New trends and budget-friendly solutions for your kitchen

Men laying new hardwood flooring

Kitchens are the spaces most reviewed when evaluating a home’s interior. Because of this, cabinetry is one of the biggest and most important investments you can make in your home. So it’s no surprise that keeping your cabinets looking fresh and impressive is important to your home’s value. The good news is that aesthetic improvements can also lead to increased function—whatever your budget may be.

“The best kitchen remodels are not always about the cost,” says Kass Wilson, author of Creative Finishes and owner of Wallstreat Artistic Finishes. “Rather, they are all about the creativity that goes into the planning. Sometimes, a limited budget can be the best incentive to explore creative options.

The team of an experienced design professional and a talented artist can help you visualize solutions that will make a kitchen uniquely yours.”

“Come up with a design that looks nice and will stand the test of time,” adds Matt Hoots, CEO of The Hoots Group Inc. “If the kitchen blends well with the period that the house was built in or has a good, clean design, then it will add value to the home. If it is too cutting edge, you risk not being able to sell your house or get the full value out of the new kitchen.”


The scale of the remodel

You’ve decided to update your cabinetry, but you’re not sure whether to refresh your current cabinets or replace them altogether—a common dilemma.

“A properly designed kitchen will probably do more for the value of one’s home than any other remodel,” says Gary Tilson of American Classic Designs. A 2009 survey in Remodeling magazine reported that a mid-range kitchen remodel investment yields a 72.1-percent return.

“Obviously you want to look at the area you live in,” adds Barbara Shelton, certified kitchen designer with Insidesign and president of the Georgia chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “[Ask yourself if] your neighborhood is increasing in value, and look at what your neighbors are doing,” she says. “Don’t overbuild. Look closely at your existing appliances and cabinetry, and reevaluate your living space to see how to use current square footage. Lastly, think about how long you intend on staying in your home.”



By the budget

According to Tilson, the first thing to consider when determining how to update your cabinets is how much you can afford. “It’s a balancing act between the potential value of your home and the funds you have available for the project,” he says. His advice? Establish a realistic budget that is tailored to the potential value of your house.

“A completely new kitchen with a price tag in excess of $100,000 is not unheard of,” Shelton says.  She also reminds homeowners that it can take up to two years before they  recover their investments.

But don’t panic—you don’t have to spend $100,000 to get the kitchen cabinets you want. In fact, you can update your cabinetry on almost any budget. “Sometimes, the small and simple details can yield dramatic results,” Tilson says. “Just like any other room, your kitchen needs a point of interest. Identify one prominent feature of your kitchen. Enhance just that feature to create a strong focal point in the space. A perfect example is to add some decorative artistry or details to a vent hood or a couple of feature door fronts.”

You can also focus on storage and efficiency. “Redefine the inside of your cabinetry to have efficient storage with roll-out shelves,” Shelton says.

The following is a breakdown of cabinet updates by budget, as recommended by Roberta Kravette, owner of Nieuw Amsterdam Kitchens;  Scott McCurdy, owner of Coastal Reconstruction; Sarah Nielson, owner and interior designer with Fresh Designs; and Barbara Shelton:

$500 or less

•  Paint cabinets and add trim. “A can of paint, some trim and elbow grease can do wonders to a kitchen,” Nielsen says. “Try painting existing cabinets white and adding some bead board for a more relaxed, fresh look. If you have money left, changing out the cabinet hardware to something more modern can provide a great lift to old cabinets.”

•  Replace decorative pulls and knobs.

•  Add a mirror or colored background to open or glass-front cabinets.

•  Retrofit sliding trays behind the door in base cabinets. “This is a wonderful way to make any base cabinet more accessible,” Kravette says.

•  Install lighting inside and underneath cabinets.

•  Add a chrome pullout under the sink for cleaning supplies or in a narrow, underused tray cabinet for spices and oils. “There are a myriad of wonderful chrome, stainless steel and wood inserts and pullouts for base and wall cabinets and drawers,” Kravette says. “When convenience is an issue and new cabinets are not a possibility, these inserts and accessories can make a world of difference.”

•  Deep clean your cabinets. “Sometimes just cleaning can make your cabinets perk up. A good polish will brighten up your existing hardware,” Shelton says.

•  Add a backsplash.  “This is an economical and easy do-it-yourself project,” Shelton says.


•  Reface cabinets (small kitchen). “Depending on the quantity, you can install new doors, resurface the cabinet boxes and add new hardware, McCurdy says.

•  Add an island or small section of cabinets purchased from the in-stock supply of a local home-improvement store to your current cabinetry layout.


•  Reface cabinets (medium-sized or large kitchen).

•  Install new stock cabinetry (small to medium-sized kitchen) that is on sale from a local big-box home-improvement store. Keep in mind that removal of existing cabinetry adds to this cost, as does the addition of new countertops. If you can find the right prices, it’s possible to install the cabinetry and low-priced laminate countertops within this budget, McCurdy says.


•  Install new semi-custom cabinetry. Again, keep in mind that the removal of your existing cabinetry and the addition of new countertops can increase this cost.

•  Add a new custom-made island or section of cabinets to your current layout (new countertops for these sections included in this budget).


•  Install all new custom cabinetry and countertops. “The sky is the limit [with this budget],” Shelton says. “You can even install new flooring and appliances.”



Trends in cabinetry and hardware

The fun part of updating your kitchen cabinets is to enjoy the latest and greatest gadgets and designs. For 2010, experts say trends include eco-consciousness, improved layouts, organizational tools and more open designs.

One trend that will do well for both the environment and your wallet is eco-consciousness. “If you do not use green products in your kitchen, you could be introducing toxins to your indoor air environment and your energy bills could go up,” Hoots says. “Use products that have a green certification, such as Energy Star for electronics, Water Sense for plumbing fixtures, FSC for wood that is sustainably harvested or Greenguard for other materials such as cabinets and wood.”

Tilson has seen an increased emphasis on green and sustainable materials as well. He recalls a recent project wherein his clients substituted Lyptus for Mahogany. “Not only is Lyptus a more sustainable material, but it also costs less,” he says. “It’s a win-win all the way around.”

Mike Perry, co-owner of HSGroup, says that potential buyers are another reason to renovate and incorporate the newest trends. “They will think you are taking care of your home and are up to date with market trends,” he says. “They won’t feel like they have to spend additional money making these changes after they move into the home.”

Another prevalent cabinet trend is soft-close drawer mechanisms, which most cabinetry lines now feature as a standard inclusion. “Soft-close mechanisms are beneficial for several reasons,” says Guy LaMarca of Atlanta Design & Build. “They’re quiet, safer for smaller fingers and can extend the life of the drawer because they alleviate the slamming of the cabinets.” Soft-close mechanisms also prevent drawers from bouncing back open once you’ve closed them.

Organizational features are also permeating the options in today’s new cabinetry. “The standard two-door and two-drawer base cabinet has been replaced with deep drawers, pullout trays and various interior-storage options that allow you to take full advantage of every inch of your cabinetry,” says Pete von Ahn, an  architect with von Ahn Design LLC.

LaMarca also notes that “Lazy Susans, appliance garages, hidden pantries and pull-out spice drawers help keep items organized and at your fingertips. [They] help keep the cooking and entertaining experience safe and efficient,” he says.

In the realm of aesthetic trends, von Ahn points to a greater variety in the overall finishes of the cabinetry, allowing homeowners to combine more than one finish and surface in the overall space. He also notes that cabinetry is being treated more like a piece of furniture through accessories and detailing.

“Traditional cabinetry with shades of white and a cherry stain is the No. 1 trend in Atlanta,” Shelton says.  Hoots adds, “I am seeing a lot more contemporary cabinet selections than ever before. For example, we are currently working on three contemporary kitchens with nontraditional door styles. Most clients are looking at cabinet facing for the appliances, allowing for a cleaner design across the cabinets where they meet up with the appliances.”



Style symmetry

Because kitchens are such an integral part of the home, their designs should reflect the architectural features of the house. Kravette, Nielsen and Courtney Cachet, designer and TV personality with Cachet Enterprises, pair the following architectural and design styles with types of cabinetry:

•  Arts & Crafts—basic wood cabinetry with a rustic feel and sturdy hardware. Darker woods are more dominant in this style.

•  Modern—clean, sleek lines in any color (a variety of colors are offered that work with this style).

•  Old World/Italian—antique-looking wood cabinets, often with a hand-painted motif. Natural tones, including beiges and yellows, work best with this style.

•  Spanish/Mediterranean—ornate, detailed cabinetry that is lighter in color and paired with rich, jewel-toned tiles. This style features lots of rich, wood accents.

•  Traditional—dark, cherry-stained wood cabinets with heavy molding on the doors.

•  Beachy—white cabinets with bead-board accents.

•  Transitional—a mixture of raised-panel doors and inset-panel doors or bead board, where the island is typically a different color than the perimeter cabinets. Adding a painted or rubbed finish to the cabinet is also a nice touch.

•  Industrial Modern—open, wood or metal shelving to display dishware and mixing bowls. Think commercial kitchen—everything you need is in plain sight and at your fingertips. Stainless steel is the most dominant material in this style.

•  Euro Modern—high-gloss white-acrylic cabinets or sleek, straight-grained veneers in natural stains.

With all of these options, it quickly becomes clear that working with a professional is a smart way to approach your kitchen-cabinetry update. “Kitchen designers or consultants specialize in the complex issues of material, functionality, value, warranty, construction types, delivery times and installation,” Kravette says. “You will save time, money and headaches in the long run.”

“Durability counts. Many kitchen cabinets may only last a few years, forcing you to start from scratch once they start to fall apart. Use solid-surface countertops and a good cabinet line if you want a kitchen that will not only look nice, but also last a long time.”

­­—Matt Hoots, CEO, The Hoots Group, Inc.

Remodel Guide

Few experts recommend renovating your kitchen cabinets without the help of a professional. Here, local pros weigh in on the benefits of choosing an industry expert to complete the project and what you should know before you hire one.

•  Professional designers can prevent major mistakes, such as needing an additional inch or two to fit cabinets between two walls, and they can ensure the proper fit of appliances, such as an oven inside of a cabinet. They also know the correct distances to allow for the refrigerator and dishwasher doors to open toward an island, as well as how much space to leave between the cabinets and island.

•  When hiring a contractor, communicate all of your project details. Nothing should be left to assumption.

•  A professional should be a licensed contractor who will obtain the proper permits from the city or county for the job.

•  In the long run, a good designer will save you more money than you spend on the project, not to mention the headache.

•  Keep a file of ideas you like. Tear pictures out of magazines to show your kitchen professional; it’s a great way to begin the conversation and will help the professional get a better sense of your dream kitchen.

—Tips courtesy of Mike Perry, HSGroup; Debra Bobo, CSI Kitchen and Bath; and Gary Tilson, American Classic Designs

Refinishing Advice

“Of all the projects I do, kitchen cabinets are the most challenging. This is because they must be the most durable. These surfaces are exposed to temperature extremes, high humidity, and are continually touched. There are important steps that must be taken to make sure your cabinet finish will stand up to reasonable wear and tear.”

—Kass Wilson, Wallstreat Artistic Finishes

“Start with a thorough cleaning. You can either paint and strip it down or stain and reseal.”

—Barbara Shelton, Insidesign, president of the Georgia chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association

Green Your Home

“Manufacturers are using more eco-friendly finishes. And, consumers are becoming more aware of the environment—indoor air quality is actually worse than the outdoor air quality because of things like VOC and formaldehyde. What might seem cutting edge today will be the norm in the future. For example, think about lead and how it used to be in both gas and paint; now we have unleaded gas and unleaded paint. Think outside the box. Countertops can be made from recycled papers that will be both waterproof and bacteria-proof; Wheat, Straw Grass and Dakota Burl are all great substitutes for wood.”

—Tim Sarno, Sarno Design

Island Fun

“Islands are a contemporary successor to the large kitchen farm table that family and guests once gathered around. As was the table before it, the island is usually at the center of the kitchen, serving as  a place to gather while providing a gracious separation between the cook and the guests. It is an informal dining table, a food serving bar and an extended place for food preparation, allowing others to pitch in and help.”

– Gary Tilson, American Classic Design

Storage Tips

Mimi Clausen of CSI Kitchen and Bath Studio offers suggestions to help take advantage of space-saving solutions.

•  Drawers are great in general because they are easily accessible. Wide drawers are super for storing pots and pans near the cooking surface.

•  Consider installing vertical tray dividers for trays, cookie sheets and other narrow items either above the oven or close by.

•  Built-in trash cans and recycle centers can be conveniently housed near the sink.

•  Pullouts, whether narrow for spices or wider for canned goods, offer easy access to a variety of items.

•  In older homes, wall cabinets were often built under a soffit. To increase storage space, consider removing the soffit and installing taller cabinets.

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