I’m not the only one more than a year into this pandemic who is looking around their kitchen and thinking the space needs a little TLC — and perhaps some larger-scale revamping.
My situation is different from most: I’ve started a little baking business, so the toll on my countertops, painted cabinets and tile floor has been massive. But I think the current appetite to improve the appearance and function of this much-used room is shared by many.
Unfortunately, a kitchen renovation means two things: You need to be prepared to spend some serious cash, and you need to be patient; the waitlists for contractor availability and access to raw materials and appliances are longer than ever.
When it comes to the first scary point — the budget — Eric Shipe, owner of Bath Plus Kitchen, a kitchen and bath remodeling company based in Alexandria, Virginia, says to prepare yourself for sticker shock, primarily because of the current high cost of lumber and building materials. Expect to spend $65,000 to $90,000 “if you’re replacing all materials in a 200-square-foot kitchen, L-shape with an island,” he says. A luxury kitchen will range from $110,000 to $150,000 or higher.
Claire Staszak, principal designer and owner of Centered by Design, a Chicago-based design firm with a specialization in kitchen design, says that depending on where you live and your kitchen’s size, “the average renovation with high-end appliances and semi-custom cabinets” starts at $100,000. Of that budget, both Shipe and Staszak say the bulk of it — about 40% — will go toward cabinets, with appliances as the second-biggest line item.
If these estimates are out of your price range, Shipe says, think about taking out a loan for your project. “Even if you have the cash, with rates so low, why not consider financing?” He continues: “The number one regret is not spending enough to get what you want. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize they can finance until after they’ve spent tens of thousands on a kitchen remodel.” His advice: If you want a kitchen you’ll love and one that will last, spend the money to get you there.
As for hiring the right people, Staszak says, vet everyone with referrals, and see their work in person, either in a showroom or a former client’s home. “The execution of your project is what is most important,” she says, “so invest in the best contractor, designer, cabinet company, etcetera, that you can or feel comfortable with.”
And Shipe cautions against using anyone who is too eager. “Demand is at an all-time high,” he says. “By the time a crew is available to start your project, materials should be, too. If someone is telling you they can start your kitchen remodel in the next one to three weeks, that’s a red flag.”
When it comes to selecting the nuts and bolts of a kitchen remodel, both Shipe and Staszak shared some of their top recommendations.
Countertops: Both like quartzite, because it’s a natural stone with the look of high-end marble, but it has the durability and heat and stain resistance of granite. Shipe also says to consider either quartz or Dekton because of their practicality; both are manufactured, rather than naturally occurring, and require little care. If you end up choosing a natural stone, Staszak says, make sure you see a full slab, not just a small sample, because the scale of the pattern or veining can vary.
Flooring: Both experts say that wide-plank white oak is the choice du jour. Staszak says it takes a variety of stains well. But Shipe cautions that because of its high demand, prices have gone up. He suggests considering luxury vinyl planks, because they’re waterproof and half the price.
Appliances: Shipe likes the matte white models from GE’s Café brand, but he also uses luxury brands, such as Sub-Zero, Wolf and Viking. Staszak leans toward Thermador, GE’s Monogram and Sub-Zero. For lower-priced models, she recommends Samsung for refrigeration and Bosch for dishwashers, as well as the Café line.
Because appliances play such a big role in the design process, Staszak tries to have clients commit to models before she begins drawing up the kitchen. The clients’ ultimate choices are those that meet their cooking, space and installation needs. Whatever you end up selecting, Staszak says, ensure your cabinetmaker has all of your appliance choices and measurements before cabinet production.
Cabinetry: Shipe says to consider more affordable laminate cabinets, especially given long lead times for painted and stained cabinetry. “Laminate cabinet technology has come a long way,” he notes, “and many include features such as anti-fingerprint and antimicrobial.” Shipe also recommends frameless cabinetry, which can give you 5% to 10% more storage space. And he says to think twice before installing trendy floating shelves. “They are a commitment. Your challenges are dust and organization,” he says. “We recommend not cramming too much onto floating shelves. If you’re using them for everyday items, such as plates, bowls or cups, it may end up looking too cluttered.”
It’s not surprising that both Shipe and Staszak emphasize the importance of working with a skilled kitchen designer or architect to lay out your cabinets, because a large portion of your budget goes to their fabrication. Staszak sees a lot of awkward cabinet designs that don’t seem well-planned, useful or beautiful. “Good cabinet design comes down to tiny quarter-inch details,” she says.
Layout: A skilled designer will help you think about how the space meets your needs. Take, for example, the case of an island design. Before beginning, Shipe would ask his clients if, when hosting, they want a large, open island where everyone can sit and be part of the action, or an island that hides the kitchen mess and provides great storage. Depending on the answer, he provides a design in which the island top is all one level, so the kitchen is open and inviting, or has a raised bar and a tall storage area to hide the kitchen mess. A designer should listen to your needs and be able to translate them to the design.
Trends: Lastly, both Shipe and Staszak are cautious of kitchen trends. Although they realize that Pinterest and Instagram are great resources for gathering ideas, picking a timeless design, especially when making such a big investment, is more prudent. Staszak says that if you want a trendy note in your kitchen, then focus on lighting and hardware; they are the easiest to swap out and experiment with. And whatever you do, Staszak says, gather samples of all your materials, look at them together before you order and pick your paint color last.
Elizabeth Mayhew is a “Today” show style expert, former magazine editor and the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”