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The 9 Best Kitchen Renovation Decisions These Families Made

updated Feb 28, 2024
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Waterfall kitchen island with rattan stools.

For families, the kitchen is way more than the heart of the home. It’s everything. Snack station? Of course. Water play zone? Sometimes, even more than the tub. Art studio? You know it, thanks to those quickly wipeable floors. 

If you’re planning on undergoing a kitchen renovation or just want to make some quick “presto, change-o!” updates this weekend, you’d be wise to take a page from other in-the-know parents who’ve recently tackled kitchen projects of their own. 

In my family’s Colorado home, updating our own tired cookspace was one of our best pandemic projects. Two decisions I’m glad we made: swapping in quartz countertops (which have yet to stain, despite anything our artful toddler can throw at them) and installing an induction range for better indoor air quality (our previous gas stove was not properly vented, and may have spewed all kinds of toxins into our living areas because of it … not something I’d wish on any baby’s growing lungs). Here are some life-changing kitchen hacks for parents, as shared by other real parents.

Give them a drawer of their own.

Everyone can use a space to call their own, no matter their age. “We hired an organization professional for our cabinets, and made [a drawer] especially for our 2-year-old to grab his own things,” says Chasa Toliver-Léger, an Oakland, California-based mother and senior PR manager at design firm HKS. “We even added lights for him to press on and off when grabbing plates, cups, etc. You have to be OK with it being messy at times, but it gives him a role in helping out in the kitchen and a sense of independence. Not to mention, it’s in the farthest cabinet away from where we’re cooking and handling things!” Designer Malka Helft of Think Chic Interiors also installed a pull-out pantry for a family in New Rochelle, New York, with an 8-year-old, twin 5-year-olds, and another child on the way. “They wanted a beautiful, high-end kitchen that would be not only child-friendly, but one that would give the children the feeling that this is a space for them to use freely,” Helft says. 

To get a similar effect, Hillary Locke Mujica, a Denver, Colorado-based mother of 9- and 5-year-old girls and floral designer behind The French Fleur, simply moved all the kiddie cups and plates to a bottom drawer so her wee ones can help themselves. “It was super helpful!”  Seattle-area based interior design content creator Albie Buabeng, who has a 6-year-old mini-me, went a step further and installed pull-out shelves in all their cabinets and drawers. “Hands down, it was the best decision we made in our kitchen!” Buabeng says. “It’s both parent- and kid- friendly.”

Stock a luxury fridge for the littles.

Erin Coren, designer at Curated Nest, installed a Thermador panel-ready fridge in her Rye Brook, NY, kitchen. “With [most] built-in refrigerators, between the large size and the pressure seal, it makes it very difficult for kids to open and close,” says Coren, mother of a 7- and 3-year-old. “We loved the seamless panel-ready look of a built-in refrigerator, so we opted to include a beverage/snack refrigerator so kids can easily access drinks and snacks.”

Invest in an open floor plan.

When the cookspace of this St. Paul, Minnesota, house felt cramped — after all, it accommodated four kids, and was hemmed in by the walls of an adjacent breakfast book and living room — Bria Hammel opened it up. “As our client’s family grew over the years, they realized they wanted more of an open floor plan so their family could be all together and enjoy each other’s company,” says the CEO and Creative Director of Bria Hammel Interiors. “By opening up the previously sectioned-off rooms, it made the space feel more functional and livable for a family home.” 

Credit: M+M Interior Designs

Build a readymade homework nook.

For this revamped Lincoln Park, Chicago, brownstone, designer Leslie Martin kept the needs of the client’s two boys, ages 6 and 7, top of mind … and yes, that included a homework station. “This kitchen renovation was a huge upgrade for the family in terms of usable space,” says Martin, co-owner of M+M Interior Design in Chicago and La Jolla, CA. “Creating a nook for one child to do homework while the other has a snack at the center island allowed for the kitchen to truly become the central hub of the home.”

Opt for easy-clean choices.

“The budget was tight for this family’s Washington, D.C., kitchen,” says Chicago-based designer Joy Williams. To save cash, they kept the kitchen’s original dark granite countertops and painted the cabinets white to lighten up the space. “We added black cabinet hardware where there was none, because we knew that sticky or greasy fingers would smudge the cabinets if we didn’t.” A stainless steel rolling table-turned-island is ideal for baking, “so that when kids visited it would be easy cleanup.” 

Credit: CW Interiors

Remember your crafternoons.

“I always recommend including a kitchen island,” says Caron Woolsey, founder and principal designer of CW Interiors, who designed this kitchen for a family in Houston, Texas, with three active daughters, ages 15, 11, and 8. “The bigger the better! Islands are a huge asset in any kitchen, as they can be used as hubs for prep, serving, dining, working, schoolwork, and crafting, not to mention the fact that they also provide storage for trash, appliances, cookware, etc.” Another great tip from Woolsey: “Make sure you account for overhang for those seated at the island when calculating countertop surface material requirements (approximately 18” for counter height, 15” for bar height).”

Create a table at the island.

Not all “island time” is created equal. For a busy Miami Beach, Florida, parent of five children, Eilyn Jimenez — founder and creative director of Sire Design — tucked a stone table into the island to make one cohesive connected piece. “Here, she can cook (which is something she loves to do) while overlooking the kitchen and living areas, sit the kids down for snacks, spend time with them, and enjoy the space together.” Bonus: It takes advantage of jaw-dropping bayside views.

Lean on sturdy and timeless wood cabinets.

“Wood cabinets will always absorb wear and tear more gracefully than painted, so we embraced and built upon the aged cherry shaker cabinets that were originally in the home,” says Victoria Sass, founder of Prospect Refuge Studio, which designed this Minneapolis kitchen, while keeping in mind the family’s two littles, including a newborn and a 2-year-old. For the countertops, Sass selected soapstone and natural wood butcher block surfaces. “Did you know that soapstone is non-porous and naturally antibacterial? It ages beautifully too!”

Try engineered hardwood flooring.

If you’re considering luxury vinyl plank flooring (LVP), you may want to think again, says Shoshanna Shapiro, Owner + Principal Designer, Sho and Co. As evidenced by this Fairfax, Virginia, cookspace she designed for the family of a then-8-year-old, engineered hardwood in a wide plank can stand up to dog scuffs and kid scuffs alike. “This family wanted the feel of real hardwood underfoot; vinyl feels like vinyl. They have been in the home now for over two years, and the floor looks brand-new!”

PLUS! Quick Kitchen Tips from Real Families

An Ooh-La-La Breakfast Bar

Call it counter service, with style. “We put in a breakfast bar and it was great for the boys,” says Erin Betker, a special education teacher in Portland, Oregon, and mother to a 13- and 11-year-old. “We could cook and just turn around and fill up their plates with more pancakes, French toast, etc. It’s also a good place to do homework and charge your Chromebooks and other devices. A bonus is the outlets have USB chargers.”

A Functional Chair

We got a certain ultra-stylish Nordic high chair that shall remain nameless when our child was born, and I’ve regretted it quite a few times. It’s pretty, sure … but it’s a pain to clean. “An Inglesina fast table chair at our kitchen island in place of a traditional high chair saves space, is washable, and fits right in with our bar stools!” says Nina Fedrizzi, a freelance writer in Skaneateles, NY, and mother of a 2-year-old son. 

A Leg-up Step Stool

Start ‘em young, as they say. “We added a folding step stool at the kitchen sink, which you usually see in bathrooms. It allows the kids to help with dishes!” says Locke Mujica. Nashville, Tennessee, barre instructor Chelle Janczewski, mother of a 3-year-old and 3-month-old, also raves about the sturdy stool they got for their toddler. “This is the stool we have, and after we bought it so did all of our friends!” 

A Chef-Ready Apron Spot

For burgeoning Ina Gartens and David Changs, it’s important to let them DIY. “My 2-year-old likes that I hang her apron on a peg that’s at her level, so she can put it on and tell me she likes to bake,” says Bailey Linke, an accountant from Arvada, CO, and mom of a 2-year-old and 3-month-old. (Here are some cute ones.) 

A Priceless Caffeine Boost for Parents

Sometimes, a lackluster coffee pot just doesn’t get the job done. “We received a splurgey Breville espresso machine with a touch-screen before our daughter was born, and it was an absolute game-changer — especially with a newborn!” says Lacelliese King, a Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Dallas-based mother of a 7-month-old, writer, and artist. That may be the best advice of all: When you’re revamping your kitchen, don’t forget to add a few of your own sanity-savers, too. They’re worth every nickel.

This article was originally published in March 2022.