Etobicoke Design Build - Customizing A Kitchen

I met Maria during a celebratory networking dinner one night. We chatted for a while and agreed to continue the conversation another day. Not one to forgo a lunch date opportunity, I sent Maria an invite for the following week. We met in Nordstrom’s Bazille and over a sumptuous lunch gabbed and gabbed until we lost track of time.

We got chatting about what we do, how we do it and what we like about it. The conversation eventually got around to design-build houses.  I have many fond memories of working on a design-build. The bathroom and kitchen design will forever stand out in my mind.

Toronto design build home with white kitchen - walnut stain island - subway tile and mosaic backsplash.jpeg

Design build - Custom Kitchen Design

“The client has no upper cabinetry on one wall.”

Gasp. Inhale. “How does she store all her stuff?” Maria asked surprised at the thought.

“Easy. She has ample storage for all her needs and then some.”

Maria was astonished at the thought of no upper cabinetry. Me? Not so much. It was actually my idea. A well-designed kitchen isn’t measured by the number of upper or lower cabinets. On the contrary, it’s based on functionality, ease of use and personal preferences.  

Perhaps one of the biggest shifts in kitchen design is the triangle configuration. Often cited as the gold standard for a kitchen layout yet not always a consideration anymore . More and more condos and town homes are now designed with linear kitchens. No triangle configuration possible here. Preferences change. For design-build projects, it’s all about personalizing the space. 

Toronto white kitchen with undermount sink - quartz countertop -stainless steel vent hood.jpeg

Design build - Kitchen Layout

Kitchen showrooms showcase what is possible in layout, material and finishes. However, how will you ever know what is right for you unless you use it? It’s pretty to look at, but does it work for you? I don’t think the kitchen designer on this project is likely to ever forget our visits. We set the tone early on - every appointment was a cooking re-enactment.

“Do you need a spice cabinet?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“All right, we’ll place one right next to the cooktop. Left or right?”

“Wait. What? Left? Right? Does it have to be immediately next to the cooktop? I’m not sure.”

One way to find out – determine the dominant hand. Which hand did the client naturally use to grab items from the counter? Ok – the right. Now, pretend to pull the door for a spice bottle while cooking. Immediately, next to the cooktop was inconvenient. So, the next bank of lower cabinetry it is.

“Are we dedicating cabinetry for garbage, recycling and organics?”


“Next to the sink?”

“Does it have to be next to the sink?”

“No, but most people do that.”

Your kitchen is specific to you, your family and your needs. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing. Go through the motions. You’d be surprised how effective this technique can be. Other people in the showroom will look at you funny. Then again, you are spending tens of thousands of dollars. You need to get it right.

We selected a kitchen with a similar layout to the design concept. Where would the prep happen? By the sink or on the island? On the island. Whereabouts? Closer to the cooktop, middle or the opposite edge?  Preference was near the cooktop. It then made sense to add all refuse in the island cabinetry.

Toronto design build white kitchen with stainless steel appliances - subway tile and mosaic backsplash - wood floor.jpeg

Design build - Personalizing your kitchen

“You need another pantry by the coffee bar area.”


“Well you don’t have uppers on one wall. Expand the storage.”

“No. The separate coffee bar area ensures that no one is getting in anyone’s way”

Glasses and dishes are placed in the upper cabinetry by the sink in traditional kitchen design. It’s not necessarily set in stone. What is set in stone is someone needs to unload the dishwasher. You will either reach up or bend down. Our client preferred 2 pull out drawer cabinets on the island. Just as spacious as upper cabinetry and far more convenient for her.

Right about now, you’re probably thinking “Anything is possible with design-build. You can do whatever you want. I don’t have that flexibility with my kitchen!”

You may not be able to add more cabinetry, but you can certainly rethink the size, location and configuration. A pantry can be relocated or swapped with the refrigerator. A pantry can replace an upper and a lower. Your sink can be relocated. There are options.

Kitchen design has come a long way. You don’t need to look any further than original war time homes in Toronto. Compared to newer kitchens, most look positively claustrophobic. Conversely, a newer kitchen, despite its size, can still be dysfunctional if not laid out properly. Pretty subway tile, quartz countertops and island pendants will never make up for an unpleasant cooking experience.