Kitchen Renovation 101

by | Last updated May 17, 2024 | Apartment Renovations, Interior Design

There are a lot of factors to consider with kitchen renovations. You have to consider materials and lighting, as well as things like budget and what contractor to work with. This blog post will be a basic introduction to renovating a kitchen.


Kitchen Renovation 101


Stock, Custom, and Semi Custom Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets are typically put into one of three categories: Stock, Semi Custom, and Custom cabinets.

Stock Cabinets

Stock cabinets are prefabricated, come as they are cabinets that can be selected from a catalog. These will come in standard sizes, materials, and finishes. Stock cabinets will not have the option for customization of size or style and will be the most affordable choice. Ikea is an example of stock cabinets. Although stock cabinets may seem limited, manufactures will often have a variety of selections. All stock cabinets will have a limit to the available sizes, styles, finishes, and materials.

Custom Cabinets 

Custom Cabinets are made to order and designed to order. These are typically made by smaller custom mill work shops. They can be made to any size, in any material, style, and finish. This means they usually have a higher price tag.

Semi Custom Kitchen Cabinets

Semi Custom Kitchen Cabinets are cabinets that come in certain designs, finishes, and materials, but have some customization options. These are made to order cabinets, but the design is selected from the manufacturer’s option of styles. Semi Custom have a wide price range and some brands can be more expensive than custom cabinets. Cesar is an example of Semi Custom cabinets we have used.

Standard Kitchen Cabinet Sizes

Although some manufactures will have more sizes, below is a general outline of standard cabinet sizes.

Standard Cabinet Widths come in 3″ increments: 9″, 12″, 15″, 18″. 21″, 24″, 27″, 30″, 33″. 36″, 39″, 42″.

The standard height of a base cabinet is 34.5″ without the counter top and the standard depth is 24″ for a base cabinet.

Wall cabinets or upper cabinets come in 12″ standard depths and 30″, 36″, or 42″ standard heights.

Measuring For Kitchen Cabinets

The manufacturer or the installer are the only people who should measure for ordering kitchen cabinets. This is a liability issue. If one of the cabinets does not fit, you want the manufacturer or contractor taking responsibility. Real quality professional contractors know this. I have an entire blog post covering Kitchen Cabinet Measurements because this is such an important issue. Cabinets are also not ordered from dimensions on architectural or interior design plans. They are ordered ideally from post demolition and construction field measurements and shop drawings.

Kitchen Countertops 

There are many different countertop materials you can use in your kitchen renovation. The most common kitchen countertop materials we have used are:

  • Quartz
  • Granite
  • Marble
  • Concrete
  • Solid Surfacing
  • Stainless Steel
  • Butcher Block
  • Recycled Glass

Kitchen Countertop Waterfall detail with Miter Corner

Kitchen Appliances

When renovating your kitchen, you will need to consider things like existing plumbing and gas locations. Sometimes these are easy to relocate, sometimes they are not. Additionally, if you are renovating an apartment, you may have risers for the entire building in your walls. The existing conditions may affect your final kitchen layout. A few things to consider on appliances:

  • Refrigerator: Smart or not? With or without water and ice?
  • Cooking: Do you want a two piece (cooktop and separate oven) or one piece range? Do you want gas or electric?
  • Ventilation: Do you want an exhaust hood? If so, can you accommodate a vented hood or do you need a recirculating hood?

Smoke Soffit

In New York City any open kitchen without a window must have a smoke soffit. This is a 12″ drop down at the perimeter of the kitchen. Many people do not like these, but some jurisdictions like NYC require it. You can add recessed lighting to the soffit and try to make it a design feature. You can see another post we wrote to learn more about Open Kitchen Designs.

Kitchen Lighting

Under Cabinet lighting is a great way to add light and a cool design feature to your kitchen. LED lights are standard. For undercabinet lights I prefer strip lights to puck lights, but it’s your kitchen. When renovating a kitchen, people often like to add recessed lights and pendant lights over an island.


It seems Porcelain is the most popular kitchen floor right now. Some people like to have wood floors in their kitchens, which is personal taste. Wood may not be the most durable material for a kitchen floor. Natural stone, like granite or marble, is often used for kitchens, but I think porcelain has taken over. There are also specialty finishes like concrete or epoxy that you can use if that suits your tastes better.


The kitchen backsplash is an important feature. This should be a durable material, but can also enhance the design with a bit of undercabinet lighting. You should add sufficient outlets to the kitchen, usually in the backsplash. All outlets in the kitchen are GFI. Depending on where you like, you may have code requirements to consider that determine the number of outlets required per linear footage of countertop.

If you want to explore some backsplash options, you can check out our blog post on backsplash design ideas.

Kitchen Backsplash

Kitchen Backsplash in a Brooklyn Kitchen Renovation

Architect for Kitchen Renovation

While I do have an obvious bias, I believe you should always hire an architect when renovating a kitchen. Different locations will have different rules, but you will need an architect to get permits (at least in NYC). You also want oversight on your contractors. Most importantly, you want design help from a qualified and trained professional. Check out our company homepage to learn more about me as a New York Architect.

Kitchen renovation Architect

Kitchen renovation Architectural Plans

Permits for Kitchen Renovations

I am a New York Architect, so this will all be based on NYC rules. If you are only making basic repairs to your kitchen, you do not need a permit. This means minimal work like replacing countertops or something else that is very simple. If you are opening walls or changing appliance and fixture layouts, you will need permits, especially if moving plumbing and gas. In New York City, a kitchen renovation is filed by a Registered Architect as an Alteration Type 2. You can easily get 3 permits for a kitchen renovation, one each for Electrical, Plumbing, and General Construction. We have a separate post on NYC Kitchen Renovation Rules if you want more information.


Always work with licensed, insured, and professional contractors. In my experience, there is a direct relationship between how good a contractor is and how much they charge. The reality is that the cheapest contractors are not going to do the same quality of work. Additionally, the low ball contractors hit you with a lot of change orders to make up for their low ball price. My advice is to avoid the lowest bidders whenever possible.

The most important thing about your team is that everyone be able to work together well.


Kitchen Renovation 101

In this article we reviewed some of the basic concepts with regards to Kitchen Renovations. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but rather to provide a general overview of the topic.


Thank you for reading our blog post on Kitchen Remodeling 101.

I hope this was helpful. Please leave questions and comments below. If you would like to speak with an architect you can Contact Fontan Architecture directly.


Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.