May 05

I hate my kitchen, now what?

Perhaps the most common room in the house that people really hate, for esthetic or functional reasons, or both, is their kitchen.  In the city there are loads of condominiums with thirty year old galley kitchens.  In the suburbs there are a multitude of kitchens that just are not set up the way people want to live today.  Of course, it’s in the interest of everyone in the industry to tell you to gut everything and start over to create your dream kitchen.  I’m going to give you the opposite advice.   Here is some advice, in no particular order, based on experience with dozens of renovations.

  • Unless money is absolutely no object, start with trying to figure out what is the least you can do to change your kitchen that will give you what you want.  My father and his wife had a truly ugly kitchen.  When their house was built thirty years ago the developer installed light caramel glaze hickory cabinets with grey corian counter tops.  For five years they talked to me about a gut renovation, but I knew that they didn’t really want to spend the money or go through the hassle of a months long project.  And their kitchen layout was good..  I suggested they throw away the corian and replace them with granite that better matched the cabinets.  The work took a day, they spent about a fifth of what a total renovation would have cost, and their kitchen is beautiful.
  • Get expert advice first.  If you cannot stand the way your kitchen looks, but especially if you hate the way it’s laid out, find a great kitchen designer.  There are not that many of them, so if you are not thrilled with the design the first person gives you, go see another designer.  This is a specialized field, and the design is going to make or break your renovation, so demand satisfaction.
  • You get what you pay for.  Two weeks ago I went to see a brand new condo.  It was owned by the fiancé of the woman who called me.  She hated his kitchen cabinets, which were a medium brown stain, so they paid a friend to paint them ebony. He used a brush so you could see all the strokes on the doors.  For some inexplicable reason, he painted the doors a matte color and on the boxes (the cabinets themselves) he applied a high gloss polyurethane boat sealer, so the sheen was completely different than the doors.
  • Do what makes you happy and makes your home better for you.  It always surprises me when I talk to people who tell me they’ve lived in a house with a kitchen they hated for the last twenty years, and now they want to sell the house so they want to improve it.  Your house is not an investment per se.  You should not expect to make a profit on the money you put in.  The best investment you can make is in creating an environment that improves your life.  If you do that, you’ll find someone who appreciates what you’ve done and the house will sell faster.
  • Make your decisions in advance.  Whether you act as your own general contractor or hire an architect, think through everything and realize that everything should go together; the cabinets, countertop, hardware, sink, faucet, etc.  Most people are surprised to learn how many decisions have to be made.  It’s much better to make them in advance.  If you don’t, it will cost time, money or both.
  • Use the internet.  There are wonderful sites like Houzz that have hundred of thousands of photos.  These are today’s versions of House Beautiful magazine.  People create ideabooks online instead of clippings.  It’s a really easy way to communicate to your designer or builder what looks you like.
  • Stick to a classic look.  Right now it’s in vogue to mix light color cabinets with a darker color island.  Glass mosaic tiles are very popular for backsplashes.  If you love that look, install it.  But don’t be persuaded by anyone to do the currently popular look.  Your designer is going to renovate many more kitchens in the next few years, and they’ll be on to the next trend, but you will live with your kitchen for the next ten or twenty years.
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