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Expert Advice

Fundamentals of Design


Most home design professionals break the rules at some point. But when designing your dream kitchen, sticking to a few important rules will ensure you end up with a smart, long-term investment that looks great for years to come.

Scott McGillivray is a trusted TV host and contractor. Jane Lockhart is an award-winning residential designer. Together, they share their fundamentals of design, a simple set of guidelines they and other top designers use to create custom luxury spaces.

“Balance, symmetry, focal point, and scale—these design fundamentals are not just important for your kitchen,” says Lockhart. “These are important for your whole house. And if you understand how they work together to create a great space, you’re well on your way to thinking like a designer.”



“When something feels off balance, you might not be able to explain it, but you know it doesn’t feel right,” says McGillivray. An unbalanced kitchen might have too many appliances against one wall, or an island placed too far off center, or one wall chalk full of cabinetry while another is completely bare. There are many possible scenarios.

To avoid kitchen vertigo, resist clustering appliances in one area. Instead, if your kitchen’s layout allows, spread them out. If possible, install cabinetry equally throughout the space, from left to right and floor to ceiling. Adding a wine rack and other custom gadgets can improve balance too, as long as there are similar-sized elements on the opposite side of the room.



Symmetry means there’s equality on both sides of the room, starting at the center and working outward. Imagine a picture of your kitchen folded in half like a book with cabinets, lights, and appliances visible on an open page. If you were to spread the book open, and both pages mirror each other, you’d have a symmetrical kitchen.

To maintain symmetry, consider hanging two identical pendant lights above an island and installing the same number of cabinets on either side of a hood. Remember to start in the middle and work your way out.


Focal Point

The focal point is the first thing people see when they enter a room. It’s an element that sets the mood and helps tell the story of your kitchen. It can be an ornate range hood, an island with a unique countertop, a storied painting, or a wine rack wrapped in multi-colored LED lights.

Depending on your kitchen, you might be able to add a secondary focal point, a second piece of eye candy that continues the narrative. For starters, place the main focal point on the first wall you see and the secondary focal point off to the side. Just make sure it enhances your kitchen’s layout, balance, and symmetry.



There’s nothing more awkward than walking into a tiny space and noticing a huge TV taking up an entire wall. Textbook scale fail. Easy fix: Get a smaller TV.

In the kitchen, properly scaled appliances, cabinetry, and countertops help to maintain balance, symmetry, and overall beauty. They also ensure there’s enough space for opening doors, working without bumping into others, and keeping traffic flowing safely.

If your kitchen is large, try installing an industrial refrigerator and over-sized island. And if you have high ceilings, go ahead and install cabinetry all the way up to accentuate the height and add storage.

Scale is harder to tinker with in small kitchens. Rule of thumb: Aim for the best appliances, cabinetry, and countertops you can afford–at sizes that make sense for the space. Quality is a smart investment.


Each designer plays by their own set of rules. But these fundamentals are the keys to a well-designed space.