A key consideration when designing a new kitchen is whether you want the overall design to be "fitted" and uniform, or "unfitted" and more eclectic.
Fitted kitchens came into vogue in the 1950s, when matching, streamlined cabinets ran wall to wall. The design is somewhat formal and allows for maximum storage and counter space. Fitted kitchens usually employ standard built-in cabinets, which are more economical than custom cabinets.
With a bit of creativity, these cabinets can have warmth and personality and avoid seeming monotonous or institutional. Put glass fronts on some of the kitchen cabinets and light the interiors; use an interesting and functional countertop material; paint the cabinets a bright color; or hire a carpenter to customize one section -- perhaps to build open shelving or a dresser for displaying a collection of favorite dishes.
The unfitted kitchen features freestanding, furniturelike-cabinetry, often paired with handcrafted items or repurposed flea-market finds to create a highly personal look. Unfitted kitchens employ a mix of colors and shapes and may incorporate work spaces of different heights and materials according to their functions. There may be a marble slab for pastry making, heat-resistant granite near the oven, and a butcher block.
In an unfitted kitchen, pieces often can be approached from more than one direction, as opposed to in a built-in or fitted kitchen, where elements are attached to the walls all the way around the room.
Nothing has changed the nature of kitchen storage as much as the proliferation of cabinets modeled after furniture. This fits homeowners who want their open kitchen's floor plans to coordinate with adjacent living rooms, dining rooms, and family rooms. Whether or not you plan to incorporate family heirlooms into your kitchen, shop for your new storage and workstation pieces as if you're shopping for furniture.
Keep in mind that placing furniture within a kitchen's footprint differs from designing with standard cabinets -- same height, same width, same finish -- that run from wall to wall. An unfitted kitchen looks as if it evolved over the years, a single piece at a time.