No matter how big your kitchen may have seemed when you moved in, suddenly one morning the only way to get at the coffee pot is to precipitate an avalanche. The realities of inadequate storage space, combined with gourmet food- and wine-conscious lives, have led many to fork over for a new kitchen what some pay for a new home in other parts of the country.

Today's domestic showpiece is the kitchen. Last year alone, about 78 percent of all remodeling jobs were kitchens, reports Professional Remodeling magazine. The average cost of remaking kitchens, nationwide, was more than $6,500, making it the biggest single-ticket item in the great range of remodeling jobs.

Anyone who works in the area of residential design gets involved in remodeling kitchens -- not just the people who sell kitchen cabinets, but architects, interior designers and general contractors.

To get some creative thinking on the subject of kitchen design, two kitchen design firms, two architects and two general contractors were asked to redesign the same 8-foot by 11-foot kitchen -- the existing kitchen in a brick colonial in Bethesda. No budget restraints were placed on the designers. Each was asked to maximize the kitchen's efficiency without altering existing appliances. Only the refrigerator could be moved, and then only as long as it didn't require rewiring. Windows could be replaced but not moved. Walls could not be moved either.

In redesigning a kitchen, the two main considerations are providing adequate storage and sufficient counter space for food preparation. An eat-in kitchen is often preferred, but for those who must cook in a corridor, that is almost impossible. The following pages include the sketches prepared by each of those asked to participate in this exercise. Following each sketch is a short explanation of the designer's solutions. The results represent the thoughts of people whose experience in residential design work is colored by their separate disciplines. Because each participant brings to this challenge a different set of assumptions, and because money was not necessarily a factor, it would be wrong to compare only the final cost of each proposal. Instead, the design ideas involved offer insights about typical small kitchen redesign. DETAILS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE Design by Susan Woodward Notkins Architect

In addition to the constraints placed on all the participants, Notkins felt that her proposal should be as inexpensive as possible while still satisfying both esthetic needs and improving the efficiency of the room. She recommends using the same basic cabinets, but changing the doors and knobs. Notkins would remove the soffits above the cabinets and design an enclosed shelf for additional decorative storage. To add another 10 inches height to the room, Notkins would cut away the joists and move the ceiling up to the sub-flooring of the room above. A track would hold lights that bounce off the ceiling to improve the ambient light in the room, as well as spots that look down into the room and are painted so there is no glare. Under the counter she would add task lighting to improve the quality of light on the work surface.

The refrigerator would be moved to the opposite side of the room, largely because the door opens from the wrong direction. And a seated work area would provide space opposite the sink for food preparation. Nestled in the counter with the hanging wine glasses would be a telephone so one could sit and talk while making dinner.The new cabinets proposed at the base are inexpensive, paint-grade birch, designed to match the other cabinets in the room.

To maximize storage space, Notkins recommends a number of ideas that will work in any kitchen. She suggests using some of the ready-made wire storage units available in most kitchen equipment or department stores. She would install hooks, a knife storage rack and wine-glass holders to leave the closed storage as unencumbered as possible. To make those things that are stored in closed cabinets more accessible, all the base cabinets would be altered to become large pull-out drawers so that not an ounce of space at the rear of the cabinet would be lost.

In addition to raising the ceiling to increase a sense of space, Notkins would add a greenhouse window for plants so the area above the sink wouldn't be cluttered. And she would replace the wooden door with a small window with a glass door to open up the sense of space and bring the outsiders inside.

"It's basically a very efficient kitchen," says the architect. "The changes I've proposed are the kinds of things that a clever homeowner could do with the help of a carpenter or a friend." Notkins likes to give clients choices regarding materials and suggests either a brightly colored countertop and soft, unobtrusive tones for the rest of the kitchen -- soft greys to pick up the natural tone of the lightly stained natural birch cabinets. The choice of the materials used can alter the price dramatically. Estimated cost: $5,000 CLEAN LINES AND MORE SPACE Design by Don Begley, Richard M. Tunis Inc.

Recognizing the need for more storage space, the designer removed the existing cabinets and put in taller units that run almost to the ceiling, providing one more additional shelf all the way around. A spice rack is built into a wall cabinet near the stove and a roll-out shelf is added below the sink for easier access to cleaning materials.

On the wall opposite the sink, Begley has redesigned the unit over the heat register. The register now comes out into the toe-kick area and the base cabinet is divided to provide a place for storing trays and a pull-out waste basket. Above, space is provided for cookbooks, and if the electricity is brought up to code standards, Begley has suggested the shelf be used to accommodate a microwave oven.

On the other side of the doorway, the refrigerator is given a built-in look with the addition of a wall. Begley says this not only looks better, but allows room for a cabinet above that is deeper than the other wall cabinets, providing even more storage. Estimated cost: $8,957. A EUROPEAN LOOK IN KITCHEN DESIGN Design by Larry Dobbs, Creative Kitchens Inc.

Our test kitchen takes on a textured look with Allmilmo's top-of-the-line, ripple-front cabinets made of high-pressure plastic laminate. Dobbs provides storage almost to the ceiling (just a 6-inch soffit) for additional space, and puts in an awning hood over the stove to retain the look and feel of the cabinet work.

The dishwasher has been moved to the opposite side of the sink, on the assumption that the owner is right-handed. To provide more efficient work space in the space between the sink and the stove, a pull-out table and drawer is set in its place. On the opposite wall, the refrigerator is moved because of its awkward opening on the right-hand side. Across from it there is a 12-inch pull-out pantry beside a 12-inch broom closet.

The heating vent that forced the cabinet in the corner to be place up high now vents through the toe-kick in the broom closet/pantry. The kitchen has been streamlined to provide additional storage without massive alterations in the placement of appliances, but the look does not come cheap. Estimated cost: $13,900. EXPANDING SPACES WITH COLOR AND REFLECTION Design by Polly Evans, Case Construction Co.

Designer Evans is quick to point out the kitchen as it now stands is not up to code electrically (not enough outlets on separate circuits) and that the arrangement of appliances is not the most efficient. She has selected a stainless steel back-splash behind the range and a mirrored backsplash and window frame to provide a greater sense of space. The color scheme of vanilla and terra cotta is reinforced by a terra cotta vinyl floor tile and countertop edging. Above the doorway, wine storage provides a transition between two wall cabinets running to the ceiling for greater storage.

If Evans were allowed to move appliances, she would recommend putting the stove opposite the sink and the refrigerator on the same wall as the sink. "Most of the work is done between the refrigerator and the sink," she says, "and with the fridge near two of the entrances, children can move in and out of the kitchen without bothering the person cooking." Evans also would recommend moving the dishwasher to the other side of the sink for more efficient work space. "Most right-handed people work from right to left -- it just makes more sense to move the appliances with that in mind," she says. Estimated cost $7,865. Additional cost to move appliances: $1,075. OPENING UP SPACES WITH AN UNLOADED LOOK Design by Ron Fliss, for Donald A. Rozansky Construction Co.

The door leading to the outside of the kitchen has been replaced with a full glass panel to let more light in and to open up the sense of space. Similarly, a greenhouse window replaces the traditional double-hung window to accommodate an owner's green thumb. All the laminated cabinets run to the ceiling, giving a four-shelf space for storage inside. Track lighting provides diffused light.

Across from the sink wall, Fliss sacrificed a countertop to put in a pull-out pantry and a broom closet. Opposite the door leading to the dining room, a pull-out counter replaces the space sacrificed to the pantry and broom closet. Above that pull-out space is a drawer and a tambour door obscuring water is called an appliance garage -- a place on the countertop to store all those electrical appliances when not in use. Estimated cost: $9,700. A LITTLE IMPROVEMENT GOES A LONG WAY Design by Jack McCartney, Architect

"I didn't change much in the kitchen simply because I feel it is essentially a workable, efficient place," says architect Jack McCartney. A screened-in porch next to the dining room could be brought around to provide additional storage ("I'm a great believer in a good old-fashioned pantry," McCartney said.) or a breakfast nook.

McCartney felt the best way to make this kitchen more efficient was to add more outlets (there is only a single outlet within reach on one side of the kitchen), put in a new cabinet next to the refrigerator, add split doors for easier access to the dining room and remove the soffits above the cabinets to create a sense of space and at the same time provide for decorative storage. McCartney said that if after all these changes have been made, the owners still feel the kitchen is not serving their needs, they should look to more dramatic alterations that would mean expanding the room and spending a lot more money.

"At least with these changes, we're ready for the next step if there's going to be one," says McCartney. Cosmetic changes could alter the feeling of the room. The architect recommends a simple cost of paint and some track lights to freshen up the space. Estimated cost: $2,500.