Modern specialty items, like pendant lighting and islands with bar stools, add personality and functionality, as shown in this new kitchen by River Valley Kitchens & Baths, Roscoe, Ill.

What Kitchen Designers Are Talking About Now

Kitchen remodels might seem like large projects, but they’re much easier when broken down into simple, essential steps. Learn from the experts where to start.

Modern specialty items, like pendant lighting and islands with bar stools, add personality and functionality, as shown in this new kitchen by River Valley Kitchens & Baths, Roscoe, Ill.
Modern specialty items, like pendant lighting and islands with bar stools, add personality and functionality, as shown in this new kitchen by River Valley Kitchens & Baths, Roscoe, Ill.

You’ve been thinking about it for years, dreaming of it for months, and now you’re ready. The hub of your home is ready for a makeover. But where should you begin?
Establish a financial plan. A new kitchen can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000, depending on the scope of the project and materials used. The average cost is about $30,000.
Once you have an idea of your budget, the best place to start your renovation is with a trusted designer. Working with someone who’ll bring your vision to fruition, or help you to find your vision, will make the process much easier. Professional designers have skills, tools, connections and insight about today’s trends.
It can be difficult for someone who utilizes a space so frequently to envision it completely altered. A designer can change the flow of traffic simply by opening up or moving a wall, for example, to make the most of your space and keep functionality at a maximum.
Diane Feuillerat, owner of Kitchens by Diane, 6346 E. Riverside Blvd., Loves Park, Ill., suggests bringing a designer some pictures or ideas from magazines or the Internet, to indicate a preferred style.
“I’ll ask, too, that they bring in existing kitchen photos,” she says. “I’ll look at the space they have and use it to the best of my ability. Dimensions and ideas on what to incorporate are helpful but not imperative. We will come out to the home to see if there is any major reworking of the space needed.”
Scott Hermann, of Marling Homeworks, 1138 Humes Road, Janesville, suggests that “the best way to start the process is to start at the customer’s house,” for which there is no charge. “I make the best wine when I stand in the grapes,” Hermann says with a chuckle. “The best grapes are at the customer’s house. I see their style direction, which speaks of their personality. How they keep their house, and decorate it, tells the designer about their style choices and helps us to peel that onion quicker … to see what’s important to them.”
Once an initial consultation is complete, the designer will provide drawings, project board sketches or computerized renditions of the finished project. This gives clients an opportunity to make changes well in advance of construction and materials purchase.
Time constraints need to be considered early on. Planning well in advance of holidays or entertaining is essential.
“The best thing a contractor can do is to tell you it’s going to be disruptive and time-consuming, but that in the end, it’s worth it,” says Hermann.
Lisa Simpson, designer at River Valley Kitchens & Baths Inc., 5261 Swanson Road, Roscoe, Ill., says there are many steps to consider, from consultation to installation.
“Once the cabinets are ordered and delivered, it’s about two months before the kitchen will be fully functional,” she says.
Tod Chapman, owner of C & H Design Center, 6506 Logan Ave., Belvidere, says the most common, and possibly the biggest mistake he encounters, is that customers forget to inspect their product before installation.
Contractors wait on demolition and construction until the cabinets have been delivered, which can take several weeks. This prevents a kitchen from being in disarray longer than necessary.
“What happens is that they have a garage full of cabinets, and while there is no damage to the boxes, concealed damage happens all the time,” Chapman cautions.
If damage isn’t noticed until the cabinets are ready to be hung, it can significantly delay the project.
Cabinetry, most of which is custom made, has branched out from traditional oak. Painted finishes, a wide array of wood choices and modern and rustic detailing are quite popular.
White is the hottest color designers are seeing currently, and it has staying power. A classy, clean look appeals to many people, says Erin Knabe of Benson Stone Co., 1100 11th St., Rockford.
“We’re doing a lot of new acrylic Acrilux doors,” Knabe explains. “They have a high shine, almost like thick plastic or fiberglass appearance. Clean and simple, white-on-white textures in all of the cabinet lines are available.”
The patina is user-friendly and easy to clean, she adds.
Chapman’s customers often opt for a plain cabinet door style with little detail, also in white and off-white colors. Cabinet facades are widely used too. “Upscale appliances covered with a door panel are really big,” he says. “Everything is hidden, including garbage cans, keeping the kitchen clutter-free. We’re seeing more upgrades to the inside of cabinets, too, like rollouts and pullouts, which make cabinets more functional and useable.”
Those types of upgrades prevent people from having to get on the floor, or their knees, to find a lid or other items tucked way in the back of a standard cabinet.
Feuillerat agrees. “People like wide, deep drawers to store pots and pans for easier access,” she says. “Our showroom features 12 kitchens with a wide range of ideas and designs, most of which have those.” Rustic yet refined, and uncluttered, high-function simplicity are trending now, she adds.
While neutral colors remain very popular, some people are choosing to go bold. Accent colors like indigo blue and Marsala, a deep wine red color, are popular with some. “It looks nice with the grey, which we’re seeing a lot of, too,” says Knabe. “We really try to go with the customer’s taste and work in trends,” she says. “We can take them from design services to the final product, throughout their home. Benson is so big. We have everything from furniture to outdoor stone fireplaces.”
When it comes to flooring, rectangular tiles trump traditional squares. “And a lot of people are bringing the outdoor elements indoors, with rustic, stressed woods, or distressed-look floor tile that has a wood-like appearance,” says Simpson.
Granite continues to be highly sought after, although quartz is running a tight second in popularity. “People are realizing and appreciating the durability of quartz,” says Feuillerat. “There’s no maintenance with a quartz product. Cambria is totally nonporous, a manmade material in beautiful colors, and is one of the few U.S.-made quartz brands.”
Kitchens by Diane prides itself on using only American-made products.
Scott Hermann of Marling Homeworks also sees quartz is on the rise. He sells six brands of it and has observed a big uptick in Cambria sales over other brands.
“It’s a premium product, the purest, clearest, whitest quartz,” he says. “Granite costs less and still is very popular, but I think people here value the fact that Cambria is made in America. Plus, there are no pricing categories for different colors with Cambria, so it doesn’t become a money issue. They can choose the color they want at the same cost.”
Cabinets, countertops and flooring are major components of a kitchen, but appliances are, too. Deciding if you want to use your current ones or replace them should be considered early on, says Feuillerat.
“Most people don’t realize how integral they are for the design of the kitchen,” she says. “Stainless steel is still No. 1, but slate is coming up slowly behind. It’s a little harder to match everything with it, but it’s a very beautiful color.”
Other details, like cabinet hardware, also run the gamut; designers agree there are no set rules where they’re concerned. What looks best with the style of kitchen is a personal preference. Faucets, light fixtures and hardware should match each other for a uniform look, however, some people don’t realize they may not be able to use their existing sink or faucet because it doesn’t fit their new countertop. Designers will help to minimize the small or commonly forgotten essentials.
“Follow your designer’s lead,” suggests Hermann, who’s been in the business for 15 years. “Seventy-five percent of customers think they know what they want as we start into the process. That percentage drops during the processs, because they may not be aware of all of their options.”
Chapman recommends being as flexible with your budget and time schedule as you can be. “Also, be price-conscious,” he says. “Don’t fall in love with a brand or style until you know it’s within your budget. When we do a quote, I put in allowances for the little extras – backsplash, hardware for cabinets, plumbing strainers in the sink – so when they look at the estimate, it’s as close to actual cost as possible.”
Hermann agrees. “I am very collaborative,” he says. “Have faith and trust your designer, since this is what we do for a living. If a designer has been recommended to you, there’s a reason for that.”
Specialty items and newer features may not be critical, but they do add personality and functionality, says Simpson. They may include islands, floating bar stools, pot fillers, bar refrigerators, ice makers, touch and motion-sensor faucets, under-cabinet LED lighting, glass backsplash tiles, pendant lights or cabinet facades on dishwashers and other appliances that give the appearance of being built-in.
A kitchen should be renovated every 15 to 20 years.
“Trends are timelined about 10 years,” Knabe says. “Those trends have shifted, and unless you hit it right on the money, you should do it sooner.”
Area designers work with local contractors, carpenters, electricians and plumbers, and can provide referrals to make the process go seamlessly. All, however, are willing to work with their customers’ contractors if they already have someone in mind.
“We really try to be a one-stop shop,” says Chapman. “Whether they’re looking for a complete overhaul or something simple, they can stop here and we can take care of everything.”
Feuillerat says her clients often ask what their return on investment will be once the renovation is complete.
“It used to be 75 to 100 percent back, but it all rides on the housing market,” she says. Feuillerat says she loves her job because she enjoys helping people to realize the kitchen of their dreams. After all, it’s the heart of the home.
Knabe adds, “It’s fun. People don’t know where to start. So they come in, find a designer, sit around the table and talk about it. We’re professionals, but we also try to make the process enjoyable. We’ll spend a couple of hours with clients looking at products, and then we take it from there.”