Category: Kitchen


Bob Vila’s Guide to Kitchen Appliance Care

Your kitchen appliances work hard for you—they wash, chill, grind, freeze, heat, broil and bake—so do your part keep them in good working order.

Appliance Care

Photo: shutterstock.com

Your kitchen contains more appliances than any other room in the house. When the units are in good condition, there’s not a single meal that can’t be mixed, baked, fried, frozen, or disposed of. But keeping your appliances humming along requires know-how—and some care and maintenance. Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of these crucial kitchen helpers to keep them in ideal working condition throughout their lifespans.

Dishwashers

Refrigerators

Garbage Disposals

Ovens and Cooktops

Range Hoods

 

DISHWASHERS
Dishwashers are not only a great modern convenience, but it also turns out that they can use less water than it takes to wash dishes by hand. To get this eco-benefit, however, you need to run your dishwasher only when it’s full and make sure to maintain it properly. Here are the basics of routine dishwasher maintenance (for unit-specific repairs, consult your owner’s manual):

  • Check hoses for loose connections, clogs, or leaks, and replace if needed.
  • Remove buildup inside the spinning arms using a slender tool, such as needle-nose pliers or a toothpick.
  • Regularly wipe the gasket (the rubber or plastic seal around the door), edges, and underside of the door to ensure a clean seal.
  • Inspect the inside bottom of the washer, where wastewater exits the appliance. If you suspect there is buildup inside the drain, consult your manual to disassemble the cover and clean inside the drain.

REFRIGERATORS
The average lifespan of a fridge is 10 to 15 years, but that number can vary widely depending on how well the appliance is taken care of. If you must buy a new fridge, it’s important to consider the depth, door swing, style (for example, French door, bottom freezer, or top freezer), and special features that you might want, in addition to aesthetic choices like color. Follow these tips to promote the longevity of this valuable appliance:

  • Clean the interior shelves and shell of your refrigerator every few months.
  • Regularly remove debris from the drain hole and drip tray of your fridge; check the owner’s manual for instructions.
  • Once or twice a year, unplug the fridge, pull it away from the wall, and clean the coils with a vacuum cleaner.
  • Check the gaskets (door seals) regularly, wipe them down, and give them the “dollar bill test”: Close the door on a dollar bill; if you can easily remove it, the seal isn’t tight enough. If this is the case, call a professional to repair the gasket.

GARBAGE DISPOSALS
Installing a garbage disposal is not so difficult for a moderately skilled DIYer, and you can expect that the average disposal will last 10 to 12 years. Ensure a long life by running the garbage disposal frequently and heeding these tips:

  • Run water during use and for at least 20 seconds after you finish. Cold water causes grease and oils to solidify so they can be chopped up before reaching the trap.
  • Items like chicken bones and coffee grounds will dull the blades quickly and shorten the lifespan of your appliance, so take care not to put any hard materials (or corrosive chemicals) down the disposal. For a more complete list of the dos and don’ts, consult these guidelines and your owner’s manual.

OVENS AND COOKTOPS
Ovens come in a variety of options, such as gas or electric, conventional or convection, freestanding or built-in, as do cooktops—think gas, electric, or induction; smoothtop or coils. Because of this variation, always consult your owner’s manual before attempting any maintenance or repairs, and always unplug the unit or cut off power at the service panel.

  • If your oven is a standard, non-self-cleaning model, you’ll need to ventilate well, protect your skin and eyes, and spend some quality time with a scrub brush and a heavy-duty oven cleaner.
  • If your oven is a self-cleaning model, you just need to run it through the cleaning cycle and wipe up the resulting ash with a damp cloth. Manufacturers often recommend removing the racks first to keep them from discoloring; consult your manual. Do not clean a self-cleaning oven the old-fashioned way.

RANGE HOODS
Range hoods prevent smells, smoke, heat, and grease from floating around the kitchen. There are several types available, each one with its own benefits and drawbacks.

  • Vented hoods are ducted to the outside to completely remove smells, smoke, and heat from the room. The length of your exhaust duct will affect your choice of hood. If your hood will be mounted to an exterior wall, your duct can be short; if it will be mounted to an interior wall, the duct will probably be longer and you’ll need a more powerful hood. Vent hoods use aluminum filters to trap grease, which need to be washed (in a dishwasher or by hand) once a month, on average.
  • Non-vented hoods (also known as ductless or recirculating hoods) pull air through a charcoal filter before pumping it back into the kitchen. It’s important to change these filters every few months.
  • Hoods come in a variety of installation styles, including undercabinet, chimney, pro, island, downdraft, and power packs (inserts). Conduct thorough research before deciding which style is the right fit for your kitchen.

Bob Vila’s Guide to Kitchen Countertops

The countertop you choose has a big impact on your kitchen's appearance and functionality. Let our handy guide help you pick the right countertop material for your needs.

Kitchen Countertop Materials - Corian

Photo: 1stchoicecabinets.com

Kitchen makeovers are among the most popular of home improvements. They can be costly—a mid-range minor kitchen remodel that includes new countertops, appliances, cabinet fronts, and hardware runs close to $20,000, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2011-2012 Cost vs. Value Report. But the expense has a payoff—upon resale, kitchen renovations can reap a return on investment upwards of 50 percent.

With so much at stake, it’s important to choose materials wisely. This is particularly true of the countertop, one of the most prominent features in any kitchen. There are a dizzying array of materials to consider; each material has its own features and benefits, as well as drawbacks and maintenance requirements. Use our kitchen countertop guide to help you find the material that best suits your home’s needs—and gets you one step further down the road to a successful renovation.

MATERIALS

Solid Surface

Marble

Granite

Hardwood

Soapstone

Quartz

Concrete

Tile

Stainless Steel

Laminate

SOLID SURFACE countertops are designed to withstand years of wear. They resist stains, moisture, sunlight, and heat, and come in a full range of colors to complement any kitchen design.

  • Solid surface countertops can be made with an integrated sink.
  • Fine scratches or stains can be buffed out of solid surface countertops with a mild abrasive.
  • Although a plastic-like patina may develop on the surface over time, this can easily be removed by a professional.

MARBLE appeals to serious cooks because it is durable and scorch resistant.

  • Naturally porous, the material is susceptible to etching. Chemical corrosion can be buffed out with marble polish. Oil stains can be removed with ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, or mineral spirits, and food stains can be lifted with a water-based paste of baking soda and dish soap.

GRANITE offers natural beauty and near diamond-hard durability, making it an ideal material for countertops.

  • It resists heat, scratches, and stains—and most granites require no sealing.
  • Because it is nonporous, granite also protects against mold and mildew.
  • To find out if your granite is adequately sealed, splash some water on the surface. If the water is still beaded up 10 or 15 minutes later, your granite is properly sealed. If the water has absorbed, head to the hardware store; sealing is quick and inexpensive.
Kitchen Countertop Materials - Butcher Block

Photo: hgtvremodels.com / Grothouse Lumber Company

HARDWOODS like maple, mahogany, and cherry, as well as current popular choices like madrone, add warmth to any kitchen and can be refinished numerous times, aging beautifully.

  • For long-lasting butcher block wood countertops, apply mineral oil monthly. Non-butcher block wood countertops do best with marine oil, which keeps the stain from fading.
  • Marks and burns can be sanded out of wood, and stains are easily removable with lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide.

SOAPSTONE is extremely durable and impervious to virtually all chemicals.

  • Because it is nonporous and does not react to chemicals or temperature variations, it is resistant to staining and scorching, and does not require sealing.
  • It can be left to age naturally or sealed for a darker, richer look.
  • Nicks and scratches are common, adding to the countertop’s rugged patina. Slight discoloration from contact with oil can be rubbed out with mineral oil.

QUARTZ SURFACING countertops are made of crushed natural quartz blended with color pigments and plastic resins.

  • The nonporous material offers hygienic antibacterial benefits and does not need to be sealed.
  • Quartz countertops are heat, stain, and scratch resistant.
  • If stains do occur, a paste of hydrogen peroxide and flour, applied and left to sit for 24 hours, will lift a spot right out.

CONCRETE is a favorite of those who want an industrial look. It is extremely versatile and can take on many different colors, shadings, patterns, and sheens.

  • Concrete countertops can be poured in place or fabricated off-site and installed later. Dedicated DIYers can construct their own fairly easily, as well.
  • Concrete countertops should be specially sealed to avoid staining. Applying tung oil a few times a year can keep them stain resistant, and wax can be applied for a glossier look.

TILE is favored for its durability and affordability. It comes in various colors, sizes, and textures, and can be made of porcelain, ceramic, or stone.

  • Tiling is an attainable DIY project—just be sure to seal the grout used between the tiles to ward off bacteria.

STAINLESS STEEL countertops are particularly well suited to the areas around cooktops and ranges where hot pots and pans are placed, or center islands where food prep and serving are the main focus.

  • Scratches are inevitable with a stainless steel surface, but they can be buffed out with an abrasive pad.
  • Prevent rusting by keeping cast iron pans away from the counter. Any rust stains that do occur may be eliminated with a paste of lemon juice and baking soda.

LAMINATE provides a budget-friendly countertop with a retro look.

  • The material is fairly durable but not heat resistant.
  • Installation is relatively quick, which helps to keep costs down.
  • A simple paste of baking soda and water left on a laminate surface for three to five minutes will remove most stains, while difficult stains may be fought using household bleach rubbed in gently with a cotton ball.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Kitchen Renovation

Before beginning the project, ask yourself some basic questions in order to make sure you end up with the kitchen of your dreams.

Photo: sabineshome.com

Can it be that updating your kitchen changes life for the better? For Sabine Schoenberg, there’s no doubt about it. “Kitchens are nurturing spaces for the body and soul,” says Schoenberg, founder of SabinesHome.com and author of Kitchen Magic: Secrets to Successful Kitchens. “Even small improvements in your kitchen can have a profound impact on your quality of life.”

Before any work can begin, however, Schoenberg advises that you ask yourself a series of questions. The exercise can help you pinpoint and (just as important) articulate the goals of your project. “Don’t rush through this fun discovery phase,” she says. “Enjoy the opportunity to think through what’s important to you and your family to create your perfect kitchen.”

 

1. KITCHENS PAST

Kitchen Remodeling Design Tips - Inspiration

Photo: kentinteriors.com

In your most fond memories of the kitchen where you grew up, which features of the room usually stand out? It might be the paint color on the walls, the material of the countertop, a particular type of table, or the presence of a sunny window. Should fresh inspiration fail, let those recollections guide your choices.

 

2. PRIMARY MOTIVATION

Kitchen Remodeling Design Tips - Banquette

Photo: streeterhomes.com

What’s the main reason you’re remodeling the kitchen? Don’t lose sight of your primary motivation, be it more light, more storage, or a more efficient workflow. Taking the time now to develop a firm grasp of your priorities will help you make some tough decisions at later stages of the process.

 

3. SENSE OF STYLE 

Kitchen Remodeling Design Tips - Style

Photo: apdarchitects.com

When you envision your dream kitchen, what are its design characteristics? Is it ultramodern or quaintly country? Does stainless steel or natural wood appear on the finishes? Browse shelter magazines and websites, identifying the commonalities that exist between those images you find most appealing.

 

4. JUST ONE THING

Kitchen Remodeling Design Tips - One Thing

Photo: klaffs.com

What is the one feature you wouldn’t be able to forgive yourself for not including in your kitchen renovation? Whether it’s a splurge item—a commercial oven, for instance—or simply cookbook storage space, adjust the budget of your project so that once completed, your new kitchen perfectly fits your ongoing lifestyle.

 

5. KITCHENS FUTURE

Kitchen Remodeling Design Tips - Future

Photo: jackrosen.com

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the finished space. Do you feel happy because the sun is streaming in, organized because there is a place for everything (and everything is in its place), or social because you can entertain guests while cooking? Be sure to discuss your vision with your architect or contractor.


Bob Vila Radio: Reface or Replace?

Before ripping out your existing cabinets, think about keeping the frames intact and refacing the cabinet and drawer fronts.

Are your kitchen cabinets dated and worn? Or maybe they’re just too dark for your taste. New cabinets can be a costly proposition, so you may first want to consider refacing.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON REFACING CABINETS or read the text below:

Refacing Cabinets

Photo: shutterstock.com

When you reface cabinets, you replace the cabinet and drawer fronts but keep the frames (the overall cabinet structure). You then typically refinish the cabinet’s front and end pieces to match the new faces.

Refacing is quicker and less disruptive than replacing, and it’s significantly less expensive. But mind you, nothing is truly cheap: You may be surprised at the quotes you get, so shop around.

Particularly if color is your only beef with the current cabinets, a cheaper, easier, and DIY-friendly option may be to simply refinish the existing cabinetry yourself. But beware: Doing it yourself can be a messy, time-consuming project.

Refacing isn’t always the right choice. If you hate your cabinets’ layout or functionality, you may find yourself going through the expense of refacing only to rip it all out in a few years. And if your cabinets are poorly constructed or in any way compromised, don’t reface. Why throw good money after bad?

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Pro Tips: How to Save $ on Kitchen Remodeling

A budget-friendly kitchen remodel can be in your future, says architect Mark LePage, if you plan well, shop smart—and resist temptation.

Budget Kitchen Renovation Tips

Photo: ikea.com

Anyone with a kitchen that’s older than this century has probably entertained thoughts of a redo, although just mentally adding up the potential cash outlay may be enough to send the project straight to the back burner. But never fear: Careful shopping and creative money-saving strategies can help move a kitchen update from the to-do list to reality.

As you might expect, careful shopping for the big-ticket items will yield the most significant savings. Paring ten percent or more off the cost of cabinets and appliances will leave a lot more cash in your wallet than purchasing, say, a discounted light fixture or faucet—though small savings can add up, too.

To get your shopping off to a good start, step away from the professional appliances. They can be real budget-busters. The good news is that quite a few of the major home appliance manufacturers have mimicked the pro look, delivering robust styling in sleek stainless steel at steep savings. Since these appliances are designed for the home market, they may even have amenities that some pro versions lack, such as easy-care sealed-unit gas burners and self-cleaning ovens.

Consider Your Needs
Moving beyond appearance, keeping your lifestyle and culinary needs in mind when shopping for appliances can help save some bucks. If most of your meal preparation consists of plating takeout or heating prepared foods, a multi-burner, high-BTU cooktop or double oven will likely offer way more firepower then required. This could be a good place to scale back.

Related: 7 Budget-Friendly Kitchen Makeover Tips

Keep an eye out for appliance options and extras, and skip the ones you won’t use or don’t need. For example, a lot of refrigerators come equipped with external water dispensers—some even offer a choice of cubed or crushed ice. It’s a neat feature, but one that wouldn’t get a daily or even weekly workout in some households. Finding a model without these goodies would benefit your bottom line.

Budget Kitchen Renovation Tips - Plywood Cabinets

Maple Plywood Kitchen Cabinets. Photo: cltad.arts.ac.uk

Mix it Up with High-Low
When it comes to cabinetry, home remodelers can learn a lesson from clothes-conscious fashionistas, who have always found ways of making a statement with a kind-to-the-budget blend of high and low. Just as the well dressed and the beautiful can make headlines by pairing a Gap T-shirt with a couture skirt, savvy kitchen remodelers can create a stir at home by mixing and matching items from big box stores and boutiques.

Architect Mark R. LePage, AIA, president and partner in charge of operations at Fivecat Studio in Pleasantville, NY, recommends dressing up simple, budget-conscious IKEA cabinets with decorative high-end knobs and pulls.

Pairing IKEA cabinet boxes with custom wood doors and drawers is another of his money-saving strategies, as is using open wooden shelving in place of the lower cabinets. LePage likes to shop at commercial kitchen supply houses for open stainless steel shelving and rolling carts, which make versatile and smart-looking storage units. Though low cost, they tend to play nicely with upscale kitchen elements.

Plywood Can Be Beautiful
Sealed plywood cabinets are an affordable option, according to LePage. Made of wood veneer layers from trees like spruce, birch, or tropical hardwood, plywood often has a bold, distinctive grain and can be decorative as well as durable.

Related: 10 New Ways to Store Kitchen Necessities

Cabinet savings can go more than skin deep. Instead of ordering units equipped with built-in rollouts and dividers, consider retrofitting them from the array of less-expensive ready-made items available through storage specialty shops, catalogs, and big box stores. It’s also fun to improvise your own in-cabinet storage solutions: Stamp your kitchen with personal style by combining storage bins, boxes, and baskets in a mix of sizes, colors, textures and materials.

Budget Kitchen Renovation Tips - Laminate Countertops

Photo: formica.com

Resist Temptations
Cutting cabinetry costs may make it tempting, and possible, to splurge on an extravagant countertop. Resist the temptation. There are lots of ways to get good-looking and well-functioning counters at a smart price, especially by aiming for that high-low blend. Use pricey materials such as stone or wood sparingly; focus them on specific workstations for tasks like baking or chopping. Topping the remainder of your counter space with less expensive surfaces (e.g., laminates).

LePage suggests dressing up laminate countertops with wood or stainless steel edging for a custom look. He also likes to create counters by repurposing salvaged materials such as stone, stainless steel or wood.

Consider Tiles over Slabs
For those who love the look of natural stone like granite, marble, and even alabaster, tiles are typically more affordable than the bigger, thicker slabs that must be custom cut to fit. Ranging in size from petite mosaics to 12-inch squares to even larger rectangles, and available in a seemingly unlimited variety of colors and patterns, stone tiles are a versatile option for counters, floors, backsplashes and elsewhere. Again, there are almost endless mixing and matching options, with the luxe-looking natural stone employed sparingly as accents, borders, or to create a pattern in a surface otherwise dominated by wood, ceramic tile, or another less expensive material.

DIY Your Backsplash
The backsplash can be a place to let your imagination—and your do-it-yourself chops—run wild. Applied to the walls, sheet metal such as copper, galvanized aluminum, stainless steel or traditional tin ceiling panels can add a touch of bling to the room. LePage likes using broken colored glass for a lively and nontraditional backsplash mosaic. Or recycle your broken pottery shards, tile scraps, and other ceramic odds and ends into a pique assiette pattern, reminiscent of the playful works of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.

With a combination of careful shopping, imagination, flexibility and creativity, you can plan your way to an affordable new kitchen.


Weekend Projects: Kitchen Countertops the DIY Way

Subject to wear and tear day in and day out, kitchen countertops must be updated eventually. With DIY countertops, homeowners enjoy not only savings, but one-of-a-kind results.

No matter where you live, a Chicago apartment or a rural Montana ranch, kitchen counters see a great deal of wear and tear. It’s only a matter of time before they must be refurbished or replaced. While even experienced remodelers have been known to shy away from countertop installation, we can think of at least two reasons to try tackling this project yourself: money savings and one-of-a-kind results. Scroll down to see five affordable and creative ways in which homeowners like you have handled DIY countertops successfully, and with flair.

 

1. OPT FOR AN OLD DOOR

DIY Countertops - Door Counter

Photo: themustardceilingblog.com

Have you heard the one about The Mustard Ceiling turning three oak doors into a gorgeous countertop for $100? There’s no punchline—they actually did it. Using the preexisting laminate as a template, the couple cut the doors to shape, before sanding and staining them for a rough-hewn yet refined look.

 

2. GO STAINLESS

DIY Countertops - Stainless Steel

Photo: christonium.com

Opinions are divided over stainless steel. Some say it’s chic and easy to clean; others insist that it scratches too easily and is appropriate only for utility spaces like the laundry room. One thing is for certain: it’s not cheap. That said, The Home Project managed to install stainless steel DIY countertops for under $500!

 

3. CHOOSE CONCRETE

DIY Countertops - Concrete

Photo: imperfectlypolished.com

For good reason—it’s affordable, durable, and pretty darn cool-looking—concrete is becoming ever more popular in DIY countertops. Thank goodness that Imperfectly Polished makes it oh-so-simple with a trio of step-by-step tutorials: prep and planningpouring and curing, and sand, seal, wax and enjoy.

 

4. PICK PENNIES

DIY Countertops - Pennies

Photo: domesticimperfection.com

In the past, we’ve seen pennies used to surface backsplashes and flooring. Now Domestic Imperfection demonstrates how they can look like a million bucks in DIY countertops. The cost? Literally pennies! Other unlikely countertop materials include pebbles, vase gems, coasters and license plates.

 

5. REHAB RIGHT

DIY Countertops - Distressed Wood

Photo: buckhouseblog.wordpress.com

No time? No energy? No money? Rather than replace them, make the very best of your existing countertops. If yours are laminate, a low-cost yet high-impact option is resurfacing. For wood, either apply a new stain or experiment with a distressed finish, following in the footsteps of the Buckhouse blog.


Bob Vila Radio: Stacking Cabinets

In a small kitchen where space is at a premium, consider stacking cabinets to increase your storage capacity.

No matter how big your kitchen is, you never seem to have enough cabinet space. In a small kitchen where space is at a premium, consider stacking cabinets to increase your storage capacity.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON STACKING CABINETS or read the text below:

Stacking-Cabinets

Photo: ikeakitchendesignonline.wordpress.com

Many kitchens are designed with cabinets that butt up against a soffit. Other kitchens leave that space open for an airy feel that also allows for storage and display on top of the cabinets. But for maximum enclosed storage, a second row of cabinets above the first one can be a great idea.

The most visually pleasing proportions for stacked cabinets are a top cabinet that’s about half the height of the one below it. To figure out what size cabinets would work for you, measure the distance from your countertop to the ceiling. Allow about 16 inches from the counter to where the cabinet’s bottom will be. Then divide the remaining space by three. That’s roughly the cabinet height of your top row.

So for example, if you have 45 inches to work with, you could have 30-inch bottom cabinets topped by 15-inch cabinets. Don’t worry if your space doesn’t divide equally by three, or if your cabinets don’t come in sizes that fit perfectly. As long as the proportions are close, it will look fine. And crown molding can hide several inches’ worth of extra space at the top.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Laminate Countertops: A Buyer’s Guide

If you're shopping around for products to use in a budget kitchen renovation, consider buying laminate countertops, now available in more style options than ever before.

Laminate Countertops

Wilsonart Smoky Topaz Laminate Countertop

When you’re remodeling a kitchen on a budget, laminate is the best affordable option for countertops.

Nowadays this tried-and-true material comes in a wider array of designs than ever before, from beautiful solid colors to interesting wood looks with embedded texture to lovely stone patterns with a variety of finish options.

Before selecting laminate as a countertop material, it’s helpful to know the plusses and minuses. We asked Kent Brasloff, principal of New York-based design firm Ask Kent and Co., and vice president of programs for the New York chapter of the National Kitchen & Bath Association, to share his insights on buying laminate countertops. Here’s what he had to say:

What is laminate?
A combination of plastic and paper—interestingly, though, generally not recycled—and sometimes board. These materials are formed into a thin layer and colored or manufactured with naturalistic or textured designs. This layer is then laminated to particleboard or chip board.

What makes laminate a good choice for countertops?
It’s flexible and can be used in a variety of ways and in a variety of spaces: a kitchen, bath, work room or laundry room. Laminate can also be used on a shop table or as a furniture surface. Available in a multitude of colors and textures, it’s easy to work with and can be cut into any shape, including forms with sharp corner points or with a smooth radius. It’s quite durable.

Buying Laminate Countertops - WilsonartWhat is the difference between a low-cost laminate and an expensive one?
The key difference between high- and low-end laminates is generally the finish of the material. Higher-end products offer greater variety in luster or sheen and texture. They also come in a broader range of colors. The cost of the laminate will be affected by whether or not there is a built-in backsplash and how high or low the backsplash may be.

What are the maintenance requirements for laminate countertops?
To clean the surface, use a damp cloth or sponge and a mild soap or detergent. To remove difficult stains from coffee or tea, use a mild household cleaner and baking soda mixed into a paste, scrubbing with a stiff nylon bristle brush and being careful not to mar the surface finish.

Slideshow: Trending Now: Laminate Countertops

Stubborn stains may call for gently rubbing the spot with a cotton ball that has been saturated with undiluted household bleach or nail polish remover. Prolonged exposure of the laminate surface to bleach will cause discoloration, so always rinse thoroughly with warm warm water and wipe dry. Do not use steel wool and other abrasive materials or harsh chemicals, such as a rust remover. Also, avoid placing hot pots and pans on the surface, as its level of heat resistance is limited.

What are the pros for choosing laminate?
Its durability, range of color and design options, flexibility to accommodate unique shapes, and ease of installation.

Its cons?
On the downside, laminate shows scratches, which usually be cannot filled or repaired. And to some people it can look “cheap” or “papery”. It hasn’t been popular for quite some time in the US, but it is stilled used extensively in Europe, often in high-end contexts. Also, it gets brittle and chips with age.

How much does it cost?
A fair range would be between $35 and $40 per linear foot at retail. Of course cost may be affected by the intricacy of the design and whether the counter will have a “self” or “beveled” edge. Cost will also be impacted by countertops with a lot of corners, a wide radius, or a built-in backsplash. Laminates with standard finishes are more affordable than those with upgraded finishes.

What are its installation requirements?
After the contractor installs your cabinets (or support structure), the countertop area will be templated and made to fit for installation by a professional.


Old Country Farmhouse Gets City-Slick Kitchen

In Upstate New York, architect Elaine Monchak's contemporary kitchen design animates the old bones of a 1789 farmhouse.

Architect Elaine Monchak's warm yet sleek modern kitchen

Photo: Monchak A+D Design LLC

If undertaking a home improvement project can take a lot of courage, the buyer of this 1789-vintage farmhouse in Chatham, NY, must have an abundance of the right stuff.

When project architect Elaine Monchak first visited the house with her client, it was in “very, very bad shape,” she says. But the house’s location—far back from the road on several bucolic acres with lovely views in every direction—made the necessary upgrades seem worthwhile.

Before the remodelPerhaps the greatest demonstration of valor was the decision to add a contemporary sunroom to the Colonial-style spread.

“For a project like this, where you have a house with a very strong character and structure, there are really only two ways to go. You can do a building addition that fits into the same character or do something completely different,” says Monchak, principal of Monchak A+D Design LLC, in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.

The homeowner “is very sophisticated and appreciates modern architecture. The decision was made early on to preserve the traditional character of the main house and use the kitchen as a transition to the contemporary addition. The kitchen is the ‘knuckle’ that holds the two together”.

Slideshow: Old House, Modern Kitchen

The warmth of wood under a white milk-tint rubbed finish nicely bridges the centuries. Enhancing the effect is the rift-sawn oak’s consistent tones and minimal knots, which produces a less traditional look than other cuts of this wood type.

To maintain a light, airy, open feeling and make the most of the views, Monchak’s design nixed upper cabinets. Shelves in front of the windows and above the sink provide additional storage without adding bulk. The tall cabinet next to the microwave maximizes efficiency with pull-out drawers (other built-ins include a trash/recycling center installed below the windows).

This project is Monchak’s second for the homeowner; the first was a Manhattan apartment. For the Chatham house, the client was amenable to most of Monchak’s suggestions. As Monchak puts it, “She was confident in my abilities and let me do what I wanted”. But the client did have to be talked into the orange backsplash.

Exterior view of the sunroom that forms the addition

“I wanted something bright as an accent,” Monchak says. “Everything else is neutral. This color picks up the oranges in the mahogany window frames, it complements the wood.” The seamless, easy-care backsplash was created from a single sheet of back-painted glass.

The installation, however, was more complex than its gleaming simplicity may suggest. Durable tempered glass is too tough to cut to have accommodated the outlets or the shelves’ mounting hardware. So the holes had to be made before the glass was even tempered.

The range hood was another topic of debate. The client, who enjoys cooking, insisted on one. Monchak resisted at first, reluctant to install anything overhead. “I did a lot of research to find one as unobtrusive as possible,” she says. The solution: a cylindrical stainless steel unit with a sculptural look that’s at home in its modern surroundings.

Riftsawn oak cabinets with rubbed finishThe contemporary look of stainless steel is carried through in the mid-range appliances, which, chosen for looks and function, are more in scale with the modestly sized kitchen than pro-style models would be.

Other metallic touches include the sink and faucet, the cabinet hardware, the under-island cabinet and the niche above the microwave. The sunroom sconces and ceiling fan continue the theme.

The Fireslate countertop may look familiar to anyone who ever took a high school chemistry class. In fact, the manufactured slabs are so tough that they’re laboratory mainstays.

Available in a variety of colors, Fireslate won’t crack, can handle high heat, and is lighter and less expensive than natural stone. However, oil, acidic foods, wine and even water will leave their mark. Over time, the material develops a patina that yields a casual, organic, contemporary vibe that many homeowners prize.

Sliding doors—crafted of sandblasted glass and fiber-cement panels—separate the kitchen and sunroom, adding to the versatility of the space. The doors can be open for entertaining larger groups or closed to create separate intimate spaces. Even when the doors are shut, light filters through the translucent glass. Fiber-cement panels are used again on the floor; “It looks like concrete but is thinner and doesn’t crack,” says Monchak.

The flow between kitchen and sunroom continues to a stone patio perfect for al fresco relaxing, dining, and entertaining, further fulfilling the original project goals of creating an attractive and functional space to share with friends.

For some of the designer’s kitchen remodeling tips, click here.

Whether you are actively planning or merely contemplating a kitchen remodel, here are some smart design tips from architect/designer Elaine Monchak, Monchak A+D Design LLC, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY:

1. Determine how you want to use your space and what you want to get out of the remodeling project.

2. Do you want your remodeled space to blend with the rest of the house or be something different?

3. Take natural light and views into consideration, as well as mechanical necessities like outlets, ventilation, and plumbing.

4. Take time to think through suggestions from your architect or designer. An idea that surprises today may delight in the long run.

5. Think about how much maintenance different materials and products require. Certain items (pro stoves without self-cleaning ovens, stain-prone countertops, polished surfaces that show every fingerprint) may not be appropriate for a low-maintenance space.

6. A door between the kitchen and family room can be a plus while entertaining. With the door open, the host can prep food and still join in the fun; during dinner, a closed door hides dirty dishes and makes it easier to relax and put the cleanup out of mind for a while.

7. Use glass tiles as a budget-wise way to replicate the look of back-painted glass.


Engineered Stone Countertops: A Buyer’s Guide

Beautiful, hygienic, and low-maintenance, engineered stone makes an ideal eco-friendly countertop surface.

Engineered Stone Countertops

Photo: Sliestone

Many Americans nowadays care about making eco-friendly choices. And when it comes to countertops, engineered stone is one of the most environmentally sensitive choices you can make. But this type of surface offers a host of other benefits, too. It’s durable, beautiful, hygienic and easy to care for. We asked Princeton, NJ-based architect Joshua Zinder for his take on this versatile surface. Read on for his insight.

What kind of engineered stone can be used as a countertop?
Most engineered stones are fantastic for high-wear uses such as kitchen countertops. There are a variety of products on the market, including Silestone, Caesarstone, IceStone and many more. The products should be acid-resistant and non-absorptive. The size and types of materials used to make the engineered stone will determine its best uses. For example, an engineered surface with large chunks of marble will be limited in performance to the pieces of marble it contains.

What makes engineered stone good as a countertop surface?
Unlike solid surfacing or plastic laminate, which are temperature-sensitive and can catch fire, engineered stone resists heat well. And unlike some other surfaces—even natural stones—engineered ones resist stains from liquids like wine or coffee.

Engineered StoneWhat are its primary characteristics?
Strong, durable, and attractive, engineered stone is very consistent in look and pattern. It is also heat-resistant and does not accumulate bacteria or mold. The surfaces are easy to maintain, too. They can be specified with bacteria-resistant surfaces, but since they are non-absorptive and resistant to heat anyway, they should not be collecting bacteria in the first place.

What are its pros?
Pros include brute strength and heat resistance, as well as varied colors and styles. Some engineered stone products are made to look like limestone or marble, enabling you to get the look you want but with better performance. If you like using recycled materials or protecting natural resources like real marble, engineered stone counters will do the trick. The products may have natural colors or added colors with various textures. Many contractors are familiar with the products and will install them properly.

Slideshow: 12 Top Names in Engineered Stone

Its cons?
It’s hard to create curves with engineered stone, but as far as typical countertop designs go, there’s nothing you can’t do with these products that you can accomplish with conventional stone. In fact, we’ve pushed the limits with edge and corner details and other shapes in engineered stone materials.

How much does it cost?
Generally about $60-$100/square foot installed.

Why is it so expensive?
With engineered stone, you pay for good performance and a long lifetime. Some colors and patterns are more expensive than others. But some can be quite affordable (I even put one of these in my own house). So it’s expensive but no more so than many natural stone slabs and solid surface materials. It’s definitely more expensive than plastic laminates. But consider this: For years we were specifying white marble with no veins, which looks great but is very expensive. Now to get that white look, we can use engineered stones, which look exactly the same as marble side by side but don’t cost as much. There are lots of suppliers, and the product delivers a consistent look.

What are its installation requirements?
Work with people who know the material, and look for those who are recommended or certified by the material manufacturers.

To see architect Joshua Zinder’s work, click here.