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Some kitchen designs are trickier than others to figure out. The goal is always to arrive at a solution that meets all the objectives (combining flow, function and fashion), without tossing in the towel on fiscal responsibility. Some people simply get paralyzed by the dizzying array of choices and materials, and the inevitable frustration found in trying to jam all of the items on the wish list into a layout that actually fits the available floor space. So what's the trick to getting it right and re-imagining your fatally flawed kitchen? I like to think of every kitchen as a puzzle of sorts. Start by envisioning all the components of kitchen as individual pieces and put them into a box, then give the box an almighty shake and dump it all on the ground. Forget about where the pieces used to fit together, and think instead about how they should work together. By starting with an empty floor plan, you can experiment with every scenario until you find the one that fits best. If you can master the pieces of the puzzle, the net result will be a kitchen that fits your lifestyle, and your budget!

Start with a goal

If there's one thing you know you want, one element you can't live without, try to work your planning around that feature. In this case, I felt that a peninsula was a "must have" for the additional counter space and storage it would offer. By zoning in on the best place to put said peninsula, I was able to jig the layout of the rest of the kitchen around it. The key to success is practicality, so be sure you embrace the reality of the available space you have and try to maximize what you've got, not what you wish you had. Blue-sky thinking is all well and good, but I believe that the road to reno success is paved with healthy sprinkling of reality to keep your aspirations in line with your bank account.

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See it in 3D

The good news is that if your sketching skills are somewhere this side of dire, you needn't enlist the assistance of a pro. Simply go online and use the kitchen planner software that's available. ( has a good one.) You can plug in the dimensions of your room, complete with windows, doors and finishes, then you click and drag your way to a new kitchen vision. It's easy to experiment with multiple layout options from the available components, and the software won't let you make a mistake. Within minutes you can view your creation from a plan view, elevations, or even spin around and check it out from all angles. If you ever enjoyed playing with Lego or dollhouses as a kid, you're going to love this!

Get creative with counters

Cool stainless, sleek stone and warm wood aren't the only way to go for surfaces. While these three options are the most common contenders, don't forget about good old laminate. What you see in the ready to roll section of the big-box stores is hardly an accurate representation of the veritable rainbow of hues and patterns available to add style and pattern to your counters. It's definitely worth considering your options, as you just might find a shade that suits your style. The one I found ended up being the jumping off point for the colour concept of the whole space. I can honestly say that's a first for me, as I never expected to design a kitchen around laminate counters!

Have fun with it

Your kitchen is meant to be a creative space and a gathering place, so don't hesitate to lighten up with touches that will liven up your home. A wide ribbon of green paint wraps up and over the walls and ceiling to introduce a bit of accent green to the lounge area, while a fun DIY clock project (made from a simple clock kit and some vinyl adhesive lettering) makes a graphic statement on the wall as an alternative to artwork. The lesson here is simple: Think of what you can do to add unique flair and fun to your home!

And a few more 101 lessons:

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The Save

As a designer with a signature line of upholstered furnishings, my tendency is to envision every living environment with bespoke seating options dressed in custom fabrics. Custom isn't always better (though it is guaranteed to always cost more). When you've got a lounge area/family room that is adjoined to your kitchen, think practically when selecting your seating. If you've got kids, and envision a laissez-faire attitude (where food may frequently migrate to the sofa), you need to make wise choices. You can never go wrong with the flexibility and ease of slipcovers. Instead of stressing the next time someone toddles towards the chair with a marker in hand, relax, remove, and wash it! All in all, two chairs and a loveseat (all with removable covers) tallied up to less than the cost of just a loveseat if we'd gone the custom route. In my brain, that equates to a great rationalization (where I tell myself that the chairs were actually free).

The Splurge

Making tradeoffs to get more for less is the name of the game in renovating and design, but every home needs texture and interest. It can't ALL come from one source, or it will look like you bought the "#2 special" off the showroom floor. So here's where the mix up comes in. If you're doing a kitchen and trying to keep the price tag on the cheap, you need a little "street cred" (in the words of my design ally, Tommy Smythe). A pair of Tolix stools is a classic choice, adding polish and industrial edge to the new peninsula. At a little over $300 apiece, they aren't the cheapest things you'll find, but I think they fit the bill perfectly! While you're on the industrial angle, why not add some interest to your lighting by rewiring vintage fixtures? How can you possibly resist the charm and cool of a pair of green enamelled pendants that practically look "dyed to match"? It's always the quirky accents and the finishing touches that elevate any room from average to interesting.

The Signature Sarah

Some would say that I just can't leave well enough alone, and have to put my stamp on everything I do. I would agree that that's true IF doing something to effect change results in a better end result. A blank slate white kitchen was the right starting point for many reasons, especially where budget was concerned, but I firmly believe that your budget should never limit your creativity or your desire to be different. The green and grey counters I selected had so many great shades that I just had to embrace them. By spraying a few door fronts in a beautiful shade of bottle green, the cabinetry transcended its out of the box origins and resulted in a completely custom look. You'll need to buy lacquer (about $80) and pay $20 (or so) per door for spraying, but I'd say that's a small investment for being able to dream in colours beyond what's available off the shelf!

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Sarah Richardson is the host of Sarah 101, airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV.;


Appliances, cabinetry, counters, faucet, cabinetry hardware, sofa, chairs, picture frames, food canisters, dishes, cutlery, pots & pans, stemware, glasses, throw, green boxes, magnet boards - IKEA

Countertop appliances - Breville

Floor & backsplash tile - Saltillo Imports Inc.

Green & white ikat fabric - Thibaut

Coffee table, green apples, green glass vase - Structube

Counter stools - Kiosk

Clock kit, charger plates, envelope holder, large metal clip, and frog glass vase - Urban Barn

Vinyl adhesive numbers for clock - Wilcox Sign

Mirror - Universal Lighting

Vintage green &blue dishes, floor lamp - Rogue Gallery 416-462-1800

Drapery panels - West Elm

Enamel pendant lights - Queen West Antique Centre 416-588-2212

Re-wiring of pendant lights - Residential Lighting 416-537-3138

Paint Colours - Para Paints

Kitchen walls - Ice Pick P5244-34D

Kitchen ceiling - Old Sterling Tint 1 P2104-01

Lounge walls & ceiling - Old Sterling Tint 1 P2104-01

Accent kitchen cabinets + green stripe - Outside Influence P5173-62

Trim - Snowfall SR29

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