Use a Professional
If you’re like a typical homeowner, you’re busy and overwhelmed, and kitchen designers can help coordinate and save you time looking for hardware or a backsplash. There’s a lot to consider when remodeling, and so many choices. But before you become frustrated and overwhelmed, consider getting help with your project.
The Thomassons can ease your pain by listening to your ideas, then offering a narrowed selection of painted finishes and stained woods, together with door styles which are compatible with the style of the home. (One company they deal with has 110 different doors!)
Other customers are inspired by something they’ve seen. “We encourage people to bring in photos and sketches to begin the process,” Paula says.
Teakwood Enterprises assistant manager Linda Ball invites you to sit down in the showroom and design your kitchen right on her computer. Teakwood is a custom home builder that also offers additions and remodeling.
Center islands, glass and tile countertops, pendant lights and computerized appliances are only a few of the things modern kitchens incorporate.
What kinds of countertops are people using? ‘Laminate countertops are still popular,’ says Grady Frame of Northern Neck Building Supply, “with companies such as Formica and WilsonArt producing more durable and up-to-date color selections, in addition to many stylish edge options at an affordable price.” Corian and granite are classy choices. And a newcomer—Silestone--is quite popular. Silestone is a natural quartz surface created from a state-of-the-art technology that combines 93% quartz with 7% polymer and coloring agents. The result is an extremely hard, dense, non-porous surface. Corian, granite and Silestone are a bit pricey but definitely worth it for the quality, durability, and array of color choices. Caution: granite is higher maintenance and you have to seal it because it will stain. All these choices will add value to the resale of your house. Think of countertops as an investment and it will ease the sticker shock. It’s the one sure improvement where you’ll get your money back.
Ceramic tile in the kitchen is popular and practical--everything from retro to rough Italian or a Mexican terra cotta. Clients tend to use 12’ x 12’ or bigger on floors.
“Another thing that’s new is putting in a computer center for the cook to plan menus and make shopping lists,” Ball says. A lot of cookbooks are online now, a real space saver from years ago, creating more room for essentials like dishes and utensils.
The “wow” factor is high in flat top appliances, as well. Everything can be built into one solid surface. Stainless steel is really a big hit, despite the fact that it shows fingerprints. And savvy manufacturers are on top of that, coming out with types of stainless that don’t show fingerprints.
If you’re a microwave cook, you’ll have a much different look than if Gourmet Magazine is your best friend and entertaining is your middle name. Islands, peninsulas and eating bars are highly functional. People have to be able to get up and move around, not be stuck in a corner, 50’s style. No one wants to feel like they’re closed in and working.
Light and space are critical themes stressed by kitchen designers and remodelers. “Space is critical for a kitchen,” Ball says. “You have to design it so you have walk space.” That’s where you have to tear out the old cabinets and get into the nitty-gritty of remodeling. Larger windows let in more light, as well as make the kitchen seem bigger.
Remodelers now use under cabinet lights, recessed lights, and pendants. “The big fluorescent light in the center of the ceiling is not being done any more,” adds Ball. No overhead pots and pans, either--everything is out of sight for a cleaner look.
“Most of the clients we work with are on the water,” says George. “The view and designing the kitchen go together. The way people approach the room is like furniture rather than just cabinetry. So many of our clients have walls which are mostly glass. We’re working on a kitchen now that has no walls, so there are no overhead cabinets. We’ve designed the kitchen to function without them and to make the most of the view.”
Many kitchens now open into the great room. Often, the floor material, be it tile or wood, is taken all the way from the kitchen to the great room for continuity. Likewise, cabinet finishes, hardware and countertops should complement the furnishings for a cohesive look. For instance, the use of cabinets which have open shelving or glass doors can break the monotony of traditional overhead and matching base cabinets.
Remodeling a kitchen is more than just resurfacing cabinets. More often than not, the old space is no longer functional and you’re sick and tired of hitting your head on the old overhead cabinets (although that last bump may have been just what you needed to move forward with your remodel!).
One of the most stunning ways to update a kitchen and add vitality is new cabinets. “If the cabinets are in bad shape,” says Eric Norman, President of Norman Builders, “and you put in a nice quality custom product, it totally changes the look of the room and makes it look more updated. You can really step back and say. “Wow, this kitchen is so much more functional.’”
The biggest “don’t” offered by designers: don’t just buy wholesale cabinets--especially particleboard--and shove them in over the old ones. It’s counterproductive, since it does nothing to resolve physical issues and storage problems.
“With an architect designing your kitchen,” Paula emphasizes, “there’s an order, a symmetry to the layout, without it being forced. Quality kitchen cabinetry shouldn’t be wasted on bad design.”
The Thomassons use two lines of cabinetry--Plain & Fancy and British Traditions. Both lines can customize the cabinets by size, color, molding, door style. “The devil is in the details,” George says. “When you’re working with custom cabinetry, you have control over the details. You’re not forced to deal with fixed dimension boxes.”
Rank and File
“We are designing more kitchens with large drawer units in lower cabinets instead of the conventional door style base cabinet,” says George. “These drawers look more like lateral file cabinet drawers and accommodate pots and pans. Even dishes and other items that are usually stored in wall cabinets can be placed in the drawer units.”
Ball points out that pots and pans should be close to the range, plates and glasses next to dishwasher. A popular feature is an installed baking center with a mixer and mixing bowls, casseroles and dishes all in one place, with outlets.
“We work for functionality and efficiency,” agrees Ball. “Usually we take out the old cabinets that are no longer efficient, we install new appliances and more efficient pull-out trays instead of half shelves in the base.” The trays function a bit like lateral file drawers, with two drawers instead of two doors. They have a fairly sophisticated drawer gliding system that carries the weight of the drawer, and they’re self-closing. They work for pull-out trashcans as well.
“One of the things that makes a project more interesting is when a client has one item she is totally in love with and wants to design everything else around it. It can be a piece of furniture, a special appliance or a unique countertop that serves as the inspiration for an entire room,” says Paula. “A recent client who adored her rebuilt 1950s buttercup yellow Chambers stove had us design a kitchen to showcase it.”
“Right now I’m working on a kitchen where I have to keep wall space for artwork,” Ball explains “I like cabinets, but I am going to have to delete some and leave a wall open.” On the plus side, it brings the homeowner’s personality into the kitchen--one of the high points of custom design.
Plan It Out
Just how long does it take to completely redo your kitchen? “If clients are not changing the flooring, they will still be displaced for about four to six weeks,” Paula suggests. “People need to allow for a reasonable timeline to complete the process.” Rome wasn’t built in a day”and neither was a great kitchen.
“Once we receive confirmation of shipment, we then begin demolition of the existing kitchen,” George says. The demolition usually takes about a week, with an additional two weeks to install the new cabinetry. After the cabinets are installed, then the countertop measurements can be taken. Depending upon the fabricator and the countertop material, you are looking at another two weeks. The process is a small construction project, but not to worry--being an architect, George is a master of design, creation and construction.
Eric Norman explains, “As long as the floors aren’t rotten, if you have a sturdy structure, just to remove and replace, it’s not that long, except ceramic tile. You lay backer board, lay tile, let the grout dry, take measurements for the cabinets. You make a template for the countertops and they will be made at a custom shop.”
What do you do in the meantime? “Move the microwave and refrigerator into the laundry room, and eat out more,” Paula laughs.
Dream It and Do It
Even builders fantasize of a dream kitchen. Norman would feature a large, open kitchen with dual ovens built into cabinets “right there at chest height,” he exudes, his tone conveying utter enthusiasm. He’d have a center island with a range top that has a flat surface built into the island, and couldn’t do without stainless steel undermount sinks, deep, 9’ or more. The countertop--that’s a hard choice. “Probably Silestone, because it’s supposed to be maintenance free and if you put a hot pan on it you’re not going to scald it. You don’t have to seal it.” For the finishing touch, Norman would install recessed lights, plenty of them, as well as hanging pendant lights.
A final word of advice: compare apples to apples. Realize that with a custom kitchen, you’re paying for design, quality materials and personal attention. “The client needs to understand what drives the costs of the project,” says George. “When you have a well-designed kitchen, changing door styles or finishes to lower the cost of the project will not have a negative impact on the function and overall appearance of the space.”
And unless you’re spending your money on a distinguished butler and cook to keep you out of the kitchen, it’s worth it to enjoy your surroundings and invest in a quality job.