Sunday, November 30, 2008



Do I go for the hand chased, sand cast Pewter Door Hardware? What about Hand Planed Wood Floors?

Should I spring for a Stainless Steel Sub Zero refrigerator or the look-a-like from Frigidaire?
Kitchen Cabinets with solid wood fronts and boxes, or MDF fronts and boxes ?

What’s MDF you ask?

Too many questions?
It’s only the beginning. Each of the questions above can be expanded into several additional ones depending on the way you answer them.

Having been a Real Estate licensee, Owner of a Residential Real Estate Brokerage Company, and a residential real estate Developer for the past twenty-three years, my wife and I have personally remodeled, restyled and/or built twenty-eight homes in a period of twenty years.
I‘m continually astounded at the myriad choices that are available with which to appoint a home. The choices are multi-dimensional, i.e., my budget vs. return on investment.

Sounds more like a business deal, not a home.

Well, Kind of!
Consider this: Americans, on average, count the equity in their home as 60% of their net worth.

As a REALTOR, I watched client after client overbuild their neighborhood, the land or the market, with them saying all along the way, “We’re not building this to re-sell, we’re building this to live in forever“.

Between one to three years later, I’d get a call saying, “you know Steve, we need to sell our house“, or “we want to sell our house so we can _____ “.
You may fill in the blank above with any of the following statements:
-Move into something smaller; the kids have left home; or something larger, we’re having another child; something closer to work; or closer to school.

Starting to make sense? Okay, then, let’s get to the point of this article. When working with a budget, and yes, everybody has a budget (some are just larger than others), looking at all of your options is a must.
Kitchens and Bath's are considered some of the most important factors in the decision making process for purchasing a home by today’s consumer. Making the right choice for your kitchen and bath could be the difference in selling or not selling your home.
For instance, consider the question regarding the Kitchen cabinets, above.
At first pass, there’s no question it, I would rather have solid wood cabinets. After all, its solid wood, what could be better than that?
Answer: MDF (Modified Density Fiberboard). How about the same look, the same or better durability, and about 1/3 less cost. Other facts about MDF:
-Some varieties are less expensive than many natural wood
-Some varieties are considered green*
-Isotropic (no grain), so no tendency to split, hence more efficient to prep and paint.
-Consistent in strength and size Flexible. Shapes well; can be used for a curved surface
-*Moisture-resistant variety is typically green (LEEDS citation needed).
I say this: If you’re going to have painted Kitchen cabinets, then you will likely never see another dollar for the value of your home if you choose MDF over wood cabinetry. The difference in cost between the two is about $15,000 for the average, to above average Kitchen. Still not convinced? Try solid wood.
Now, to paint or stain the cabinets? This one isn’t about cost, but about what people want. Plain stain is, well, plain stain. Today’s customer wants more. A custom multi-step finish, similar to that found on fine furniture is what is on their mind. Another is painting, but again, a multi-step painted finish is a must.
Recently we did a kitchen and decided to use flat, black lacquer to update the original cabinets. Quite frankly, it turned out so well that everyone assumed that we had replaced them. That made a lot of sense. (The photo at left is not from our Kitchen, it is used as an example of a flat-lacquered cabinet finish).
A Note on Lacquer: When I hear the word lacquer, I think of shiny Japanese dinnerware or decorative objects that is thickly painted with a shiny, high gloss finish. In fact, lacquer is available in many sheen's, including flat (no shine), mat, semi-gloss, and glossy.

Another cabinet idea in the same kitchen was the use of free standing cabinetry, similar to glass-front china cabinets, also lacquered flat black. The overall effect was that of a European kitchen, the kind made up largely of freestanding cabinets, which rarely matched one another. When you purchase an existing home in Europe, typically the kitchen cabinets and appliances are not included, only the proverbial kitchen sink (visualize a dark kitchen in a 17th c. Chateau; a single ray of light peaking through a small window, revealing the kitchen sink, alone, attached to the wall unsupported by cabinets).

Now what about the counter tops? Solid slab Granite or Marble, versus Granite or Marble tile?
Well, to me that’s a Gim’me.
If your budget allows for slab materials, then that’s the only way to go. Nothing says you skimped on a Kitchen project more than using tile-goods over slab-goods. The question is not only one of aesthetics, but of serviceability. No one wants to deal with the grout lines between the granite or marble tiles; they are too hard to keep clean.
Note: Granite slab counter tops are now available pre-cut in a number of sizes, shapes and colors, and are available at local home improvement stores. The cost is dramatically reduced because the tops are produced en mass, and are remarkably comparable in price to tile material.

What about other solid surface materials? You ask.
Well, yes, there are many others that are currently being used today. Lately, I’m seeing a lot of Caesar Stone being used.

Above: A sampling from the 40 color offerings from Caesar Stone include, from left to right: Apple Martini, Tequila Sunrise, and Sandalwood.

Caesar Stone is an engineered stone (the "stone" is composed of 93% quartz particles)
hat is supposed to be more dense than granite, and more stain proof, offers more flexibility in design for using shapes and curvilinear lines, and is offered in a multitude of colors (see above),
Like granite and marble, it can be polished, or honed (a matte or dull) finish. The cost of Caesar Stone is most comparable to that of granite, so I’m not convinced that I would use it or as to why someone would pick it over granite, an authentic natural material, especially in this “green age.”
Other solid surface material are Corian (too 1970’s); Limestone (too porous); Marble--viable but less dense than Granite; Formica (oh, pulleeze!); Soapstone--interesting, and we are definitely seeing more of it; Concrete-- (a real pain in the ba-juby!) is highly porous and easily cracks. Pluses include its flexibility in shape, texture, colors and finish options; Copper, lead over copper, and stainless steel counter tops were first popular in the 1920’s-30’s. We’ve begun seeing these metal materials employed in the Kitchen again, in the last several years, though not in a big way. We’ve mostly seen them used in conjunction with other counter top surface materials. For instance, as stainless steel counters flanking the stove and/or the kitchen sink, with Granite or Marble counters elsewhere; Butcher Block--considered difficult to sanitize, probably not a great choice--think germs.
Kitchen Counter Top Tip of The Day: Try a marble inset in a counter top, or on the kitchen island for rolling pastries.

Now, time for some jewelry. Hardware is the homes jewelry, and it runs the gamut when it comes to finish options. Some people match it to the appliance color, i.e. stainless steel appliances beget stainless steel hardware on the cabinets. A more daring soul might pick Pewter cabinet
hardware to go with stainless steel appliances.

Shown above, Cabinet pulls from Rocky Mountain Hardware, left to right:
Bamboo, Contemporary, Twig.

Hardware is sometimes found in a multi-step finish similar to that found on multi-step finished cabinets. All of the above create a monochromatic look. So, don’t let the tail wag the dog…the hardware should enhance the cabinets, not be the focal point. Other hardware finishes include: Oil Rubbed Bronze (time to move on); Bronze--okay as long as it isn’t done like a theme park (think twig-style handles in an Aspen House); Forged Steel--still good!; Copper-- coming on in a big way, in hardware, appliances, counter tops, you name it--expect to see it.

Now for appliances, the more difficult decisions. Stainless Steel reigns supreme as the “commercial Kitchen” look remains number one. We are starting to see some white kitchens again, as well as some brightly colored appliances (think the French ovens Le Cornue or Aga), and even some metallic numbers such as Vermilion Red and Champagne from G.E., (and I thought buying a car was tough!).

Shown Right, top: La Cornue Chateau 120

Commercial style appliances, no matter the color remain de rigueur. A recent ad in one of the local shelter magazines for Jenn Air appliances featured their new Oiled Bronze suite . I know seeing the word “Bronze” in the same sentence as the word “appliances” conjures up childhood memories of your parents old Bronze appliances, especially that Bronze refrigerator that just wouldn’t die, though all of the other appliances had been replaced with the then new, Harvest Gold. Thank God that Julia Child was then just an OSS Spy, and Martha Stewart hadn’t yet made her first cup of wassail, much less served a prison term, or to the therapist we might have gone sooner.
Shown Right: Jenn-Air 30" Built-In Microwave Oven

It seems that every appliance manufacturer is making the Commercial look.
Featured Right: Commercial Style refrigerator from True.
Featured Left: Sears Kenmore Elite Stainless Steel "counter depth" refrigerator.
From Sear’s Kenmore line to the real commercial refrigerators by True Mfg., they have all jumped on the commercial style wagon. Who would have thought that Sears would offer it’s Kenmore refrigerator, clad in Stainless Steel and sleekly styled, that would sell for almost $3,000? Sounds high for a Sears brand appliance, but it’s a bargain compared to the $9,000-$12,000 for a refrigerator from TRUE.

Now for the ovens: The trend starting in the late 1990's continues on. A freestanding commercial-type stove is still number one, gas fueled, the choice of the serious chef.
What's that you say?
You still haven't done a stainless steel commercial looking oven?
Tisk, tisk! You better hurry or you'll be looking at the new snazzy Bronze numbers.

Trend: Built-in Coffee Makers.

Built-in Coffee makers are expensive (about $2,200 on average), but we’re seeing these become almost standard features in upper-end homes.

Left and below: Coffee systems by Miele.

One of my favorite cartoons was The Jetsons (in the early 1960's), and I loved it when George Jetson would leave for work and everything was automated, including his cup of coffee just before he was whisked up the space tube to his garage.

No need to add a space tube (not yet any how) to your home remodeling plans, but making room for the built-in coffee maker is a real luxury if your budget allows.

Trend: Appliance Drawers, Dishwashers, Freezers and Refrigerators.

Benefit: It allows you to use the size you need, where need it.

Shown left: Fisher Paykel Dishwasher Drawers
Shown right: Sub Zero Refrigerator and Freezer Drawers.
Dishwasher drawers are sold individually. Some people install one dishwasher on each side of the sink, for instance. Likewise, the refrigerator and freezer drawers are sold separately. If you need only a drawer refrigerator in an area, then so be it. Or perhaps you need one drawer on one side of the room, and another on the other side of the room, knock yourself out!

Un-Trend: Trash Compactors are out as few manufacturers even make them anymore thanks to the popularity of our eco-conscious recycling.

Trend: Washers and Dryers are now being placed on matching risers (platforms), with a drawer. Who said that we need to keep bending over to load and unload the washer and dryer? And, who couldn’t use an extra drawer built into the space created by the riser? Shown at right: Sears Kenmore Steam/Washer/Dryer Combo

Appliance Tip of The Day: Raise the Dishwasher up form the floor on a riser, with drawer. The raised counter top can be used for the microwave, built-in or not, bringing it up to eye level, yet another improvement for appliance placement.

Note: Another trend is the addition of steam as an option on many washers and dryer combinations.

The kitchen sink has gotten a lot of action lately. Porcelain Farm House sinks (a single bowl, non- divided sink) remain popular, though the two-bowl stainless steel sink remains King (or Queen). We are also seeing a lot of the hand-hammered copper farmhouse sinks (see photo, left).
Special note about the picture at left: A "balloon shade" in the kitchen is a no-no, just as any fabric in a kitchen is not reccomended because of the absorption of kithcen smells, grease, water damage, you name it, its just a bad idea.
Now, the main point is about selecting a sink is to make certain that what ever sink you pick is deep, and that each of the bowls or sections are wide enough to hold the new, oversized, designer commercial style cookware that we just had to have.
The faucet "must have" is one that has a flexible arm (think the school cafeteria) where the spray head is suspended at about eye level. The flexibility allows for easy movement between the sink bowls and maneuvering in and around large pots. See photo at left.

Features Note: Make certain that the faucet you select has an option for both spray and steady stream of water flow.

Speaking of large pots, Pot Fillers positioned on the wall above the stove, or deck mounted still make a lot of sense. To cook pasta or make a pot of soup takes a large pot. When filled with liquid, you need to call a moving service to move the pot from the sink to the stove.

The Pot Filler will save your back and can be handy should you burn dinner (literally).
Shown left: Blanco 157-064-CR "Deck Mount" Pot Filler.

Note on Mounting: When placing the plumbing for a wall mount pot filler during the construction phase, make sure that you have allowed enough height so a tall stock pot will fit under the faucet.

Next, under-cabinet lighting, one of the greatest trends to hit the kitchen since hiring personal chefs. First we had gosh-awful fluorescent lighting. Then, we had those fabulous halogen, hockey-puck lights. Now, unfortunately, we are forced to consider LED lights (touted as “never change a bulb again”) for the ultimate green experience in under cabinet lighting (just thinking green, though, is still sometimes painful!). But alas, just when all hope for esthetics as we knew it was being thrown to the wind, comes low-voltage Xenon hockey puck lights! Hooray! Not as green as LED but they last twice as long as Halogen and operate at half the temperature. So, if you’re only “pale green“, you can start with Xenon.

Above, Under Counter Lighting Options: Left, Halogen Hockey Puck; Right, Xenon under counter light bar.

Kitchen Cabinet Lighting Tip of The Day: These same bulb and fixture choices are useful on the top of the cabinets as well when trying to remedy the effects of a dark kitchen. Lighting discretely placed above the cabinets reflects light off of the ceiling, thereby creating light on the ceiling, whereas downward aimed ceiling lighting mostly lights the floor and the top of the cabinet counter tops. Remember it is just as important to layer the lighting just as you would in a Library or Study.
Whew! Had enough? Then lets wrap this up.
Let’s have a look at a kitchen that uses some of the elements I’ve discussed in this article.
You want to see the Kitchen of the Year, as crowned by House Beautiful Magazine?
Go to:

Good Night Moon