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Posted July 1, 2015 by pmcalary

Common mistakes most kitchen designers make

Safety is a huge part of your kitchen design

An edited version of this article appeared in the May 2011 issue of the national publication of Kitchen & Bath design news.

One of the greatest challenges for a kitchen designer is to create a design that the customer appreciates aesthetically and simultaneously provides them with a functionally well designed kitchen.  It’s equally difficult to just not make any mistakes.  And sadly, that’s something very few kitchen designers can actually accomplish.

When customers show me designs done elsewhere, I can usually rattle off 10 blatant errors before I even closely examine the floor plan.  Even more alarming, many designs actually have the potential to kill.  And, these same fatal designs have even won awards.

In the last few years, I honestly have yet to pick up a kitchen trade magazine without a featured kitchen on either its front or back cover having major mistakes.   Often they possess one of the possibly fatal design flaws listed below.  Here is my list of the 8 deadly kitchen designs that I see over and over again.

  1. Wall cabinet, spice pull out or an appliance garage too close to the cooktop or range
    Kitchens with hearths or grottos are the biggest culprits with the Professional high BTU burners being mere inches from the sides of the wood cabinetry creating a fire hazard.                                                                                                                                                                       .
  2. Range too close to the window
    Most building codes require a range to be a minimum of 12 inches away from a window for a number of reasons.  A fire on the stove can jump to curtains on the windows.  Or a breeze from an open window can blow out the flame on a gas burner and allow gas to accumulate possibly unnoticed prior to a potential explosion.  I have seen many, many, examples of designs with the range actually underneath the window.                                                                                                                                                                                                      .   
  3. Range or cooktop on the end of the run
    Handles of pots and pans can be left extending out in space to be flipped onto homeowners or their children.  This is usually seen all the more disastrously in high traffic areas and next to doorways where people are entering the room unprepared for the foolish design flaw.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             .  
  4. The deadly cousin or number 2 and 3.  A range next to the exterior kitchen door for all the reasons listed in 2 and in 3.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        .
  5. Wall cabinets extending out over where there is no countertop or by themselves without protective bases below them
    Usually this tends to be customer driven.  Out of the need to create storage space literally everywhere in their kitchen, cabinets get put in places where someone leaning or bending over unsuspectingly can stand up and fracture their skull.  I actually know of a contractor that fractured his skull this way and is now blind.                                                                                                                                     .
  6. This one is a little of a stretch.  But today many children and adults have respiratory issues such as asthma, severe allergies, or emphysema.  Placing cabinets with moldings approaching but not reaching the ceiling can create a space that is impossible to clean and yet accumulates over time inches of dust, dead skin, and dust mites.  This could cause potentially fatal health reactions to those sensitive.  I have seen where this is done intentionally to create a “shadow line” on the ceiling.  Once you get 3 or less inches from the ceiling, you must go all the way.                                       .
  7. Probably one of the biggest issues on the kitchen design horizon.  Today’s powerful hoods coupled with tightly sealed energy efficient homes create negative pressure inside the home when the windows are closed in the winter and the exhaust fan is on.  Without a heat/air exchanger or a heating system designed against negative pressure the exhaust fan will pull carbon monoxide back down the water heater exhaust, the furnace chimney, or more dramatically pull the smoke right out the customers fireplace into their home.  Nearly all designers and appliance salespeople never even consider this and only in the most expensive and usually colder climate neighborhoods like Jackson Hole Wyoming are there any building codes regarding this.**Just a note:  12 months after this was published Pennsylvania became one of the first States to regulate this very issue. Presently all 50 states require replacement air systems for all hoods over 400 CFM.                                                                                                                        .
  8. This one is almost no longer an issue but still exists.  Customers must have GFCI outlets within 4 feet of their sink but if they have an electric range with spiral coil heating elements and the kitchen designer places the range too close to the stainless steel sink, the 110 volt outlet issue will be benign in comparison to the 220 volt range, sink, and water shocker.                                       .

Kitchen design is a profession I love for many reasons including the creativity involved, the people you meet, and the sense of accomplishment when you do a good job.  But, the biggest reason I love designing kitchens is that it is an incredible challenge.

To answer any questions regarding the significance of today’s date (originally posted March 15th 2011):

“Beware the ides of March”

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Hoping you don’t have any of these issues,

Paul McAlary



  1. pmcalary, June 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm:

    This blog was published in an edited version on page 24 of the May 2011 issue of Kitchen and Bath design news.

  2. Pete Walker, September 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm:

    OMG this is great – The funny thing is how easy it is to organize a kitchen plan without making any of these…

  3. mieke solari, May 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm:

    I have a long list of “mistakes” I have encountered. .

  4. Jan Neiges, May 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm:

    Another mistake and the industry accepts it, is having a micro hood over the range and/or cook top
    This is the first appliance a young child learns to use –
    If this scenario cannot be avoided, encourage the client to add another microwave convenient for the children and out of harms way of any heating source

  5. pmcalary, May 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm:

    Very true Jan. I would love someone with kitchen design experience analyzing the accident data the insurance companies keep. it would be very revealing I think.

  6. pmcalary, May 23, 2012 at 5:59 pm:

    Mike – Would you like me to Email you the list of the 32 design design errors we have on file?

  7. Mary Liebhold, November 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm:

    Safety iss stressed with all of our designs. We require clients to sign a waiver if they insist on the micro/vent combination and that act will often convince them how serious a mistake it will be. I withdrew from a project recently because the client insisted ttht the cooktop be moved to below the wood window. We will not be involved with that large a mistake. He was convinced it was okay and sent me dozens of photos showing that placement. Apparently thinking that if its is published, it’s okay. Not for us!

  8. pmcalary, November 19, 2012 at 5:09 pm:

    Thanks Mary,
    That’s one of the very frustrating things, that pictures of bad and dangerous designs can be found all over the place. The fact that someone else made the mistake and it was photographed doesn’t make it less wrong.

  9. Victor rossi, November 20, 2012 at 11:29 pm:

    I’d like a list of those 32 errors to avoid. Your kitchen company is in Narberth just out side of Philly ?

  10. Jim Osborne, July 12, 2016 at 5:29 pm:

    Considering gas range -cooktop under window in old stone house in Chestnut Hill window 18″ away due to wall thickness. 1000 CFM hood recessed in wood shroud. Is this a bad idea? Thanks.

  11. pmcalary, July 12, 2016 at 6:12 pm:

    Hi Jim,
    Considering the fact that you are in our serving area, I would encourage you to have us come out work on a design with you. Sight unseen any advice I would give you would be ill-advised since the best advice is always to have a good kitchen designer look at the job, and that is easy for you to do in this case. You will need a replacement air system installed for a 1000 CMF Hood, but the whole thing hanging over the window has the sound of someone inexperienced like an architect dabbling in kitchen design. We are here if you need us.

  12. Donna, October 28, 2017 at 7:07 am:

    Will you please send me a list of the 32 errors to avoid? I am building a house. Thank you.

  13. pmcalary, October 28, 2017 at 10:15 am:

    Hi Donna,
    That was a design that had errors on it. We don’t have it any more and the new one we use for hiring purposes and don’t give out.

  14. Chad, April 13, 2018 at 1:24 pm:

    Hello. Thank you for your tips, very helpful! We are just out of your service are but we have a debate going on. Is it a bad idea to have your kitchen widow trim directly above the sink, without a tile barrier to prevent water damage? We want maximum viewing space.

  15. pmcalary, April 13, 2018 at 2:12 pm:

    You can keep the window sill at about 38″ above the floor and not have a trim skirt underneath, just a couple of inches of tile between the countertop and sill.

  16. Bill, April 18, 2018 at 3:46 pm:

    Is it possible to mount a cabinet with plywood sides right next to an electric stove with a self cleaning feature?

  17. pmcalary, April 18, 2018 at 3:58 pm:

    If you mean having the side of a tall pantry cabinet against a stove that would be a fire hazard. Having a base cabinet next to a range is OK of course.

  18. Teresa Michael, May 6, 2018 at 4:13 pm:

    Great information! Looking for any feedback you can provide on JSI Cabinets, particularly Trenton and Dover collections.

  19. pmcalary, May 7, 2018 at 10:47 am:

    Don’t know JSI. If you call Fridays between 2pm and 4pm designers research and help people outside our service area for those two hours

  20. Dawn, May 22, 2018 at 11:01 am:

    My mother installed cabinets on either side of her microwave, above the stove. The cabinets become so hot she cannot even touch them if the stove is being used. The cabinets are made of maple, by J&K Cabinetry, and installed to code of 18″ above the countertop area. What can she do about this? Is this a fire hazard? I have seen several kitchens with cabinets in the same position but have not known of anyone having any issues in using the cabinets.

  21. pmcalary, June 7, 2018 at 2:53 pm:

    This sounds odd, something is not right here. Does your mother have a professional range under her microwave? That is dangerous if she does.

  22. ROBERTO CHAIDEZ, June 11, 2018 at 8:00 pm:

    I have a pretty big issue. One that i think i should get some signatures from residents in these Section 8 Apts. They’ve done inspections but i never said anything about how dangerous the kitchenettes are until now. You see the owner of this building got a $38 million loan from the California Redevelopment Committee to make the Alexandria Hotel Apts into 468 “assisted” living apartments. They made 509 and put these hideous 2 burner kitchenettes in each unit. Basically going the cheapest route possible. Of the top of my head they couldn’t have been more than $1k a unit. (2 burners right next to the one base sink, sitting OVER the little college fridge. Its already shorted out 3 TIMES! The last time it fried the inner part of the coil because, of course WATER ISNT SUPPOSED TO BE NEXT TO ELECTRICAL OUTLETS OR TOUCH THE STAINLESS STEEL COILS. Do you think i should run a Class Action or do an individual first to make way for the rest to get a chunck of the $38 million that was NOT spent in “Improving the Units”. Oh and BTW, the loan CLEARLY STATES THE $ is for IMPROVEMENTS NOT maintenance or the Downstairs Banquet Room which he put A LOT of $ into because he runs Weddings, Graduations etc.. Every week! He also has a lot of filming on site that i know he wouldn’t habe gotten if he didnt do all the editions.
    Anyone care to give a level headed ex-Marine some advice?

  23. pmcalary, June 18, 2018 at 8:49 am:

    Sorry these are not issues we address on our site.

  24. Todd, June 22, 2018 at 12:45 pm:

    What are your thoughts about having wall ovens behind pocket doors? Seems to be a new trend.

  25. pmcalary, June 22, 2018 at 4:12 pm:

    Do you mean what do we think of french door style wall ovens with two doors that swing out from the center? Pocket doors slide into a wall and no ovens do this.

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