by Joni Spear
Building and remodeling kitchens can be daunting, but with a few expert tips you can undertake a new project with a seamless approach.
First, don’t be enticed by the cheapest bid when hiring professionals and always get references. Before paying a deposit, insist on a detailed contract that outlines the project, step-by-step. Consulting an interior or kitchen designer before hiring a contractor is highly recommended; it’s less expensive to make mistakes on paper than after walls are removed.
Inevitably there will be unexpected expenses, so remember to give yourself a financial cushion for change orders, which can add up quickly. And be prepared for the project to take longer than anticipated because that, too, is inevitable. Save yourself a migraine by planning that big reveal party after the kitchen’s completion.
Prior to designing your space, research the appliances you’re considering. Refrigerators come in many sizes and you want to make sure the one you want fits before you order cabinets. For a more streamlined look, opt for cabinet-depth models that are around 26 inches. Your new fridge can be freestanding or built-in. The latter is pricier but offers a more refined look.
Decide if you want a traditional range or a separate cooktop with wall-mounted ovens, and don’t overlook your microwave. Although putting the microwave over the range is a space saver, it doesn’t offer enough ventilation for professional model ranges.
Appliance finishes are a matter of personal choice, but have them match whenever possible. For a more cohesive look, you can have panels made in the same material as your cabinets.
Take a detailed inventory of all your cooking gear: pots, pans, trays, baking sheets, silverware, dishes and glassware. Storage should be zoned accordingly. Your cabinets should accommodate small appliances like food processers and mixers – a lazy Susan installed in a corner cabinet is a good place for such items. Slim, pull-out drawers on either side of the range are an optimal spot for cooking utensils, oils and spices, making them easily accessible when cooking. Large drawers are great for pots, pans and your never-ending collection of plastic storage containers. And the space above the refrigerator is the ideal size to store trays and baking sheets.
When selecting cabinets, look for American-made. Custom cabinets are not as expensive as you think, so be sure to check out local companies. Your cabinets should always have solid wood frames, and soft-close doors and drawers are definitely not overrated.
Overhead cabinets should always stretch up to the ceiling. Soffits – the blocky structures that fill the gap between the top of cabinets and the ceiling – are not only obtrusive and unsightly but wasted real estate, so pull them out if you can. A typical 8-foot wall can handle a 42-inch high, upper wall cabinet. You’ll gain an extra row of shelves and won’t have that dead space above that serves no purpose other than collecting dust. Install trim molding to hide any errors.
A favorite practice of mine is bringing upper cabinets down to the counter. It’s a great space for dishes because you won’t have to reach as high to get them. And one of the most monumental mistakes is not incorporating a cabinet for trash and recycling. There is nothing more unsightly than a visible kitchen trash can.
Make the best use of a new island by incorporating storage to the sides that aren’t used for seating. And adding an extra sink is great for prep work, but don’t forget to have the plumbing installed ahead of time.
Don’t make your island so large that it’s inconvenient to walk around, and be sure to allow enough clearance between the counter and appliances. You need ample space to stand in front of the oven or fridge when the doors are open.
Your island need not match the rest of the kitchen, so don’t be afraid to alter your design by varying its cabinetry and countertop. You can distinguish this area by adding butcher block, marble or any other alternative surface. If you crave a different color or a stained finish, a kitchen island is a great place for that. However, under no circumstances should the island have a slide-in oven. An island cooktop is acceptable with proper ventilation, but never an oven.
Take your time selecting your sink style and size and remember that the faucet is the most used item in your kitchen, so don’t skimp on it. For countertops, it’s important to visit stone yards that have slabs of material on site, such as the granite, marble, quartz or quartzite commonly used in kitchens. For me this is an emotional decision, akin to choosing a wedding gown. I have my clients walk down the vast aisles of towering monoliths until the right stone calls to them. Things to consider in your countertops include convenience, durability, cleanability and price. Bring a cabinet sample with you, but keep in mind that the hues will be different in your home.
Backsplashes are a matter of taste. You can bring your counter material all the way up to the cabinet, have a 4-inch backsplash or choose tile. Cleaning will be an ongoing chore – you want a surface that’s easy to wipe down.
Lighting is paramount in kitchen design, so don’t cut corners on recessed lights or other illumination under cabinets. Install island lights on a separate switch with dimmers and be sure to put lighting over the sink – you want to be able to see those lipstick stains on the wine glasses you’re cleaning after a party.
Lastly, don’t neglect your feet. You can easily add a furniture-like look to your base cabinets by adding feet. Most cabinet companies offer a few choices and the result can make your space look more polished and professional.
Joni Spear, a professional interior designer with more than 20 years of experience, specializes in high-end residential projects. See some of her work at www.JoniSpear.com.