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What to consider for kitchen remodels
AFTER: In this kitchen remodel, Renovation Design Group opened up the U-shaped kitchen, creating a functional work and gathering space. - photo by Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson
A kitchen remodel is one of the most popular remodeling projects homeowners undertake that we've seen in our business and also that the National Association of Home Builders survey has reported.

As one of the most technological rooms in a home, a kitchen needs updating from time to time: Appliances evolve in terms of function and efficiency, styles have moved from the closed, servant-centered kitchen to todays open concept designs that put kitchens in the heart of the home both literally and figuratively, and pipes and wiring just get old and need to be replaced.

Kitchen remodels can be effective in terms of return on investment when limited to minor or mid-range remodels. According to's "Top 15 Home Updates," these projects return an average of 98 percent and 91 percent of their cost respectively. A minor remodel (totaling approximately $15,000) means re-facing the existing cabinets, some new appliances, laminate countertops and vinyl flooring. A mid-range remodel (averaging about $43,000) represents new cabinets, and a slight upgrade of appliances, countertops and flooring.

More extravagant remodels, which include high-end appliances and finishes, are less likely to pencil out in terms of return on investment. While kitchens and bathrooms can definitely make or break a sale, a good rule of thumb is not to exceed 10 to 15 percent of the homes value on a kitchen remodel. The size of the kitchen should be in proportion to the rest of the house, as should the finishes. A kitchen that is exceptionally large or fancy may be fun to use, but it will not prove to be a good financial investment.

Kitchens come in three basic layouts U-shaped, L-shaped and galley. Each has its own set of pros and cons. U-shapes can be efficient, but people can get "trapped" in them. L-shaped kitchens are the most open and almost always include an island. Galley kitchens are very efficient, but should never be the main path from one part of the house to another. The goal is always to have people walk past the kitchen, never through it.

All kitchen types can be converted into an open-concept design by removing walls and upper cabinets on one, two or three sides. At a minimum, one full-height wall is needed for appliances and cabinetry. This type of remodel may require a reorganization of the basic elements of the kitchen, as the refrigerator needs to be on a full wall, along with the range or cooktop unless the homeowner wants it in an island.

Speaking of islands, the minimum width that can be considered for a fixed island is 24 inches. If you want seating at the island, the width needs to expand to 36 inches a 24-inch deep cabinet under a counter with a 12-inch overhang. The maximum width of an island is two times your arms length, as you probably dont want to have to climb onto the island in order to wipe it off!

Aisles around islands should ideally be 42 inches wide to allow for more than one person to function in the kitchen or to be able to pass by an open dishwasher or oven door.

Most islands today are designed to have a continuous flat counter at 36 inches high. This allows for maximum flexibility as to how the space can be used. Some homeowners still want a bit of visual privacy in their hard-working kitchens; two-tiered islands have a portion for seating at 42 inches high, which can be used to screen utility areas (such as the sinks) from the surrounding living and dining rooms.

When analyzing how a kitchen functions (or how it should function), consider three main areas, reflected in the time-honored kitchen triangle concept. As described in "Stash it All: Know the 3 Zones of Kitchen Storage," at by Steven Randel (April 2016), professional kitchen designers look at the storage/activity in the refrigerator center, the sink center, and the range center.

The refrigerator center is generally the area that receives the food as it comes into the kitchen and is where food preparation begins, according to the article. A countertop space in this area is useful for depositing grocery bags as they are unpacked and items are stored in the refrigerator and freezer. In addition to being able to conveniently unload staples and canned goods, having the pantry near this area makes initial food preparation more efficient, Randel writes. This area is therefore also good for storing preparation utensils and appliances, such as mixers and blenders that will be used at this stage of meal preparation, he writes.

The sink center is best placed between the refrigerator and range centers because this area gets the most traffic in the kitchen, according to Randel. Since the dishwasher is located here, flatware, glass and dishes should also be stored in this area. Other activities in this area include waste management and storage of dish towels and soap, he writes. A good expanse of clear counter space is important in this area as well, according to the article. Because of a general lack of upper cabinets in many new kitchens today, you may have to rethink storage options for glasses and dishes in drawers instead of cupboards. Functionally, it is actually easier to set a stack of heavy plates into a drawer than to heft them onto an upper shelf, according to the article.

The range center may be anchored with a range or a cooktop and wall ovens, along with a microwave, Randel writes. This is where cooking takes place, along with preparing the food for serving. Accordingly, cookware and serving platters/dishes are best stored in this area, he writes. Cooking utensils and spices also work well located in this portion of the kitchen. A convenient counter space on which to set hot pans is another important feature that should be included in your design, according to the article.

Sinks, appliances and tile for the backsplash are all fun to pick out. However, before you get excited about colors and countertops, determine if the space will work well and function to meet your needs. Everything related to kitchen design will impact how this important room works on a daily basis. Make sure every day in your home is a pleasure because of your well-designed and well-organized kitchen.
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