Kitchen Renovations: Best Decisions & Biggest Regrets

published May 17, 2011
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So you’re thinking of renovating your kitchen and are not sure where to begin? Or what to spend money on? Or what to NOT spend money on? Remodeling or updating such a multi-functional room chock full of pricey appliances is no simple undertaking.

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No matter how big or small the remodel or refurbish there are many costs and considerations: appliances, venting, cabinets, surfaces…it’s no wonder many of us put it off as long as possible. But most real estate experts agree that kitchen renovations are financially worth the trouble. And most of us would agree that it’s far more pleasant to perform our cooking and cleaning tasks in an efficient, effective and attractive space.

I recently remodeled my kitchen and have my own list of good decisions and decisions I might do differently next time. I thought I’d take an informal survey of friends and family who have also recently remodeled their kitchens and ask them questions about their decision making. Below are their answers (in no particular order of importance). Feel free to add your own answers!

What was the one thing, or things, that you were glad you spent money on?

  • Of all the things we spent money on I am glad I spent money on hiring professional drywall finishers. This is definitely a job left to the pros and not something a week-end warrior should consider taking on, especially if you care about having a nice smooth and finished looking wall. Same goes for the backsplash; I am glad I hired a pro to install the ceramic tile. It looked like an easy job but even he had issues to deal with in terms of tricky existing conditions.
  • Since we were on a tight budget we chose to spend the money on certain finishes and fixtures that were going to be used daily or were prominently on display. For instance our sink faucet and sink were of mid- to high-quality from Blanco and Hansgrohe. Two of the pendant lights are relatively expensive hand blown glass fixtures from Resolute and the third pendant is also a hand blown glass fixture from Italy, designed by Michele De Lucchi. I also splurged on the tile backsplash which is from Heath Ceramics. Having said that, all of these items were researched online to get the best price or were purchased at sample sales so in the end I still think I got the most for my money.
  • I love, love, love my fancy wall oven! After a lifetime of stooping down under the stove, no oven light, one squeaky rack, etc., I still get a thrill being able to look right in at whatever’s roasting, then roll it out on ball bearings. Plus it has a sweet James Bond feature where the control panel is invisible until you touch it!
  • The radiant floor heating that we put in under our porcelain tiles.
  • The pass through that we cut between the kitchen and the dining room/living room and the change we made to the counter. Behind the sink we had a raised bar, which impeded on the size of the useable counter space. We chose to remove the raised bar and have a single height counter that really extended our counter and it gave us a mini island.
  • Good appliances. Not super high-end appliances, just good quality. We love knowing that our cooktop, sink, oven, etc. will last a long time and need little repair. We made sure to quiz the appliance salesperson and although we knew little about appliances before the remodel (and thought we didn’t care) we didn’t want to go cheap and end up with frequent repairs and replacements.
  • We’re glad we spent money on our countertops. We went for Ikea cabinets but splurged on the expensive countertops. We knew they would be “seen” more than our cabinets and they are so spectacular – they visually increase the monetary value of our kitchen.
  • Undercabinet lighting. I’m pretty sure that will make any kitchen look good. Good lighting goes a long way with not too much investment.
  • My splurge was the overpowered hood. Its a ventahood brand and its powerful but not as loud. No one likes to use their hood if it inhibits conversation. I hate being able to smell the cooktop from the bedrooms. It keeps the kitchen a lot cleaner too.
  • One of the biggest pleasures of ours was working with the cabinet maker and learning about his shop and the woodworking, and we paid for it. I think things that require craftmanship, you just need to decide to pay top dollar.

What is your biggest regret in re-doing your kitchen or what would you do over?

  • My biggest regret is that I didn’t have the money to install a skylight. The kitchen is on the north side and gets a decent amount of natural light but a skylight would have been great. Aside from the cost, I was squeamish about cutting a hole in my 10 year-old roof and did not want to worry about leaks.
  • Due to a communications mix-up with the woodshop the open shelving that overhangs the counter didn’t get drilled out to hold the over-counter lighting, which would have been really slick.
  • As much as I love the look of my beautiful walnut countertops, they were not the most sensible choice. Ditto my Kartell lamp over the island – the translucent plastic ends up really showing the greasy kitchen dust.
  • There are grounded GFCI outlets set in our white tile backsplash. I didn’t realize until after the fact that I could have had all-white versions, instead of the ones with the little red and black buttons. Although small the red and black buttons really stick out against the white and it sort of takes away from the all-white look I was going for.
  • I probably should have set a budget, but there is not a single thing I would change.
  • Not having all our materials on site when we started. We thought we had all kinds of time, but there’d be not enough of something, and then a backorder, etc. We wasted a lot of time waiting on materials.

What was the smartest decision you made in your new kitchen?

  • The smartest decision was that we opened up the kitchen to the dining room. This made the whole space feel larger and made for a more visually and spatially connected space. I can now be working at the range and interact with someone in the living or dining room, no longer does the space feel confined and closed off from the rest of the home.
  • Ikea cabinets, absolutely. We paid a few thousand dollars for a kitchen that would otherwise have been completely out of our budget. And they’ve been great — sturdy, functional, and great-looking, if I say so myself!
  • I’d say placing the stovetop in the island, not the counter that runs along the wall. It’s really nice to be able to cook while facing everybody else in the room.
  • We knocked down the wall between our small kitchen and small dining room and without changing the footprint we visually enlarged the overall space. And now we don’t feel stuck in our kitchen.
  • Our contractor! Choosing someone who will really listen to your ideas and offer you viable solutions is imperative. There were continuous challenges and surprises with our remodel and we were so glad that our contractor could think on his feet and come up with creative solutions that didn’t blow our timeline or budget.
  • We got all our appliances at a warehouse sale which saved a bundle and could have been a mistake had they not fit. But you can save a lot and not compromise if you have a place to store them and do it early enough to plan around them (you may have a limitted selection on sizes or models). We have Viking and Miele and paid what we would have for Kenmore.

Thanks, Friends, for the input!

Images: Anne Reagan

Originally published 3.16.10 – JL