A smaller, more limited kitchen space seems larger when walls are removed and cabinets are extended to the ceiling, as in this kitchen designed by Benson Stone Co., in Rockford.

Do This, Not That, For Perfect Kitchen Remodels

No matter the size of your kitchen, a remodel job is no easy undertaking. Learn some of the common pitfalls and solutions to your kitchen update.

A smaller, more limited kitchen space seems larger when walls are removed and cabinets are extended to the ceiling, as in this kitchen designed by Benson Stone Co., in Rockford.
A smaller, more limited kitchen space seems larger when walls are removed and cabinets are extended to the ceiling, as in this kitchen designed by Benson Stone Co., in Rockford.

Have you noticed that your kitchen is looking a bit tired? Perhaps a facelift is in order. Whether your kitchen is small or large, there are a number of things you can do to freshen up its appearance, or give it an entirely new look.
Four local kitchen designers recently shared their ideas on what to do – and what to avoid – when taking on a kitchen renovation.
These experts suggest that, before starting a project, it’s important to think carefully about how you use your space and what you’d most like to change.

Benson Stone Co., Rockford

For a Smaller Kitchen Footprint: When selecting cabinets for smaller kitchens, designer Erin Knabe, of Benson Stone Co. in Rockford, suggests using a frameless cabinet for easier access, and installing units that climb to the ceiling.
“Kitchens look bigger when cabinet lines reach toward the ceiling,” she says. “If you increase the upper cabinets, you can get larger items in. When you have a small kitchen, you want it to look as big as possible. Also, keep a simplified door style.”
Remove soffits, she adds. They tend to bring the eye downward, and they look dated. Removing soffits may also open up more storage space.
If you want a kitchen island but don’t have room for one, opening up a wall may be a solution, if your budget and design plan can accommodate it.
The addition of space-saving appliances, such as a microwave/oven combination, may be a good idea. When it comes to sinks, Knabe says it’s best to splurge.
“You need a good-sized sink, even in a smaller kitchen,” she says. “Make sure it’s two feet across or larger. It’s the No. 1 thing we use in kitchens.”
For a Larger Kitchen Footprint: The possibilities for layout can be endless in larger kitchens, so it’s easy for homeowners to get lost in decision-making, says Knabe. But there are a few basic keys that can help you to stay on track. “If you want to take up wall space, don’t put seven-foot tall cabinets in a 20-foot ceiling space,” she says.
People with larger kitchens can entertain more guests; therefore, items like islands and wet bars can help to divide space into zones, creating a more entertainment-friendly environment.
When it comes to sinks for larger kitchens, Knabe suggests triple bowls. In this more sprawling space, nifty appliances like double ovens, bar refrigerators, wine coolers and warming drawers are enjoyable luxuries.
Additional advice: “Materials such as granite and quartz look nice in kitchens, and composite granite is especially durable for sinks,” says Knabe. “Be cautious using cast iron materials, as they chip easily.”
Wood flooring is popular, as is luxury vinyl – a durable product that looks like wood or tile. High-shine, high-gloss floors should be avoided for obvious reasons – they’re slippery, cold and more easily scratched or stained, especially in homes with children or pets. Avoid carpet in the kitchen – it’s too difficult to keep clean.
“Matte or satin-toned floors with a good texture will hide so much more,” Knabe says. “Cork flooring is a neat option in older homes. It gives kitchens a vintage look.”

River Valley Kitchens & Baths, Roscoe, Ill.

For a Smaller Kitchen Footprint: “A lot of people have old peninsula-style counter/cabinets,” says Lisa Simpson, a designer at River Valley Kitchens and Baths in Roscoe. “To make a small kitchen look larger, get rid of those overhead peninsula cabinets.”
If it’s feasible to remove a wall or two, to make a kitchen appear larger, then do it. Consider using glass doors in some cabinets, to make spaces seem larger and more airy.
And pay careful attention to kitchen lighting. “LED-style lighting is all the rage right now,” says Simpson. “If you put lighting under cabinets, it helps. When you layer lighting, your kitchen will definitely feel taller. Recessed lighting is another good idea.”
Color and accents play an important role in any size kitchen. People are often wary of darker colors that might make kitchens feel smaller, but when interesting accents are involved, they distract from and enhance the color scheme.
“Any time you can keep things from being in a straight line, that definitely adds interest,” Simpson says.
This also applies to flooring.
“A lot of people think small tiles in a small space makes a kitchen look bigger, but steer away from it,” Simpson says. “When using tiles, skew them to a diagonal pattern. It makes your eyes perceive the space as being larger.”
Another visual trick is to lay out flooring in a pattern that flows seamlessly into neighboring rooms. Creating a flow from room to room makes a space feel larger.
Another suggestion for smaller kitchens, says Simpson, is to maximize space by adding a single-bowl sink to a counter with a dishwasher built in below it. Never place sinks in corners, because the effect can make you feel claustrophobic. 
Even in a smaller kitchen, leave some counter space between the sink, stove and refrigerator. You need a place to set things while working in the kitchen. 
For a Larger Kitchen Footpint: Play with textures. Make things fun, unique and engaging. Simpson suggests combining elements like tiles, stone and wood, in order to mix things up a bit. 
Also, design your kitchen layout in a way that spreads out distinct work areas.
“And when it comes to floors, add some pattern to flooring in larger kitchens,” Simpson adds.
Additional advice: Simpson loves pullout faucets. “They make it easy to wash out the sink, or even to spray your husband,” she says, laughing. 
Simpson is also a fan of heated flooring, which modernizes kitchens of any size, and makes the environment more comfortable any time of year – especially when placed near patio doors or windows.
When it comes to easier maintenance in the kitchen, a revolutionary new finish, spearheaded by manufacturer GE, is catching on. The so-called “slate” appliances resemble a matte-finished stainless steel, but unlike steel, they resist fingerprints. 
“Drawer microwaves also are a new thing,” Simpson says. “They’re big space-savers and you can put them in islands. You just push a button and the microwave comes out.”

Kitchens by Diane,  Loves Park, Ill.

For a Smaller Kitchen Footprint: Remove those soffits and stretch the cabinets as high as possible, to fully utilize your space, says Diane Feuillerat, owner of Kitchens by Diane, in Loves Park. 
Also, brighten up the room with some white cabinets. This timeless look is once more returning to favorability. “They keep smaller spaces light and bright,” says Feuillerat.
Complement the brighter finish with more lighting. “Most kitchens are very lacking in sufficient lighting,” she says.
One important thing  to remember, when remodeling a small kitchen, is to find ways to gain counter space wherever possible. Stick to a one-bowl sink, for example, and buy a refrigerator that’s compatible with the size of the kitchen. “Not the biggest refrigerator in the world,” she says.
For a Larger Kitchen Footprint: “Taller cabinets make space more elegant and dramatic,”  Feuillerat says. She also likes to keep counters at one level in larger kitchens, in order to ensure more usable counter space.
“Utilizing your counter space wisely is an important consideration in any kitchen,” she says.
Multiple islands, ovens or sinks can make good sense in a larger kitchen, depending on how the homeowners use their space.
Peninsulas are a great way to divide larger kitchens and “keep guests out of the cooking space,” Feuillerat says. A comfortable seating area can be added to allow conversation with the chef during food preparation, without guests getting in the way.
Additional suggestions: “Hardwood floors in kitchens are easier on your back,”  Feuillerat says. “There are also some beautiful new styles of tile available.”

Marling Homeworks, Janesville 

For a Smaller Kitchen Footprint: Scott Herrmann of Marling Homeworks in Janesville, Wis., believes the No. 1 thing people should remember when remodeling a small kitchen is to “keep it light” and to keep the lines simple and free of fussy decor.
He likes to arrange flooring tiles in a diagonal pattern, which gives the illusion that kitchen walls are pushed farther apart.
“Also use larger tiles, with less grout and fewer lines, to show dimension,” he says.
For a Larger Kitchen Footprint: “When it comes to larger kitchens, don’t disregard the lighting,” says Herrmann. “People forget that they have to have enough light. Pendants and fixtures can help with this.”
When renovating a larger kitchen, think in terms of specific work zones. This makes the kitchen more functional and saves steps. For flooring, Herrmann is partial to wood. “I love character wood,” he says. “You can do a lot of things with it and create a lot of movement.”
Additional suggestions: “Darker colors are very hot right now in kitchens,” says Herrmann.
He advises using softer materials in kitchen furnishings and says acrylic-based products have fallen out of favor.
“I’m a huge fan of natural stone and granite, myself,”  he adds. “It offers individuality to every client and still performs well.”

Must-Dos, No Matter Your Kitchen Size

“Find a good designer and thoroughly research your renovation project,” advises Knabe. “Have a designer come to your home – specifically, a designer who is used to doing renovations on a regular basis. Have this designer help you to design your kitchen so that it functions specifically for you.”
Simpson believes the first important thing a person should do, after deciding to renovate a kitchen, is to sit down and formulate a realistic budget.
“This will determine what you will be able to do with your kitchen,” she says. Sometimes clients come into her shop without a budget and are disappointed when they can’t have exactly what they want. Especially if they plan to take down walls and soffits, without good prior planning, homeowners can become stressed out, Simpson says.
Simpson also encourages clients to try hard to visualize change. This is easier for some people to do than others. “Be open to seeing things differently. Imagine space differently. And, work with a designer who will try hard to envision your vision.”
“Make sure your kitchen designer is listening to you,” adds Feuillerat. “Having a good designer who will listen to you, and who will do what you want, is key.”
Perhaps one of the most important things to remember is to enjoy the positive changes that come along with the challenges, says Herrmann.
“Try to have fun,” he says. “It’s a process that should be fun. And, you should know that it is a process.”