Kitchen DIY: Q&A with interior designer Shelley Fergusen

  • 10/05/2023
  • Sponsored by - Resene
Kitchen DIY: Q&A with interior designer Shelley Fergusen
Photo credit: Getty Images

Whether you're wanting to update the current look of your kitchen or starting a DIY project, it can be overwhelming if you're not quite sure what to do. We've asked interior designer Shelley Ferguson to share some of her best kitchen tips, tricks and advice so you can be prepared before you make a start.  

Question 1: What's the first thing you should do if you want to redo your kitchen?

Assess the space and decide on the right layout. To choose the right layout for you, look at your lifestyle. How many people live in your home and how do they use the kitchen? Also consider the space. What kitchen layouts would work in your space? Are you prepared to take out walls and renovate to get the kitchen solution you want, or do you need to work within the current floorplan? This will help you with another important first consideration – determining a budget. While you might not know exactly what a kitchen costs, you'll probably have a good idea of what you can afford or what the bank will give you! A basic kitchen might be around $20k, a mid-range kitchen $30-$45k, and a luxury custom designed kitchen anywhere above that. Enlisting a kitchen designer or manufacturer at the start is important so you can work with them to create a realistic budget and design before falling in love with lots of finishes you can't afford!

After that collect visual inspiration for your kitchen, keeping your home design in mind. Choosing that overall theme gives you direction, so check out stores, magazines, Pinterest, and Instagram to identify your favourite designs, and use the architecture of your home as inspiration. The largest areas in the space will have the most impact like benchtops, cabinetry, paint, and splash back, so choose these first. Get physical samples and create a palette you can keep adding to.

Question 2: Should I do a wall oven or freestanding oven? I can't decide which will be better for my kitchen. 

There are lots of factors to consider but for me the ultimate decision comes down to the look you are trying to achieve. A wall oven creates a minimalist look which works really well in modern kitchens (you can also place them at your perfect height and they're easier to clean). A freestanding oven isn't as streamlined as it has space around it, therefore looks more classic. So if you like a coastal or modern farmhouse look a freestanding oven is perfect as it adds scale, and the style of it contributes to a more traditional look. In saying that, you also need to consider how you like to cook! A freestanding oven will be either gas or electric because it's all in one. Whereas you can have an electric wall oven with a gas hob if that's a cooking combo you love. Another consideration is that a freestanding oven can easily be removed whereas a wall oven is designed into your cabinetry.

Question 3: What colour would you use in your kitchen which is a very small galley style? 

The key here is creating an open and spacious feel without ending up with a plain kitchen. I would use lighter colours to make the kitchen feel more open and spacious, rather than a heavy, dark palette. You could use a white like Resene Alabaster for a classic look, a neutral like Resene Half Blanc for a natural, beachy look, a soft grey like Resene Silver Chalice for a modern look, or a soft colour like Resene Quarter Lemongrass or Resene Half Dusted Blue if you want more of a subtle feature. Keep the cabinetry fronts simple. If you are having panelling on the fronts of your cabinetry keep the profiles simple and linear rather than adding too many visual lines that will clutter the space. Choose a benchtop stone that has a soft vein or pattern to add texture, but avoid a dark, heavy looking stone. Running the same stone up the splashback is a good trick to make the space seem larger, rather than lots of little tiles. Try to get as much natural light as possible into the space – could you add a glass slider nearby or a skylight above? Then strategically place downlights for good task lighting and pendants if the space allows to add some design wow factor – just keep the shapes simple and light and choose a size that doesn't overpower the space or look too tiny.

Question 4: What is the difference between a peninsula or island in the kitchen and which is better?

A peninsula is joined to a wall in your kitchen, while an island is freestanding. I always start my kitchen designs with space planning, and if a space has enough room, I favour an island. I like how they allow you to move around the kitchen and enter the kitchen from both sides which helps when more than one person is using it. I also like designing islands as a standout feature which is easier to do because they're a separate entity. But if the space is smaller, rather than putting in a small island that's difficult to walk around I'll always choose a peninsula (you need at least a metre on all sides of an island, preferably 1.2m). And if I'm designing an L-shaped kitchen I'll often add a peninsula instead of an island to get in more storage while still having that sense of a bar where you can add stools and create that social gathering area. So in short, I love an island in a large enough kitchen, but I'm super happy with a peninsula in a smaller space for practicality.

Question 5: How do I make my small kitchen seem bigger while maximising cooking and entertaining space?

A small kitchen means everything has to be multipurpose. I've had a client who used her oven as a cupboard – it helped with storage but made turning the oven on a mission! Create a surface in the adjoining living or dining area like a sideboard, shelf or bar cart that can be used as a separate bar for entertaining or making drinks, and also stores glassware or serve ware on the shelves or cupboards below. You could even make a small butcher's block island on castor wheels (finish it in your favourite Resene paint or stain) that can be wheeled in when you need it, then piled up with pots and wheeled into another room out of sight to clean later). If you're entertaining, choose a menu that doesn't all require the oven and prep ahead as much as possible. Create zones in your kitchen and make these obvious – have your cooking prep utensils beside your designated prep zone, and the same with cooking. This reduces the need to zigzag around the kitchen too much. And place guest seating like stools or chairs in a position that's social to the kitchen but means people aren't intruding on your space. Use the vertical space cleverly with cupboards or shelving and keep the colour palette light to increase the sense of space. Encourage as much natural light in as possible, whether it's from adding larger windows or sliders in the adjoining spaces or adding a skylight above. The most important thing is simply being together so have fun, make it your own and be proud of your little but lovely kitchen!

Question 6: Does a 'kitchen triangle' between the fridge, stove, and sink really make a kitchen more efficient?

This has been such an interesting question for me to ponder – thanks for sending it in! I think a perfect triangle is a little outdated, as the way we use our kitchens has evolved so much. So rather than three points on a triangle which suits one person cooking only, I like to think of splitting a kitchen into zones – cooking, cooling, cleaning, prep and storage. I try to assess who uses the kitchen and how they use it, as each household can be quite different. Then I space plan to make sure the zones have a functional relationship. 1200mm between each area is ideal and if possible, no major traffic should cross through the working zones. The sink should be central as it's the most used. And no full height cabinetry or appliance should be positioned between any two of the major zones – keep them to the sides. Some clients prefer their fridges hidden in a scullery, and others have an island creating another working zone. So, while my kitchens sometimes have a loose triangle shape, they often have a rhomboid or trapezoid shape too!

Question 7: I have three young children. How do I maintain uncluttered minimalism? 

I had quite a small kitchen when my kids were little and remember one day using the bath to hide pots and pans away when friends were over for dinner! I think having great storage systems is key here so you're maximising every space therefore freeing up your surfaces as much as possible. Having storage like pantry drawers with clear fronts rather than dark, deep shelves means the kids (and you!) can see things easily and are likely to get in and out quicker. Clear canisters and containers that are labelled and stored in categories also helps. I always design kitchens so that everything below waist height is a drawer as they fit so much more. And I add inner drawers in some so that they can double duty. Your kids will grow quickly so always edit your kitchen to see what you don't need any more and can get rid of. If you have space to add a couple of floating shelves this can be a good place for decorative items that usually sit on the bench like herbs and cookbooks can sit. It's also good to get the kids involved and aware of helping with the kitchen in some way as early as possible. I know this is almost impossible when they're little, but even giving a little one a clean wet cloth and getting them to wipe away at the bench can be a fun introduction to kitchen maintenance. As they get older you can make it a time challenge to do a kitchen task, reward them in whatever way works for you, or turn organising or putting dishes away into some sort of family game everyone takes turns at. This will take time but at least you'll feel less alone in the constant effort to keep a kitchen organised! Good luck!

Resene has a large range of paints and wallpapers available on their website. Ask your friendly Resene ColorShop team if you can borrow wallpaper books or order samples – it's important to view them in your own home to see how they work with your space, style and different lights.

Article created in partnership with Resene.