Harder Working Kitchen Design

Featured designer Michele Merz shares the importance of kitchen zones and storage.

Written by:Diane Conrad
Photographed by:French Blue

Cambria designs shown: Whitehall™ and Brittanicca™

Interior designer Michele Merz of Houston-based MMI Design says, “Most of our clients have been dreaming about their new space for a long time—and I love helping them finally achieve those dreams.” But her design process starts on the other end of the spectrum from the fantasy of the picture-perfect kitchen or bath—she always makes sure to get the function nailed down first. Planning your own kitchen update? Try these tactics that Merz says can make most designs work better.

Out with the Work Triangle, In with Zones

You may have heard of the idea of the kitchen triangle—basically, the refrigerator, sink, and range should be located at the three points of a tight triangle, allowing the cook to pivot between the three stations. “That worked when kitchens were smaller and usually used by a single cook,” says Merz. “Today we have bigger kitchens; bigger, busier families; multiple people cooking or using the kitchen at the same time, and the triangle doesn’t work as well.” Instead, Merz thinks about zones—a cooking zone, a cleanup zone, a prep zone. And she pays a lot of attention to circulation through the space. “You want to be able to get a drink out of the refrigerator without bothering someone at the cooktop,” says Merz. “You want people to be able to walk through the space without running into someone working at a counter.”

Cambria designs shown: Whitehall and Brittanicca

Storage, Storage, and More Storage

Merz began her career as a cabinet designer, so she makes extra sure her designs have plenty of storage space. She works closely with clients to figure out what they need to keep in the kitchen and how they want to access it. Then, she incorporates even more storage space than they think they need. For example, the Merz project published in Cambria Style not only features storage in cabinets around the large kitchen and in the base of the island, a walk-in pantry has room for less-often-used serving pieces and even root vegetables.

Cambria designs shown: Whitehall and Brittanicca

Style Is Secondary (But Really Important)

Merz and her team don’t even start thinking about the materials, finishes, and flourishes until the structural plan for the kitchen is in place. “Then it’s like we flip a switch and we’re all about how it will look,” says Merz, who still focuses on function, choosing hardworking materials like Cambria wherever possible, and creating a lighting plan that will help her clients see easily in the new space. Then the team layers in color and texture, repeating elements throughout the space for a look that’s unified but unique.

Discover tips for a kitchen island design layout.

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