When it comes to designing your dream kitchen, design and functionality work hand-in-hand. So what comes first – the design or your appliances? Experts weigh in on the best way to kick-start your new kitchen.

No longer poky, disconnected and hidden away, today’s kitchen sits upfront and starring. “It’s enjoying an elevation in status,” agrees Simone Stephens, senior designer Fisher & Paykel Appliances. “We have seen a considerable shift in what people spend on their kitchens, and what they perceive it should be. Today, it is so much more than just a place to prepare food.”

Key to a stylish and well-functioning kitchen is a considered collaboration between client and designer. “It allows a good understanding of what needs to be achieved to suit how the client wants to live,” she says. “It has to be purposeful rather than just look good.”

Choosing appliances first can help to avoid space and design issues later on in the process.Choosing appliances first can help to avoid space and design issues later on in the process. Photo: e&s

So when approaching a kitchen project, is it best to start with a design or choose your appliances first?

The case for appliances

“Start with appliances you simply can’t live without,” says Suzanne Gorman, director at Studio Gorman. “True cooks are passionate about a particular type of cooktop and this could be their starting point. Those who are not cooks tend to look for a more minimal and sleek aesthetic. In this case, we would opt for integrated appliances.”

Stephens agrees and says choosing your appliances first provides constraints, in a good way.  “A stunning kitchen isn’t necessarily a well-considered one. Appliances can dictate overall design. It narrows things down so they are functional and well-executed.”

With more integrated and customisable appliance options now available, it's easier to choose appliances after the the kitchen's design. Kitchen by Cheshire Architects.With more integrated and customisable appliance options now available, it’s easier to choose appliances after the the kitchen’s design. Kitchen by Cheshire Architects. Photo: Simon Wilson

An awareness of your appliance’s limitations has a considerable impact on your room design. “Kitchens are a bit of a status symbol today,” says Stephens. “An appliance’s materiality, whether it is a colour, black, white, stainless steel or glass, needs to work in with the designer’s palette, when designers are working with a refined material palette the appliance selection can be key to the kitchen’s materiality.”

There are a number of key appliances that can dictate cabinetry breaklines – the transition point between appliances and joinery. It is a good idea to choose these early in the process so the design is not affected later. “The dishdrawer and fridge inform where breaklines should be, and the oven and cooktop combinations can create constraints for achieving thin benchtops,” she says.

An exciting integrated fridge that Fisher & Paykel is set to launch in Australia will provide designers with more freedom. The ActiveSmart™ Built-in Fridge 914mm with custom panels takes natural breaklines into consideration and allows more flexibility with toekick heights. “It raises the gap between fridge and freezer door panels to just under bench height and allows a range of toekick heights with no visible grille. Choosing appliances first really helps resolve the big issues early, and in the end, allows for better-executed design and overall results.”

The kitchen's design and appliances should be connected and cohesive.The kitchen’s design and appliances should be connected and cohesive. Photo: e&s

The case for design first

“For me, design is a starting place,” says joint-managing director of e&s, Rob Sinclair. “We don’t want to create space limitations for the designer to work within. Instead we want to understand what the cooking, washing, refrigeration and ventilation requirements are, and choose appliances that integrate with the design and the spaces provided.”

Residential designer Clare Mengler says that design is about more than just good looks. “Design considers functionality, layout, cost, time, quality, material and ageing,” she says. “Fundamentally once a design has ticked those boxes, it conveys a certain aesthetic. And then come the appliances.”

Before any decisions are made however, space is a crucial parameter to consider. “The available space, the portion of the room, and understandings of the wall space in comparison to the window are just some of the considerations,” says Sinclair. “Once a certain design, space and services element is understood, we know crucial information, like if there is gas to the site and power available for induction.”

Once the customer’s requirements are established, from cooking and entertaining, to washing and food preservation, then the right appliances can be selected. “If a consumer wants a great wall of appliances, and the designer thought that an under-bench oven would cut the mustard, then the designer hasn’t worked to understand the best result for the consumer’s aspirations,” he says.

Appliance choices should be sympathetic to available spaces and the finish choices, so there is harmony between the benchtops, joinery and appliances.  “All integrated fridges fit a 600mm deep joinery,” says Sinclair, “and integrated and freestanding dishwashers have very similar measurements and installation requirements.”

It is rare, he says, that a consumer bases a room palette on appliances. “I think that the palette of choices for appliances are quite limited with the vast majority being stainless followed by small amounts of white and black.”

Regardless of whether you choose design or appliance choice first, a new kitchen project is a personal one. “Often they are decided together, one informing the other,” agrees Gorman. “At the end of the day, they should be interrelated and tell the same story. It’s a major investment that is intended to last up to 20 years so you will want to make sure that the kitchen is functional and beautiful plus entirely personal. Really, when it comes to kitchen design, it’s a game of give and take.”