High-style Kitchens on a Budget

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You don’t have to spend a fortune to create beautiful kitchens that buyers will love. Here’s how to polish your presentation.

November 18, 2013

Firmly entrenched as the focal point of a casual lifestyle, the kitchen isn’t just the heart of the home. “In today’s world, it is the home,” says Greenwood Village, Colo., interior designer Lita Dirks. Buyers of new production homes at nearly every price point expect a lot from the kitchen, including islands and lots of cabinet and countertop space.

It may seem daunting to accomplish this goal in a moderately priced house; however, if enough care and thought is given to the layout and specifications, it’s possible to design a professional-looking kitchen without blowing your budget. 
 
Buyers are willing to sacrifice square footage in dining rooms, living rooms, and other areas in order to have a bigger kitchen, says Michael Menn, principal of Michael Menn Ltd., a design/build firm headquartered in Northbrook, Ill.
 

Designed for efficient food preparation and cleanup, one section of the countertop is made of black walnut and has a prep sink. White glass-front cabinets have turquoise backs that highlight dishes and glassware. The flooring is porcelain tile. Designer: In Detail Interiors; Photos: Greg Riegler Photography
 
Islands have become standard in homes that are 2,000 square feet or larger, Menn says. And nearly all of the floor plans offered by North Salt Lake, Utah-based Woodside Homes include islands, says Jay Moss, chief marketing officer.
 
Dirks calls the island “the jewel in the setting. It’s where everything happens, and the bigger the better because it’s used for so many things.” But, as Menn points out, even a 4-by-4-foot island can be functional.
 
Some builders still install two-level islands, but Dirks believes a one-level island is more useful and costs less to build. “Just adding an interesting shape to the island countertop will heighten visual appeal,” she says. “The base cabinets don’t change.”
 

Cabinet chat


You’d never guess this kitchen was designed and built on a budget. The island offers generous seating areas and plenty of counter space, ideal for households with multiple cooks who love to entertain. Note that the cabinets run all the way to the ceiling, giving them a built-in, custom look. The room won best Budget-Friendly Kitchen and earned second place in the medium-size kitchen category in  in the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s 2013 design competition.
 
Cheryl Kees Clendenon, owner of In Detail Interiors, Pensacola, Fla., is averse to golden oak or light maple cabinets because the colors are difficult to work with. “If all else fails, use white,” says Clendenon. “It’s not old school—it’s classic.”
 
17 Ways to Freshen Up Kitchens
 
Make kitchen layouts island-centric whenever possible. The bigger the island, the better, but even a 4-by-4-foot island can work well.
 
Use two-tone or contrasting colors and/or materials on countertops, cabinets, and appliances. For example, paint the upper cabinets white and use a dark stain on the lower cabinets, or paint the island one color and the perimeter another.
 
Add a second sink to the island for food preparation. The prep sink can also be filled with ice to keep beverages chilled during a party.
 
Forget about the double-bowl sink. Buyers perceive deep, single-bowl models as more expensive. For an extra flourish, install an apron-front or farmhouse sink.
 
Use granite or a solid surface, such as quartz, for countertops for both good looks and durability.
 
Include 42-inch cabinets as standard, and upgrade the door hardware. Drop the soffit and run cabinetry all the way to the ceiling.
 
Space permitting, include a walk-in “Costco” pantry for storage of mega-size items, or build a floor-to-ceiling storage cabinet.
 
Use frameless cabinets. They work with any design style, have a cleaner look, and do a better job of utilizing space because they lack a center rail.
 
Keep clutter off the island. Include a planning center or computer alcove nearby for charging electronics, doing homework, paying bills, etc.
 
Put shelves and doors at one end of the island to store cookbooks, dishes, and glassware.
 
Change up the cabinet-door hardware. “Get rid of the plain brass or silver round knob,” says Pensacola, Fla., interior designer Cheryl Clendenon. “Step out of the box and use something that’s got a little more personality.”
 
Utilize shallow compartments under the sink and stovetop for additional storage.
 
Get rid of the fluorescent light boxes and use a mix of recessed or track lighting, decorative lighting, and under-cabinet lighting. Put lights inside glass-front cabinets.
 
Instead of a more expensive counter-depth refrigerator, put in a standard-depth model and build out the cabinets around it. You can also borrow space from an adjacent room to create an alcove for the refrigerator, or recess it into the wall between studs.
 
Install matching panels on appliances to give them a built-in look without purchasing built-in appliances.
 
Fill out the backsplash with a single material in a single color. If the countertops are granite, for instance, you might make the backsplash out of ceramic “subway” tile or mosaic tile, which comes in sheets for easier installation.
 
Substitute engineered wood floors or porcelain tile for solid wood. Porcelain tiles are available that resemble wood but can handle more wear and tear.
Dirks recommends making 42-inch-high cabinets a standard feature.
  
“Keep them straight across the top,” she advises. “It’s a newer look that looks expensive but actually costs less than placing them at different heights.” 
 
Another way to add panache is to run cabinetry all the way to the ceiling. “Many buyers see that space above the cabinets as a dust collector,” says Dirks. “Instead, I would drop the soffit so the cabinets look custom and built in. You can also add one or two glass doors, but don’t do arched doors on the uppers.”
 
Even one special touch can add immeasurably to the kitchen’s perceived value, Clendenon says, such as a pantry with doors designed to look like a hutch.
 
Be sure to include white and/or cream in your cabinet colors. “I’m not talking about the old thermofoils; I’m talking about white- or cream-painted cabinets,” Dirks says. Also include dark tones at the opposite end of the spectrum, such as ebony and espresso. “With stains, make sure you offer more brown tones than yellow or red undertones. You could even offer a gray paint or stain, since gray is coming on strong.”
 
Painted cabinets can save money, agrees Susan Brunstrum, principal of Sweet Peas Design, Libertyville, Ill. “They’re typically less expensive than stained because there are some decent composites available now,” says Brunstrum. “You can also do a two-tone treatment such as stained cabinets on the island and painted cabinets on the perimeter.”
 
She favors large, deep drawers in lieu of lower cabinets. “They’re better for storing pots and pans, cookie sheets, Tupperware, and even plates, and kids can reach them.” Drawers with full-extension glides should be standard in every home regardless of price, Clendenon adds.

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