4 Fundamentals of Kitchen Design—Tips from Designer Jane Lockhart

Designing your kitchen can be exciting and daunting. Learn from the expert in this blog, and more about kitchen design basics every kitchen should have.

Written by:Cambria USA
Cambria Blackpool Matte quartz kitchen island countertops

Cambria design shown: Blackpool Matte™

The Top 4 Kitchen Design Basics You Need to Know

Most home and kitchen design professionals break the rules at some point. But when designing your dream kitchen, sticking to a few important rules will ensure you end up with a smart, long-term investment that looks great for years to come.

Jane Lockhart is an award-winning residential designer. She shares her fundamentals of design, a simple set of guidelines she and other top designers use to create custom luxury kitchens.

“Balance, symmetry, focal point, and scale—these design fundamentals are not just important for your kitchen,” says Lockhart. “These are important for your whole house. And if you understand how they work together to create a great space, you’re well on your way to thinking like a designer.”

1. Balance

Sometimes a space may just feel off-balance, and it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly why. An unbalanced kitchen design might have too many appliances against one wall, or an island placed too far off-center, or one wall chock-full of cabinetry while another is completely bare. There are many possible scenarios.

To avoid kitchen vertigo, resist clustering appliances in one area. Instead, if your kitchen’s layout allows, spread them out. If possible, install cabinetry equally throughout the space, from left to right and floor to ceiling. Adding a wine rack and other custom gadgets can improve balance too, as long as there are similar-sized elements on the opposite side of the kitchen.

a green kitchen with green cabinets, green center island with 5 green bar stools and topped with white quartz countertops, overhead pendant lighting, 4 small windows over the sink, stainless steel appliances, and open wooden shelving

This kitchen by Jaclyn Peters Design balances airy, white walls and Newport™ countertops with green cabinetry and wood shelving. Photo by Ariana Tennyson

2. Symmetry

It’s important to have a symmetrical kitchen design. Symmetry means there’s equality on both sides of the room, starting at the center and working outward. Imagine a picture of your kitchen folded in half like a book with cabinets, lights, and appliances visible on an open page. If you were to spread the book open, and both pages mirror each other, you’d have a symmetrical kitchen.

To maintain a symmetrical kitchen layout, consider hanging two identical pendant lights above an island and installing the same number of cabinets on either side of a hood. Remember to start in the middle and work your way out.

Kitchen with black cabinets, bodly veined quartz countertops and backsplash, wooden columns, ceilings, and floors, and plenty of natural light.

This high-contrast kitchen by Square Footage features stunning symmetry and a captivating Galloway™ backsplash focal point. Photo by Valerie Wilcox

3. Focal Point

The focal point of your kitchen is the first thing people see when they enter the room. It’s an element that sets the mood and helps tell the story of your space. It can be an ornate range hood, a kitchen island with a unique countertop, a storied painting, or a wine rack wrapped in multicolored LED lights.

Depending on your space, you might be able to add a secondary focal point to your kitchen design, a second piece of décor that continues the narrative. For starters, when designing your kitchen, place the main focal point on the first wall you see and the secondary focal point off to the side. Just make sure it enhances your kitchen’s layout, balance, and symmetry.

a black and white kitchen with black cabinets topped with white quartz countertops, a center island with 4 wooden barstools, a wooden hood over the range, and a black and white ombre hexagonal backsplash

A mosaic backsplash creates a compelling focal point paired with Delgatie Matte™ countertops in construction2style’s kitchen.

4. Scale

It’s important to keep all the elements of your kitchen design in scale with one another. It’s overwhelmingly awkward to walk into a tiny kitchen and find a huge TV taking up an entire wall. Textbook scale fail. Easy fix: Get a smaller TV.

In the kitchen, properly scaled appliances, cabinetry, and countertops help maintain the balance, symmetry, and overall beauty of the design. They also ensure there’s enough space for opening doors, working without bumping into others, and keeping traffic flowing safely.

Cambria Blackpool Matte quartz kitchen island countertops

This spacious open kitchen by Gretchen Black and Artisan Signature Homes offers optimal traffic flow and properly scaled details, including a Blackpool Matte waterfall-edge island and matte black appliances. Photo by Carley Page Summers

When designing your kitchen layout, consider the size of your space. If your kitchen is large, try installing an industrial refrigerator and over-sized island. And if you have high ceilings, go ahead and install cabinetry all the way up to accentuate the height and add storage.

The scale of your kitchen is harder to tinker with in small spaces. Rule of thumb: Aim for the best appliances, cabinetry, and countertops you can afford—at sizes that make sense for the space. Quality is a smart investment.

A galley kitchen with white subway tiles, white upper and lower cabinets, a mint green Smeg fridge, gray quartz  countertops, and a small window by the fridge.

Hardworking appliances and surfaces make this small kitchen stylish and functional, featuring a slim, mint green Smeg fridge and Carrick™ countertops.

Each kitchen designer plays by their own set of rules. But these fundamentals of kitchen design are the keys to a cohesive and well-thought-out space.

[Updated on 12/05/2023]

Get the Look

Explore the designs featured in this story.