A good remodel improves your kitchen’s functionality and provides great relief from an outdated style. We caught up with two local experts who share their insights into the process of kitchen remodeling and the latest trends.
“Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?”
That’s the comment Diane Feuillerat hears most often after she renovates a customer’s kitchen – and she’s overseen well over 1,000 remodels in the Rockford region.
“A good remodel leaves people with a kitchen that functions better for them,” says the owner of Kitchens by Diane, 6346 E. Riverside Blvd., Loves Park, Ill. “When it functions better, it makes you feel better and you want to cook more often. My job as a kitchen designer is to really focus on functionality and making the most of your space.”
These days, kitchen updates often include removing a wall or two.
“People just love the more open, airy feeling and cooks really appreciate being a part of what else is happening in the house,” says Feuillerat.
An up-to-date kitchen not only works and looks better, but also makes a house more attractive to buyers. And as home improvements go, it’s the one that brings the best return on investment.
“In the right neighborhood, the return on investment of a kitchen remodel is typically 60 to 80 percent,” says Feuillerat.
So, what holds people back from giving their kitchens the attention they need?
“A kitchen remodel is a big project that carries a big price tag and a lot of mess and inconvenience,” says Feuillerat. “And, sometimes people just don’t know where to begin or what to do. That’s where we come in. Working with an experienced kitchen designer makes the whole process far more manageable and prevents you from making expensive mistakes. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been called in to correct problems caused by inexperienced installers or do-it-yourselfers.”
Feuillerat walks customers through a foolproof process she’s used successfully for 30 years.
First, set a budget.
“You know how much a car costs. But it’s much less clear what a kitchen renovation will cost until you do some homework,” she says.
New cabinets and countertops will comprise about half the price tag, and this varies greatly depending on the quality you choose. Other costs include labor and, depending on the design plan, carpentry, plumbing and electrical work, plus products like flooring, paint, hardware, backsplash tile and lighting fixtures.
“Next, we ask you to go to our website and visit our store to look at displays and learn what you’re drawn toward,” she says. Along with her kitchen functionality expertise, Feuillerat offers the assistance of Tami Blevins, her interior design expert, who can help to guide the aesthetic decisions that make a dream kitchen so rewarding.
“I sit down with a customer and ask questions about how the space will be used, how often they cook or bake, what if any appliances they want to keep, what does and doesn’t work for them in the current kitchen layout – things like that,” Feuillerat explains. “Then, I work up an estimate and we see if their budget is a good fit with the plan or not. This helps everyone to be appreciative of one another’s time. If it looks like design and price are in agreement, then we get a contractor involved.”
Customers hire their own contractor or work with one Feuillerat recommends.
“Then we go to the customer’s home and take measurements,” she says. “The contractor comes up with his estimate and I tweak mine. In the showroom, I help customers as they choose specific materials and then I order those materials.”
Cabinets take five to six weeks to arrive.
“All cabinets are customized these days,” Feuillerat explains. “If I can draw it, the companies I work with can build it. There really is no such thing as stock cabinetry, anymore, except the ones made of cardboard that are sold at the big-box stores.”
Feuillerat sells various price point lines of cabinetry in the Grabill and Holiday brands. She’s dealt with both brands for many years and deems them dependable and up to her standards.
“These days, there are endless options for materials, door styles, stain and paint colors, mullion glass door inserts and more,” she says.
Likewise, a wide selection of countertop materials exists today, including quartz and granite, which remain most popular. Measurements for these must be absolutely precise, and Feuillerat is a stickler for detail, as are the contractors she recommends.
“There are a lot of very technical aspects to a kitchen that you might not think about,” she explains. “We think about which way a refrigerator door will open and whether it will block traffic flow, and things like making sure there’s enough countertop work space next to stovetops, or where electrical outlets should be placed.”
The contractor and any needed subcontractors come to the customer’s home about two weeks before installation to do prep work like removing old cabinets, opening up walls and moving or installing plumbing or electric as needed. New flooring may be installed before or after cabinet installation, depending upon the situation.
“In all, the planning process averages two to three months. Once we meet with the contractor, it’s another four to six weeks of down time without a kitchen,” Feuillerat says. “This can vary a lot, depending on the specifics of the job. This is when the tear-up stress can set in.”
Feuillerat helps customers to mentally prepare for it.
“I suggest they set up another area of the home with a microwave oven and a lot of paper dishes and cups, maybe a mini-refrigerator,” she says. “Pretend you’re camping. Eat out, grill out and order carry-out a lot. Focus on the end goal and tell yourself, ‘At least I have a break from washing dishes.’”
By the time the final touches are put on your brand-new kitchen, you won’t regret a few weeks of inconvenience, she says.
“That’s when I nearly always hear this comment from thrilled customers: ‘Why didn’t we do this a long time ago so we could have been enjoying it?’” she says.
How Long Will it Last?
So, you finally took the leap and now you have an updated, beautiful dream kitchen. How long will it remain up-to-date?
“We like to design a kitchen and color scheme that’s going to last for quite awhile,” says Kayla Hauch, kitchen and bath designer at Benson Stone Co., 1100 11th St., Rockford. “Many people opt for more neutral or classic looks in the most expensive items – cabinets and countertops – and change out less-expensive items, like backsplash materials, more often.”
There’s one trend that Hauch predicts will be in demand for a long time: cleaner lines and low-maintenance materials.
“The more detail, the more there is to dust and clean,” she says. “That’s why people are choosing relatively simple door styles, like Shaker or transitional styles. But they don’t want plain, flat doors. They still want cabinets to be attractive.”
A rise in the popularity of quartz countertops is compatible with this trend.
“They’re super-durable, easy to clean and won’t stain like marble can, but they’re also beautiful,” says Hauch.
Quartz countertops are made of man-made composite materials and are extremely durable and highly stain resistant.
Granite countertops also are very durable and loved for their natural beauty. “Each slab of stone is entirely unique, and people love that about granite,” says Hauch.
Shades of gray remain popular for painted cabinets, as do gray-brown stains.
“Color trends usually last about 10 years, and the gray trend began about five years ago,” Hauch says. Today’s grays have evolved to softer, more fawn-colored shades.
Very dark cabinet stains are less requested than before; white-painted cabinets remain timeless. While reddish wood hues are out of style, cherry wood, as a species, is in demand.
“Each wood species takes stain differently and comes in all kinds of colors and stains,” says Hauch. “Don’t equate cherry wood with red. It’s more about the grain and the look of the stained piece. To figure out what you’re drawn toward, it’s important to come in and look at the samples we carry.”
When choosing cabinets, buy the best quality you can afford, recommends Hauch. Among the brands carried by Benson Stone Co. are Plato Woodwork, Ultracraft, Quality, Woodharbor and Dura Supreme.
“You really do get what you pay for,” she says. “Most all cabinets look nice when they’re brand-new, but there’s a big difference in the way they wear. A lot depends on the materials they’re made from, the construction process used and especially the way the finish is applied.”
Benson Stone Co. carries several lines and price points of cabinetry. Customers are often surprised to learn how competitive the store’s pricing is, says Hauch. “Even our lowest-price point cabinetry is far superior in quality to what you would find at a big-box store,” she adds.
Along with easy maintenance, there’s another trend that’s likely here to stay. More-convenient storage styles, like deep drawers, blind-corner cabinets with swing-out drawers, roll-out pantry shelves and easy-lift platforms for heavy items, make good sense.
“They require less bending, crouching and lifting,” says Hauch. “You can look down into a deep drawer and easily see everything there, which people love. It’s a lot better than crouching in front of a low cabinet and searching its dark recesses. You can customize the drawers with dividers however you like, for pots and pans or plates and saucers – whatever.”
Roll-out wastebaskets and recycling bins are nearly standard in the kitchens Hauch designs. “Everyone wants them,” she says. The same is true for soft-close door and drawer closures.
A trend toward replacing kitchen desk/message centers with storage space continues. “Most people find the message centers become a place for clutter,” says Hauch. “People can use that space for little luxuries they didn’t have room for before, like a beverage cooler or a Kitchen Aid mixer shelf with an electrical outlet inside. These pull-up shelves make heavy items easy to use, with no lifting.”
Kitchen islands continue to replace kitchen peninsulas, says Hauch. They’re versatile workhorses that often allow for better traffic flow.
The most popular kitchen flooring materials today are solid or engineered hardwood and luxury vinyl tile (LVT) that looks like wood. “Vinyl has come a long way and is really attractive these days,” says Hauch. “It’s easy to clean and a little easier to stand on than porcelain tile. Because of digital photography, it looks amazingly similar to real wood.”
Lighting is another important factor in any kitchen renovation and shouldn’t be ignored. Correct lighting makes the kitchen more functional and more beautiful, says Hauch.
Benson Stone customers have the advantage of one-stop shopping, since the store offers cabinets, countertops, flooring, backsplash materials and a full-service lighting center all under one roof, along with professional designers who can make your remodeling journey easier.
“People are so happy when they finally have a kitchen that works the way they always wanted it to,” says Hauch. “We’re here to help them figure out all the pieces that go into that final, beautiful result.”