K&B Design: Principles of Kitchen & Bath Design

As the kitchen and bathroom have gained both importance and integration in the total home-design scheme, the understanding of the elements and principles of design is critical to creating the spaces that are aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.

September 02, 2014
K&B Design: Principles of Kitchen & Bath Design

The principles of design in kitchens and baths is critical to creating functional spaces. Design by Peter Ross Salerno, CMKBD, Peter Salerno Inc.

The individual tools of kitchen and bath design (elements and principles) need to be organized and arranged in a logical and aesthetically pleasing manner to achieve the desired effect for the client.

The principles of design provide the designer with a guidebook as to how to combine these elements. They are the abstract concepts—the theory that determines the success (or failure) of a design. As the kitchen and bathroom have gained both importance and integration in the total home-design scheme, the understanding and appropriate application of both the elements and principles of design is critical to creating the spaces the client desires and loves; spaces that are aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. Typically, when one finds that a space or room does not work or look quite right, it is often the design elements or principles that have not been utilized in an appropriate fashion.

Principles of design

The principles of design are:

Balance - There are three types of balance to employ when planning a kitchen or bathroom:

  • Symmetrical or formal balance
  • Asymmetrical or informal balance
  • Radial balance

Rhythm - The continuity or rhythm within a design is the glue that holds the dissimilar elements together, allowing the eye to move smoothly around the space. It is what helps to create the unified, total design. Continuity or rhythm is a matter of forms and lines that divide the space into understandable, logical, and usually predictable intervals. Rhythm is obtained in three major ways:

  • Repetition
  • Alternation
  • Progression or gradation

Scale/Proportion - These two design principles, scale and proportion, are often discussed together because they are similar and can be confused by designers and clients alike because they both deal with design relationships.

Scale deals with size relationships within a space and to an entire space—the proportion with space division relationships, generally within a specific object or area. Scale refers to the overall size—the largeness or smallness of a room—and the relationship of the objects in it to each other and the space as a whole. For interior design, and especially important for kitchens and bathrooms, is the reference to human scale and using that as a guide to select objects that fit the needs of the users as well as the space.

Proportion refers to the space division relationships within an object or specific space, such as an elevation view. An object can be scaled appropriately for a room but have poor proportions; likewise, an object can have good proportions but be out of scale for the particular room. 

Emphasis/Focal Point - This principle of design involves the overall center of interest in the room. The focal point in the design is carefully crafted so the eye of the viewer is drawn to it easily, usually immediately upon entering the space. To create a focal point within a space, the goal is to strive to include three levels of attention-grabbing design: dominant, subdominant, and subordinate. A dominant focal point captures the sense of the space, and the viewer should notice that first when entering, either by its size or contrast to the rest of the space. A second layer of subdominant elements is not as important as the key element, but they support and accent that key element. Lastly, subordinate elements add definition to the total design without overwhelming or competing with the focal point. There are typically two types of emphasis that are used in kitchens and bathrooms: area emphasis and theme emphasis.

Harmony/Unity - Harmony, or unity, is the ultimate goal of a design—the creation of a cohesive interior, whatever the space, for the client that both functions well and is aesthetically pleasing. It is achieved by incorporating the elements of design and following the principles of design. A successful design typically consists of the appropriate application and use of these elements and principles of design. When the design of a space does not seem to work or look quite right, taking a step back and analyzing it for the elements and principles of design usually will uncover an inappropriate application or use of one or more of the elements and/or principles.

It is important to note that good design is not an accident and—no matter how small or challenging the kitchen or bathroom— the design is a major part of the planning process. The space needs to be pleasing to the eye and well-planned for functionality. Ideally, it should be created so it is lasting and stands the test of time.

A good way to understand this sense of timeless design is to consider the difference between style and fashion. Being fashionable means being willing to listen to others dictate what is beautiful. Style is much more lasting. It is about being free to design because of the solution’s appropriateness for the environment and the client. Whereas fashion encloses or defines, style invites. Whereas fashion demands acceptance, style is individualized. Fashion so often seems just a moment too new, or at worst, just a moment too old while style moves forward with ease and timeless grace. Fashion is not to be ignored. It is a designer’s tool and occasionally an influence, but should not be considered a dictate. Employing the elements and principles of design will assist you, the designer, in building a stylish environment that will be well-suited to the client; an environment that will stand the test of time, be functional, and still be considered beautiful years after the project is completed.

Understanding the principles of design as well as the elements of design and being able to apply them to design situations is critical for kitchen and bathroom designers. They are as important to the overall design as meeting the functional requirements for the space. PR
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This article is excerpted from the NKBA Professional Resource Library volume: Kitchen & Bath Design Principles, Second Edition by Nancy Wolford, PhD. To be published John Wiley & Sons, Inc. in 2014. Copyright: National Kitchen & Bath Association. This material is reproduced with the permission of John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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