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By Karen Buonomo | Agent in 07733

Kitchen on a Diet....

Kitchen on a Diet

Kitchen on a diet - Before  Kitchen on a diet - After Before (left) and after (right) photos courtesy of Artisan Interiors

So your kitchen needs redoing but you're worried about costs? Then think Botox instead of facelift, say designers. There are many ways to give a kitchen a new lease on life without gutting the whole space and starting from scratch.

Homeowners already favor the Botox treatment. According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association in Hackettstown, the number of luxury-kitchen and medium-priced-kitchen builds has plummeted in the last couple of years, while kitchens under $20,000 have seen an increase. 

"I don't mean to be flip," says designer Antoinette Fraser of St. Clair Kitchen & Home in South Orange, "but many a kitchen has gone on a diet. During the boom when home values kept increasing, people could count on recouping almost all the costs of a luxury-kitchen remodeling, but right now they aren't that confident. So they hesitate to plunk down major sums on a new kitchen. On the other hand, they want to do some remodeling in order to retain resale value and at the same time make the house easier to sell when it's time to put up that 'for sale' sign.

"A Summit kitchen we're currently redoing is typical. To rein in costs, we're keeping the design footprint as well as the stove and the refrigerator. We are putting in new cabinets, but they're very simple, again to cut costs."

Recouped Values

The recoup values of kitchen remodeling exceed 70 percent, lower than it was a couple of years ago but still exceptional when compared to those of other projects around the house.

"Homeowners appreciate that," says realtor Ann Tannen of the Tannen Group in Bernardsville. She adds that in today's market many people choose to remodel rather than move, and the first room to be remodeled is usually the kitchen.

"The homeowners may not tear out everything," she says, "but they're at least freshening up with new countertops, perhaps refacing cabinets and replacing some appliances. In addition, homeowners often remove a wall to open up the kitchen to the family room or dining room. That isn't a horribly expensive thing to do unless the wall is load-bearing, and it really pays off. People still like those big kitchens and open-floor plans, and this is one way of getting them without adding on to the house."

However, Amir Ilin, owner of Kuche+Cucina in Paramus and Madison, warns that piecemeal projects don't always produce stellar results. "You'd do well to talk to a designer when you want to cut corners," he explains. "It's always more costly to correct any false steps. And keep in mind that when you change a countertop or some other element, you often realize the rest of the kitchen looks really tired." 

Designer Tricks

Melissa Seibold, a design consultant with Canterbury Design in Morristown, asserts that you can create a sensational kitchen on a lean budget.

"Simplicity is the key," she says. "Go with a simple cabinet style. Such cabinets are affordable, and clean lines are very in, anyway. Then work with colors, a strong focal point and textures. A high-contrast color scheme always kicks up the style a notch. For example, contrast white cabinets with black countertops and backsplashes. And if the budget doesn't permit new cabinets and the old ones are still sturdy, you can reface or paint them."

You can save on appliances as well, she says. "You needn't buy the super-luxe ballyhooed brand fridge, range or oven," she says. "Many lesser brands work and function just as well and cost a lot less. Also, look out for bargains. For example, an appliance with a dent on the side or back will be discounted, and if the dent can't be seen, what difference does it make? A commercial product might also be just the ticket. Many of these products are cheaper than those intended for residential use."

Alison Griffin, another Canterbury designer, believes every kitchen should strive for the wow factor. "Get away from the cookie-cutter look," she says. "Don't crowd the walls with standard cabinets. Add some open shelves, choose cabinets of differing depths and heights for dimensional interest, have glass doors on some of them, perhaps even one with a stained-glass window. I also like the idea of incorporating a piece of functional furniture, and by all means leave some wall space open for artwork."

For a fast, inexpensive upgrade, Antoinette Fraser recommends changing cabinet hardware. "Let's say the new hardware is chrome," she explains. "Then put in a new faucet to match and new lighting featuring that finish. You'd be surprised how those few changes will update a kitchen."

Porcelain tile that mimics stone is a great way to update a floor, according to many kitchen planners. Cork and bamboo are also favorites, and one designer says you can get good deals buying samples from lumber yards.

Cabinet Makeovers

If your cabinets don't look as spiffy as they used to, give them a makeover.

Painting them is the least expensive fix, but if the wood is good quality, you could refinish them. Refacing is the third option, and while it is the costliest, it offers the opportunity for the most significant change.

"When you reface you're basically leaving the boxes, discarding old doors, hinges and drawer fronts," explains Dan Darpino, sales manager of American Kitchen Refacing in Williamstown. "So you can completely change the style with new doors and drawer fronts. And you have the option to change the wood."

In this process, the sides and frames of the cabinets are refaced to match the new doors and drawers. Hundreds of styles are available, and Darpino points out that older cabinets (from the 1970s, for example) are often better built than newer ones. "So it makes great sense to refurbish them," he notes. "The savings over installing new cabinets can go well over 50 percent."

At Artisan Interiors in Lambertville, owners Deborah and Arthur Orchowski take cabinet refinishing to new heights. Their backgrounds are in decorative finishing, fine art, kitchen design and cabinet making, and they have developed their own lines of glazed and stained finishes as well as architectural designs for cabinet refacing. 

"Custom resurfacing means that custom colors, finishes and designer details are
implemented to pull together preexisting
elements," explains Deborah. "This creates a cohesive look. Consequently, this kind of resurfacing offers better return on investment than either a low-budget makeover or high-end replacement. That's a serious consideration for homes in the $600,000-plus market."

Deborah emphasizes the environmental benefits of reusing cabinets. "Even when you add new doors, landfill contribution is reduced to up to 75 percent less than a traditional rip-out," she explains. "Coatings used are waterborne and low or no VOC. The option of bamboo refacing also offers environmental benefits."

Counter Culture

A new countertop can make a lot of difference. Stone (especially granite) has been king for years, and even in that pricey category there are bargains. You can find pre-cut slabs of granite, marble and other stones if you take the time to trawl different yards. The savings in pre-cuts are from 30 to 50 percent. 

Affordable laminate has come a long way. Some designs boast fissured and mottled surfaces that mimic stone products so well that you've got to get your face within inches of them to detect any difference. 

Concrete, stainless steel, wood and glass are other countertop alternatives guaranteed to make a difference.

Backsplashes offer another easy way to freshen up a kitchen. Since you need relatively little material, this is one place to consider a splurge on rich-looking materials such as tiles of glass, metals or stone. 

Budget-Friendly Trends

Manufacturers are well aware that although homeowners are spending less on their kitchens these days, they're still looking for great new products. Those exhibited at the annual Kitchen & Bath Show reflected this trend, and the National Kitchen & Bath Association has singled out some of the most interesting. 

Energy efficiency topped the list, with such products as Fisher & Psykel's side-by-side refrigerator, which uses 20 percent less energy than required by federal standards, and the GE Geospring Hybrid Water Heater, at 62 percent less energy than a standard electric water heater. It can cut residential hot-water costs in half. 

In cabinetry, clean lines and unusual woods, such as apple, prevailed, and new eco-conscious counter alternatives included paper fiber and recycled glass. In floors, bamboos, once thought too soft for kitchens, are catching on. Synergy, a new bamboo floor, is said to be twice as hard as red oak. 

LED lighting shows up in under-cabinet lighting, and lights in range hoods are becoming decorative as well as functional. Elica's Wave looks like, well, waves, while its Star hood resembles a disco ball. 

"The thing to remember is that thoughtful and imaginative design is more important than money," says Seibold. "You can have the most expensive kitchen, but if it doesn't have character, it's boring."

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