Diane Feuillerat, of Kitchens by Diane, in Loves Park, Ill., coordinated the look of this dining room and kitchen to improve the overall flow between the two spaces. Homeowners are frequently looking to open the space around the kitchen and create a central hub for family activities. (Kitchens by Diane photo)

How Design Experts Maximize Function When It's Time to Refresh Your Home

Design experts in our region are skilled at making homes both both beautiful and functional. Discover how you can make the most of your space, time and money to realize the kitchens and bathrooms you’ve always dreamed of owning.

Diane Feuillerat, of Kitchens by Diane, in Loves Park, Ill., coordinated the look of this dining room and kitchen to improve the overall flow between the two spaces. Homeowners are frequently looking to open the space around the kitchen and create a central hub for family activities. (Kitchens by Diane photo)
Diane Feuillerat, of Kitchens by Diane, in Loves Park, Ill., coordinated the look of this dining room and kitchen to improve the overall flow between the two spaces. Homeowners are frequently looking to open the space around the kitchen and create a central hub for family activities. (Kitchens by Diane photo)

You use them daily, yet their impact on your life is easy to underestimate. Your kitchen and bathroom should be beautiful, practical, appealing assets for your home, but sometimes it takes a little extra help to make these spaces all they can be.
Whether you’re planning a newly constructed home or your tired space is ready for a refresh, local designers provide the expertise to transform these essential spaces into appealing assets for today and the years ahead.

A Coordinated Design

Diane Feuillerat, owner of Kitchens by Diane, 6346 E. Riverside Blvd., in Loves Park, Ill., believes design is one of the biggest challenges she helps customers to overcome. In each project, she attempts to answer one central question: how can she use new materials while taking full advantage of what’s already available?
“The single most important element of working with clients is to listen,” Feuillerat says.
As a designer, she has to remain open to ideas and understand the client’s lifestyle, but it’s also important to account for the life cycle of the kitchen and the client’s future needs. On average, a kitchen can last 10 to 15 years, or longer.
“Another important aspect is to build a design that ages in place,” Feuillerat says. “In other words, something that works now and will continue to work well into the future.”
A good kitchen design goes beyond cabinet and color choices such as those on display in Feuillerat’s showroom in Loves Park. Space, height, accessibility, practicality, organization and energy efficiency all contribute to a successful outcome.
“We frequently tear out walls to allow families more together time,” she adds. “One client told me she was tired of being in the kitchen while the rest of the family was having fun in another room. By taking out a non-supporting wall and installing an island, we were able to open up her kitchen and bring everyone together.”
Lately, Feuillerat has seen clients building offices, message centers, beverage centers and other innovative elements into the kitchen, creating a central hub for the family. But Feuillerat’s work is extending far outside the kitchen, as she’s helping clients to create functional bar access, entertainment centers, home offices, bathrooms, mudrooms and entries that add organization, convenience and value.
“We’re doing some innovative designs for clients in other areas of the home,” Feuillerat says. “In the past couple of years, we’ve designed laundry space worked either into an extra bedroom or in adjacent space. These convenient remakes bring the laundry facilities onto the first floor instead of down in the basement, and in addition, can provide much-needed additional storage when the kitchen space doesn’t accommodate it. The laundry roomette handles any overflow, like a modern-day pantry.”
Today’s designs feature not only amazingly durable, beautiful materials but accents such as glass-front cabinets that open up a room and make it look larger.
“Another space-maximizing option is the choice of taller cabinets and removing soffits,” Feuillerat adds. “Taller cabinets make the kitchen look bigger and provide more storage space.”
Working within budgets can be challenging. Feuillerat estimates that clients may spend between $10,000 and $100,000 on a remodeling project – depending on the cabinets, appliances and countertops, flooring choices, plumbing adaptations, wall removals and other considerations.
“It all depends on what the customer wants,” she says. “It’s so important to work closely together, to make the outcome exactly what the client wants.”

High-Function Appliances

Appliances are one of many vital choices homeowners make when planning a new kitchen or bringing a dated kitchen up-to-date. Today’s appliances are both standard and amazingly modern, giving clients a broader selection than ever before.
Erica Butz, sales manager at Al Grace Appliance, 811 W. Riverside Blvd. in Rockford, says putting together the perfect match of appliances requires careful teamwork to ensure everything matches its space and has a comfortable fit.
“The height and width of appliance spaces can vary,” Butz says. “Standard, freestanding cook stoves, for example, are a little less than a half-inch narrower than 30 inches. Dishwashers can be 24 inches wide, with a smaller, space-saving version at 18 inches. We need to take into consideration the height of existing counters and cabinetry to accommodate refrigerators and other appliances.”
With new and remodeled kitchens, the placement of appliances is easier, because there’s some flexibility in the design. But it’s also important to find something that works aesthetically and provides the practicality and convenience a client desires.
“Today’s most popular look involves stainless-steel finishes, which, because of modern technology, are not as difficult to keep looking great as in the past,” Butz says. “They resist fingerprints and other distractions. Plus, along with the traditional deep gray, we offer a ‘black’ stainless steel in which the color is infused into the surface, giving it a softer, warmer look.”
Some new oven ranges now come with a relocated instrument panel. Rather than being stationed in the back, as has long been a tradition, these controls are affixed in the front. Without a back panel, the range creates a “premium accent” that allows more space for an innovative backsplash and wall design.
“Built-in laundry rooms are also becoming popular,” Butz adds. “The newer washers and driers also are available in the stainless steel finish, so they blend in with the kitchen appliances, giving the entire space a lovely, coordinated look.”
One of the latest options in laundry equipment is a machine that both washes and dries clothing in one.
“This spin wash and dry unit is front-loaded,” Butz says. “However, where older front loaders were not popular because they promoted mold and odor, this new all-in-one unit includes a fan, similar to dishwashers, that dries out the unit.”
Models currently on the market occupy roughly the same footprint as a single full-size wash machine. More compact units are starting to come to market, but aren’t yet available here.
“The smaller all-in-one can wash about eight pounds,” Butz says. “It’s good for a small load, in case you need something washed for an event the next day. It’s good for an overnight wash load, and actually can be installed on the second floor near the bathroom as a second laundry facility. It also can be installed in a camper.”

Spa-Like Bathrooms

Style, comfort and convenience are equally as important in the bathroom. Regardless of whether it’s a new installation or a renovation project, Sue Bryant, owner of River Valley Kitchens and Baths, 5261 Swanson Road in Roscoe, Ill., says it takes a team effort to create an attractive, accommodating space.
In particular, larger showers are one of the most sought-after upgrades these days, and many clients are looking for a spa-like experience.
“It’s what I am asked about most,” Bryant says. “People are interested in rain showerheads, body sprays and electronically controlled showers in which you pre-program exactly how you want your shower to be – including warmth and delivery – and then all you need to do is push a button to have it the way you want it. People want a customized shower experience.”
In addition to their larger showers, clients are also installing freestanding tubs, Bryant adds. And they’re looking for everything to be organized and readily available.
“Along with looks, convenience and the actual bathing process, we take into consideration safety and accessibility,” Bryant says. “We feel it is wise for homeowners to plan well ahead, putting in such amenities as grab bars even before they need them.”
For clients who are hesitant to install what they consider to be utilitarian grab bars, Bryant has an easy workaround.
“We can install grab bars that double as shelves and towel bars,” she says. “They serve two purposes and don’t look industrial.”
Step-in showers are another element clients are seeking.
“Most people shower far more than they use a tub,” she adds. “They are looking ahead and wanting easy entry.”
Some clients are also looking to enlarge the existing bathroom, making room for extended counters with double sink arrangements and additional storage. Some enlarged bathrooms can accommodate wardrobes as well.
“Like kitchens, baths are uniquely a person’s own space, designed to meet their specific needs regardless of age, number of family members and other factors,” Bryant says. “This sometimes means we work with budgets that can range from $9,000 to as much as $50,000 for major expansions.”

A Touch of Stone

Countertops are an essential element in both kitchens and baths, and there’s a wide range of materials to choose from. Denise Phillips, co-owner with Jodi Phillips, of Midwest Stone Source + Design Studio, in Rockford, confirms that while countertop materials have changed over the past 15 years, beautiful and durable countertops can fit just about every budget.
“For a long time, granite was the primary choice and it was comparatively expensive,” Phillips says. “Now that providers are importing more, the cost has decreased.”
Phillips finds that many clients are not fully aware of the differences when they come into the showroom at 915 23rd St., in Rockford. So Midwest Stone’s five on-staff designers first must educate their clients. Granite is still the top choice among many clients, but quartz is catching up and marble is becoming fashionable.
“Marble is beautiful, but homeowners need to be aware that it is not the easiest surface to maintain,” Phillips explains. “It’s not your everyday choice, and those who do install it know it is sensitive to heat and difficult to maintain. Marble works in showplace kitchens that are not used the way most families use them.”
With granite, clients get both beauty and durability, and newer granite countertops require little care to look their best.
“Homeowners once needed to seal granite every year,” Phillips adds. “Now it needs sealing about every 15 years. With a quartz countertop, this is not an issue.”
Quartz is a manufactured product that can resemble the beauty of granite and is extremely durable. Phillips guesses most clients don’t know that, while quartz is manufactured by a process of heat and pressure, and “owned” by companies such as Silestone and Cambria, granite is not owned but rather imported from sources, mostly in Brazil.
“Quartz is more expensive because these companies advertise extensively, adding cost to the product,” Phillips says. “The key is that, while it looks and wears like granite, it never needs sealing. The downside is that quartz can crack if an extremely hot item is placed directly on the surface.”
At any time, the warehouse has between 50 and 75 granite slabs available, with about five to 10 quartz slabs.
“Clients can actually see and feel the countertop materials,” she points out. “Granite varies considerably from piece to piece, while quartz is consistent.”
Stone may be the most popular, but it’s not the only choice for countertops. There’s still that old standby laminate, ceramic tile, and cement, which Phillips says never really “took off.”
Midwest Stone Source + Design Studio specializes in stone work, but as a complete remodel service, the company maintains a team of experts who handle every part of the remodeling project, from first contact to final review.
“We do it all, from countertops to cabinets and flooring. We have our own carpenters and five design consultants,” Phillips says. “Our clients work with the same designer from start to finish.”

Putting it All Together

Our region is home to a wealth of professional assistance for any remodeling or new construction challenge. And by working with any one of these expert resources, homeowners can make the most of their valuable space, time and money to realize the kitchens and bathrooms they’ve always dreamed of owning.