Over many years of managing high-end home remodeling projects, I’ve learned a few secrets when it comes to design, especially in regard to kitchen remodels. For most families, the kitchen is THE most important room in the house. It’s the home’s center of gravity, the place that draws everyone else into its orbit, if for no other reason than that’s where the food is. Everyone needs to eat, so everyone eventually cycles through the kitchen, and therein finds other family members cooking, cleaning, eating, working, doing homework, making crafts, hatching plans, hanging out, or simply catching up with other members of the tribe. Therefore, it’s worth putting extra time and money and care into the design of your kitchen… except sometimes it isn’t. There are actually some places where it’s EASY to take a few shortcuts to save significant time and money, which you can then redirect to other places where you never, EVER want to cut corners. Some things whose importance should NEVER be underestimated and actually don’t cost very much to do right: Ventilation Many people don’t really think about kitchen ventilation… until their kitchen is filled with a fine mist of bacon grease or smoking oil or charred vegetables. At that point you want to clear your air, stat! You need to ensure that the ventilation system is correctly sized for your stove AND it needs to be balanced against the air intake needs of your heating and cooling systems. Do not cut corners when it comes to kitchen ventilation! (On the other hand, it’s ALSO generally not necessary to install a huge, sprawling vent hood that sounds like an Airbus spooling up either… You want it to be as large and powerful as necessary, but no larger, or you’re simply adding noise and cost without adding benefit.) Sink Nearly everyone buys a sink that’s too small so as to not give up counter space, or a sink that’s divided into multiple small compartments, or is just plain flimsy. Please… do yourself a favor and get a big, single-compartment farmhouse-style sink. You’ll be glad you did. It costs many times more than a standard sink, but in the overall cost of a high-end kitchen remodel, it’s couch change. Ceramic will hold up better than stainless steel because it won’t dent or show scratches (but stainless may blend better with your decor). Faucet Don’t underestimate the importance of a high-quality faucet. A large gooseneck faucet with a flexible head that can easily switch between stream and spray featuring a single lever handle to control both temperature and pressure is perfect. THE most important thing, however, is reliability, particularly when it comes to the switch on the sprayer head. You’re going to be using that switch a LOT, and many faucets LOOK great but the sprayer switch wears out after a few years, necessitating an expensive and annoying repair. Don’t cut corners — spend the extra money on a faucet with tank-like reliability. Oven Noise If you’ve never actually cooked in a high-end kitchen, you might be surprised to learn that high-end ovens are incredibly noisy. They contain active cooling fans to keep their electronic temperature controls at a reasonable operating temperature — in ADDITION to their convection fans. They’re WAY louder than you might expect. They often require you to shout to carry on a dinner conversation, and they take a LONG time to cool down (meaning, the cooling fans can still be running an hour or more after you turn the oven off). It’s very much worth putting in the extra effort to find the quietest oven you can. It’s extremely aggravating to learn that you’ve just spent $6,000 or $12,000 on an oven and are stuck with what sounds like an industrial-grade wind tunnel mere feet from your center island for the next 10 or 20 years. Center Island / Work Triangle And speaking of center islands… You’re going to be tempted to make your center island as big as possible, even at the expense of clearance between the island and perimeter counters. Don’t get me wrong — a center island is a great feature for any kitchen. It can serve as a table for casual dining, a place to get work done, a place for kids to do homework (and, unfortunately, also a place for them to dump backpacks and gym bags when they get home from school). It’s usually the centerpiece of your kitchen. However, if you think the space between your island and the fridge, or the island and the sink, or the island and the dishwasher, or the island and the stove is a bit tight, you should probably re-think the size of your island. Don’t forget to account for the space needed to swing open refrigerator, dishwasher and oven doors! Appliance Storage And speaking of appliances… Make a list of all the small appliances you currently own. AND a list of those you think you might WANT to own. Now figure out where all of those things are going to go in your new kitchen. Now add some more space to your design. You don’t want your appliance storage to be a sliding-tile puzzle in which you need to rearrange your entire cabinet every time you want to get an appliance out! Outlets And speaking of appliances… You’re going to want plenty of outlets for all of those small appliances. Yes, they’re ugly, and yes, they break up your beautiful swath of marble subway tile, but eventually you’ll stop noticing all of those outlets. But I guarantee you’re going to notice a LACK of convenient outlets every time you try to plug in one of your many appliances! I highly recommend installing a strip of outlets under the overhang of your center island. Aside from appliances, this is a great place to plug in laptops, tablets, phones, and watch chargers as well, which gives the kids one more reason to hang out in the kitchen with you doing homework while you make dinner. Don’t be tempted to install USB-specific chargers; USB form factors are going to come and go (witness the current transition from USB-A to USB-C, for example), but the standard 110V form factor is going to be around for the rest of our lives. Garbage Disposal Don’t skip the garbage disposal. Unclogging traps for the next 20 years simply isn’t worth the $100 you’ll save on a garbage disposal. A single trip charge from a plumber will wipe out that minor savings. (Yes, I’ve met some homeowners doing a high-end remodel that didn’t think a garbage disposal was necessary.) And here are some areas where you can actually SAVE a lot of money: Pot Fillers They add a lot of plumbing, but only save you about 5 feet of carrying a heavy pot of water from the sink to the stove. Don’t forget — you still have to carry that heavy pot of hot water AWAY from your stove when you’re done. If your pot of water is too heavy to lift ONTO the stove, it’s also going to be too heavy to lift OFF the stove. Dishwashers They all fit into standard cabinet sizes, and a $500 dishwasher is basically as good as a $2000 dishwasher. Anything over $1000 will simply be more things to go wrong. A 2db sound difference isn’t even noticeable. Stick with something simple and reliable and easily replaceable. Refrigerators The same advice applies to refrigerators. Go for finish and durability instead of fancy features. Display screens, fancy lighting, see-through doors, in-door ice dispensers, Internet connectivity… these will break, degrade, and eventually be unsupported. Stick with simple and reliable. (Which can still be eye-wateringly expensive, especially if you go for French door counter-depth units!) Cabinetry This is actually a place where you can save MANY thousands of dollars. You’d be surprised at how many expensive, high-end kitchens are built around IKEA cabinet boxes, drawers and hinges with custom-built facings and doors. Looking at them, it’s impossible to know that the guts of the cabinet were made by IKEA. There’s really no need to hire a custom cabinet maker to build all of your cabinetry completely from scratch when IKEA has made literally millions of cabinets over the course of decades and sold tens of millions of hinges and drawer slides that have been opened and closed literally billions of times. Save money by using basic cabinet carcasses and hardware from IKEA and spend the savings on custom cabinet facings and doors built from high-quality solid wood. An experienced project manager can help negotiate these tradeoffs between cost, space, and finishes. The architect will insist on one option, the interior designer on another, the builder on a third, and you, the homeowner, on a fourth. This process is a tricky balancing act that requires a lot of unpleasant give and take. However, the project manager represents the homeowner’s best interest and point of view and will negotiate on your behalf so that YOU don’t have to spend your limited time and emotional energy trying to negotiate this tradeoff minefield alone. I act as your advocate and champion and ensure that every other member of your design/build team falls into line behind us to keep your project on track, on time, and on budget.
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