Heart of the Home

Lisa Sandham - Bayview Magazine Fall 2010

The kitchen is truly "the heart of every home" and renovating your kitchen is one of the wisest investments you can make. A successful kitchen renovation is based upon three factors: proper planning, choice of materials and the competence of the contractor.

Proper planning begins by establishing a realistic budget, consulting with design professionals and analyzing your needs. How long you plan on residing in your home should be the determining factor when establishing a budget and determining the extent of your renovation. Consulting with design professionals will save you from making costly mistakes and will reduce the stress associated with renovating. A designer can assist you in determining a realistic budget, the requirement of other design professionals and the need for a building permit. Once your project parameters have been established, the designer will create a design concept and drawing package that can be utilized for obtaining estimates from contractors.

Your budget will determine which type of cabinetry, hardware, appliances, lighting and material finishes will be specified. Whatever your budget may be, allow for the best quality cabinetry and hardware that you can afford. There are various cabinet options available to satisfy every budget. Stock "off the rack" cabinets are the least expensive, usually are available in melamine only and are readily available in limited designs and styles. Semi-Custom cabinets are similar to stock but offer more styles, colours and finishes. Materials used tend to be higher quality and delivery will be longer. Custom cabinets are made to order to your specific tastes and needs. Finishes and materials are often superior with the ability to select materials that are both "green" and healthy. Working with your designer and cabinet maker you can ensure that your kitchen will be built with formaldehyde-free panel products, wood from managed forests, countertops with recycled content and cabinet finishes that have low VOCs (volatile organic compounds). 'Green' choices are available with stock and semi-custom manufacturers as well, but it is important that you investigate their environmental claims thoroughly.

Quality hardware will ensure your kitchen performs but it can also add an important aesthetic element to your overall design concept. Current trends in hardware emphasize comfort, address ergonomic issues and satisfy the consumer’s demands for ease of use, integration and silent functions.

Never has there been such a selection of kitchen appliances to choose from. When purchasing new appliances it is important to not only compare costs, but available manufacturer options, warranty and energy efficiency. Stainless steel appliances are still at the top of everyone’s must-have list with semi-integrated controls that are either hidden or incorporated into the unit so they are not obvious. Over the last decade, manufacturers have studied and listened to both consumers and designers. Manufacturer studies confirmed that the kitchen was not only the most used room in the home but that kitchen appliances were used more than other electronics, such as televisions and personal computers. The result of these studies has produced a stunning array of appliances that integrate seamlessly into cabinetry and home alike.

Lighting should not only be functional but it should also create ambience and highlight design features and allow luxurious materials to sparkle. Ensure that you provide for general, task and accent lighting and install switching that allows you to control each individually. Select track and recessed down lights for a clean contemporary look or pendants and hanging chandeliers to complement traditional interiors. Always consider energy efficient fixtures such as LEDs. Their initial costs are much higher than other types of fixtures but return on investment is found in energy savings and a long life. Some LED recessed down lights can provide up to 50,000 hours of illumination, with a 14 watt LED equivalent to a 65 watt incandescent.

Today's popular choices for countertops include granite, engineered stone, concrete and solid surfacing. Love the look of natural stone but it is not in your budget? Consider high definition laminates. High definition laminates provide three times the wear-resistance compared to standard laminates and are available in a variety of beautiful textures, colours and patterns.

Aesthetics play a very important role in the success of your project but most critical is the process with which the design decisions are executed. Success depends upon the team you assemble; designer, craftsman and contractor. It is wise to use a general contractor or full-service kitchen specialty shop to coordinate demolition, cabinet construction, installation and sub-trades. Ensure your contractor has the proper experience, insurance and bonding. Request references and call them, asking specific questions relating to quality of work, performance, scheduling and if deficiencies were addressed. Insist on a written contract, outlining cost, scope of work and a completion date. Select a contractor or cabinet maker that you feel comfortable with and review your project regularly, paying particular attention to any additional costs or scheduling changes incurred. Having regular coordination meetings, along with an honest dialogue with your contractor will allow you to deal with any issues quickly and painlessly.

Kitchen renovations can be dirty and inconvenient, but with a well thought out approach, your project will be manageable and an enjoyable adventure as well.

Lisa Sandham is an interior designer, home designer and freelance writer. She can be contacted at info(at)lisasandham(dot)com