A guide to house building in South Africa

A guide to house building in South Africa

Design: Kitchens

Kitchen design

Designing a practical, but beautiful kitchen.

Most high end kitchens are designed by people that don’t use them, for clients that hardly cook. Very true words indeed.

Modern day designs now incorporate kitchens as the centre of the home. It can easily integrate into the house, if you balance the finishes with some interesting elements, like open shelving, displays (i.e. ceramics), plants and art. Easy and direct access to an outdoor entertainment area is also an essential.


It is absolutely crucial to get this right. Kitchen floors need to be durable, but also practical. White porcelain or flat colour will be the death of anyone that needs to clean that floor, as they show EVERY crumb. The more variance in colour (speckles, natural variation, texture), the harder is it to spot any inevitable dirt. We all want to know our floor is clean, but to have to mop it every time you wash a dish or make a sandwich is no joke.

However, a smooth surface is also easier to clean (not too many ridges or gaps please – grouting can stain if not sealed). Polished concrete is a very popular look (have you notices all the new food retailers using it?) – smooth, variable colour and durable. Travertine also works well (although any natural product will need a good sealer). If you’re considering screed, watch out for wear and tear around high traffic areas – might be popular, but not recommended for kitchens.

More about flooring options, click here.

Counter tops

Stone (engineered or granite) is probably still the best (if slightly boring) option. It’s just so darn practical in a kitchen. No stains, burn marks and super easy to clean (remember that colour variation again). Hard to beat. If you want something original, play with thicknesses, and different polish finishes (honed granite, for example, is a nice, less glossy option). Quarts is now a much cheaper alternative to Ceasarstone.

Quarts that looks like marble.

Marble is a dangerous option. You see it in the mags, and it looks uber sexy, but it is very porous and absorbs stains like a sponge. You do get engineered stone that looks like it now, so there are options if you like the look. If you are determined to use it nevertheless (brilliant for pastry work), seal it many times before using.

Update: I’ve since been advised that honed marble (as opposed to polished) is much more stain resistant.

Wood is lovely, but needless to say, only as good as the sealer you use and has to be re-sanded/sealed once every few years. Never use it around a sink though. The damp will get in eventually. Large butcher block areas are great for foodies.

Hard wood island top combined with granite kitchen counters.

Concrete is gaining popularity for a more rustic look (but only works as well as the polish/sealer on it), and remember it’s a much thicker top, so if you have under-counter appliances, your final counter height will have to be higher than most.

Stainless steel is very industrial and practical, but pretty expensive to have custom made. Pre-made, free standing catering units are a cool option if you want to create something funky. Easy to buy second hand online.


Kitchen cupboards must be as tough as nails. Solid timber is a great option, but if you’re after a colour, superwood doors with a Duco spray finish or even just enamel paint will do. However, expect touch up work very quickly and dirty spots to show often.

If you like your doors to have a frame, this is called a ‘shaker’ finish. Another option is tongue and groove vertical patterns. Very clean, flush doors with a finger drawer (no handles) is currently very fashionable, but also practical.

Try and mix up your cupboard finishes for an interesting look. Timber, steel, glass, painted doors or open shelving can all be incorporated with some planning.

Shaker style, solid timber doors, with ‘push to open’ mechanism.

Best arrangement for kitchen designs

Chef’s talk about the ‘magic triangle’ – fridge, water and stove in close proximity. It works. That’s why you can’t go wrong with an island, but keep it close to the main counter. It starts getting impractical when it’s more than 2m from the rest of your counters. A 1.2m gap is ideal so you can turn around and use both with ease.)

Two water points are crucial – an easy to access single basin (island is ideal) and another double sink in a more hidden spot for dishes (with the dishwasher nearby). A washing-up sink in a central island does not make sense if you want to keep your kitchen relatively tidy looking. You don’t want your dirty or drying dishes on display.

When planning cupboards, create zones. For example, a drinks area (fridge, water point and cupboard for glasses nearby) or a sandwich making area (cupboard with spreads, plenty of counter space for bread bin/boards and cutlery nearby). Certainly, a vertical drawer with spices and oils is a winner next to the stove.

A scullery/utility room really helps, but is not essential if you play it clever. Even just keeping your washing machine in a large cupboard or in the garage helps.

Pinterest has some great storage and cupboard ideas. Create a scrapbook that suits your lifestyle requirements. (Click here for some great ideas.)

Above all, try and create a kitchen that does not necessarily look like one. Incorporate space for artworks, pot plants and free-standing furniture to achieve that. Ever thought of a cosy seating area and fireplace in a kitchen, for example?

Tip: If you want to include below counter appliances comfortably, your cupboard depth needs to be 650mm (with the top extending 20mm over).

Electrical and plumbing points

Spend lots of time planning your light, plug and plumbing points when you are at design stage. Pendants above a kitchen counter, table or island are the obvious ones. Cupboard down lights that have to be integrated in the wall and cupboard are harder to plan (but you don’t want to chop up your wall afterwards to add conduiting!).

A great addition is strip LED lighting under counters or above cupboards for atmospheric lighting – a must for an entertainment space.

More about lighting design here.

As for the plug points, keep in mind the following areas:

  • Island – Large electrical shops sell pop up units that can sit in the counter. Otherwise just add the plug point on the side.
  • Stove point needs its own, isolated plug for compliance.
  • Future or forgotten implements (i.e. ice machine, coffee maker, mixer, bread maker).
  • Extractor fan above stove (nice to have, but not a necessity if you have decent ventilation).
  • Good, but tucked away, access points for ironing.
  • Microwave point, preferably integrated overhead.
  • An easy-to-access ‘charging station’ (but not in the middle of your essential counter space).

For more practical heights and dimensions, click here.

Plumbing points are generally needed for following:

  • Washing machine and dishwasher
  • Sinks and prep bowls
  • Fridges with water dispensers
  • Ice machines

The forgotten bits


One of the most overlooked things in kitchen design are the bins. If you’re recycling (which you should be!) you cannot have too many of these goodies. Also, best to have them centrally located – not on the periphery.

Integrated kitchen bins
Recycling, general and compost bins integrated into an island.

A tried and tested formula consists of two pull out units integrated into a central island (general rubbish and recyclables), a small compost unit that sits in the counter and one small unit in the scullery or close to the dishwasher. (For any cool accessory or cupboard pull-outs visit the supplier joiners use – they’re usually tucked away in industrial areas and a must to visit)

As long as you have water and fridge close by (the triangle), you’re able to rinse, cut/bake/assemble and discard rubbish as you go and simply swipe it straight into a bin when wiping down the counter.


Pay a lot of attention to hanging/drawer apparatus (especially for drawers that carry heavy pots or plates). Get the best of the best. New appliances are easy to replace later when you have more money again – carcass mechanics not so. (Yes carcass, the lovely name given to the internal cupboard structure. These are generally made out of melamine.)


If you’re planning on having a gas stove, do not forget the gas pipe and outlet when building. Gas bottles are allowed inside, but only one, while the garage can not be used to store bottles (unless you live in Joburg and are lucky enough to have Egoli piped gas). If not chasing the pipe into cupboards, you’re likely to have to chase the gas pipe through your floor. Any gas on site also needs a compliance certificate for the installation.

Ceramic and convection hobs are top choices now for offering energy efficient and easy to clean stoves, however, they do take strain if you use the stove a lot or accidentally spill. Stainless steel is best for heavy duty use.

Kitchen check list

Remembering all the items you need cupboard space for is not always easy. If you’re working on a kitchen design, create a list of your own and tick off what you want to put where. It’s likely to change your design a lot once you’ve thought of everything.

Take a look at this list of suggested items. You will know how much space you want to allocate for your items, in top or bottom cupboards.


  • Plates and bowls (every day)
  • Plates and bowls (fancy set)
  • Serving bowls and platters
  • Smaller ceramic serving dishes
  • Mugs
  • Tea set
  • Tea pot and coffee pot/plunger
  • Glasses (every day)
  • Glasses (wine and champagne)
  • Pots
  • Pans
  • Cutlery
  • Serving spoons/forks
  • Implements (whisks, can openers etc.)
  • Dish cloths and napkins
  • Foil/clingwrap/baking paper and packets
  • Baking equipment
  • Cleaning materials
  • Tupperware
  • Water bottles/flasks
  • Tins
  • Place mats
  • Bins
  • Gas bottle (for gas hob if you can’t divert outside)
  • Miscellaneous big (Liquidisers, water coolers, fondue set?)
  • Miscellaneous small (batteries, lightbulbs, candles)
Kitchen dimensions

Counter items

  • Toaster
  • Bread bin
  • Kettle
  • Device charging station
  • Fruit or veggie bowls
  • Pestle and mortar
  • Egg bowl
  • Soda stream
  • Coffee makers
  • Spoons/ladles/lifters
  • Seasoning


  • Ironing equipment
  • Cleaning utensils
  • Brooms
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Washing baskets


  • Spices
  • Oils/vinegars/sauces
  • Vegetables (you’ll need a dark, but ventilated space)
  • Tinned goods
  • Dry goods (e.g. pasta/rice)
  • Spreads (e.g. marmite, peanut butter)
  • Snacks (and a possible lockable cupboard if you have teenage boys in the house)
  • Tea/coffee
  • Cereals
  • Baking ingredients
  • Drinks (juices, mixers or alcohol – optional under-counter bar fridge)

In an ideal world, a pantry is the perfect answer for all the consumables. If you can squeeze one in, do so! Even a large, grocery cupboard on pull-out levers is great.

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