We recently just moved into our BTO a couple months back and since we did not have an interior designer, we went into the design phase ourselves. As we scoured online resources for interior designer's kitchens to copy, it became clear that many of their designs may look good but are an ergonomic nightmare for the typical kitchen workflow. We picked up a couple of tips which I thought will be good to share with you. So if you are an avid chef looking for tips on your new place (this article is skewed towards typical Singaporean HDB apartment layout), read on!
#1 - The Holy Kitchen Triangle
The most common kitchen ergonomics design you will come across is the kitchen triangle. To ensure minimal walking you need to reach the key areas: it dictates the fridge, sink and stove's positions to be placed in a triangle. As for the majority of the time, you will be shuttling in the kitchen around these 3 key spaces, you will want them to be as equilaterally spaced as possible.
Typical BTO Kitchen Limitations
If you are like us living in a BTO, the washing sink area is likely to be fixed due to the drainage pipes, limiting your kitchen triangle layout options. We had the intention to move the sink and connect the sink drainage to the washing machine drainage pipes, however, upon several consultations, we were highly advised against doing so as the washing machine drainage pipes were much smaller in diameter and will highly be prone to clogging with all the grease going into it.
Almost every other components, light points, electrical points and gas points can be moved to your liking but your sink location is likely to be fixed.
#2 - Working Spaces
Galley working space
Now that you have fixed your kitchen triangle, let's talk about galley space. Professional kitchens minimize the number of steps needed to get from one side to another for the sake of efficiency. In the case of BTO layouts, most of the time you will be dealing with a galley style kitchen, with cabinets flanking on each side. Ideally, it should be around 1.2m wide. Wide enough to get from one side to another within 1 step turn, for walking around comfortably and cabinet doors to open fully from both sides without hitting anything. We increased one side of our countertop depth to 70cm instead of the standard 60cm to achieve a smaller galley space. More prep space, less distance to get to the other side, win-win!
Stove side working space
You will need about 30 cm clearance on the left and right of your stove. These spaces are absolutely critical for you to place your pots, pans and food during cooking. Don't scrimp on these spaces!
#3 Countertop height
How high should your work top be? It's hardly a question that your ID or contractor would ask you nor most people would consider because we believe our ID and contractors know their ergonomics. Unfortunately, in most cases, their approach will be to take the standard height applied industry-wide (which is 90cm). Despite everyone is of different heights, our kitchen work surface is standardised across the board for some lazy reason.
Before you can set your countertop height, you need to ask yourself what are your cooking habits? Do you do mostly food preparation over the chopping board or would you actually use the countertop to knead bread?
Based on my height, the optimal food preparation height is around 88 cm, not the standard 90cm. As I do knead bread, I further set my countertop height lower to 86cm since I use a 2 cm thick chopping board to get closer to my optimal food preparation height.
For the stove side counter height, it is preferred to be lower than the standard as you need to peer into the pots. Bear in mind that the pots itself have some heights as well. Remember to cater sufficient height space for any appliances you plan to put below the countertop.
Here is a very useful height guide below that illustrates it beautifully.
#4 - Appliances
Besides the typical top or bottom freezer options available, which is dependent on your usage and personal preference, another consideration would be the types of doors. If you need a large fridge (>more than 79cm in width) in a small apartment or galley kitchen, do consider french doors. French doors fridge open from the centre outwards, splitting the door width into 2, reducing the space needed to swing open the doors. Imagine having a full 79cm door, it would require a full diameter of 79cm of space to swing open and that is clearance space you are unable to utilize. Unfortunately, french doors options are very limited in Singapore.
Gas stove is still by far the best heating medium. There are visual cues on how big the heat source is and it can go a lot hotter than induction stoves. Most home induction stoves do not provide enough heat to sear a steak as there is a limit on the amount of current it can draw before the circuits trip. The trade-off is that gas stove is harder to clean compared to a smooth induction surface, but I will not be able to live with myself if I can't sear a steak properly at home. :)
We used to live in a rental with no hood and had a fan blowing the exhaust out of the kitchen. As we do quite a bit of heavy cooking, the fan was dripping grease within a few weeks. All our appliances were also covered in a sticky grease layer which is a pain to clean up. If you plan to cook often, don't scrimp on the hood and choose a hood with the suction power of above 800m3. There are some models now which channel the grease into a grease reservoir rather than being stuck in the mesh filter which requires more frequent cleaning.
Too often you see kitchens with just 1 big ceiling light and it is terrible to work in as it creates too many shadows when you are working above your food. Food preparation and cooking area require their own lighting for you to work best. Spotlights, hanging pendants lights or even clip on led lights to the shelves are some options. Look for LED with high CRI index (>80%), the higher the index, the more colourful your food will look!
I hope you like the tips above and by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to share in the comments any cool tips from your own experience in building your dream kitchen.
And if any of your friends will benefit from these tips, do share this blog post with them!