There is no one size fits all when it comes to designing the optimal kitchen layout, since everyone is different in how they cook and use their kitchens, say designers.

However, there are guidelines that can help. Here are five recommendations from designers across that country that will help you make the most of your kitchen remodel:

1) Information, please. Designers agree that gathering information from clients on how they cook and use their kitchens is key to a planning a successful kitchen.

“Remodeling inherently is a series of trade-offs,” says Tacoma Park, Md., designer Jackie Braitman, “and even if it weren’t, we’re all different, [so a kitchen for] someone with two or three cooks is different from a family with one cook. That’s the fun of design, to try to come up with something that works, in a price they can afford, that takes their lifestyle into account.” To that end, Braitman makes liberal use of questionnaires she has developed to suss out exactly how her clients use their kitchens. For example, she will ask: What do you cook for dinner; how often do you eat together as a family; do you entertain, and will have them walk her through a week of their activities in the kitchen. Information she gleans from questioning her clients helps Bainbridge Island, Wash., designer Molly McCabe figure out everything from ventilation needs to where the curry and turmeric go. “If they cook Spanish food, and are making a lot of paella, those paella pans are large and hard to fit; Indian food needs a lot of ventilation, and spice storage.”

2) Create zones. While the old work triangle formed by refrigerator, stove, and sink, works reasonably well in closed off, small kitchens, today’s larger, open-plan kitchens are better served by zones.

“My philosophy is to design in zones, depending on client needs,” says McCabe. “The kitchen is command central, so the work triangle, [a concept] developed in the early 1940s for the 10×10 kitchen, when the little lady was in the back of the house, really doesn’t apply anymore,” she says.

“Zones typically will overlap, unless you have a gargantuan kitchen.” San Francisco designer Jennifer Ott also likes the zone concept for larger kitchens, especially for clients who cook a lot and entertain frequently. In such a space, she might design a cooking zone, a prep zone, and an entertainment area, where she locates bar paraphernalia as well as guest seating. Optimal kitchen design takes careful account of how the end users cook and use the kitchen, and match that to budget. Says Braitman: “It is often the case that with couples in their sixties and older, the only thing the man is doing in the kitchen is preparing a sandwich and coffee, so you might have a separate area for that.”

3) Materials matter. Consider a client’s lifestyle and cooking style when picking materials for a kitchen, and don’t let their eagerness for a certain countertop material or flooring choice lead them astray, designers advise. When it comes to her clients, McCabe wants to know, “Are they meticulous when they cook or more of a whirling dervish? It’s important to pick materials that fit their lifestyle in order to have a kitchen that looks beautiful for years to come.” For example, the designer wouldn’t suggest marble surfaces for an active family, because “those countertops are going to look terrible after a while; etched and awful. If clients do their own cleaning, then I suggest solid surfaces.”

4) Leave some room. When it comes to working space between counters, or between island and wall, designers say 42 inches is the minimum for a two-cook kitchen, and 48 inches is even better. “When you have a dishwasher door pulled down, you want to be able to walk by it,” says McCabe.

5) Value versus want. Sometimes clients may want something they may not end up using, and it’s one of the designer’s jobs to guide them, gently, to that realization. That’s especially important when budget is a real issue. A client may specify double wall ovens, says Ott, and I always ask, “Do you really do that much baking?” Sometimes just asking the question brings the realization that that second oven, or dishwasher drawer, isn’t necessary. “Value is different for everybody,” says McCabe, “and my goal is always to find that sweet spot between value and want.”—Kate Tyndall