High: KitchenAid, Jenn-Air.
A pro-style, 36-inch range with high-Btu burners, a built-in refrigerator with panels that match the surrounding cabinetry, and whisper-quiet dishwashers are expected in today's luxury homes.Low:
Many mainstream brands have upped their styling with "faux pro" features, including beefy controls and a stainless-steel finish. And they equal or surpass their pricey counterparts when it comes to cooking and reliability. GE's $1,500 Profile PGB910SEM has sleek styling, and it's our top-performing gas range. Or consider an induction range or cooktop (such as Samsung FTQ307NWGX, $1,700), which uses electromagnetism to deliver pinpoint heating and control. Among refrigerators, cabinet-depth models offer the streamlined look of built-ins for thousands less.
High: Wood and antique wood, but:
even the most durable wood floors are no match for heavy traffic, especially if it includes sandy shoes and dog claws. Durable stones such as granite and quartzite offer more protection and a sense of permanence.Low: Engineered wood flooring, ceramic tile or vinyl.
High: Wavy marble, such as Carrara.
Low: Quartz, granite remnants or laminate.
Laminate, the most affordable countertop option by far, has come a long way. The latest printing technologies result in faux patterns that look like real stone, or you can choose a solid white that's suited to contemporary kitchens. Formica has even eliminated the unsightly black line along the edge of the countertop that used to be laminate's telltale sign.
High: Custom cabinets, built to the precise dimensions of the room.
Low: Refinish or reface (replace doors and drawers, apply veneers to frames) existing cabinets, or install semi-custom or stock units such as Ikea.
The trick is finding a skilled installer who knows the tricks for making the units look built-in. That might include applying a toe kick to base cabinets or a valance to upper cabinets to conceal the undercabinet lighting.
Read More: Consumer Reports' latest issue, July 2012, is full of tons more kitchen renovation tips, appliance, flooring and sink ratings, and the best places to shop. Check it out online or on newsstands.
MORE LOW & HIGH KITCHEN RESOURCES ON APARTMENT THERAPY:
• Modern Kitchens: High and Low
• Good Questions: Mid-range Modern Kitchen Source?
• High and Low: Kitchen Carts
• High/Low: Kitchen Drawer Organization
• Best Water-Saving Kitchen Faucets: 10 Models from High to Low
• High To Low: 10 Small, Cool Apartment-Sized Refrigerators
(Image: Jason Weinbeck via Apartment Therapy)