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By : Sarah Crosset

The kitchen truly is the heart of a home. It's so much more than merely a room for preparing food. A well-designed kitchen can be the family nerve center, where meals are shared, messages passed and all that is good about life exchanged. That's why detailed planning is essential to stay within budget and focused on the chosen decorating theme.

First, set the budget. Determine how much money you have available to put toward the project. If the project will require remodeling as well as redecorating, the budget may require a sizeable outlay from the family savings, or even a home improvement loan. When calculating the budget, try to add a little extra to provide for unexpected expenses.

Assuming that remodeling isn't required, the next step will be to identify the decorating style. It's smart to consult with the whole family at this point before deciding unilaterally on a kitchen decor. That's because a kitchen is one of those communal rooms in the home in which everyone feels he or she has a stake. It doesn't matter what the final style turns out to be, as long as everyone involved can feel reasonably comfortable with it. However once the style is chosen, great care should be taken throughout the project to make sure all decorating decisions fit within the style.

Now it's time to begin envisioning what the kitchen will look like. Start by measuring the kitchen space. Draw a sketch of the kitchen floor plan using those measurements. Use graph paper or a computer program to make the drawing to scale. This will ensure accurate design. Be sure to mark the permanent fixtures such as plumbing and electrical outlets.

With the floor plan sketch at hand, decide where to locate the appliances using the common "kitchen triangle" approach. Motion study experts have found that the best kitchen designs are those in which the sink, stove and refrigerator are arranged in a triangle. This configuration gives the cook easy access to the primary appliances while preparing a meal. Be sure to take into account the locations of outlets and plumbing as well.

Now sketch cabinets and countertops on the drawing, with precise measurements for each. Choose the type of wood for the cabinets and the material for the countertops. You may also want to select a color scheme at this point, to make sure that the colors of the cabinets and countertops are complemented by paint or other wall treatments.

At this point, it's time to select the kitchen flooring. The best choices are linoleum, wood laminate or tile, because they hold up well to spills. In addition, these are also the types of flooring that are easiest on the cook's feet. Each type comes in a variety of colors and prices to fit any budget. Don't forget to include kitchen rugs as well in your floor covering plans. Avoid natural fibers such as sisal rugs and seagrass rugs, because they're easily damaged by water and spills. Braided rugs might be an option, as long they're made of synthetics or other durable materials.

For lighting, choose an overhead fixture for general lighting and task lights for under cabinets and over an island. Adjustable track lighting might be a good choice here.

Finally, select window treatments in colors that match the overall decor, and add in the decorating accents that finish off the kitchen in high style.

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