You want more cabinet space. You're tired of looking at that 3-year-old burn mark on your laminate countertop. And lately, you've begun to think your plain-Jane white appliances aren't sending quite the message you'd like to send. You're thinking stainless steel, lots of it, not to mention hardwood floors, custom-colored cabinets, and white granite countertops with maroon and black flecks.
You're thinking new kitchen and you're not alone. In fact, kitchen projects are more popular than ever before, with Americans poised to spend $127 billion on kitchen remodeling and design products and services in 2007, according to a recent survey by the National Kitchen & Bath Association.
Where does all that money go? Between removing what's currently in your kitchen and outfitting the space with new appliances, countertops, cabinets, flooring, lighting, and hardware, homeowners can spend anywhere from $20,000 to $150,000 and up on projects that take from a few months to more than a year to complete, say kitchen experts.
Most often the look they choose is traditional, but contemporary designs are making a comeback in recent years, say the experts. The good news for those who are wary of the modern look: "We're doing a softer, warmer contemporary," says Cindy Myers, a Baltimore-area designer with Redline, Pennsylvania-based Keener Kitchens. That new look often blends color with sleek lines, but avoids the starkness some people associate with modern design.
Whatever style homeowners choose, they increasingly put a premium on creating a look that's all their own, says Blue Arnold, co-owner of Jarrettsville-based Kitchens by Request. "They want to personalize their space," he says. The good news: "They have more products than ever to do so."
Flush with choice, homeowners seek to set themselves apart by passing up on the norm and choosing unusual products instead, says Arnold. Baltimore-based Studio One designer and co-president Marie Schwartz agrees. "Instead of getting the black granite countertop with dots, now they want these gorgeous works of art," says Schwartz, who estimates the average countertop installation costs $3,500 to $6,000; more for exotic choices. "It has to have swirls, dots and spots, but of course be all-natural. So Brazilian granite has become very popular."
Also popular are engineered quartzite countertops like CaesarStone and Zodiaq. "It doesn't stain and is easy to maintain," says Schwartz. The downside: "It doesn't have the luster of granite." Of course, homeowners can still chose from laminates, which are cheap but don't hold up as well as their more expensive counterparts, solid surfaces like Corian and funkier options like concrete, stainless steel, wood, soapstone, slate, lava stone, marble, and others.
In cabinets, the effort to move beyond the standard translates to an increased interest in kitchen components that look like furniture and a move to custom paint finishes and stains, says Keener's Myers. "They're not settling for the standard finish colors," she says. "And it's a flat fee so it doesn't add that much to the cost."
Even hardware has moved away from the cookie-cutter look. "You don't put just an ordinary knob anymore. It is either antique or bronze," says Studio One's Schwartz. Like cabinet finish colors, which today are often intermingled in one kitchen, hardware styles don't have to match. "We're a lot freer in design now. You can marry multiple styles," says Schwartz.
The quest for quirky also extends to the floor. While hardwood and ceramic still reign supreme, there's a strong interest in exotic wood, like zebra wood and walnut, "even bamboo, which is very popular," says Arnold.
Under the floor, there's an increase in the use of low-voltage heating systems, which take the chill out of ceramic tile, without running up heating bills. "It adds a bit of luxury," says Arnold, who estimates such a system costs $2,500 for a 200-square-foot kitchen.
The New Stainless Steel
In appliances, homeowners continue to covet commercial grade ovens—most want at least two wall ovens and some opt for a convection oven, too—ranges, fridges and freezers, and often add extras like warming drawers and separate refrigerated drawers for beverages or other convenience items.
Stainless steel is still the top seller, but Arnold, for one, expects to see a twist on that trend in coming years. "Already clients, especially on the very high end, are looking to have color brought in," he says. "We think that either primary colors or a white and stainless steel combination is going to be the next stainless steel."
And while gas fuel is de rigeur, Arnold expects to see a renewed interest in induction cooktop surfaces. "It's faster than gas, hotter than electric, and immediate, so if you put it from boil to simmer there is no cool down time," he says.
Arnold also expects to see an increase in the availability and demand for automation in the kitchen. For now, automation is often limited to simply having lights and blinds controlled from a central spot, plus a space to dock a laptop. But "smart appliances are going to be introduced. So you'll have appliances hooked up to your home network and they can communicate with you not just on your computer or TV, but more importantly, on your cell phone," he says. "The kitchen is the next big frontier in automation."
Not long after Carol and Drew Gilmartin's Belair kitchen was remodeled in December 2005, designer Blue Arnold got a call from his client. "She said, 'I have a problem' and we thought, 'Oh no. You hate to hear that.' Then she went on to say that she had a hangover every Saturday because every Friday night has turned into a pizza party, where they drink a bottle of wine," recalls Arnold, whose company, Kitchens by Request, designed the kitchen.
At "fault" was one of the signature features of the Gilmartin kitchen, a wood-fired pizza oven, which has led the Gilmartins, including daughters Britney and Hannah, to declare Friday nights pizza night. "Our neighbors always end up here," says Gilmartin. "I think they're afraid to come in because sometimes it's hard to leave."
As popular as it is, the pizza oven is just one feature in what designer Blue Arnold says is a "classic country kitchen." Also notable is the six-burner Décor pro-style range, the three-inch-thick mahogany island countertop, custom copper sink with an apron front, and a built-in banquette.
"It's almost American country, a farmhouse feel with old world influences like a backsplash made with 4-by-4-inch Rosso Verona Italian tiles," says Arnold.
Gilmartin also points to bonus features like lighting above and beneath the cabinets, a glass-fronted cabinet, and pantry cabinets that can be accessed from the front and sides.
The kitchen re-design also involved enlarging the door to the dining room and opening a doorway to the foyer. "We added French doors to the dining room entrance so that you get the light and airiness but you can still have a formal feel in the dining room," says Arnold.
Gilmartin says she's ecstatic with the end result. "There is nothing I would have done differently," says Gilmartin, who was "totally involved" in the design process. But as it often does, the process involved some compromise.
"Originally I wanted a counter-height fireplace but because of our layout we couldn't put a masonry chimney in," says Gilmartin. When Arnold suggested the pizza oven—which doesn't require a full chimney—Gilmartin was intrigued. "It was the best of both worlds, now we can cook in it and also enjoy the fire."
Of course, a project of this scope isn't cheap—Arnold says such a kitchen costs about $150,000—and doesn't come without sacrifice. The Gilmartins had to get by for 10 months without a kitchen. During that time, a gas line connected to an outdoor grill provided fuel for cooking and a microwave and mini fridge rounded out the temporary kitchen. "It was a real chore," Gilmartin says. "But it was worth it. We cook a lot now."
Contemporary, Minus the Cold
Dr. Gary Baziz hasn't always been a big cook but, "I'm about to start," he says with a laugh. That's good news since Baziz now has a top-notch kitchen to get to work in.
The kitchen, part of Baziz's new Parkton home, was completed in August of 2006 after a six-month design process. And while it matches the contemporary design of the house, "it's kind of transitional," rather than starkly modern, says Baziz.
"Everyone thinks contemporary has to be icy cold and not warm and inviting," says Studio One's Schwartz. "But I think this one is very inviting."
The kitchen also fit Baziz's specifications in terms of function. "I just wanted it to be an open space with a central island so people can congregate, sit, talk, and eat," says Baziz, who estimates the kitchen cost at about $65,000.
His favorite features: "I love the stainless steel appliances and the six-burner cooktop, which makes cooking very convenient," he says. The kitchen also boasts two conventional ovens, a butler's pantry, an oversize freezer, wine cooler, hardwood floors and deep-set sinks that are ideal for cleaning and filling big pots.
But visually, the room may get its biggest pop from mini 1-by-1-inch glass tiles along the wall. "That's very unusual. When you see that wall, that's what makes it a wow," Schwart notes. Also unusual are extremely tall wall cabinets—they're 48 inches high—and a non-traditional shape to the room. "It's all angles," says Schwartz. "It's incredible to be in."
Designing the kitchen also allowed Studio One a welcome chance to break out of the traditional kitchen mold, which is always a fun endeavor for designer Rebeka Gurfinchel and Schwartz. "We always try to make our traditional kitchens look a little different, but it's so refreshing to see this contemporary, airy feel," says Schwartz. "It's a pleasant surprise."
For now, the kitchen is open and Baziz is ready to get cooking. "We've already had a lot of people over for New Year's and football games," says Baziz. "And we plan to do more."
The Collected Look
When Kelly and Barry Brill set out to build their Hunt Valley English-country-style house in 2005, they knew they wanted the kitchen to have a certain cobbled-together look. "I wanted a sort of old feel to it," says Kelly Brill. "I didn't want any of the appliances to look like appliances and I wanted each piece to look like it was collected."
The look, which was achieved with the help of Keener Kitchens' Myers, hinged on elements like wide-plank hardwood floors, chicken-wire cabinet fronts, a custom-built range hood, a custom paint finish in pale green and a 400-year-old English pear wood bartop.
"She had a particular look in mind," says Myers. "We kept working on it with her until we had it tweaked to her satisfaction."
Brill's favorite functional features are a Wolf range with grill and griddle, a pot filler and custom-built tilt-out silverware drawers, which she says "took several evolutions" in design to create. But it's the carefully coordinated aesthetic elements that achieved the desired look and feel. The English pear wood, for example, came from Timonium-based FreeState Timbers and adds to the country look. "I knew I wanted a wood countertop, but I thought I was going to do something traditional and use cherry," says Brill. "Then I found this piece of pear wood that still has its bark. It goes with the beams, which are reclaimed wood. I like the fact that it was something that got re-used." To protect the wood, Brill's builder, C.E. Wheeler, coated it with a marine finish and sealed it with a non-toxic matte layer.
Brill also loves her sink—with a partitioned basin and beveled apron front—which she found in a remodeling magazine long before deciding to build a house. "That was literally the first piece of this house," says Brill. Faucets and fixtures with a living finish—it wears off to give a worn look—bolster the old world feel.
And in addition to loving the look, "I cook more now that I have my big kitchen," says Brill, who moved into her new home five days before she was due to host 20 people for Thanksgiving dinner. "Other than every appliance failing two days before Thanksgiving and having to be fixed, it went great." Brill says having two conventional ovens, plus a convection oven, made preparing such a huge meal easier than ever.
Asked if she'd do anything differently if she had it to do over, Brill says she's completely happy with the kitchen, which cost just over $50,000. "It was a great experience, I love the colors and the old European look."
In the years since they built their two-story colonial in Baldwin in 1985, Darlene and Doug Townsley often considered remodeling their kitchen. "But we kept saying we weren't going to do it until it looked bad, and really, it never looked bad," Darlene Townsley says of the original kitchen, which was typical of the 80's with its dark oak cabinets, cutesy grape-themed wallpaper and small central island. "The appliances were over 20 years old," she says. "I was hoping they would die."
The appliances stubbornly refused to die but eventually the Townsleys were ready for a new look. "It was just very dark and the wallpaper was very busy," Townsley says of the home's original kitchen. They also wanted to make better use of the large space, upgrade their linoleum floor, build a larger island and replace bulkheads with cabinets that reached the ceiling.
In most projects, Townsley is happy to decorate and design on her own, but for the kitchen re-design, she decided early on to defer to a more experienced hand. "When you go into the store to pick out your cabinets, it's overwhelming," she says. "I had no idea there were that many choices." To make it manageable, Townsley turned to Stuart Kitchens' Pikesville designer Stuart Bunyea. "I even used him for things I would normally do myself, like the cabinet doorknobs," she says. "I would call him up and say, 'What do you think?' and he would suggest some things. We just clicked."
Thanks in part to that rapport, the actual renovation took just six weeks. "It went like clockwork," says Townsley. "We had a temporary kitchen in the dining room, a George Foreman grill, a microwave, and a lot of carryout."
The result of their efforts is an airy, Tuscan-styled kitchen with light caramel-stained cabinets, detailed crown moldings, tigerwood hardwood floors, and black granite counter tops. "One thing that is very visible is the crown moulding. It's just very detailed and it really stands out," says Bunyea.
Several glass-fronted cabinets allow Townsley to display some of her favorite dishes. "We had just been to Italy and Croatia and I brought back some beautiful things that I hadn't been able to display, so that's been a neat thing," she says.
Normally, the project would have cost $75,000, but the Townsleys estimate they saved $10,000 by tearing out the old kitchen themselves. To keep their old cabinets out of the landfill—and save themselves the disposal—The Townsleys donated them to The Loading Dock, a building materials re-use facility that serves those in need of low-cost housing supplies. "They come and pick them up," says Townsley. "That was really a blessing. And you know that you're donating to a good cause."