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Designer offers tips while whipping up new look for her kitchen

Dina Holland
The inefficient layout created a dark room with very little prep space, a shortage of storage, and an odd refrigerator configuration.Dina Holland

Fourth in an occasional series in which designer Dina Holland walks readers through the process as she undertakes a major renovation of her home.

If the kitchen is the heart of a home, then our original one was heartbreaking.

While the dated jade-green tile floor, heavily grained light-oak cabinets, and Formica countertops were not my favorite, they were actually the least of my problems. An inefficient layout left us with less than 2 square feet of prep space. Every single one of the dated appliances we inherited from the previous owner stopped working within the first six months. To top it all off, a large brick chimney made it so even a counter-depth refrigerator (which is pricier) extended far beyond the counters. Oh, the irony!


After spending four years in that dark, dated kitchen being isolated from the home’s main living spaces, I longed for four things in my new one: natural light, more prep space, additional storage, and an open concept, communal room that allowed me to be part of — not cut off from — my family’s daily life. The latter is, of course, not news to anyone. According to a 2016 Houzz survey, nearly half of homeowners preparing for a kitchen renovation are looking to open the room up to additional interior spaces in their home. As part of our renovation and addition, we would be reworking existing square footage and gaining more space, all of which would be dedicated on the first floor to the new kitchen and adjoining family room.

As a designer, I am adept at selecting kitchen finishes— tile, lighting, countertop materials, hardware, etc. — but I know my limitations. I understand enough about the kitchen work “triangle” (sink, range, refrigerator) to be dangerous, but when it came time to finalize things like cabinetry construction and layout, I turned to the experts at Metropolitan Cabinets and Countertops. The designer I was paired with, Wendy Savino, skillfully translated my list of wants into an actionable cabinetry plan. Staying within the space dictated by our architect, Wendy helped me work through several layouts, always with an eye toward my goals.


My edict for maximizing natural light resulted in a sink wall free of any upper cabinets — just 12 glorious feet of windows. To compensate for that lost storage, we took advantage of our home’s 9-foot-plus ceilings and planned for cabinets that extended the full height. Sure the upper reaches aren’t accessible me without a stool, but they make for perfect storage for lesser-used items (think vases and roasting pans). The refrigerator run of cabinetry would be paired with full-height pantry cabinets that open to reveal pull-out drawers. In our old kitchen, the only food storage I had was a pair of unbalanced and often jammed Lazy Susans. This would be a whole new world. Finally, a large island in the center of the kitchen would serve as prep space and casual dining.

The planning for our kitchen took more than three months, and I learned a lot about my family’s habits along the way. Because such a central room in our home would eat up a considerable percentage of our renovation budget, I really wanted to get it right, and doing so required a bit of self-examination and introspection. Here’s what I learned along the way:


Solve the things that really irk you.

If you are an avid cook, you are probably already aware of your patterns and habits in the kitchen. Personally, I like to have my cooking utensils, oils, and spices close at hand (but out of sight) when cooking. I also hated how far away from my cooking “zone” our trash can was in our old kitchen. As a result, I spent a lot of time planning the cabinets immediately around my range to maximize efficiency. A pull-out trash can behind a cabinet door is now just a 90-degree turn away from the range, and the four drawers to the left and right of that appliance house everything from pots and pans to spatulas and spices. Consider earmarking some of your cabinetry budget for interior accessories. They can go a long way toward your dream of a clear counter.

Be realistic about your timeline.

If it’s September and you want to host Thanksgiving in your new kitchen, you’ll want to share that information with the designer at your first meeting. Details like that could dictate whether you’ll be using in-stock cabinets, semi-custom, or custom. Don’t know the difference? Start your kitchen planning at a large, reputable showroom where they can show you. Some of the fancier bells and whistles you’ve pined for may be available only at the custom level, but a great showroom can help you mix and match. My own kitchen is a combination of semi-custom and stock cabinetry. Timing wasn’t an issue for us, but my requirements didn’t require custom.


Be realistic about your budget.

Are you just looking to gain more storage in a particular area of your kitchen, or are you starting from scratch? Reusing existing appliances? Moving plumbing? Building your dream kitchen in your forever home or planning to move in five years? All of these details can greatly affect the cost of a kitchen renovation. Cabinets, counters, and appliances are the largest budget items in any kitchen. While you may not know what a realistic budget number is for your project, you probably have a figure in mind that you don’t want to go over. Reconciling that number with your vision is where the hard work with your designer begins.

Think about what activities will happen where and plan for them.

Where will you enter with groceries? Make sure the fridge is close so you’re not weaving through the kitchen to drop your bags and unload. Will the kids do their homework at the counter? Plan for electrical outlets nearby so you don’t have charging cords running every which way. Are you an avid baker? Devise a dedicated cabinet, drawer, or shelf near your mixer for those baking materials you use the most often.

With two young children (prolific preschool artists at that), I was drowning under piles of school notices and paper-plate-based creations. My kitchen designer suggested I take advantage of the end cabinet panel by my refrigerator and turn it into a magnetized chalkboard. That useless corner is now my very own mom command center.


All of these considerations are a lot of work, but it’s worth it to get this all important and central room right. And if some of these details sound like inconsequential minutiae, think again. These are the details that make a kitchen really work for the people who use it. Take the time to analyze your daily habits and discuss them with your kitchen designer. This kitchen was designed with my family in mind. I have no plans to move out of this home, so I took my time and solved as many of the everyday issues I had struggled with in my old kitchen as I could.

Having lived there for a month now, I can hardly believe how easy the space is to use. Things just “make sense.” They’re where they should be, there’s a spot for everything, and it’s beautiful to boot.

Dina Holland is the founder and principal designer of Needham-based Dina Holland Interiors and the blogger behind Honey & Fitz. The big reveal of all of her renovations will be in the next and final installment in the series. Send comments to Address@globe.com.