Originally published June 23, 2012. Updated July 5, 2022 and April 4, 2023.
Are you moving into a new home and wondering how to set up your kitchen? As a part of a military family with more than 20 moves, I’m often asked “How should I organize my kitchen after moving?” Every house is different and the way each family uses their kitchen is different, but there are some tips I’ve gained from 20+ moves myself and my experience as a professional organizer that will help you set up your kitchen so that it works well for your family.
When I move into a new house, I always unpack the kitchen first. My goal is to be able to have breakfast in my home the next morning. I want to be able to use real dishes, silverware and glasses by the second day in my home. I may not do much cooking for a few days, but we can eat cereal and sandwiches and start feeling “settled” right away.
Having set up 16 kitchens myself and helped many clients and friends rearrange their kitchens, I’ve got the kitchen set up strategy down. When clients ask me, “What’s the best way to organize your kitchen, ” I answer that it’s much easier if I can see the space and the “stuff” you have, but there are general principles that apply to every kitchen set up.
Use the Setting Up Your New Kitchen Checklist to help you plan your kitchen layout.
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Moving Into A New Home – How to Set Up Your Kitchen
I’m always asked how to best set up a kitchen in a new home or to better set up an existing kitchen layout.
I tackle the kitchen set up in three phases.
I start by placing glasses in the cabinet nearest the refrigerator. Since you will most often take a glass from the cabinet and the drink from the fridge, it makes sense to have the glasses located near the fridge. If you have young children, consider putting their cups in a lower cabinet near the fridge so they can get their own cups. The same strategy works for where to place coffee cups: place them near where you will locate your coffee maker, as well as the coffee, filters, creamer and sugar.
Ideally, I locate my plates and bowls in a cabinet between the dish washer/sink and the kitchen table. If that’s not possible, decide which cabinet better fits your dishes, one near the dish washer or one near the table. Again, use the same strategy of using a lower cabinet for young children’s plates and bowls.
This placement of dishes saves time for you either when you’re getting the dishes out to eat because the cabinet is closer to the table or when you’re putting them away because it’s closer to the dish washer. If I have a choice, I prefer having the dishes closer to the table so that when the children are helping me set the table for a meal, they are not in my way in the main part of the kitchen.
The next item to be placed is the silverware. There is usually one drawer large enough to hold the silverware tray. If you’re fortunate enough to have more than one large silverware-type drawer, pick the one nearest your dining table or your dishwasher/sink. Again, I personally try to pick one nearest the table to minimize how much the kids are in my way as I prepare dinner and they set the table.
Those first 3 are the first tier “biggies”. By locating the cups, dishes and silverware first, I’m set up for my family to be able to eat in our new home. If that’s all I get done on the first move-in day, that’s okay because we’re functional for meals. Getting these first 3 categories located in the kitchen helps me determine where the second tier of items will be located.
- Expandable Bamboo Silverware Tray
- Expandable Plastic Silverware Tray
- Customizeable Drawer Organizer
- Utensil Drawer Organizer
I locate pot holders, hot pads and trivets in a drawer near the stove. The time I will need a hot pad is when I have a hot pot and that will be at the stove. In my current house, we have a cook top and a separate wall oven. They’re located 8 feet apart. I’ve chosen to put hot pads in 2 different drawers; one near the cook top and one near the oven.
I put pots and pans in a cabinet near the stove. There are usually 1 or 2 cabinets large enough to hold pots and pans near the stove. Place the lids in the cabinet with the pots and pans.
There’s usually one tall, thin cabinet near the stove where you can place cookie sheets, cooling racks and cutting boards. If there isn’t a cabinet designed for that purpose, you can often move the shelf up in a regular cabinet to accommodate the cookie sheets. If possible, store the cookie sheets, cutting boards, etc. vertically because they take up less space and are easier to access by just sliding out the one you need.
I prefer to store my spices on a 2-level lazy Susan in a cabinet near where I’ll prepare meals. This cabinet has been a corner cabinet on the wall with the stove in my past 3 houses. The spices are conveniently located for food prep but are not too close to the stove (having the spices too close to the stove can effect the shelf life of the spice).
I always locate the dish towels and dish cloths near the sink. Often there are oddly small drawers or cabinets near the sink. I put the towels and cloths there.
My goal is to be able to grab a towel when standing at the sink (usually with wet hands after I realize some one took the dish towel and didn’t put a new one out. argh!). In one house with extremely limited cabinet space, I put the towels in a basket sitting on the counter near the sink.
- Stackable Organizing Bins for Countertop
- Clear Easy-to-Wash Medium Organizing Bin
- Over Cabinet Towel Bar
For even more kitchen organizing help, check out my How to Set Up a Kitchen workbook. It contains sample layouts and organizing suggestions.
Third phase items fill in around the first and second phase items. You may not have room for all of your third tier items. You’ll have to assess the “stuff” you have and the space you have and then prioritize.
I’ve had to store appliances in other rooms in the house. This isn’t ideal, but in that situation it was the only solution. (Plus, I really don’t use the waffle iron or the blender all that often, or not as often as I do cups, dishes. and pots and pans.)
Although I’ve listed pantry food items in the third phase, I consider where to store these items while locating tier 1 and 2 items. If you have a pantry, yea!, this is a no-brainer. But if you don’t have a pantry, look for a cabinet large enough to hold cans, jars and boxes.
You’d like these items located between shoulder and knee level to make it easier to access. I keep cookies and potato chips on the highest shelf (a deterrent that makes it harder to just grab them unthinkingly).
Some of my favorite pantry organizing tools are:
- Easy-to-clean baskets in coordinating colors
- Easy-to-clean Lazy Susan
- 2-Tier Lazy Susan
- 3-Tier Can Organizer
- Expandable Can Riser
- Stackable Air-Tight Containers
- Wire Locker Baskets
- Clear Bin with Handle
- Clear Easy-to-Clean Large Organizing Bin
- Waterproof Reusable Chalkboard Labels
Put lighter weight items and seasonal items on the very top shelves and in that impossible cabinet over the refrigerator. I put seasonal serving bowls and dishes over the refrigerator because once a year I can handle the hassle of accessing that silly cabinet.
I also put light weight plastic storage containers, plastic serving bowls and my plastic colander on a higher shelf. If those fall down as I reach for them, it may hurt if it hits me, but it won’t hurt if it hits me.
I put heavy items on the very lowest shelves. If these items fall, I want them closer to the ground to minimize damage. I also place seldom used items on awkward bottom shelves.
Ideally, you’d like to locate items into usable zones, e.g. the baking zone will contain bowls, mixer, flour, sugar, cookie cutter, and so on. This has been possible for me in about 50% of my kitchens. But it’s still a goal when possible.
In my current kitchen I have a pull-out designated as the lunch box zone. With 3 children and a hubby taking lunch each day, we have a whole lotta lunch box stuff. With everything located in one spot, packing 20 lunch boxes a week is just a little bit easier for everyone.
- Pull-out Cabinet Drawer you can easily install in your cabinet
- Pull-out Drawer Shelf Combo that sits in cabinet
- Easy-to-Clean Clear Large Organizing Bins
When my children were younger, it was important to have a craft area in the kitchen. They could color or glue while I was working in the kitchen. I wanted them doing these messy activities at the kitchen table.
When I didn’t have the luxury of a dedicated cabinet for crafts, I tucked a rolling drawer unit in a corner. Once, in a teeny tiny kitchen, a plastic dish tub with coloring books and crayons was all I could fit.
Setting up your new kitchen is simple if you approach it methodically. If you can do a puzzle (and I really don’t like puzzles much), then you’ll have no problem unpacking and setting up your kitchen.
Tips for Setting Up a Kitchen
Plan the Layout
- Every kitchen and every family’s needs are unique, so the first step in setting up a kitchen is to plan the layout.
- Consider the size of the kitchen, the traffic flow, and the placement of appliances and cabinets.
- It’s equally important to consider the needs of the people who will be using the kitchen. For example:
- If there are young children you may want to install cabinets with safety features.
- You’ll want to place commonly used items on the right side of a cabinet if you’re right-handed and on the left side if you’re left-handed.
- Shorter people will place items on lower shelves than taller people.
- Take advantage of vertical storage for organizing, especially in small kitchen.
- Once the layout is planned, it is time to create zones.
- Three common zones in a kitchen are:
- The food preparation zone where you do most of your food prep work.
- The cooking zone where you cook your food.
- The cleanup zone where you wash your dishes and clean up after food preparation and cooking.
- You may also add additional zones based on your personal needs:
- Baking with all your ingredients, mixing, preparation and baking tools.
- Lunchbox zone with all containers, lunchboxes and individually packaged foods.
- Kids’ zone with all children sized or plastic dishes and cups.
- Kids’ activities zone with all arts and craft supplies.
Consider the Work Triangle
- The triangle is a design concept that organizes your kitchen so that the three main zones are within easy reach of each other.
- The 3 points of the work triangle are:
- The stove
- The refrigerator
- The sink
- This layout will help you be more efficient in the kitchen and reduce the amount of time you spend walking back and forth.
Install Useful Storage
- Kitchens need plenty of storage space for food, appliances, and utensils.
- There are many different types of storage solutions available, so choose ones that fit the style and needs of your kitchen. Prioritize flexible storage options that can be adapted as your needs change.
- Choose cabinets, drawers, shelves, and baskets to maximize your storage space.
More Examples of Kitchen Layouts
How to Layout Your Kitchen – I’m happy to share with you some tips on how to layout your kitchen to make your life easier. I don’t know about you, but my life could use some more easier in it.
See all my favorite kitchen organizing tips, hacks, favorite products and more in the table below. You can scroll through the table and click on an idea that interests you or use the magnifying glass in the upper right corner to search for a specific topic.
I’m a mom of 3, a veteran and military spouse. I’ve moved into 20+ homes all around the world. My passion is helping busy people make the space and time for what’s really important to them.