaced appliances.
In short, we may think we know everything about kitchens but really, we have no idea. Sure, we can have a very clear idea of our likes and dislikes, but the minutia that comes with kitchen design is a craft that can only be learned through trial and error (or a very skilled mentor). Still want to remodel your own kitchen? We asked top kitchen designers to share the mistakes they most commonly see in other people's spaces. Are you guilty of these, too? Find out how you can instantly elevate your kitchen by fixing these frequent faux pas.
Mistake #1: Overdoing Open Shelves
Overwhelmingly, designers agreed that the biggest mistakes revolved around storage. "A great kitchen, is equal parts beauty and function," says interior designer Stefani Stein. "Open shelving is great for integrating a contrasting material or showcasing an heirloom collection, but don’t forget that it also means everything is on display. I recommend a mix of enclosed storage and open shelving for a clutter-free and well-curated kitchen."
Interior designer Lindsay Chambers had a similar view: "Open shelving looks great, but let's be honest, it isn't practical. It's mostly meant for display pieces that aren't used every day. I still like to install open shelving because I love the casual showcase look, which can elevate a kitchen design, but there needs to be enough hidden storage places for the pieces you use every day."
Having designed many small kitchens, New York–based designer Tali Roth was a little more black and white on the issue: "Every inch of storage space is so important in anybody's kitchen," she says. "Some people think that open shelving is cute and eye-catching. Often it starts out as perfectly styled and organised, but most of the time it becomes cluttered, dusty and an eye sore. I recommend closed storage always so you never have to worry about it."
Mistake #2: Choosing the Wrong Countertop
The second most common concern for designers has to do with countertops. "When it comes to choosing a countertop, people are often excited about a natural stone with lots of beautiful veining and character," says Roth. "But marble is one of the most delicate materials you can use in your kitchen. My advice is to be realistic with how you use your space. If you don’t want to stress out about cleaning the counter every time something is dropped on it, then do not buy marble. If you don’t mind the look of a natural stone that has the markings of lots of dinner parties, go right ahead. As an alternative, I love Superwhite, which is a granite that looks like a Carrara and is extremely durable."
Interior designer Kara Smith agrees: "Acids like citrus or tomato can etch the polish on marble, causing dull spots," she chimes in. "Instead, I recommend quartsite or new engineered quartz materials. It simulates white marble so well it’s hard to tell it from the real thing."
Chambers had another warning for natural stone lovers: "Neutral limestone colors are beautiful and the stone is very in style right now, but pass up this beautiful countertop material if you are a margarita drinker. Any acid, like lime juice, eats away at limestone and leaves an unattractive mark anywhere it touches—especially if the limestone is polished or a dark color." Citrus lovers, beware! You will be refinishing this beautiful stone constantly. "If you want the limestone coloring but with greater durability, consider an engineered quartz," she adds. It seems that quartz is definitely the way to go for durability.
Mistake #3: Installing Cabinets Too Low
Courtesy of Lindsay Chambers
Another mistake that makes kitchen designers cringe: cabinets that don't extend to the ceiling. "It makes the ceilings feel lower and creates a space that just collects dust," says Smith. Her fix: "Extend your upper cabinets to the ceiling. It's a more custom look that provides extra storage and makes the space feel taller. Glass fronts and lit small cabinets above regular uppers allow for decorative storage that is too high for daily access and provide a good opportunity to introduce a textured glass or wire element that adds another layer to the kitchen design."
For smaller budgets, interior designer Nancy Mayerfield has an alternative solution: "If your upper cabinets weren't measured to reach the ceiling, hang them higher than the 18-inch standard backsplash. It's a great way to show off more of your beautiful backsplash without the dust bunnies and hidden space between the upper cabinets and the ceiling." This may not work for extra-high ceilings, but it's a clever solution if you're just a few inches off.
Mistake #4: Disregarding Appliance Placement
Overall, designers had a lot to say about the placement of appliances in a kitchen. "I often see doors, drawers, and appliances that are too close together or open into each other at inside corners," says Smith. "Remember to consider the projection of the cabinet hardware and appliance handles when planning inside corners. Visualise each door and drawer open at the same time to make sure that things clear one another and that access to countertops and upper cabinets is not blocked."
More specifically, Chambers recommends placing extra attention on dishwasher placement: "One of the big mistakes I see is people not thinking through where to put the dishwasher and hiding it in a location that is far from the kitchen sink. This creates a trek across the kitchen with a recently rinsed and dripping dish to the dishwasher," she says. "Loading dishes after they are cleaned at the sink should be easy. You want the dishwasher located directly adjacent to the kitchen sink if possible."
Mistake #5: Overlooking Good Lighting
There is more to lighting than meets the eye, and kitchen designers have valuable insight that you may not have considered in your space: "I often see island pendants that are too small," says Mayerfield. "Swapping out small island pendants for a long linear pendant can have a huge impact on the space. In a more traditional space, go larger than you think you should. Sometimes you need to throw the rule book out the window and just go bigger!"
Roth had even more advice for both renters and homeowners: "Poor lighting is one of the biggest problems I see in so many people's kitchens," she says, "especially in rentals where you may not have a window or any natural light. "My advice is to add as many sources of light as you can. A LED strip that runs under your upper cabinets can help light the countertop. Overhead track lighting will help illuminate the space, and if you have any room for a decorative wall light, you should definitely add one."
Mistake #6: Using Too Much Colour
For interior designer Katie Hodges, colour should be used sparingly in a kitchen—especially when it comes to making choices that are hard to swap or rip out: "A colourful kitchen doesn't necessarily mean you need rainbow-hued cabinetry. Colourful cabinetry can be stunning, but if it's a decision that doesn't feel right, you don't need to take the plunge," she says. "Infusing a neutral kitchen with pops colour can achieve the desired colour effect and be more versatile over the years. Look for opportunities for layering color in art, window treatments, greenery, or a patterned rug. Think of it as the sum of multiple parts, rather than one design component delivering the entire colour message."
Mistake #7: Not Considering the Backsplash Early
Stein also notes that homeowners often fail to plan their backsplash early in the design phase: "There are a myriad of colors and textures in backsplashes that are far beyond basic," she says. "The right material can enliven, refine, or even soften the overall feel of a kitchen. Adding a textural mix with handmade tile or carrying an understated material all the way to the ceiling can transform the space." In this airy white kitchen, the designer created a statement backsplash by building in the range hood for a more customised and elevated look.
Mistake #8: Ignoring the Architecture Style
Hodges also advises to keep in line with your house's architecture: "The kitchen should, at its core, feel somewhat consistent with the rest of the home. Otherwise, the look may feel too trendy and unintentional," she says. "This doesn't mean that design options should be limited—even a small nod to the home's original style grounds the look. For example, a Spanish kitchen doesn't necessarily need heavy wood cabinetry. Keeping the cabinets bright and white with small doses of iron hardware and natural textures make the kitchen feel authentic without being 'true' Spanish style."
Mistake #9: Accessorising Haphazardly
Finally, Hodges urges people to pay more attention to accessorising: "At the end of a kitchen remodel, often the budget has been drained, and you mentally can’t handle another expense or design decision, so the accessorising falls to the wayside," she says. "But a beautiful kitchen with the wrong accessories can fall flat and can feel like a model home. Create a budget item for accessories before you begin the remodel. Think quality over quantity, and see it as an opportunity to infuse colour, texture, or anything else that may be lacking in the space."