Redoing this essential room can be challenging, so it’s important to complete your project right the first time. Local experts share valuable insights on what it takes to create a kitchen you can be proud to show off.
If you plan to sell your home anytime soon, the condition of your kitchen is of key importance. An outdated kitchen will make your home more difficult to sell and less valuable.
And, if you plan to stay in your home and simply enjoy it, few things will bring you more pleasure than an attractive, highly functional kitchen that’s also a comfortable gathering place.
A kitchen remodel can be both daunting and expensive, and it may take many weeks or even months to complete. It’s important to do it right the first time and end up with a space that serves you well for many years to come. This means paying attention to the quality of materials, the efficiency of design, the aesthetics and the details that make it a good fit to your particular needs.
Local experts see many kitchen renovations per year and have a good idea of what their customers love most about their new spaces. Here, they share some valuable insights.
Cabinets are at the heart of nearly all kitchen renovations and usually are the biggest-ticket item. Do your homework on brands, says Diane Feuillerat, owner of Kitchens by Diane, 6346 Riverside Blvd., Loves Park.
“It’s important to learn about the quality of the cabinet brands a kitchen store sells and whether the store stands behind those brands and how long they’ve been selling them,” Feuillerat says. “Some dealers rotate brands every few years so they don’t have to stand behind them if there are service problems. And, some pass off low-level brands as premium ones.”
All new cabinets look nice at first glance, but there are significant differences, she says.
“Poorly made cabinetry may not be square, may arrive damaged and may take longer to install because so many problems need to be corrected,” she says. “There are a lot of badly made cabinets out there. I stopped carrying lower-line cabinetry many years ago because they just cause too many problems.”
She has sold Holiday (made in Wisconsin) and Grabill (made in Indiana) brands exclusively, for decades, because both are consistently reliable.
“The quality of the finish is very important because that’s often what wears out first,” she says. “You have to do some research and expect to get what you pay for.”
Many people today prefer the convenience of storing items in wide, deep drawers rather than cabinets.
“Find out whether those drawers can take the weight of heavy dishes or pans over time without sagging,” Feuillerat suggests. “Sagging causes all kinds of headaches. The ones I sell have half-inch wooden bottoms that hold up.”
Inspect the drawer glides, too.
“Better cabinets attach metal drawer glides – not plastic – to the sides of the cabinet, not the back, because that makes them stronger,” Feuillerat explains.
Also look for solid wood drawers that are dovetailed, not stapled, with full-extension glides and soft-close features.
It’s also important to understand what “custom” cabinetry is, she says.
“All the cabinets I sell are custom because we order them right down to the quarter-inch size needed for the space,” Feuillerat explains. “Hardly anyone sells stock cabinets anymore, except big-box stores. My cabinets are made from scratch, just for your kitchen, in a high-quality factory setting where there are strict controls for things like minimizing dust when the finish is applied.”
Feuillerat also sells granite and Cambria quartz countertops.
“The new quartz designs are so beautiful,” she says. “Quartz and granite are still the materials everyone wants most and are both very durable.”
Along with high-quality materials, aesthetics are important. After all the work of a renovation, you want to love what you see every day.
“If you go with a classic style for the larger elements, like cabinets, you can always update smaller elements as trends change,” advises Kayla Hauch, kitchen and bath designer at Benson Stone Co., 1100 11th St., Rockford. “The style most in demand right now is transitional, which is not too modern, but is simplified – nice clean lines.”
White painted cabinets are classic, and are especially popular right now, both in bright whites and shades of cream. Hauch is seeing many mixed finishes – such as white cabinets with a stained wood or painted island in colors like gray or navy.
“I’m also seeing a lot of open shelving,” she says. “Maybe the kitchen colors are all neutral, but that open shelf is the one pop of color.”
The popularity of gray tones is holding strong “but is turning to a warmer gray,” Hauch adds. “The No. 1 style influencer we see is the TV show ‘Fixer Upper.’ There’s a growing demand for shiplap, maybe used as an accent wall. A lot of that is about bringing natural wood indoors and pairing it with painted white or cream pieces.”
“Shiplap” as defined on “Fixer Upper” is simply wooden planks, often reclaimed wood, arranged on an interior wall horizontally for aesthetic value. (Authentic shiplap was used behind exterior walls and fitted together with joints made by halving, to prevent water penetration.)
When it comes to selecting hardware, many customers opt for oil-rubbed bronze, brushed nickel or dark gray pewter.
Regardless of what style you love, avoid busy backsplashes, advises Hauch.
“We tend to let a lot of objects accumulate on our countertops. If you have a busy background behind them, it can look pretty cluttered.” For that reason, she’s glad to see a decline in the use of small-tile mosaic backsplashes.
Tried-and-true subway tiles add character to a kitchen backsplash without competing with everything else.
“Standard white glossy or matte subway tiles are classic, but they also come in other styles now, like larger formats, more color options – gray is popular – and artisan textures for a more hand-hewn look,” Hauch says. The tiles also can be laid in a herringbone pattern rather than horizontal lines.
Extra touches that distinguish very high-end kitchens may include laser-cut marble backsplashes or entire walls, glass-faced cabinets with mullion windows or other special detailing, high-end hardware and refined, elegant pendant lighting.
Benson Stone Co. carries six brands of cabinets, including Dura Supreme, made in Minnesota.
“Our customers like the fact that we offer one-stop shopping,” Hauch says. “Really, anything you would need in any room of your house is something you can pick out right here in our store, from lighting to flooring. It’s nice to be able to coordinate everything under one roof. And our prices are very competitive.”
A new or renovated kitchen should be built to last, look great and function like a dream.
“You don’t have to be a gourmet cook to want a well-planned, highly functional kitchen,” says Sue Bryant, co-owner of River Valley Kitchen & Bath, 5261 Swanson Road, Roscoe, Ill. “Even if you don’t do much more than make brownies with your kids or grandkids, you want to be able to locate what you need quickly, put it together, have an easy cleanup and present things attractively in a space where people are comfortable.”
Today that often means removing walls from kitchens and adding large islands with plenty of seating.
“All of us who work in the kitchen remodeling business are seeing the same thing: a desire for open floor plans and comfortable gathering spaces,” Bryant says. “At our store, we function as a project manager to coordinate the many things that have to happen in the right order, from demolition to plumbing and electric, whatever is needed. People come in here and pick out what they want – the design style, cabinet features, back splash tile, crown molding, etc. – and we make it happen.”
And if you don’t have a large kitchen and don’t plan to tear down walls, it may be all the more important to let a kitchen designer help you assess your priorities and make the most of your space, she says.
A rich array of cabinet accessories and add-ons offered by most cabinet companies makes this easier. For example, there are new and better ways to use space once lost to corners, by using super-Susans or swing-out corner trays that allow you to bring all items out into the open.
The new super-Susans don’t have center poles or spaces along the walls into which items can fall.
There are all kinds of built-in spice racks, cookie sheet dividers, Tupperware bowl and lid organizers, appliance garages with electrical outlets, extra-wide drawers with gliding top trays for cutlery and utensil storage, microwave drawers, pull-out floor-to-ceiling pantries, easy-lift shelves for heavy appliances like stand mixers, and extra-deep drawers that can be divided up in various ways, Bryant says.
River Valley Kitchens & Baths sells Wellborn cabinets, made in Alabama, a “semi-custom” offering.
The store also sells granite and Cambria quartz countertops.
“Quartz countertops have come a long way and it’s becoming more difficult for people to tell the difference between quartz and granite,” Bryant says. “Granite is solid stone. Quartz countertops are a man-made composite of 93 percent quartz and 7 percent resin and colors. The quartz is molded into a slab and then finished the same way as granite. Quartz requires no sealing or maintenance. Granite is more porous and should be sealed periodically.”
Quartz is more stain-resistant. Lighter colors of granite are more porous and may stain more easily than darker ones.
The price point for quartz is about the same as a mid-level granite, she adds.
“Both granite and quartz are excellent options and homebuyers just expect to see them in a kitchen now.”
Quality materials, efficient design and pleasing aesthetics are each important to a successful kitchen renovation. And sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a homeowner wants a customized kitchen built completely from scratch. In those instances, John Kruschke, president of Premier Woodwork, 1522 7th St., Rockford, is likely to receive a call.
“We build cabinets from scratch to fit your particular space perfectly,” he says. “We don’t just augment standard cabinets to make them fit and call that ‘custom.’”
And it may not be as expensive as you think.
“Making your vision fit your space with the beautiful work we do is surprisingly affordable when the whole project is considered,” says Kruschke. “Trying to make stock cabinets work in your space can really end up being rather costly.”
And, as the popularity of open-concept floor plans grows and kitchens spill into other rooms, customers often ask Premier Woodwork to help bring those spaces together seamlessly.
“They may want us to install custom millwork throughout,” Kruschke says. “Or sometimes they hire us to build a custom entertainment center for their flat-screen TV that coordinates with kitchen cabinets, or shelving, or a fireplace mantelpiece or bar. We can build most anything.”
As walls come down, large islands with seating often take their place.
“These can be very tailored to your needs,” says Kruschke.
Along with storage space, islands may incorporate a built-in cooktop, sink, microwave or warming drawer; a built-in wine cooler, mini-refrigerator, ice-maker or coffee-maker; pull-out bins and baskets; shelving and lighted display cabinets or docking drawers.
“We’re doing a lot of docking drawers these days because people like having a place where they can plug in their devices but keep them off the counters,” Kruschke says, adding that customers appreciate the high-standard fabrication techniques used by Premier Woodwork.
“I always tell people to look at the details – it’s the small details that really matter,” he adds.
For example, Premier makes cabinets from ¾-inch thick wood rather than the standard ½-inch.
“A cabinet made from ¾-inch wood is going to stay straight and won’t sag, no matter what you put inside it,” he says.
Premier’s joint constructions are dovetailed. The all-metal glides are full-extension with soft closures. And its custom stained or painted finishes are topped with catalyzed lacquer and urethane for long-lasting endurance, says Kruschke.
Homeowners also value Premier Woodwork’s ability to match any pre-existing stain, paint or wood species already in the home. It can handle historical renovations, too, like the one it did in the University of Illinois-Chicago police station, where the company constructed new moldings to match the building’s original design.
While much of its work is commercial – the company builds reception counters, nursing desks, bank teller stations etc. – Kruschke’s team members derive satisfaction from residential projects. They help customers with everything from simple repairs and refinishing jobs to completely customized designs.
“We limit our focus to what we do best and then really do it well,” he says.
A kitchen renovation isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you take the plunge, you’ll probably be glad.
“People don’t regret updating their kitchens,” Feuillerat says. “In fact, they tell us their only regret is not doing it sooner.”