Practical Kitchen Design: Function vs Aesthetics

So you see a picture on Houzz of a really cool kitchen, click save, and send it to your designer. Included you have a note saying “love those open shelves!” or “hardware is perfect!” and hope those elements make it into your design. They don’t. Your designer has specifically excluded those lift up wall cabinets that you wanted, but why? They may have a good reason or want to explore why you want to include this feature. Is it because it looks good? Or is it because it will function well? Not everything that looks good in a kitchen online is going to work the way you want it to. Some items, depending on your design, may make it harder to work in your kitchen. Today we wanted to explore a few of these design elements that may need to be tweaked a little before putting them in your new but practical kitchen.

Swing Up/Lift Up Cabinet Doors

There are a few different kinds of hardware options that allow you to have your cabinet doors go up instead of opening left/right with standard hinges. A cabinet door with “Swing Up” hardware (below, top left) is essentially a hinged door but hinged from the top of the cabinet instead of the sides. A door with “Lift Up” hardware (below, bottom left) will actually stay on the same plane, but just come out a few inches and push up so the bottom of the door is almost at the top of the cabinet.


These options can be great solutions in some scenarios, but not all. A lot of people ask for these as an option for counter sitting appliance garage cabinets. However, if you are taller than about 5’3″ then the door will likely block your view from all or part of the appliance you have hidden. So, we try to put these styled cabinets up higher. Beware of putting them too high though, otherwise, you may not be able to close them. Or, you will have to pay for more expensive automatic hardware to get them to close automatically. Finally, they may not be the best solution for transoms unless you have extremely tall ceilings. Make sure you have clearance above, like in the kitchen above, where cabinets did NOT go to the ceiling.

Decorative Hardware Placement

Decorative cabinet hardware can make or break a practical kitchen. Knobs vs pulls, vertical vs horizontal, same size vs varying – so many options! Hardware can be one of the hardest things to pick out because there are so many options to choose from. So, how to choose? We should all know that pulls are generally easier to use than knobs, but depending on your style, you may want to mix them – knobs on swing doors and pulls on drawers and pullout. Finally hopping on the “all pulls” bandwagon? We still have something for you to think about.

Vertical vs Horizontal Placement

Sure, knobs are usually easier – drill one hole and install. But pulls, that can be installed in several different ways. And yes, that includes diagonally! But, let’s focus on the more normal ways – vertical and horizontal. Above, you see the same layout, but in two different styles. On the left, the style is a little more traditional, so we chose the more common vertical placement on hinged doors and horizontal placement on drawers. However, we are seeing a huge uptick in more contemporary designs, and so on the left, you see that. Not only have we changed to full height doors (an aesthetic choice) but all of our pulls are installed horizontally. We absolutely LOVE this look, but the downside? Any hinged doors, you are going to have to remember which way they hinge. Those three base cabinet doors on the bottom right? The pulls don’t intuitively “tell” you how those doors open. Left hinge? Right hinge? Trash pull out? And the doors above the fridge, are they swing, or lift/swing up? You won’t know until you try!

BONUS: Drawers vs Roll-outs

As we mentioned, in the more contemporary design we changed some of those door/drawer combos to full height doors with roll-outs. Pro: it looks a lot cleaner. You also save some on hardware costs and install. Con: you now have a two-step process to get to those drawer boxes. Instead of simply opening a drawer, you now have to open a door and then pull out the roll-out tray. Who knew?! This leads us into our final practical kitchen item…

To Drawer or Not To Drawer

We just reviewed the difference between a drawer and a pull-out but let’s dive into the aesthetics of the drawers themselves. Have you ever seen a design where the doors and drawers don’t line up well with one another and it just feels messy, like something is off? It’s just your eye saying there is. Most people enjoy the aesthetics of things lining up. But, will this always create a practical kitchen space? Not necessarily. Let’s check out some ideas to “fix” this.

Four-Drawer Bases

If we haven’t told you before, a three-drawer base is perfect pot and pan storage (above, far left) and great near your cooking surface. However, a four-drawer base is much better for “squattier” items like cooking utensils. This white and walnut kitchen (two left pictures above) had a spacing issue. We ended up flanking the range with four-drawer bases, and setting three-drawer bases right next to those. The issue? Our lines didn’t match up. So, we cheated the system by putting the four-drawer bases in the dark walnut color, which makes your eye think it’s supposed to different, and hides some of those lines. We also pulled those base cabinets out an inch to create a purposeful difference. A simple aesthetic solution to a functional problem!

And in the right two pictures above, a completely different space, we needed four-drawer bases at the left end of the run for cutlery, utensils, and junk. However, things started getting messy at the trash bins, sink base, and dishwasher but it still needed to be a practical kitchen design. The solution? Make all of the cabinets look like four-drawer bases, even if they weren’t. You can see the far-right cabinet open – it’s just shelves for towel storage!

A practical kitchen is the best kind – and there are so many ways to make sure it functions well while still looking good. Sometimes you will have to make sacrifices for one or the other, but that’s something you can always work out with your designer. This is why we always recommend working with a professional. You can see what it’s like to work with us, or just check out how to start your kitchen wish list right now!