Six Questions To Ask Before Starting A Kitchen Remodel
So, you’d like to remodel your kitchen. It’s a complicated project, which also tends to be on the expensive side. How do you make sure to cover all the angles, and avoid costly mistakes?
There are some obvious decisions to make, such as “Do I want white cabinets, or wood, or something more colorful?” and “Stainless steel appliances or traditional white?”… but there are plenty of other decisions that should be settled on before you even start shopping around for cabinets and appliances.
In this article, we’ll present the 6 topics to address when planning your kitchen remodel, that will make the process smoother and less expensive, as well as creating a final result that’s more personalized and convenient.
What are the rules & regulations?
We’re not talking about the “work triangle layout” rules, or the color palettes to match appliances to cabinets – but rather the local regulations that may affect multiple aspects of your kitchen renovation project.
Building Rules – if you live in a co-op or condo apartment, it’s a good idea to check the board or association rules to find out what you may or may not do with your kitchen. These restrictions may limit the maximum power of a gas or electric range (to avoid issues with fire code or building ventilation system), require a ventilation hood or, conversely, limit the airflow of a hood, prohibit 3-phase appliances if the building’s wiring supports only single-phase, disallow a “wet over dry” situation, and so on, and so on. In multi-unit condos, there may be specific soundproofing requirements if floors (especially tile) must be redone.
Make sure your architect or planner has an understanding of the building’s rules and requirements, and get everyone 100% in sync with the board or association, before getting too deep into the planning. Sometimes renovations run into conflicts between federal or state laws and the condo board / association’s rules – it’s a good idea to leave extra time for these conflicts to be resolved.
City / County Ordinances – even if you’re renovating a private house, there are still a lot of rules to follow, in order to avoid inspection problems and costly remediation.
Cities or counties may require a permit for:
- Wall alterations, opening, installation, removal, or relocation
- Sheetrock installations
- Sub-flooring replacements
- Window alterations, installations, and replacements
- Skylight installation or replacement
- Plumbing work (this may even include replacing a sink)
- Range hood installation or replacement
- Ductwork installation or alteration
- Heating systems installation or alteration
- Electrical work, including light fixtures, outlets, receptacles, switches, and distribution panels
Note that in some municipalities, you may need a permit before even starting the kitchen demolition, let alone any modifications.
Don’t assume anything when it comes to permits. Check with your municipal government to determine exactly which permits you may need. Googling “[city name] building department” or “[city name] municipal website” is often the fastest way to get information. Also, it’s worth finding out which inspections may be necessary during the kitchen renovation project, as well as after the project is completed. Things like plumbing rough-ins, electrical rough-ins, and HVAC rough-ins, may need to be inspected prior to completing the work.
What will the cabinet hardware look like?
Quite often, updating the cabinet hardware is an easy way to spruce up the look of an existing kitchen. But what about the first time? Choosing the right cabinet handles and drawer pulls can take a surprising amount of time and effort, if you want everything to match and look good.
Cabinet hardware may not seem like a major decision, in the scope of remodeling the entire kitchen, but it’s a “micro element with a macro impact” – since you’ll be seeing and using it every day. It’s important to choose the type of cabinet hardware that will not only look good in your particular kitchen design, but also work well.
There is an amazing variety of cabinet hardware out there – from minimalist contemporary satin-metal handles, to rustic- and medieval-looking, heavy copper or bronze creations. How do you even begin to narrow down the possibilities? Here are a few tips.
FINISH: if you’re renovating for resale, keep in mind that the most popular finishes today are chrome, satin-nickel, and bronze. Of course, matching the finish to the color of the cabinets and counters is still a priority.
STYLE: this is where things get a little tricky, since the definitions of “modern”, “contemporary”, and “classic”, already not the most specific of concepts, get seriously blurred when it comes to cabinet handles – and there are plenty of design examples where a technically “contemporary” brushed-nickel handle works very well with a 5-piece-panel Shaker style wood cabinet. Our advice? Don’t get too hung up on definitions, go with whatever works. If you want some general guidance, keep in mind the style of the handles & knobs on appliances, and the kitchen faucet. Some hardware dealers may even carry handles designed to match or complement the style of the handles of major brand appliances.
SIZE: Just like with the style consideration, there are no “hard-and-fast” rules. The cabinet pulls should look good and be comfortable. Some styles, such as the “bin pull” (aka “inverted cup”) are generally only available in 1 or 2 sizes, making selection easier. Others, like the contemporary “bar pulls”, can come in 5-10 size varieties. Try them out in the showroom display, and see which size – length AND depth – is the most convenient for you.
…OR “NONE OF THE ABOVE”: Alternatively, you can skip the entire process of choosing cabinet hardware, by opting for one of the several “handle-less” options:
- Touch-latch hardware, that opens by pressing on the cabinet door and closes magnetically or with a soft-close mechanism.
- Finger-pull cabinet doors, that have a shaped edge which can be pulled on.
- Recessed or cut-in handles, an evolution on the finger-pull idea that gives more space to maneuver.
- Specialty products, like the “No-Ha” hidden-handle and others.
Handle-less options work extremely well with and contemporary kitchens, especially the latest European fashions from Arredo3, Scavolini, Bulthaup, Snaidero, and other luxury kitchen manufacturers that focus on minimalist style.
Countertop – what profile should I choose?
When it comes to kitchen countertops, the first thing most people think about is the material & color. Sure, there are dozens of options to choose from – concrete, glass, stainless steel, butcher block, quartz surface, and so on. (If you’re not sure, feel free to visit our “Top 10 Kitchen Countertop Materials” guide for a quick pros-and-cons overview.)
But there’s another aspect of kitchen countertops that has the same “micro element with macro impact” aspect as the shape & size of cabinet hardware – the profile (edge shape) of the countertop.
There are many profiles available, from basic to fancy. Keep in mind that not all profiles are compatible with all materials – for example, it may not be the best idea to use a rounded or ogee profile with a laminate, since the edges may not look natural and the pattern may not align at the seams. Most countertop suppliers charge extra for the fancier profiles, but for high-end kitchens, this is a worthwhile investment, since the shape of the countertop will play a subtle – but significant – role in the kitchen design.
For smaller kitchens, space-saving designs like the “flat” or “standard” edge, or minor variations like the “1/4-inch radius” or “5/16-inch bevel” work well, since they don’t take away from the usable countertop space. Note that the “flat” edge isn’t truly flat – to minimize the risk of injury and chipping, countertop manufacturers put in a ⅛” rounded or beveled edge. A truly flat edge would be dangerous!
Natural stone countertops – granite, quartz, and marble – may benefit from a more complex edge shape that showcases the stone’s colors and detail. An “ogee”, “bullnose”, or combination edge, will add a touch of sophistication while showing off the natural beauty of the material and “visualizing” the thickness of the slab. However, the more complicated edges may be harder to keep clean and sweep crumbs off the counter.
Some of the more complicated edge styles require a thicker material – typically 3” as opposed to the more usual 1-¼”-2”… but an additional complete layer, or an edge, could be attached to the bottom of the main slab, to accommodate an extra cut.
Dramatic profiles like the “Hollywood Bevel” or the “Chiseled” / “Broken Edge” could be used to great effect, when carefully paired with the right materials (quarter-sawn oak base and chiseled-edge granite = a definite visual impact!). Unusual choices like the “Marine Edge” (a raised border) could turn the countertop into an attention-getting centerpiece, and/or provide a convenient way to contain spills. The possibilities, as they say, are truly endless…
Make sure to discuss the countertop edge choices with your designer, as well as the countertop supplier, and feel free to use the 3D design tools available online – such as the “Visualizer Edge Tool” from Marble.com – to play around with the various combinations of stone colors and edge shapes, and find out the one that suits your kitchen style – and your personal taste – the best.
What to look for in the faucet?
The kitchen faucet is one of the most often-used elements of any kitchen – and one of the defining design elements.. Just as with cabinet hardware, there are 1000s of options when it comes to kitchen faucets. How do you choose the right style and finish, that will match your design goals and provide convenient and reliable service for years to come? Here are some things to consider.
There are 3 major variations of mounting styles for kitchen faucets: sink-mounted, deck-mounted, and wall-mounted.
As the name implies, the sink-mounted faucet is installed on the apron of the sink itself. If you’re fitting a new faucet to existing plumbing and sink, keep in mind that the number and location of the holes for the faucet need to match the holes in the sink deck. Modern faucets may come in 1-, 2-, 3-, or even 4-hole styles. If the sink has more holes than needed for the new faucet, some faucet manufacturers provide “escutcheon plates” – a base plate that will seal off the extraneous holes.
Deck-mounted faucets are installed directly on the countertop, not on the sink apron. This gives you more design flexibility and variety of faucets to choose from, but requires mounting holes to be cut or drilled in the countertop, at the precise location of the faucet. Also, it’s a good idea to keep at least ½-¾” of space between the back of the faucet and the wall, to make cleaning easier.
Wall-mounted faucets are another option to consider, but of course they come with their own set of pros and cons. The advantages are: a more visually appealing and unique look, freedom to choose any sink size & style, and much easier countertop cleanup. There are 3 things to watch out for, however:
- Make sure the faucet spout extends far enough to work with the sink.
- Make sure there are no wall studs or other obstacles in the wall at the intended location of the faucet.
- In cold climates, make sure the plumber insulates the pipes, since they’ll be running through the wall and are more vulnerable to freezing.
Faucets can also vary by handle style:
- Single-handle faucets use a “joystick” type design that simultaneously controls the volume and temperature.
- Dual-handle faucets have a separate valve for the hot & cold water, making them a little safer in terms of accidental scalding, but less convenient overall, as well as more complicated to install.
- Motion-sensitive faucets have become popular in the last few years, as the technology continues to mature and become more economical. It’s a convenient and health-conscious option, limiting the spread of microorganisms by avoiding physical contact with the faucet.
In addition to various mounting and handle styles, faucets are also available with various degrees of flexibility. Pull-down or pull-out faucets have a detachable portion that comes in handy for cleaning dishes and filling tall pots. Side-spray faucets have a completely separate retractable nozzle that gives you even more flexibility, but requires a separate mounting hole in the kitchen apron or countertop.
Specialty faucets are popular add-ons for high-end kitchens. The “pot filler” faucet is mounted on the wall over the range, or on the countertop close to the range, and feature a long articulated spout to make filling large pots with water easier – and safer, since you don’t have to lug the heavy pot from the sink to the range. When additional countertop space is available, some chefs opt for a secondary prep sink, with its own faucet – either a duplicate of the main faucet, or a smaller “bar faucet” with matching style. Integrated soap dispensers are another luxury, including automated / touch-sensitive dispensers.
Faucet Features & Finishes
There are 3 things to consider as far as the faucet materials go: the body, finish, and valves.
Faucet bodies may be made from:
- Brass (heaviest, lasts longest, typically most expensive)
- Stainless Steel Steel (non-stainless)
- Zinc / Zinc Alloy
- Plastic (lightest, cheapest, usually least durable)
Popular faucet finishes include:
- Chrome (least expensive, but fingerprints & water spots are obvious)
- Polished Brass (easy to clean, expensive)
- Copper (designer look, antibacterial; harder to clean/maintain, hard to match with other fixtures)
- Polished Nickel (darker color than chrome)
- Brushed / Satin Nickel (more subtle visual, easier to match with other fixtures/appliances)
- Oil-Rubbed Bronze (hides fingerprints & water spots)
Faucet valves come in 4 main varieties:
- Ceramic Disk / Coated Ceramic Disk – highest quality, most expensive, relatively recent so may not be available on many styles.
- Cartridge Valve – a cylinder-within-cylinder design, with cutouts that limit water flow as the cylinders are rotated.
- Ball Valve – same concept as the Cartridge Valve but in a more compact shape.
- Compression Valve – outdated design, prone to leakage and wear, should be avoided.
Note that both cartridge and ball valves can be made with plastic (cheapest), brass (most durable), or other metals. Plastic valves should be avoided unless budget is the main concern.
Same manufacturer for all appliances, or mix-and-match?
This is one of those “ages-old” questions that has generated literally 100s of thousands of discussions all over the Internet. There’s something to be said for the convenience and consistency that an “appliance suite” provides. Same look & feel, same controls, and single phone number to call in case anything goes wrong.
But the problem is, no single manufacturer excels at every appliance type. One brand may offer amazing cooktops and ranges, but absolutely terrible dishwashers. Another may be a showstopper when it comes to refrigerators, but not so much when microwaves are concerned. Here are the pros & cons of buying an “appliance suite”:
- Consistent style across all appliances
- Possibly higher resale value
- Convenience of the same control style / process
- Single point of contact for customer service & warranty issues
- May get a manufacturer’s rebate for buying a suite
- Less flexibility in choosing specific features & options
- May be more expensive than buying mix-and-match appliances
- Inconsistent quality / ratings
- Rebate may not be a factor if purchasing mix of appliances from a dealer that gives volume discounts
The difference in styles can be mitigated by using custom handles & knobs, which are available from some manufacturers directly, or through aftermarket suppliers. For example, Sub-Zero / Wolf offers a selection of red, chrome, and black range knobs, and Wilson Elements offers a complete line of replacement knobs in 5 different sizes and 5 finishes, with universal inserts to ensure compatibility.
Also, if matching the entire suite of appliances is difficult, consider matching them in partial sets – in 1 area of the kitchen, have the matching range and microwave, and in another area, the refrigerator and dishwasher from another manufacturer. Another possible solution is to go with built-in and paneled appliances; countertop “appliance garages” can be used to conceal toasters, blenders, and other small appliances, to reduce visual clutter even further.
Do I need a range hood (vent hood)?
Absolutely! A range hood will capture the airborne grease caused by cooking, and will be the centerpiece of the kitchen – but more than that, having a high-quality range hood in your kitchen brings several benefits that many people aren’t even aware of.
Curious what those benefits are? Check out this article that lists TEN reasons why a ventilation hood is an absolute must for any self-respecting chef.
Great post! These are all things that need to be considered when renovating a kitchen.