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When designing a dream kitchen, choosing how to integrate appliances is an important piece of the entire plan. Whether you want stainless steel appliances that stand out or you’d prefer your dishwasher, oven, and fridge to hide behind cabinet doors, it’s a decision that demands thoughtful consideration if the kitchen is to look good and work well. Here are a few things to consider as you contemplate your perfect cooking and dining space, taking three primary installation approaches into account— integrated, built in, and freestanding.

For a seamless aesthetic, appliances are concealed behind cabinetry and their identity is only revealed when the cabinet door or drawer is opened and appliance controls are accessed. This style is called fully integrated. Generally, more expensive dishwashers, refrigerators, and warming drawers are available with cabinet fronts and end panels attached that disguise their true function. To best achieve this look, panel proportions, clearances, and alignments should be designed to match or complement neighboring cabinetry. Remember to consider choice and placement of knobs and handles, and balance appearance with practicality; refrigerator doors and dishwashers are hard to open with 1” knobs.

As for the installation process itself, integration is best achieved with the help of cabinetmakers who have full custom capabilities; otherwise, you may be stuck with generic sizes that will create sloppy-looking gaps between the appliance and its adjacent cabinetry. Furthermore, don’t trust the manufacturer’s specs for dimensions. Unless you’re sure that the cabinetmaker knows exactly how to fit your model exactly the way you want it, it’s best for them to have your appliance in their shop for a custom fitting. It can get costly, and it may take some creative engineering, but this also ensures that installation and operation in your kitchen have been thought through and that everything should go without a hitch.

As a second design approach, built in means that the appliance fits into a cabinet or cabinet run. Whether it’s a wall oven or a dishwasher with a panel below a visible control console, the appliance in this case will distinguish itself from its surroundings. Sometimes these appliances can be built in to be almost seamlessly integrated with the cabinets, but be sure you and your cabinetmaker know exactly what you’re doing if you attempt it. It usually takes some thoughtful engineering. In either case, think again about how you want the lines and visible components to relate to the cabinetry. If you prefer misalignment, do it deliberately. For instance, stagger the heights of a refrigerator ventilation grille and the panels on adjacent cabinetry, while still paying attention to the proportional relationships between them. That way, it’ll look like a design decision—and not like you simply forgot to measure properly.  In addition, minor adjustments to surrounding cabinets and hardware placement can make a big difference, the way that doors and windows usually have matching header heights.

Finally, there’s the freestanding option. Instead of simply looking like random objects casually thrown together, however, well-planned kitchens with freestanding appliances can look tailored. In one such example, a restored apartment-sized gas stove from the 1950s and a 1940s white refrigerator were installed in a work studio. Rather than looking as if they were simply dropped into the space, carefully fitted details made the place look pulled together. The proportions of the cabinet fronts around the stove aligned with or were sized to relate to the offsets in its sheet metal edges. The shapes and finishes of the cabinet hardware related clearly to the refrigerator’s handles and hinges. Similarly, the design elements of the range, including its minty green porcelain, became cues for countertop and backsplash tile selection. While this is a bit extreme, it demonstrates the harmony that can be created when every design element of a kitchen is considered in relation to its neighbors.

Whatever route you decide to take, just remember that appliances are the largest objects that will need to be accommodated in your kitchen. Thinking about exactly how you want them to relate to the cabinetry will ensure the style you want and the functionality that works best for your lifestyle and cooking needs.

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