By DIANA T. BARTH
It wasn’t the sparkles on the ceiling of my circa 1960s kitchen that bothered me the most, or even the warped doors on the light oak cabinets.
My breaking point was the burnt orange Formica countertops. They were designed, I fear, for an era of avocado green refrigerators and harvest gold blenders.
Finally, after the roof, furnace, and other priorities had been tackled, we decided it was time for us to modernize.
What I learned from that process—aside from the fact that I owe my husband big time for the sweat-equity he put in—is that a kitchen remodel need not be a budget-breaker. I also learned that now is not a bad time to consider undertaking one.
Mark Lane of Bayside Kitchen & Bath on Main Street in Falmouth says a kitchen project can be budget-driven or design-driven. We had a budget and promised each other we would not spend a penny we didn’t have in hand. That put our remodel squarely into the budget-driven category.
Mr. Lane said that he will occasionally have customers who treat their budget like a closely guarded secret. That, he said, can sometimes lead to designing a $40,000 kitchen for someone who has $15,000 to spend, a waste of the designer’s efforts and frustration for the client. There are ways to get the most bang for your buck, no matter whether you’re paying $5,000 or $50,000, so being upfront about the range can be helpful, he said.
Say, Mr. Lane said, you have $25,000 to spend. You look at appliances, and find a package deal that will cost you $3,500. The granite countertops you want cost $4,500. Now, you’re down to $17,000.
You still need, for your layout and size kitchen, $5,000 for plumbing, electrical, hardware, and other incidentals, like your sink and faucets. That brings you down to $12,000. Subtract $5,000 for new flooring, since the existing floor runs without a break from the kitchen into the dining room and down a hallway. That leaves about $7,000 for both the cabinets and associated labor.
If you have your eye on more expensive cabinets, you begin to tweak, choosing, say, a less expensive color of granite.
When asked where he would put his money in a kitchen remodel, Mr. Lane said he would, personally, opt for the cabinets. The doors, hinges, drawer glides, for example, need to last “a lifetime,” he said. Even the quality of options like rollout trays varies, depending on price.
Mr. Lane, who puts function high on his list of criteria for kitchen design, said you can get a particular look you would like at either the low or the high end, but that the high end cabinets have superior fit and finish.
Stock cabinets, he said, are designed and built in three-inch increments, and they are put together like a puzzle. Only in a high end, custom kitchen, he said, can you vary from sizes for a better fit and design.
Close to a year ago, when we first started talking about a new kitchen, my husband started looking at power tools and examining the way one of our friends, a shop teacher, made his new cabinet doors.
At the same time, I started looking at model kitchens everywhere from Ikea to high end designer showrooms. I have lived through do-it-yourself projects before. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, especially if you don’t already have the professional tools (read, no chop saw or nail gun). For months, we looked for ideas everywhere from home improvement stores (my husband) to HGTV (me).
I zeroed in on a design choice: a white beadboard kitchen, to both brighten a dark room and create a Cape Cod feel.
While watching television, I saw an advertisement for Kitchen Sales in West Bridgewater, which can, they say, put in a 10-foot kitchen for as little as $4,000. I went online to its website and, sure enough, there was a picture of what I wanted.
It was February, and they were offering free door handles and drawer pulls as an incentive.
We visited their showroom, examined the Aristokraft cabinets I had liked and got a rough estimate of the cost. We then went back home to do some cost comparisons.
For less than $5,300 Kitchen Sales could both provide my new cabinets and countertops and arrange to have them installed. That price included the more than 20 stainless steel rod-style cabinet door handles and drawer pulls that gave the traditional cabinets a more modern look, as well as the cutting of a hole in the countertop for a sink.
Factoring in time and frustration, we couldn’t have done it ourselves for that.
We already had appliances (black and stainless steel) replaced over the past few years as the old ones wore out, but there were still a lot of purchases, and decisions, to be made.
We needed the new sink. We needed faucets and, since I’m used to putting everything down the kitchen sink, a garbage disposal system. We also needed an exhaust fan. We went with a combination microwave and fan, in spite of friend having advised us that a separate exhaust system was far more effective. I wanted the counter space!
Before the new kitchen could go in, the old kitchen had to come out. That meant, of course, a couple of days of having my dining room table in the living room covered in pots and pans. The coffee maker and toaster oven were set for use on a small table near it. A dishpan, towel, and drainboard were set up in the bathroom and all of our nonperishable food was in the spare bedroom. Such fun!
The kitchen price did not include any plumbing and electrical work, if needed. It required our taking out the old cabinets in advance, but it did not mandate taking the kitchen down to the lathing, However, since the room was cold, and the 40-year-old sliding door to the back deck difficult to open, we did; by “we,” I mean my husband, with a little help from the professionals. Did I already say I owe my husband, big-time?
We took the old wallboard in the kitchen down, corrected some plumbing deficiencies (don’t ask), upgraded insulation, and put up some new Sheetrock.
There were the inevitable miseries that come with looking behind walls, but suffice it to say the sink will stop up less and the beam that carries the weight of the door that opens out onto the deck is no longer absorbing rainwater.
My husband took a week off to do the work, and with considerable thanks to Joseph Larocque of Sandwich, kitchen contractor, friend, and neighbor, we had the room all ready. (I carried some demolition debris out to the truck.)
We even took pictures of what was behind the new Sheetrock and marked the location of studs on the ceiling, hoping it would help the installers.
The installation of the new kitchen, itself, took about a day. There was a problem with the cutting of the sink, but Kitchen Sales and the installer made that problem go away, without cost or argument.
Arthur Greenlaw of Kitchen Sales, who had helped us design our kitchen, showed us all of the countertop options when we toured the showroom. Because we were working with a tight budget, I chose a laminate countertop with a granite look. I was used to laminate and I used my cutting board and avoided setting hot pots down directly on the counter without conscious thought. In a kitchen the size of mine, granite would have cost about $1,900 more. Since the newer laminates can come with rolled edges, unlike the old orange laminate I was living with, I was very happy with my choice.
Marianne Sansone of Falmouth Kitchen Corner, on Worcester Court, said that the majority of people who are remodeling a kitchen choose granite. It is the most practical and not necessarily the most expensive option, she said, with some colors costing far less than others. It can take something hot and is the most durable. Soapstone, for example, can stain, although Ms. Sansone said it ends up with a rustic look that some customers want.
Laminates, although less expensive and less durable, may be preferable for someone who wants a solid color but does not like the look of concrete or butcher block counters.
Ms. Sansone said that she usually ends up asking her client questions, rather than vice versa, as they zero in on the many choices they have to make. The best advice she has for those thinking about a kitchen remodel is to look through catalogs and magazines and cut out any pictures that appeal to them. A remodel involves a lot of decision-making.
Ms. Sansone said some of her clients have interior decorators, but she works with others on decisions such as a color palette.
Mr. Lane said he works with a number of decorators willing to help clients make color, texture, and pattern choices if they are having difficulty putting together a cohesive look. Such assistance could add, he said, $200 to a $40,000 kitchen budget, but is money well spent if someone needs help with a cohesive look.
We came into the showroom with most of our design choices made, and adjusted those choices based on budget. We painted the kitchen and dining room walls a light gray, providing contrast for the white cabinets. That blended well with the black and stainless of our existing appliances and colors in the countertop.
One of the most important, and most expensive, of our choices was flooring.
Because our kitchen flows into the dining room which, in turn, is open to the living room and hallway, there was no logical place to stop ceramic tile or other flooring. We did not want a carpeted kitchen. For us, the only logical choice for flooring was wood.
We looked, again, in the big box stores, flooring liquidators, and elsewhere, and decided that we wanted a light colored wooden floor that would match the light brown in the predominantly gray and black granite look-alike countertop.
We decided we did not want laminate flooring and liked the look of stranded bamboo, one of the hardest floors. We took home a sample and showed it to our neighbor, who had scheduled time to help with the installation. We found that some types of flooring are much easier to install than others, but he thought that this one would not be easy.
Kirk Ward, the owner of Award Flooring on Main Street in Buzzards Bay, where we had been looking at backsplash tile, came up with the answer to our issue. He said there was only one type of click-lock stranded bamboo flooring that he actually liked installing. It was slightly more expensive but, we decided, well worth the cost
He ordered it for us, and ended up lending us one of his tools.
Putting it in was (relatively) easy.
The whole project—including ripping up the carpet in the living room and hall, putting in that new flooring, extending the same white molding we put up in the new kitchen to the baseboards and doorframes in the living room and hallway, and a lot of repainting—cost about $13,000.
I won’t tell you how much the experts say my husband’s sweat equity was worth; it might go to his head.
Mr. Lane and Ms. Sansone, and the guys at Kitchen Sales said that now is a very good time for a remodeling project, even if you don’t have a handyman and neighborly licensed contractors around.
In this down economy, manufacturers are cutting prices, adding incentives, and doing deals, and the kitchen experts are passing those savings along to customers. If you’ve been thinking about making a change, maybe now is the time.