Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a cook. To be honest, I loathe cooking. My grandmother once told me, "It's not that you can't cook, Lauren. You choose not to." But just because I'm not culinarily inclined doesn't mean I don't appreciate the importance of beautiful and healthy kitchen design.
One of the rooms I love the most is a good kitchen. As a pharmacist and interior designer, wellness is a big part of my life—including the food that fuels my body. Our food and the place we prepare it should foster our sense of wellbeing and balance. Even if I'm not the one cooking the food, per se, I know healthy kitchen design is critical.
The kitchen is the perfect space where form marries function. It’s a place to work and relax, to nourish and to prepare. A beautiful kitchen is a powerful space, which is why the design should be deliberate. Here are 10 elements to consider in a healthy kitchen design.
Photography: Jennifer Lavelle
1. Prioritize Space and Light for Kitchen Wellness
I passionately believe that the two most essential things in a home are space and light—these needs are especially crucial in the kitchen. Everyone can use a bright, spacious, open kitchen for cooking and gathering. The area should be well-lit, with as much natural lighting as possible.
Windows are a critical design element. Plan for as many windows as you can to let in all the sunshine and fresh air. When the clouds are out (or in the evenings), keep the space lit with a combination of task, overhead, and accent lighting. I generally go with a bright, cool light that gives off a natural radiance for recessed lighting in the kitchen—it's always helpful to see the true colors of the food you're preparing!
I’ve seen some really lovely kitchen designs recently, where lamps on the counter have been a popular choice. It might sound unconventional, but people report that they love the soft lighting for an easy, relaxing post-meal glow.
Depending on your kitchen design, you may also want to include pendant lighting over the counter or a great accent light above the breakfast nook. Consider every corner of your kitchen to be sure that you're getting the right light in the space so that you can prepare food without stress or eyestrain.
2. Choose Fixtures that Work for You
Recently I attended the Dimensions of Wellbeing conference for fixture designer Kohler. While much of the conference was focused on bathroom design, they also have beautiful fixtures for kitchens. The kitchen has long been the hub of inventive solutions and will likely continue to be, with options to cook healthier meals with less waste.
There are so many innovations in the kitchen fixture design world these days, including no-touch faucets and anti-scald protection. Boiling hot water faucets are becoming popular, offering eco-friendly, lower-energy ways to fill a pot or brew some tea. Built-in water filtration systems encourage hydration and provide safe, healthy water right from the tap.
As you explore the fixtures for your kitchen, personal preference will play a significant role in your finish choices. If you’re partial to a particular finish like brass or polished nickel, you’ll likely find an array of fixtures to coordinate. The same goes for drawer pulls, handles, and knobs. Look for the features you want first (i.e., efficiency, connectedness with Smart home technology, or ease-of-use), and then seek out the finish and design to bring it all together. Mixing two but typically no more than three finishes is always a good idea for a timeless, layered look.
3. Minimize the Mess for Healthy Kitchen Design
My mantra throughout the house and especially the kitchen is to minimize the mess. For that reason, I love a well-organized space—a place for everything and everything in its place. A clutter-free kitchen is vital for functional, productive meal preparation.
Cleanliness is an integral part of healthy kitchen design, and clutter makes it a lot harder to keep things clean. I suggest designing plenty of storage into your kitchen plan so you can tuck away all those kitchen tools when they aren’t in use. Cutting boards that fold away and drawers with plenty of vertical storage can help you corral all sorts of kitchen items. If you haven’t checked out Sarah Robertson’s kitchen designs (@studiodearborn)—you must—for incredibly innovative storage ideas and solutions.
With healthy cooking appliances like air-fryers, Instant pots, espresso makers, and other gadgets, counters can become crowded fast. Be sure to consider the appliances you currently use regularly and how you will store and access them while also keeping in mind space for future purchases. A butler's pantry can be a great solution for housing these various items.
When organizing cupboards, I follow these three rules:
- Edit out multiples to clear space and give yourself room. Keep only what you really use.
- Keep similar objects together in organized baskets or uniform containers.
- Label your containers and storage to remember what’s what.
4. Make the Most of Vertical Space
Nothing creates a visual impact in the kitchen quite as much as floor-to-ceiling cabinetry. Adding higher storage is practical, functional, and smart if you have a lot going on in the kitchen. That said, a small kitchen can feel even smaller with lots of big cabinetry, so choose wisely.
One detail that's essential to explore is the ceiling height. If you have a choice, high or vaulted ceilings can have a considerable impact on the appearance of your kitchen. They make the room feel expansive and open (much more than the standard nine-foot ceilings). Work with your designer and architect to be sure you get the right ceiling height for your home. You want your kitchen to still feel warm and inviting—and well lit— no matter the ceiling height.
When you have that extra height, make the most of it. Hanging pot racks and high shelves offer an open storage concept while still allowing for an organized space. You can also build-in extra details, like a pantry with lots of vertical storage, for example. When you're thinking of your kitchen, don't forget the vertical space!
5. Workspace is Crucial in the Kitchen
Ultimately, the kitchen really is a workspace, isn't it? Part of healthy kitchen design is creating a room to prepare delicious foods efficiently while still enjoying the process. One thing that homeowners often overlook in their kitchen design is creating enough space to prepare food, gather, eat, and engage in all those kitchen activities that bring families together. Think of your kitchen as a work zone—mapping out how you would use and flow between the sink, oven, and refrigerator.
I’ve been admiring double islands in the kitchen for a while now—which explains why I’ve intentionally included them in the kitchen of our new build. Wraparound islands are also spacious and create so much flexibility for seating and cooking. Trying to work in a cramped kitchen is the worst, so plan for extra room. For countertop materials, I love the look and character of marble, but soapstone and quartzite are also great options. As far as kitchen island design goes, I prefer those that look more like pieces of furniture rather than simply a large rectangular box. Jean Stoffer, the queen of kitchen design herself, is a mastermind at achieving this bespoke kitchen feel.
You may think that your family would prefer a formal dining room or tends to gather in the living room. While this might be true, you’ll probably still discover that there are times when everyone goes to the kitchen, especially when you’re working on a big meal or celebrating the holidays. It’s the natural modern hearth, so make it inviting with plenty of counter space.
6. Select Kitchen Storage with Style
Is open cabinetry a do or a don't? Okay, realistically, I don't believe in too many rules about design (so there aren't many dos or don'ts), but I wasn't a big fan of open shelving in the kitchen until recently. I've always thought that cupboards were better for hiding all the mess away and minimizing clutter.
But after seeing the stunning European-style kitchens out there, I must admit that my eye has wandered to open shelving—and especially those made of marble. There’s something really beautiful about storage that allows you to display pretty dishes, vintage pottery, and even artwork. When done right, open cabinetry or shelving adds a lot of style to your kitchen.
I’ve also seen a lot of kitchens with no upper cabinetry. Of course, this speaks to my inner minimalist, but I think it’s important to make sure you have the right amount of storage space elsewhere, like an ample pantry or island(s) with plenty of drawers.
One of the design approaches I like for busy cooks is a combination: built-in shelving and cabinetry with glass fronts. Built-in shelving feels very thoughtful and offers a nice mix of “open shelving” with closed cabinets to hide clutter. Glass fronts let you make the most of displaying those "good dishes" and add tons of visual interest. Better still, if you choose glass doors, you won't have to worry about dust and grime that can build up in the kitchen—and fluted glass provides just the right amount of privacy and texture!
7. Breathe Better with Ventilation
Ventilation is a critical consideration whenever you're building a home or planning a healthy design. In the kitchen, the right ventilation is incredibly vital. The kitchen is full of smells and humidity. When you're cooking, tiny particles of oil and steam capture dust in the air and end up creating a layer of gunk on appliances.
Most builders consider ventilation as a critical component of construction. With poor ventilation, the air in your home becomes stale, and odors linger. Humidity can start to damage your home, including the insulation and the roof. Moisture leads to mildew and bacterial growth and can cause a lot of problems. Even though ventilation might not be the most exciting consideration of healthy kitchen design, it's not something to overlook.
So yes, the right ventilation makes a huge difference. The bonus is that there's nothing quite like a beautiful, hooded range to add sculptural details to the room. The range hood helps you dissipate scents and residue of cooking while adding a really standout component to your kitchen design. Again, this is the hearth of your home—the stove—so of course, it should be an eye-catching piece.
8. Let Your Personality Shine
When you’re creating your dream kitchen, let your personality shine through. We often see trends in home design—specific colors, fixtures, features, and concepts that repeat over and over. The way to take a trend from fleeting to timeless is to make it uniquely yours.
Bring in bits of your story—treasures you’ve collected, photos, art that resonates with you—to make your kitchen feel homey and special. I really love shopping for unique items from small businesses that sell handcrafted creations. There's something so satisfying about finding that utterly distinctive piece that brings it all together.
9. Bring the Natural In
When the weather's nice, I adore dining alfresco. It always feels leisurely and festive (even on a regular weeknight). Nature connects us and helps us feel centered and grounded. That's why I bring nature indoors whenever I get a chance.
For healthy kitchen design, be sure to incorporate many natural elements. Put some gorgeous plants in your kitchen to improve the air quality, absorb toxins, and balance the humidity. Grow herbs in a window to incorporate their fresh taste into your cooking.
When you’re selecting finishes, look for items that reflect nature like raw wood, veined marble, soft leather, clay tiles. Bamboo, linen, and other natural materials are often healthier and more sustainable choices, plus they add excellent texture to the room and make it feel layered and more interesting.
10. Remember Kitchens are a Place of Wellness
I don't know about you, but I crave warm, comforting soups in the fall and winter. In the spring and summer, I can't get enough fresh fruit and salad. This isn't just because of the temperature of those foods (warm in the winter, cool in the summer). Our bodies naturally want the foods that are in season around us.
When you're preparing foods in your kitchen, focus on seasonal favorites—nourishing meals that help you care for your body. I might not love to cook, but I relish any opportunity to unwind and engage with loved ones during a special meal.
Healthy kitchen design can also help you embrace a healthy kitchen mentality. Make food a celebration and a way to nourish yourself and others. Choose foods that are as whole, healthy, and real as possible (but enjoy an indulgence here and there too).
To create a truly healthy kitchen, keep it simple and focus on the beauty and joy of gathering with those you love. I’d love to hear about your favorite parts of your own kitchen. How do you bring a sense of wellness to the kitchen? Tell me in the comments!