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Kitchen remodeling sits at the top of many homeowners’ wish lists, and for good reason: If properly done, a renovation makes the kitchen more attractive, improves its efficiency, and raises the resale price of your home.
Unfortunately, overhauling the kitchen is a complex job. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and even skilled designers and veteran do-it-yourselfers can miss critical details. Mistakes are not only common, they are inevitable. You can, however, keep them to a minimum if you watch out for the following missteps.
Set a Budget
If you’re planning to renovate your kitchen completely, be prepared to pay about 10% or 15% of your home’s current value. That’s no arbitrary percentage; it’s a budget that ensures that the quality of your improvements stays in line with your home’s worth. Although spending too little is a concern, it’s equally important to avoid overspending. Be sure to allow leeway for surprises. Who knows what plumbing or wiring nightmares lurk in the walls behind those old cabinets?
Are the cooks in your household taller or shorter than average? Careful shopping and strategic design can make their lives much easier without making your kitchen overly specialized. For example, manufacturers recommend installing a hood 30 inches above the cooktop—in other words, right in the face of a six-foot-tall cook. Luckily, there’s a simple solution: Most hoods work just fine if mounted slightly higher. The lesson is that no matter how lovely something looks on the drawing board, you must account for the lifestyle and physical characteristics of the people who will actually be using the kitchen.
Focus on Lighting
In the hardest-working room of your house, don’t underestimate the benefits of living with neither shadows nor glare. Use a mix of fixtures to layer light of different types—ambient, task, accent, and mood.
Recessed ceiling fixtures provide good overall light, while pendants and chandeliers are versatile choices for islands and dining areas. For kitchen work areas, under-cabinet task lights are popular, but you may wish to offset the reflectiveness of highly polished surfaces, like countertops, by choosing fixtures with diffusers or frosted glass.
Also important are your lighting controls: Install a separate, conveniently located switch for each light source, preferably near the doorway. Dimmers are excellent for modulating the strength of lighting according to the occasion or time of day.
Indulge (Some of) Your Whims
Maybe you’re right on top of the latest trends, or maybe you love bright colors. Remember, materials and colors that look fantastic in a sample-size swatch might very well appear over- or underwhelming in a larger dose. Resist the temptation of going over the top with busy tile patterns or purple appliances. Instead, integrate the design elements you love as accents, not centerpieces. Otherwise, you run the risk of alienating future buyers who don’t happen to share your idiosyncratic style sense.
Base Choices on Reality
Who wouldn’t want a big bay window? The question is whether it would work in your individual kitchen. A bay window shown overlooking a lake may look great in a catalog, but if you live on a busy street, it’s likely you’d regret giving in to your whim. Likewise, oversize professional appliances are swoon-worthy, but they’re simply not practical in a small, cozy kitchen. In short, don’t lie to yourself!
Lots of Landing Zones
Include plenty of wide-open countertop space around each of your appliances. You know the feeling of removing a heavy, piping-hot pan from the stove, then finding there’s no convenient place to set it down? Think about how you use appliances like the dishwasher, refrigerator, and microwave, and adjust your kitchen design to suit your day-to-day habits.
These days, a kitchen island is practically a must-have. But choose carefully: An oversize or poorly located island blocks both traffic and work flow. Allow sufficient space on all sides of the island, enough so that you can easily open cabinet doors. And as you are making design decisions, remind yourself that the island, being of finite and usually modest size, cannot be a catchall. Adding a sink or cooktop to your island would eat up a lot of the real estate you might like to have on hand for, say, casual dining.
Don’t Forget the Backsplash
Oh, the wonders of a backsplash. It ties together disparate elements even as it creates a focal point. (Plus, it makes cleanup so much easier.) Some complain about the paralyzing, seemingly infinite number of choices, but stick with the selection process and you’ll be amply rewarded. The best advice is to select your backsplash at an early stage of the renovation. Typically, the backsplash is installed shortly before project completion. If you postpone your decision until then, you may have to rush through the decision and end up settling on something you don’t love—which may become something you wind up hating.