Kitchen Design Principles

Design Principles

A basic understanding of the principles of interior design will help you make the most of your space when planning your new kitchen. While design elements are the basic components or tools you work with, principles guide the use of those elements. This discussion of design principles is general, not limited to kitchen cabinet layouts. Kitchen design components include cabinets, appliances, colors, backsplash, countertops, flooring and decorative items. How they work together to provide a beautiful and functional kitchen depends on the principles of interior design: balance, emphasis, proportion and scale.

Visual Balance in the Kitchen

Balance, the most important principle in interior design, refers to the visual equilibrium in the design of a room. A well-balanced room communicates a sense of relaxation and security. This is achieved by placing objects according to their visual weight. An object’s visual weight is its ability to draw attention to itself and is determined by its line, form, color, and texture elements. Darker shades, bright colors, and strong textures lead to a heavy weight. In contrast, cooler shades, subtle textures, and reflective surfaces give an object less visual weight. To maintain balance, try to distribute the elements equally throughout the room. Formal balance, often referred to as symmetrical balance, creates a mirrored-image effect from the center of the room. On the other hand, informal balance uses different objects of the same visual weight to create equilibrium in a room. It is more subtle and spontaneous and gives a warmer, more casual feeling.

In this Dayton kitchen, windows, wall cabinets and island are balanced and complemented by pendant lights.

This Austin kitchen balances upper wall cabinets with glass doors.

The Dayton kitchen uses simple lines with wall and base cabinets in a narrow space.

This Dayton kitchen demonstrates a kind of symmetry as the drawer base cabinets flank the cook-top area.


Emphasis is expressed through focal points, objects that immediately draw your attention as you enter a room. A focal point in a kitchen may be a sink, stove or cooktop area, center island, furniture-look hutch, buffet or bar, a window that frames a beautiful view, or a piece of artwork displayed in a glass door cabinet. Other objects in the room must support, not compete with, the decided focal point. A large space may have more than one focal point. You can add emphasis by highlighting a natural focal point or create one through the use of line, form, color and texture.

Distributed so they don’t compete, focal points include an island with turned post legs, an apron front sink under glass door cabinets, and a chalkboard calendar.

This Dayton kitchen primarily uses color for emphasis, found in the Harbor painted island cabinets and backsplash beneath glass door cabinets.

This Dayton kitchen does a wonderful job of highlighting the small island. The backsplash and glass doors serve as a secondary focal point and also create balance.

In this Dayton kitchen, wall cabinets installed on top of the counter above combined with the base pots and pans drawer create a furniture-look hutch. The Harbor color of the island subtly draws your attention.

Proportion & Scale

Proportion and scale define the size relationships among objects in a room. Proportion refers to the size of part of an object as it relates to another part of the same object. Scale refers to the size of one object when compared with another, or with the size of the space in which it is located. The scale of an object must reflect its surroundings so as not to seem too large or too small for a room. In kitchen cabinetry, islands and pantry cabinets affect proportion and scale the most.

In this Dayton kitchen, a brick wall with a large clock offsets the doorway, windows and island, providing proportion and scale.

In this Rockford kitchen, two large islands, balanced with a hutch area that separates the kitchen from the family room, provide emphasis with a great focal point.

Proportion and scale are gracefully employed to take advantage of odd wall angles and an island.

This large wall of pantry cabinets provides proportion to the refrigerator and provides scale to the design.

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