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Diwali, one of the biggest festivals celebrated across India is synonymous with lights, and sweets and Laxmi Pujan. But then, there is one more thing which we cannot forget – the 'Diwali Cleaning'! Preparations to welcome Goddess Laxmi, who is known for her liking for cleanliness, begin months in advance as all the nooks and crannies of the houses are cleaned thoroughly. Remember the prodding by our mothers to clean our wardrobes and give away what we didn't need? There is a scientific logic behind all the elaborate cleaning; discarding the unwanted things helps in getting rid of the negative energies and de-cluttering your life.

Since the days around Diwali are considered to be some of the most auspicious days during the year, many use the occasion to renovate our homes, and even buy new homes. And that is why, today, I thought of talking about various aspects of planning a stylish and functional kitchen that is easy to maintain.

Kitchens used to be humble and generally ignored parts of most homes, but not anymore. Times have changed, since many of us have traveled abroad and seen stylish kitchens where functionality plays an equally important role. We've realized that the amount of time that we spend in the kitchens is huge, and a lot of attention is now given to these parts of our homes that play a vital role in our health. Can you imagine a healthy body without a clean, hygienic kitchen? So, let us get the pens, pots, and pans out, and begin the planning of your kitchen!

The Countertops
Stones like granite and marble have graced countertops since many decades, but with the advent of modular kitchens (kitchens where the modules can be detached and transported easily), stainless steel tops have come into vogue. They look stylish and shiny, and are easy to clean. But then, there is a flip side too. Due to the high amount of moisture and constant cleaning of the countertops, the stainless steel, even with its resilient qualities is prone to rusting. And you don't want a rusty counter top, right? That is the reason why quartz, a new material that has come into vogue might be worth your attention during the planning. Quartz is a stone that can be engineered to yield a finished product of various textures and colours depending on your preferences. And this choice doesn't compromise on the strength and durability of the stone. To top that, quartz is also easy to clean, like the marble and granite countertops, and there is no question of rust.

Appliances and Equipment
The right appliance can be the difference between you being a Super Chef, and a home cook constantly struggling with your ingredients and utensils. And these days, there is a wide variety of appliances and equipment that are available that are of high quality and have a great degree of precision. But sometimes, fitting these appliances into an existing kitchen setup can be a tricky task. So, planning in advance is essential. And if you want to go with the trend and get the appliances that are built into your counters, you have to get them while you're building a new kitchen, or remodeling an existing one. Most of these appliances come in standard sizes that can be fitted right into various modules of the kitchens.

Exhaust, Cleaning, and Lighting
Indian cooking involves a lot of curries, a lot of tempering, and a lot of smoke and fumes, which is why a robust exhaust system is imperative. All modular kitchens come with various options of chimneys. You should pick one depending on the kind of cooking practices that you have in your kitchen, the space available to install the chimney and its ducting (although, a ductless chimney, while having a higher initial cost, is more effective, and less expensive to maintain), noise and vibration levels, and even the size of the kitchen.

While the exhaust will help in keeping the countertops, appliances, and other surfaces less dirty by exiting the sticky, pungent fumes, they still need to be cleaned. Most modular kitchens and appliances have surfaces that can be easily cleaned, but it is recommended that you go through the manuals and instruction kits before purchasing them to ensure that the cleaning process is smooth and hassle free. One of the golden rules in kitchen cleaning parlance is that, whether it is the tiles, or the equipment, or the countertop, if it cannot be cleaned with ease, it is a big no-no.

Along with that, you need to plan the kitchen in such a way that the maximum amount of natural light flows into the kitchen. This will lead to the kitchen bearing a fresher, more appealing look, while also ensuring that artificial lighting is required only during the night time, thereby reducing the electricity costs. And while picking the artificial lighting, you need to pay special attention to the placement of the functional lights like the tube lights, bulbs, to facilitate the chores in the kitchen. Along with that, if you're opting for decorative lighting like LED strips and under-cabinet lights, the design and colors should be chosen while keeping the overall theme and feel, as well as functionality of the kitchen in mind.

Many times, we forget seemingly small things while planning a kitchen, which become huge hassles later. It is recommended that you keep the following things in mind while designing your kitchen –
• The wet and dry areas should be planned in such a way that they don't impede on each other, thereby ensuring that no ingredients or appliances suffer from water damage. You also need to plan the placement of the water purifier and the sinks carefully to ensure that the water exits smoothly without leaving any water-induced stains.
• While planning the storage units in the kitchen, you should keep your height in mind. The space for kitchen items like the cutlery, crockery and appliances that are regularly needed should be allocated on the lower shelves, and the less frequently used items like the large pots and pans, extra ingredients that are purchased and stored for the entire year, and the like, should be stored in the storage areas that are higher. This also ensures that there is a lesser probability of water damage to the ingredients that are stored for long durations.
• Plan the work flow in the kitchen carefully. The flow of movement between the 'work triangle', i.e. the gas range, the sink, and the refrigerator should be smooth and possible within the least amount of time. Along with that, things such as the spice box and the utensils should be stored in units that are easily accessible. This would make the process of cooking is faster and less energy is consumed in shuffling around.
• It should be ensured that there is no water seepage from the countertops to the storage areas under them, to avoid any water induced damage. And as a precaution, if possible, only such kitchen items that are not prone to water damage should be stored in these storage units.
• Traditionally, corners have been some of the most under-utilized areas of the kitchens. But not anymore. Smart designing solutions are now available to utilize these areas in such a way that they look stylish and also provide a lot of additional storage. It is recommended that you spend some time in this.
• Small items like additional dividers in the drawers (to store spoons and forks), and specially designed areas in the storage units for small items need to paid attention to, to ensure that efficiency of the storage units is optimum.
• You can also use some of latest trends like lift-up systems for the overhead cabinets (cabinets that can be lowered when they need to be accessed, and then pushed back to the default position that is high), kitchen islands (portable storage units with a countertop that can be used for cutting, chopping, or even dining), self-closing drawers, and refrigerators that have sections that can be adjusted to suit your needs, if they fit in your budgets and suit your design sensibilities.

Common Kitchen Design Mistakes
And while we are at it, let me also list out some of the common mistakes that are committed in a kitchen's design –
• Following the trends can be fruitful and fun, but you also need to ensure that it doesn't become a hindrance to the functionality in your kitchen. For example, if you're using a kitchen island, get its size right. Too big an island will be cumbersome to move around in the kitchen and end up being more of a hassle than a kitchen aid.
• Often, not enough attention is paid to the size and number of the countertops. Think about the number of appliances that you will place on the countertops, the amount of space that you like for chopping, cutting, plating, and similar daily activities involved in the cooking, and plan the size of the countertops accordingly.
• Along with the chimney, windows too play a vital role in the kitchen. Plan the kitchen in such a way so that the flow of air from the windows isn't restricted. But, at the same time, ensure that the air flow does not become a hindrance to the flame of the gas ranges. The location of the windows should also ensure that the maximum amount of natural light can enter the kitchen.
• Even if you've decided to do most of the designing process yourself, consulting a kitchen design expert, even for feedback is recommended to ensure that the common design mistakes are not committed. Because, if attention is not paid to the small details, getting those minor changes done can prove to be an expensive proposition in the future.

But all said and done, the bottom line is that, all the trends, advice, and everything else, while being important, pale in comparison to what your needs are. Remember, it is your kitchen and your word should be the final one.

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