Tuesday Tips: Kitchen Remodeling

Kitchens are one of those rooms in the house that we either love or hate. People who love their kitchens probably had them recently renovated and those of us who hate ours need a serious facelift. I'm probably in the second category, considering my kitchen is way too small for a family of four. But the thought of taking on a major kitchen renovation can be daunting to even the gutsiest homeowner. So I sought the help of a designer and two local kitchen experts for tips on saving money -- and headaches -- when renovating your kitchen:

Tip #1: You know it's time to remodel your kitchen if you moved in when Reagan was in office and you were watching the Iran-Contra Affair on television. A kitchen needs a good update every 15 to 20 years.

Tip #2: If you're doing a kitchen renovation with your spouse or partner, both of you should be at the planning meeting. You'll each pick up on different ideas from the designer, giving you something to argue about for the evening.

Tip #3: Don't be too wacky with the design, even if you think bright red appliances seem like a really great idea. "I try to steer people to classic and elegant," says Peggy White Golden, a principal at Golden Interiors Inc., an interior design firm in Fairfax Station. "One day you may want to sell this house."

Tip #4: You may think you'll be saving money by re-doing your kitchen in pieces, taking on the cabinets one year and then the countertops another year. But experts say a kitchen should never be done in pieces. "If you start by doing just the floors and then later on remove the cabinets, then the floor may not be big enough to replace the dimensions of the cabinets," says Dana Snyder, a designer with Alexandria Kitchen & Bath Studio.

Tip #5: If your family eats, lives and sleeps in the kitchen, consider getting hardwood or tile floors, adds Snyder. But keep in mind that tile can be hard on your back and legs if you do a lot of standing in the kitchen. And who doesn't these days? Also, wood has the potential to get banged up if you have pets. But... "if something really bad happens to the wood, you can sand it down and stain it again," Golden points out.

Tip #6: When picking out cabinets and drawers, look for how heavy the wood feels as you open and close the cabinet doors and drawers. "The heavier the drawer, then the heavier the hardware and the better the quality," Snyder says.

Tip #7: Get as many drawers as possible. You never know if one day you'll be selling your house to a baby boomer. Word on the street is that they want easy-to-reach storage. Drawers tend to be easier to get to rather than overhead cabinets or cabinets positioned at knee level, Golden says.

Tip #8: Granite countertops have become popular in the last few years but granite is also a high-maintenance material. A sealer needs to be sprayed on it every three to six months. Snyder says quartz might be a better option.

Tip #9: It may be tempting to try moving your fridge to another side of the kitchen but consider leaving appliances and sinks where they currently are. Moving around pipes and adding gas lines can be a major expense to a kitchen remodeling project.

Tip #10: If you plan to hire your own installer, make sure that person is licensed and can offer references. "We're in a slow market and there's a lot of people who've been laid off from construction jobs," said Bob Clements, president of Bath & Kitchen Creations in Sterling. "You don't want to hire someone who all of a sudden then gets hired back at their construction job." Certified designers and installers can be found at the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

Good places to get ideas:

  • Expo Design Centers in Fairfax, Bethesda and Columbia

  • Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Showroom in Chantilly and Springfield

  • Burgess Lighting in Fairfax and Forestville

  • Build.com

    What have you learned from a kitchen remodeling project? Do you have big dreams for your kitchen? Post a comment and tell me about it.

    By Tania Anderson |  January 22, 2008; 10:50 AM ET Home Improvement , Tuesday Tips
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    Please email us to report offensive comments.

    I completely agree with installing as many drawers as possible, in fact, there is no need for any base cabinets. My 6-year-old can empty the dishwasher because all plates and glasses are in drawers.
    Another great countertop option is soapstone. The folks at Designer Surfaces Ltd. in Frederick, MD do a fabulous job. The stone absorbs and radiates heat so you can put a hot pot on it, unlike granite or marble which can crack from temperature shock. Northern European countries use it for furnaces. Soapstone also will not stain as easily as other stones, and if it does, you can just sand off the stain.
    A cheap floor option is industrial grade vinyl tile. You can find it in many doctor's offices. But for a more luxurious feel on the feet, opt for porcelain tile. 3 years ago, we bought Italian porcelain tile for $3 /sq.ft. at Stone Source in Dupont Circle.
    When shopping for kitchen cabinets and countertops, don't omit Ikea.

    Happy Remodeling!

    Posted by: Grachel K | January 23, 2008 7:50 AM

    I think the only consideration I had to make when remodeling my kitchen a few years ago was a question you neglected to mention: What will you do in your kitchen and how often will you be in it? For example, I make my own breads and so I only wanted granite countertops as they are the "cold surface" one needs for kneading. Your article mentions quartz, but quartz chips too easily. And I bought appliances too big for my daily needs and was glad every Thanksgiving that I had.

    Posted by: Anonymous | January 23, 2008 8:23 AM

    I think it's crazy how much money people spend on kitchen cabinets. Heck, my kitchen cabinets are the highest quality furniture I've got in my house! I say, go for a few sturdy, attractive, reasonably priced cabinets for the "public" part of the kitchen and store everything else in a big walk-in pantry.

    Posted by: Rebecca | January 23, 2008 8:50 AM

    Not all granite needs to be sealed every three months. Some (like mine!) are harder and denser than others and only rarely need to be sealed.

    Another point - shop around! I bought cabinet knobs and pulls, faucets, my sink and other pieces online for a fraction of what other charged. I also got a great deal on hardwood flooring online.

    A really nice kitchen remodeling doesn't have to cost $25K (or much more!).

    Posted by: jen | January 23, 2008 9:20 AM

    I gutted and redid my Arlington condo's kitchen last year, which hadn't been updated since the building went up in 1987 (and it showed). My goal was to maximize every square inch of storage because my kitchen is a small galley-style.

    I completely agree that drawers are king! I spent a little more on the cabinets to get drawers with the soft-closing mechanisms. For a couple of hundred bucks, it's less wear and tear on the drawers and on the fingers - and it's safer for kids. You can make base cabinets almost drawer-like if you get 2 slide-out shelves in each cabinet (again, soft-closing mechanisms on the slide-out shelves are key). I also have 12 inch overhead cabinets on one side of the kitchen, for which I opted to buy galley doors that open upward instead of traditional swing-out doors with spindles between them. They are a huge help and make the space much more usable and accessible.

    I ended up picking granite over quartz for aesthetic reasons - granite is natural and looks natural, while quartz by definition is engineered stone and it looks engineered and uniform. (Granite Outlet in Alexandria has a great selection and good prices on both). It really isn't that hard to keep granite sealed. You can buy all-in-one cleaner and sealer from any big-box home improvement store which is not expensive, and it seals everytime you clean your granite.

    The other thing I did that I was so greatful for was to get rid of the stupid double-basin sink I had and replace it with a single basin, deep sink ($200), to maximize counter space. What is the point of the split sinks with the itsy bitsy basin on one side - which of course is always where the garbage disposal is? It is so hard to get anything down the disposal without making a mess, particularly if you're pouring from a large pot or skillet. Arg!

    Posted by: stodge | January 23, 2008 9:49 AM

    I am not sure I accept the 'do it all at once' idea. My wife and I have been redoing our kitchen as we have time and money. Hwever, early on we decided to keep the old, high quality cabinets. They are solid cherry and with a little cleaning and updating look great. The floor, countertops and applances have all been replaced in the last couple of years. We did hold off on doing to floors untill we were sure of all the layout changes however.

    Posted by: Dan C | January 23, 2008 9:50 AM

    Red appliances! Wow! I would want to buy that house for that alone....

    Posted by: Pat | January 23, 2008 10:14 AM

    2 things: (1) focus on how things will work before you spend a lot of time on decorative details; and (2) make sure you spend your money on the stuff that really matters to you, and go cheaper with the rest.

    We knew when we bought our house we needed to redo the kitchen, which was a lovely combination of non-functional (couldn't open stove and dishwasher at same time; couldn't open fridge if someone was at sink, etc.) and butt-ugly (laminate countertops held together by masking tape). I spent a year planning the new kitchen around how we operate. I cook, my husband cleans, so I separated the cooking and cleanup areas. I bake, so I made a dedicated baking area with storage underneath, a nice Silestone countertop for rolling, and a spice rack up top. I put storage for pans and bowls and knives next to the area where I planned to use them. I planned a separate pantry and mini-fridge with breakfast and kid stuff out of the main cooking area, so they can take care of themselves without traipsing through where I am. Etc. etc. etc.

    We also focused the money on the things that matter to us. I'm the opposite of Rebecca: I love beautiful wood, so having natural cherry cabinets was a big deal to me -- plus I didn't want to go through all that effort and end up with cheap cabinets that fall apart in 5 yrs. So I looked closely at cabinet construction (dovetailed drawers, no particleboard, etc.), and got various add-ons to make things really functional (roll-out shelves and the like).

    On the other hand, a $7K 48" wide refrigerator didn't matter to me, so we got a normal KitchenAid side-by-side plus a separate mini-fridge for the kids' drinks -- same storage space, half the price. Same thing with 48" ranges -- LOVE them, definitely wanted more than 4 burners and double ovens for the big holiday feasts, but I found I could get a 36" all-gas range and a separate electric wall oven for several thousand dollars less (added bonus of gas oven for roasts and electric convection for cookies and pies). In the end, our kitchen works perfectly for the way we live, and looks very nice, but I didn't have to spend $25K on appliances.

    Posted by: Laura | January 23, 2008 10:16 AM

    If you are more adventurous (and have some talent and patience), consider doing the work yourself. You can save thousands!!! My friend just redid her kitchen with help from friends for less than $5000 (new cabinets, granite, lighting and floors) and it looks great. It probably would have cost double that amount had she had contractors do it. IKEA cabinets are probably the best bet for amateurs to install and I would consider taking a floor tiling course at Home Depot or Lowes if you want to learn how to do that as well. Of course, in any do-it-yourself situation you need to know your limits.

    Finally, I second the recommendation on the Granite Outlet in Alexandria. I know two people who have bought their granite from there and saved a good deal of money in the process.

    Posted by: SEF | January 23, 2008 10:41 AM

    I'm surprised that there is no mention of Corian. My husband and I chose Corian over granite in our kitchen and have been very happy with the choice. It is both cheaper and requires less maintenance. We have a huge center island that would have required two pieces of granite leaving a visible seam. With Corian, the seam is undetectable.

    Posted by: Christina | January 23, 2008 11:42 AM

    I did a quickie makeover six years ago (new vinyl and wallpaper). Fairly soon, it'll be time to remove the 1984 cabinets. I hadn't thought much about cabinet design until IKEA opened in Orlando. Drawers! Slideouts! All sorts of ways for baby-boomer me to pull stuff out of bottom cabinets without getting on hands and knees!!! I'm likely to end up with cabinets other than theirs, but the IKEA approach to design and storage has raised my expectations.

    Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | January 23, 2008 12:03 PM

    I am in the process of remodeling a condo galley kitchen from the 1970's and plan to do all the install myself (except plumbing) to save some bucks. The kitchen is the last part of a two year remodel of the entire condo. I have been practicing the last six months on my brother and sister's house since they justed remodeled kitchens and I helped them with the install since they wanted to save on costs - a good education. Many of the tips above are excellent. As stated the most important factor to me is to understand what does not work in our current kitchen and to find a fix for it. Our current Kitchen has cheap hard to use cabinets, poor lighting, clutterd counter tops, insuffecient electrical outlets, no place for trash/recycle receptacles, and appliance door swings that get in the way of each other. I spent a lot of time figuring how to fix these problems and hope to start the remodel in the spring of 2008.

    Posted by: Brian | January 23, 2008 12:38 PM

    We are almost done with our remodel. We went from bottom of the barrel fake cabinets to 100% wood maple and they alone are just fantastic. Yes, we did do one drawer cabinet and aside from it being extremely heavy(we did our own install) it is wonderful for storage. I highly recommend Just Cabinets for the cabinets(we bought Kraftmaid), they had the best price around and they have a giant screen to view your new kitchen. We did granite tops too after much debate and after shopping around we used Plan-It Granite in Sterling. They gave us such a deal from a free sink, free cut of our choice and they arranged a plumber for us to disconnect and connect the plumbing without us having to deal with it. Basically for just over 40 sf we paid less than $4000.00 including tax. For the flooring we used Hardwood Solutions in Frederick MD. We bought 4" Select Ash at less than $5.00 per square foot. We found our own installers but they got it to us quickly and we had plenty of time for it to sit in our home to adjust to the climate. Now we are going to do our own back splash and after searching around, we found the best deals at Home Depot. We can have some color but not put $1000.00 just on the wall. We spent around $200..00 for the decorator tiles and now we'll fill in with tiles that run $13 - 14 cents each. And we are doing a diamond pattern too. Just wanted to share some of the best deals that we have found.

    Posted by: Lisa | January 23, 2008 2:00 PM

    Hi all,

    Just wanted to let everyone know there is a great forum for discussing kitchen and bathroom remodeling -- www.bathroomremodeling.org -- despite the name, it contains discussion of both kitchen's and bathrooms. It's completely free, so check it out.


    Posted by: Mandy | January 23, 2008 2:56 PM

    I redid the kitchen in my last house twice in 7 years - the first time just a spruce-up and the second time a complete gut job. I wholeheartedly agree that much of the work can be done yourself, resulting in HUGE savings. Watch some Saturday morning TV, get some books from the library, and ask questions. There's not any magic to lots of this stuff. Just do your homework. As far as specific suggestions: I made sure to include open shelf space for storing cookbooks - it looks nice and it's really handy to have that stuff at your fingertips. I used sheet vinyl for the floor (easy to clean, durable, economical, comfortable to stand on) and tile on my countertops and backsplashes (hard to clean the grout lines, and a guarantee that whatever you drop on it accidentally will smash). I included an undercounter wine chiller, which fit in a 15-inch wide space. I got it online from www.vinotemp.com, "scratch-and-dent." I think it was under $200. You can get the best deals by shopping carefully online. When I sold my house, the wine chiller, with space above it for hanging stemware, got a lot of positive comments.

    Posted by: Mark | January 23, 2008 7:30 PM

    I am a mom of three who loves to cook and entertain. The best investment we made during our kitchen renovation was putting in two dishwashers. I never have dishes in the sink or on the counter anymore. My kitchen always feels clean. And when I'm too tired after entertaining, I put it all in the dishwashers and worry about it the next day - especially the fine china and crystal. My husband thought two dishwashers was a crazy idea at first, but now he's glad he went with it.

    Posted by: Catherine Lorenze | January 23, 2008 9:35 PM

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