Kitchen Design: Which Appliances Work and Which Do Not

A nicely-furnished and decorated modern kitchen, showing some of the everyday appliances suitable therein.

Los Angeles

Before you select kitchen options and upgrades for your new home, have you considered how they might work in the kitchen’s design or how they’ll actually suit your cooking style?

The last thing you want to do is fork over the big bucks for a feature you'll never really use or an inefficient design scheme that actually makes it harder for you to cook.

At the 2016 
Dwell on Design conference in Los Angeles, Moorea Hoffman, a speaker with the National Kitchen and Bath Association and principal of Kitcheneering, a design company in Crescent Mills, Calif., gave a seminar on kitchen appliances and design.

When it comes to kitchen design, Hoffman says, there are some features that work and some that simply do not. Here are her tips to avoiding a kitchen design that’s a hot mess: 

Establish Your Kitchen Expertise

“Design, for me, begins with the appliances,” says Hoffman. “I do not set pen to paper until I’ve spent two hours in an appliance store shopping with my clients for their appliances. I do not hand them over to the expertise of the appliance professionals, a lot of whom are driven exclusively by their commission.”

Which is why she says she starts with what she calls her “Kitchen Questionnaire” to help the homeowner figure out what kind of cook they are or hope to be in their home. 

The questionnaire includes questions like: How many people eat at your home? Are you right or left handed? How tall is the primary cook? If there’s a secondary cook, how tall are they and which is their dominant hand? How often do you cook? Will you be cooking formally or informally? What type of appliances do you see yourself using most?

The answers to these questions can help establish what type of kitchen and appliances you need and where to place them in your space.

Cooking Surfaces

With cooktops and ranges, Hoffman says the first thing to look at is the fuel source — is it gas, electric or, her favorite, magnetic induction?

“Electric takes a very long time to get hot, but once it’s hot, it stays hot,” says Hoffman. “Even the latest and greatest models may still burn [food] and cause extra work for the cook, so I always stick with gas or magnetic induction.”

The safest form, she says, is magnetic induction, which uses electricity to power a magnetic field that interacts with ferrous pots and pans (if a magnet sticks to it, it will work) to cook your food. That means that the cooktop doesn’t get too hot — just your pans do — allowing for easy cleanup. With this type of cooktop, less ventilation is required and it uses 40 percent less energy, which Hoffman says makes it the greenest form of cooking with no drawbacks.

“It’s fantastic for cooking,” she says. “You’ve got instant heat at your fingertips, complete control in the gradient from high to low.”

Moving on, charbroilers and grills can be either integrated in the appliance or can be a separate appliance on their own. These can be a great way to add variety to your at-home menu, Hoffman adds.

“Depending on the client, I’ll often include a grill, usually mixed in with the professional-style range, because you actually get better and different flavors from a grill than you’ll get from any other type of cooking,” says Hoffman, warning that a bigger ventilation hood that allows for more cubic feet per minute (CFM) is often required.

Griddles can also be a standalone appliance or built in when necessary. Hoffman says a griddle is essentially a bigger and better frying pan, so a homeowner who uses a frying pan frequently might benefit from a built-in version. However, she says these appliances can prove to be fairly difficult to clean, so they might not always have that showroom sheen.

Keeping all of this in mind, Hoffman says the ultimate decision should be based on the following factors:

  • Number of burners and the distance between them,
  • Power of the appliance (in watts or BTUs),
  • Efficiency and convenience of the appliance,
  • Control options,
  • Cleanability (open versus sealed burners),
  • Recovery ratio (or the length of time it takes a cooking medium to return to the desired temperature after the food is submerged in it) and
  • Knob placement (side versus on top).

Wall Ovens

One thing Hoffman suggests when selecting an oven is to separate them from your cooking surface.

“The number one reason is probably the ergonomics,” she says. “It’s easier to use, easier to control and you’re not lifting or bending. It also creates two secondary stations — someone can be over here cooking gravy while someone’s over there taking out the side dishes or checking the turkey.”

However, there are drawbacks with wall ovens in some smaller-sized kitchens.

“If it’s a small kitchen, you do have to give up around 30 inches of counter space,” says Hoffman. 

Moving on to oven types, radiant ovens can be fueled via gas or electricity. In radiant ovens, 80 percent of the heat comes from the bottom and 20 percent comes from the top (unless set to broil, where 100 percent comes from the top), which adds some effort and variability with cooking times and flavors.

In convection ovens, a fan circulates the air in the oven for consistent heat throughout, allowing you to cook multiple things in the same oven with ease and without flavor or aroma transfer.

“So if you only have room for one oven and are worried about capacity, always, always, always go with convection,” suggests Hoffman, adding that buyers should be cautious of “gas convection” ovens as they often can’t compete with a regular electric convection oven.

On the higher end of oven appliances, a combi-steam oven might be a great option for you. While it may take longer to cook than your typical microwave oven, Hoffman says, a combi-steam oven is worth the wait as the nutritional value and taste are much better, so much so that many steam oven owners often do away with their microwave except to pop popcorn. It’s also a great investment for baking and defrosting, she says.

“The best thing about combi-steam ovens is that they can be used as an all-convection oven,” adds Hoffman. “You can bake a pie, steam vegetables or roast a chicken and not have the breast dry out. And things cook faster.”

As any professional cook could tell you, there are so many topics to cover in regard to cooking and appliances. To fully cover it all would take a two-year degree at a culinary school or a library full of cook books.

Lucky for you, Hoffman is also an author. For more information on the tips presented above, and other topics like refrigeration, ventilation, dishwashers and appliance placement, check out Hoffman’s book, 
Kitchen Appliances 101: What Works, What Doesn’t and Why.

Drew Knight is a freelance writer for Builders Digital Experience (BDX). You can find him online at LinkedIn.

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