Author Debbie Reslock Published May 2, 2017
Some home repair and renovation projects are inevitable — pipes corrode, window trim warps, roof shingles buckle and curl. Others require more of a push, such as a living room addition to keep up with the space needs of a growing family, a new patio or deck to extend that area outdoors and even the installation of a home-entertainment system to bring it all together.
One of the most popular remodeling projects these days — the kitchen — is equal parts technical and functional.
Home-improvement spending is expected to grow 6% annually to $318.6 billion by the first quarter of 2018, according to the Joint Center For Housing Studies of Harvard University. And although DIY’s popularity continues, owners in the millennial (76%), Gen-X (83%) and baby boomer (88%) generations overwhelmingly chose to work with a professional builder or remodeler in 2015, according to a recent Houzz user survey.
With remodeling spending on the rise, you can expect owners will continue to invest in their kitchens. The most common reasons for a kitchen renovation, Houzz found, are to refresh outdated designs and finishes and to upgrade appliances. Owners who renovated their kitchen in 2015 spent 12% more than they did the year before, averaging $50,700 for a major remodel of a kitchen greater than 200 square feet and $26,400 for a major remodel of a kitchen smaller than that.
Pros do more than construct the space. They serve as a sounding board and general guide for owner’s material and space decisions — and that’s not always easy when the likes of “House Hunters” and “Fixer Upper” skew projections of budget and timelines.
The professional advantage
Consumers today are far more educated about the renovation process than they were even a few years ago, says Adrien Winger, a certified kitchen designer at Caruso Kitchens, in Lakewood, CO. With the prevalence of media brands like HGTV, social media websites like Pinterest and the general ease of searching for ideas on the internet, they’re very aware of what they want. They don’t always understand the associated costs, however.
That’s where the pro comes in. In the Houzz user survey, respondents said they looked to home-improvement professionals for their ability to manage a project, keep it on-budget and help find the best products.
With more product choices available than ever before, helping customers weigh their options and make a selection is as important as the construction itself.
How many cooks in the kitchen?
Regardless of budget and size, all kitchen remodels must start with understanding how the space will be used. Whether appliances will be upgraded or floors resurfaced should take a temporary backseat to determining how many people will typically be in the space at once, and for what purpose. Consider that space needs will be different for a person who enjoys cooking solo and for someone who likes entertaining large groups in their home.
Kitchen layouts have long used the “work triangle” concept, with the refrigerator, stove and sink located at the points to maximize efficiency. However, a popular design for today’s kitchens, which tend to have more appliances than just a stove and a fridge is for separate work stations that dedicate space for food prep, assembly and cleaning up, according to HGTV.
Islands, on the other hand, remain a popular standby, according to HGTV, as they offer additional space for food prep and storage and can be fitted with electrical outlets, serving as a charging station for kitchens whose owners envision the space as the activity hub of the home. They can also double as seating for informal meals.
Knowing how the space will be used can also help determine its lighting needs. San Francisco–based lighting designer Randall Whitehead told HGTV that a good lighting plan uses a combination of task, ambient, accent and decorative illumination. As for lamp type, LEDs are becoming more common in residential applications, with uses including along cabinet toe kicks for night lights or inside cabinets to make sorting through their contents easier or even concealed in crown molding to draw visitors’ eyes upward, according to HouseLogic.
Accessibility is also important, and it is getting more attention as baby boomers renovate their homes so they can age-in-place as their accessibility needs change. Features like side-opening ovens at counter height eliminate the need to reach up or bend down, as do under-counter microwave drawers, Gordon says.
A fitting finish
At Design and Construction Week 2017, in Orlando, FL, Construction Dive made note that while kitchen products continue to get smarter, some of the most inventive upgrades of late have been unexpectedly low-tech. Consider Bosch’s redesigned dishwasher interior, complete with a third rack just for bowls, saucepans, long-utensils and other hard-to-fit kitchen tools.
The shared focus on analog improvements in an age when nearly everything can have an internet connection could be due to limited adoption of high-tech products. In a survey of 3,000 households, consulting firm McKinsey found that while connected devices exist for functions such as access control, energy efficiency and communication and will be installed in roughly 29 million homes as of 2017, uptake faces challenges from issues around product differentiation and compatibility, and how to use the data collected. According to the Census Bureau, there were 116.9 million households in the US from 2011 to 2015.
For the growing group of households that do have smart products, however, their features add value to more than just the general workflow. Using a companion app, occupants can tell their smart oven to preheat before they arrive home to make dinner, or even just double check that they remembered to turn the oven off.
Refrigerators like Samsung’s Family Hub (show above) have a built-in camera that connects with a companion app that occupants can use to check its contents while at the grocery store (or anywhere else) from their mobile device. Gordon notes that having an extra fridge at counter height can be useful for storing produce in the prep area or allowing kids to have easy access to pre-approved snacks.
Another example is GE’s line of internet-connected appliances, which syncs with the free online service IFTTT (If This Then That) for functions such as sending a Twitter message when the oven is preheated. IFTTT uses an “if–then” statement to preset conditions. The appliances have a companion app through which users can set timers, start cycles and turn the device on and off. Additionally, dishwashing detergent pods can be automatically reordered, and hot water can be scheduled ahead of time for a morning cup of coffee. (That’s because GE also offers a refrigerator with an integrated Keurig machine.)
Continued growth in the touch-activated kitchen faucets market is giving consumers more options for products that improve workflow efficiency when cooking or cleaning up with messy hands. And Caruso’s Winger points out a popular hands-free garbage can that opens and closes when lightly touched.
New styles for mainstays
For cabinets, Winger says, while there are many more styles and colors to choose from today than in the past, white is still popular. However, grays and other neutral hues are also becoming more prominent, especially in open-plan spaces where the kitchen is also part of the living area and is a primary entertainment space.
Frameless cabinetry has been trending for years, and it isn’t showing signs of going away, says Angela O’Neill, director of marketing and advertising for Ashland, AL-based cabinet-maker Wellborn Cabinet. O’Neill notes a shift in consumer preference between painted and stained wood. “Our current sales are trending upward of 50% for painted options, with white continuing to hold the majority,” she says.
Decorative laminate veneer is also growing in popularity as a cabinet material because it offers a smoother surface for paint and a blank canvas for some of the more contemporary styles, she says.
According to Winger, kitchen design has simplified in the last five to seven years. She sees more homeowners shedding traditional design for a contemporary look. While many of Winger’s clients trimmed details from projects during and after the recession to lower their costs, people are picking back up with what they want to live with, and not just what they need for resale value.