The steady recovery of housing has put kitchen remodels back in the spotlight, with their relatively high payback on investment and enjoyment.
Here's how to start planning the kitchen of your dreams.
Open it up
Separate kitchens are becoming as antiquated as parlors and rumpus rooms. An open kitchen makes the home feel bigger and warmer, says David Davison, certified kitchen remodeler and owner of Realty Restoration in Austin, Texas.
But an open plan can lead to chaos if the space is poorly organized. Think about what you'll do most in your kitchen—cooking, baking, eating, entertaining, homework, bill paying, and so on. If the room isn't big enough for everything, strip away the nonessentials, or relocate them to an adjacent area. For instance, do you really need a kitchen desk if you pay bills online using your tablet?
Stretch your storage
Fewer walls often mean less space for cabinets. A kitchen island provides room for multiple base cabinets, plus additional seating and work surfaces. Drawers or pullout shelves make storage more accessible.
Depending on the island size, you might even add a prep sink or cooktop with dedicated range hood. Just don't overdo the dimensions: "No matter how gorgeous, a massive island in a not-so-massive kitchen will be a problem," says Jule Eller, Lowe's director of trend strategy and communication. Figure on 42 inches of clearance on all sides or 48 inches if it's a two-cook kitchen. If space is tight, consider a peninsula instead.
Pantries are also ideal for stowing bulk items from the warehouse club and small appliances, which might otherwise clutter the countertop. A walk-in pantry provides the best storage and access, though an oversize wall cabinet with rollout shelves will also do the trick.
Try a cleaner look
Transitional design straddles the line between the warm, detailed look of traditional style and the sparse minimalism of modernism. Its clean, uncluttered look isn't likely to feel dated a decade down the road. Almost 70 percent of kitchen designers said they specified the new look on recent projects compared with 60 percent who chose traditional styling, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association, an industry trade group.
Simple cabinetry is a hallmark of transitional design. That means ditching the arched panels, applied moldings, and furniture-like feet of traditional cabinets without going ultramodern with curved corners or high-gloss finishes. Flat-panel, European-style units, without visible door frames, are a popular middle ground. They also minimize the nooks and crannies that collect dirt and grease.
Neutral hues, such as white cabinets and sophisticated grays on the walls, are another key element of transitional style. The calm palette has driven interest to quartz countertops, whose solid colors, light tones, and subtle patterns often work better than the dark, grained granites that have dominated kitchens for decades.
Grab efficiency gains
Appliances that meet the government's Energy Star standards are the most coveted home feature, beating out other wants like table space in the kitchen and a walk-in pantry, according to a recent survey of new-home buyers by the National Association of Home Builders. Check our dishwasher and refrigerator Ratings for models that combine top-notch energy efficiency and performance.
LED lighting is another way to save energy and money. While LEDs still cost more than other bulbs, prices are plummeting. And with their claimed life span of 20,000 to 50,000 hours, you may not have to change them for decades. If electrical work is part of your plan, consider recessed canisters, undercabinet lights, and hanging fixtures designed for LEDs, rather than incandescent fixtures that are just LED compatible. LED-specific fixtures offer improved light quality, dimmability, and adjustability, including the ability to change the color of their light output, says Terry McGowan, director of engineering and technology at the American Lighting Association.
This article is adapted from Consumer Reports' Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide. Click here for an online version.
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