Kitchen Renovation Basics

Important considerations to bear in mind during your kitchen renovation.

By Bob Vila | Updated Jun 17, 2019 2:56 PM

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Kitchen Renovation


Thinking about doing a kitchen renovation? You’re not alone. The busiest room by far in most houses is the kitchen. Even in houses where cooking isn’t a top priority, the kitchen is usually a gathering place for after-school snacks and snatches of conversation. Guests at parties seem often to gravitate to the kitchen, whether for the drinks and hors d’oeuvres or to enjoy the warmth of the household. Yet there is no one model for a kitchen space that suits all needs.

Lifestyles are changing, so a more fluid arrangement of kitchen and attendant spaces may suit your needs. For example, food preparation has become something of a social activity in many homes. That has meant that casual entertaining is done and much of the life of the home is lived in the same area as the cooking. In addition to appliances and counterspace, kitchen designs now often feature islands with tall stools, televisions, and even couches. If your social rituals have changed but the old-fashioned separation between work and relaxation areas remain, your kitchen renovation plans may involve incorporating social spaces into the kitchen in order that the cook need not be isolated while cooking.

Look Around
You should be aware of basic concerns in your kitchen. Is there enough counterspace? You need some on both sides of the sink. The distance from front to back splash is typically two feet; for a good-size kitchen, a total of at least 20 linear feet of countertop is desirable. Do you have sufficient cupboard and shelf space? Is the lighting bright enough, especially near the sink, cutting board, and stove top? Do any of the doors to the appliances block one another so that, for example, the oven door can’t be opened when you’re loading the dishwasher? Are there enough electrical outlets, at least one for every 3 linear feet of counter space? Is there a service exit from the kitchen to make it easier to bring in groceries and carry out the garbage?

Look over your head, too. The kitchen ceiling is the one in the house most likely to need resurfacing. Is it discolored from years of smoke and moisture?

What is the floor surface? Is it attractive? Is it in good condition? If the flooring changes from the kitchen to adjacent rooms, look closely at the transition point: Many old kitchens have several layers of sheet flooring or other materials on top of one another, so the level may be raised above that of adjacent rooms. If you’re planning a kitchen remodeling, you will need to determine the condition, utility, and character of what’s beneath. You might find early hand-planed boards.

Are there indications of water problems in the kitchen? Look around the sink (both from above and below). Inspect carefully where the counter surface joins the back splash and the floors inside of and in front of the sink cabinet. Also check the joint of the wall and floor at the perimeter of the room. This is a wet-mop space and the water can produce mold, decay, or peeling paint
 when it gets into the structure of the walls and floors.

The Triangle
In the food preparation area, the kitchen triangle is the usual standard. It’s actually an arithmetic formula: The sum of the distances from sink to stove to refrigerator and back again should not be less than 12 feet nor more than 22 feet. Furthermore, the kitchen triangle rule specifies, no one side of the triangle should be less than 4 feet nor more than 9 feet.

There are exceptions to the triangle kitchen rule, such as tiny galley kitchens and giant professional ones where there’s to be a division of labor. But if you’re planning a kitchen renovation you can use the triangle rule to your advantage. It saves footsteps and helps ensure that you won’t create a kitchen in which it’s difficult to work.

Islands and Counters
As with the rest of the home, the kitchen has become part of a design fusion, with more visual interest and more complexity. That trend is showing up in furniture-style cabinetry and customized countertops, distinguishing each area by its surface material and function.

The center island has become standard in any new kitchen layout. It can function as a food preparation, dining, or homework station. Counter peninsulas also do service for baking, dining, and food preparation. Countertops are available with various surfaces, at varying heights, and with insets and additions to match any task. Countertops can be deeper than standard or built to include leg space for desk and dining areas. Defining the task and applying creativity are the two skills required when designing today’s multi-tasking kitchen counters.

DIY Cabinet Re-Surfacing and Re-Painting
If the cabinets are still in good shape, you can change the look of your kitchen just by changing the color of the walls and re-surfacing or re-painting the cabinets. Cabinet re-facing, which involves replacing the veneers, is more expensive but still saves 50 percent over a complete remodel. As long as your cabinets aren’t laminate or melamine, you can re-paint them yourself. De-grease them with a citrus oil-based household cleaner, remove the doors and hardware, and apply a primer-sealer first though you might still have to sand them down before painting. New drawer and door pulls will make a huge difference as well.

Selecting Your Color Scheme
In rethinking your colors, go for a 60-30-10 color scheme, which means 60 percent of a main color, 30 percent of a complementary color and 10 percent for an accent color like a backsplash or a trim detail. Recommended kitchen colors often include shades of tan, peach, yellow and all the many off-whites. Keep the big-ticket items like cabinets on the neutral side and accent with easily interchangeable elements like wall paint, window treatments, and small appliances. That way, changing the look of your kitchen in another few years won’t have to be a major investment.

When measuring the greenness of your kitchen, the first thing to look at is your appliances. You’ll want to look for two things: the Energy Star and Energy Rating Number. The higher the energy rating number, the more efficient the appliance. Energy Star ranks appliance efficiency—any appliance with the Energy Star label is in the top 25 percent of energy performers.

If you’re replacing or updating your décor, such as countertops, flooring and tile, look for sustainable materials like bamboo and cork, which come from plants that re-grow quickly from the same source (as opposed to wood; it takes decades to grow back a tree) or recycled content from companies like Green Sage and Green Building Supply.

Professional Help
When it comes to turning your dream kitchen design into a reality, you may decide that working with a professional is the way to go. For kitchen design and construction, an architect or an independent Certified Kitchen Designer, or CKD, is the best place to start. The professional’s advice will be unbiased, and will help you in determining what will look best in your kitchen.

Not all architects are willing to construct a domestic kitchen. The best way to find an architect is through personal recommendations. If this approach does not work, then consult your local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. They will be able to provide you with information about architects in your area. It is essential that you and your architect work well together and share similar tastes when it comes to design.