by Kate Heyhoe
An ugly kitchen is one thing cosmetic surgery in the form of paint and refinishing can do wonders. But a kitchen that's poorly conceived is just a bad, mean place to work. No amount of touch ups can fix a cramped, frustrating space, with minimal countertops, or rickety cabinets.
For some people, the kitchen is the heart of the home. and for me as a food writer, my kitchen is also my workplace. So when it came down to finding a new home, my husband Thomas and I agreed: the kitchen would be the most important room in the house. We wanted efficiency with warmth—a place for both function and comfort.
After years of searching, we finally found a property that we could consider calling "home"—but not right away.
Click for larger photo with caption.
We bought a 1960's ranch-style house perched at the top of five acres of eucalyptus groves. (See photo.) At least the oldest part of the house was from the '60's. The original structure was a cabin, but it had so many additions built over the years that it rivaled the famous Winchester House (the San Jose oddity whose eight rooms grew to 160 rooms—some no larger than a closet—over 38 years).
The greatest challenge to my imagination was envisioning that the house interior could one day be......tasteful. The walls were covered in ugly cheap, wood paneling in three main colors: dark brown, yellow-white, and army green. The floors were a mix of crumbling vinyl, dirt brown tiles and pet-stained carpeting. The drooping ceiling panels in the enclosed porch room suffered from water marks. and the cramped, galley-style kitchen featured orange and brown tiles, orange pegboard, and painted yellow cabinets. In fact, the kitchen was more of a hallway than a real room. (See photos from Part 1.) But, as my husband kept reminding me, the house has good bones. All it needed was a vision, some time and a whole lotta money and materials.
Whether you're remodeling a whole house, like us, or just a kitchen, turning the bad into the good can be costly.
Consider this: Which would you rather have—a new car or a new kitchen? Both cost about the same and your options are similar: can you afford the Cadillac of kitchens with flashy optional bells and whistles, or will a trusty and efficient Toyota sedan better fit your lifestyle and budget?
Tackling a poorly designed kitchen is a bit like Homer's Odyssey: every day brings new adventures, some inspiring and fun, others surprising and stressful. Here's what you need to know before embarking on your kitchen odyssey:
Kitchen remodels can be worthwhile investments. According to the First Entertainment Federal Credit Union, a minor kitchen remodel costing $9200 can increase a home's resale value by about $10,000—a 108% recoup on investment. A major kitchen remodel of $25,600 will only add $25,000 to the resale value, or about 92% of the remodeling investment. But weighing in personal factors, like ease of lifestyle, increased efficiency and pure, simple joy, can override the gap in investment return.
Budget for overage. Some 10% to 30% of the cost of any remodeling project comes from change orders or add-ons. You can tell yourself you'll stick to your original plans and not make changes, but realistically, this won't happen. Trust me. Homes older than 20 years are especially likely to reveal unforeseen problems. Expect the unexpected and be prepared to spend more than you originally intend.
TIP: Find a contractor you can work with, even if you have to wait three months as we did. Here our contractor, Mike Barrett, also a master carpenter, sorts out the Thomasville crown molding in the porch room. (Photo 2B)
Cabinets cost. Cabinets are the single largest expense of a kitchen—understandably so. Good cabinets combine the beauty of fine furniture with precise mechanical function and lasting durability. You have two options: custom or manufactured cabinets (also known as stock cabinets). Custom cabinets are expensive (about $36,000 for a 12x12 kitchen) but offer unlimited design flexibility. Some high-end stock cabinets can be almost as costly, but you can also find quality manufacturers like Thomasville Cabinets, which are quite affordable, running about 60% to 30% less than custom cabinets. Stock cabinets are modular, but stores like Home Depot provide kitchen designers at no charge to help you select the right combination for your space. Don't forget to budget in the labor cost for installation; our contractor installed our cabinets, but your retailer can recommend installers as well. (See photo 2B.)
Pick floors with care. Consider what attributes you want most: Easy to clean? Durability? Looks? Cost? We considered these options: stained concrete (hard on the feet and unforgiving on breakables); tile (affordable and natural looking, but can crack and chip); laminates (look like wood or stone); wood (natural beauty but can be pricey and difficult to maintain). Finally we settled on a new type of vinyl flooring from Armstrong—it's made from a material called ToughGuard, which makes it durable enough to handle professional kitchen abuse, yet it's also attractive and easy to clean. (See photo 2C.)
A "good design" means what's good for you. Once the decision to remodel was made, I became very conscious of how I worked in a kitchen, noticing and jotting down all sorts of details about what I liked about my current kitchen and what I didn't—while I was cooking in it. I measured my existing cabinet storage and countertop spaces and noted how much more I needed. I also researched other cooks' kitchens in magazines, books and TV, and read what kitchen designers have to say.
Designers emphasize creating an efficient work triangle linking the fridge, the sink and the cooking areas. Classic layouts include galley-style, L-shaped, U-shaped and G-shaped kitchens—but don't be afraid to break the rules. Unlike new kitchens created from scratch, a remodeled kitchen often faces limitations in design flexibility, so mapping an efficient traffic pattern and workspace can be challenging.
Kitchen designer Deborah Krasner recommends organizing kitchens into zones: wet (sink), dry (countertops), hot (range/oven/cooktop), and cold (refrigerator)—grouping all the tasks and equipment for each zone together. Pots and pans go near the stove, knives by the countertop, colanders near the sink.
Today's kitchens may also have more than one type of zone. For instance, our kitchen was initially planned with one hot zone, a Maytag Accellis 2X range against one wall, but I added a Maytag gas cooktop opposite it on the extra-large peninsula, thus allowing me to cook and chop while facing guests seated at the bar.
Other cooks enjoy having both a main sink and a prep sink in different areas, but for me, having the countertop space was more valuable than adding a separate sink. I settled on the largest dual-bowl sink Swanstone makes (the sink is seamlessly integrated into the countertop), and placed it centrally between the range and the peninsula.
Make space. When it comes to storage space and countertop work areas, I recommend going for the maximum of each that you can afford and your physical area can handle. You won't regret it.
Thomasville Cabinets makes tall cabinets that are 8-feet high, with optional roll-out shelves. I installed a whole 5-foot wide wall of them for storing pantry, cookware and dinnerware items, plus another 3 feet of them in what we call the butler's pantry. This frees up my main kitchen to house the hot and wet zone items I use daily. Plus, ample storage gets rid of counter-top clutter.
To increase my countertop workspace, I designed a peninsula that's straight across with a dog-legged section at the end. It's about 8 feet long on the kitchen side and 11 feet long on the bar side. The kitchen side has an extra-deep countertop (4 inches deeper than standard) which sits at normal height. The raised bar-height countertop (18 inches deep) runs opposite it. Both are made of the same handsome Swanstone material (which I'll discuss in a future column). This was a pricey addition, but it's become the central hub of not just the kitchen, but the whole house. and best of all, I never feel cramped or lacking for workspace.
Light it up. Once you set your floor plan, you'll want to consider the lighting plan and electrical outlets. This can be complicated but it doesn't have to be. I'll expand on this subject later in the series, but know that whatever lighting you desire, you may need to cut into your ceiling or walls to set the fixtures or the outlets. My new kitchen glows with versatile lighting: undercabinet halogen task lights, overhead recessed eyeballs that are directional, halogen track lights with gimbal heads, a ceiling fan with four central lights, and the over-the-range light with two settings. Whether I'm demonstrating a recipe or simply relaxing at the bar, my kitchen has lights for every task or mood.
To be continued...
COMING NEXT WEEK:
Major Appliances: The Ultimate Power Tools
Copyright © 2001, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created February 2001
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