Kitchen Table Wisdom

It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that the kitchen is the hub of all the action. But experts can help you get a kitchen that looks good and works well without breaking the bank in the process. Just ask them—they’ll tell you.

It’s finally time to tear out the knotty pine cabinets and rip up the weathered vinyl floor. Interest rates are low and the economy is showing some signs of improvement, giving homeowners the courage to tackle their kitchens. Other consumers are simply tired of waiting, and still others who wanted better spaces have decided that remodeling is a more prudent move than moving right now. Whatever your reason for getting the hammers swinging, you can get what you want with the budget you have.

“Start talking with friends and neighbors who have already been through the experience. Start a journal with notes and magazine clippings of styles, designs and finishes that interest you. And, it’s never too early to visit a kitchen and bath showroom not only to see actual displays, but also to interview designers and get a sense of how the kitchen remodeling process works,” says Dan Luck, owner of Bella Domicile. “Remodeling a kitchen is a journey that requires a certain amount of investment in time and energy if you want it done right.”

Doug Widish also encourages interested homeowners to head out and look around before lining up any contractors or ordering cabinetry. The manager of Gerhards Showroom says many customers will discover that they have more choices than they expected to, even if they have modest budgets. From cabinetry to plumbing and fixtures, Gerhards carries numerous options at various pricepoints. “We have so many choices that we can work with you no matter what budget you have,” Widish says.

Indeed, getting what you want might be as simple as asking for it. Unless you’ve built or remodeled recently, you probably won’t know what options exist and at what cost. Don’t assume your ideal choices are out of your budget or that the look you want isn’t possible. Randy Washa, owner of Prestige Laminated Products, says the biggest mistake homeowners make is short-changing themselves because they didn’t explore all their options.

“The quality, the wood species, unusual characteristics, you can still have all that,” Washa says.

So be sure to explore all the options, even those that might seem out of reach. Look at all the scenarios set up in the design showrooms. Sometimes you will discover through your research or through working with designers that your wish list changes and you might want to allocate funds differently than you imagined you would. Instead of all professional appliances, you might invest only in the high-end wall oven but get a cooktop and refrigerator that are one step down. Or you decide that you really do want to go high-end all the way if you’re going to do it at all. It’s far better to research up front, experts agree, than to be saddled with regrets once the dust settles.

Also, evolving products and technology often present other opportunities to save and spend. For example, Washa explains that new adhesives allow plastic laminate countertops to be used with undermount sinks, which are popular for their styling and cleaning ease. Previously, undermount sinks could be used only with solid-surface countertops such as granite or quartz, but those can cost five times as much as laminates. The new adhesives give budget-conscious homeowners another option for sinks while freeing up funds for custom cabinets or higher-end appliances.

The retailers, designers, remodeling contractors and other industry professionals all should know up-to-the-minute information about products and construction methods. Just because a company couldn’t match the finish on your drawer pulls last year doesn’t mean they can’t do it this year. That is why Kris Wilke, manager of The Stool Store, encourages homeowners to tap into the resources and design services that many retailers offer. It could save money, present options you didn’t know existed or lead to a better result overall.

“We help our clients match the metal of their new stools to their lighting or cabinet hardware,” Wilke says. “Customers bring in samples of hardware, cabinet drawers, lighting fixtures, you name it. We have literally seen everything come through our door, including the kitchen sink!”

Jeff Hensen, president of Hensen Fine Cabinetry, stresses that the soft economy does not mean that businesses aren’t offering the options they once did. Clients who are ready to make an investment certainly don’t have to compromise. “Every job is unique,” he says. “We can customize the cabinetry to match your life and meet your needs. We will go through the design item by item, cabinet by cabinet to make sure the silverware is stored in the right place, the wastebasket is in the right spot and canned goods stored in the right way.”

And it’s not just cabinetry. Brian Boehnen, owner of Midwest Rock Tops, says other elements can be personalized for each and every client. “We are always pushing the limits in the stone fabrication world, such as laminating glass or stainless steel on the edges or using it in the seams,” he says. “We are always developing methods to achieve the look they are striving for.”

No matter how big or small the job, good coordination with the design and remodeling team is critical, as is open communication between the team and client. Make sure your remodeling team knows who else is doing what. Most are used to intense coordination and collaboration, so be sure no one is left in the dark. Keven Schmidt, owner of Dream Kitchens, tackles the coordination piece by offering complete design and construction services to clients. “It is more efficient, and there are fewer mistakes and less miscommunication,” he says.

If it turns out that a down-to-the-studs remodel isn’t possible, there are still ways to refresh a tired kitchen. “Painting the walls, replacing the decorative cabinet hardware, replacing the countertop work surface and adding a ceramic tile backsplash can give sparkle and life to a tired space without breaking the bank,” Luck adds.

Even new seating can make a big impact. Wilke says bright, playful upholstery on seating is a popular way to show personality in new or existing kitchens. “Have fun with the fabric,” she says. “The seat is usually sat on or tucked under the counter so why not use it to add a splash of bold color? And for the faint of heart, remember that most seats can be recovered easily down the road.”

Take it from the experts—the options are endless once you begin looking. Perhaps it’s time to start?

– Jennifer Garrett


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