There are two types of customers for kitchen renovations. The first is a foodie who wants the ultimate in functionality, a sink and cooktop in the kitchen island, and plenty of space for prep without guests or family in their sphere. The second cares more for style and wants a seamless island, as big an aircraft carrier.
With an average kitchen renovation costing around $50,000 to $80,000, both types of customers take their time researching which items are must-haves, and which can be left in the showroom.
During the COVID era, kitchen designers are busier than ever, as customers need a kitchen that is also a home office and a place for the kids to do homework. The trend is toward light, bright, open kitchens with a wall removed to create even more space. People seem to have no problem eliminating their formal dining room if it means having a bigger, better kitchen.
Cabinets tend to be the simple Shaker style, painted white, with brushed gold hardware. Even the least expensive kitchens now have cabinets that come with soft close drawers and doors, hidden trash cans, and roll out shelves. Induction cooktops are gaining favor – they are environmentally friendly because they’re electric and turn off and on instantly but have better temperature control than gas. Countertops are usually granite or quartz.
“The biggest change I’ve seen is that people want contemporary, clean lines,” says Gail Bolling, owner of The Kitchen Company in North Haven. “Typically, clients wanted to go very traditional because it’s New England, but now we’re seeing a lot of requests for perfectly flat slab doors. White paint is the most popular for cabinets, but people are adding more color — grey, blues and greens — on the island rather than the whole kitchen. We’re also getting requests for floating shelves in warm wood tones. People don’t want a sterile kitchen.”
If you’ve just purchased a home, Bolling recommends living in it for a while to see how you use the existing kitchen and what you might want to change.
But what if you want to upgrade your kitchen with the intention of selling your home in a few years?
Key kitchen factors make a difference for resale
“If you’re selling in three to five years, don’t spend a fortune if you are looking to get a return on your investment,” said James Corthouts of Holland Kitchens in West Hartford.
“There are ways to make a kitchen look great.”
For example, paint the cabinets (white, of course) and add new hardware. If the countertops need to be replaced, figure that you are also in for a new sink, faucet, and backsplash. Those items tend to go together, Corthouts says.
Don’t neglect lighting, including under the cabinets.
“Lighting is important for resale,” Corthouts says. “Older kitchens have less bright lighting. If you have recessed lighting, you can change from incandescent to LED. The LED is so much more intense.”
If your flooring is shot, there are newer laminate products that can be installed over existing flooring. One of these products is called V-EVO Max by Durato.
“It looks like wood and locks together and floats over the floor,” Corthouts said. “It looks so real, it’s unbelievable.”
If you do wind up needing to replace the cabinets, there is a line called Cubitac that is inexpensive, but still looks good and has those all-important soft-close drawers.
“The best time to renovate your kitchen is if you are planning to sell your house within two to 10 years. You will enjoy the kitchen, and it will help you get top dollar for your house,” says John Yates of Connecticut Kitchen & Bath in Avon. “Most people want a house in move-in condition. Most of the time, they don’t move for a few years (after a renovation). I can make a low-cost kitchen that looks expensive. With inexpensive cabinets, inexpensive granite, I can do an upgrade in a small kitchen for $25,000 to $30,000. You are much more apt to get your asking price. You don’t get to really enjoy it, but it will raise the value about 40 percent.”
Sometimes, just replacing the appliances will do the trick, Bolling says.
Corthouts recommends budgeting $10,000 to $20,000 for upgrades in advance of a resale. And plan on painting those cabinets yourself.
The importance of appliances
Yates has strong opinions when it comes to appliances and pretty much everything else. He highly recommends getting a counter-depth refrigerator with a bottom freezer. Why?
“People make a mistake getting a full-size fridge and wind up using only 60 percent of the refrigerator,” he says. “Do you really want arms and legs growing out of your food? A deep fridge sticks out. It’s ugly and creates bottlenecks in the kitchen.”
As the ultimate foodie type of cook, he recommends a smart touch faucet or even a touchless one that’s activated with a wave of your hand. And treat yourself to a drawer microwave that opens with the touch of button and closes hands free. Put your oven or ovens in the wall at eye level. It will save your back over time.
And the island, while not technically an appliance, is best for foodies if it’s at two heights, Yates says. Put one level six inches above the other: one level for seating, and the other for working. It creates visual interest and avoids the look “of an island that looks like it’s waiting for you to land your B52.” You’ll be able to plug your mixer into the center of the island and not be stuck on the end, Yates says.
Lifecycle of a kitchen
The average kitchen lasts about 20 to 25 years, Corthouts says. People decide to renovate when a cabinet or an appliance breaks down. When you get the new oven, everything else looks old. Or the whole kitchen just looks dated.
The most important thing is to have a great design, says Bolling. A designer like Bolling orders and sells you the cabinets and sometimes the appliances, and supervises the installation, which is done by a general contractor (often recommended by the designer).
Plan to be out of your kitchen for at least four to six weeks, says Bolling, who has renovated her own kitchen twice in about 35 years. Set up a makeshift kitchen by putting your fridge in a place like a laundry room that hopefully has a small sink. With a microwave and toaster oven, you can probably prepare a lot of meals and not rely on takeout so much. Bolling recommends buying an inexpensive, maybe $40, induction cooktop, too.
Don’t be surprised if you have to wait 15 to 20 weeks for cabinets. Wolf and Subzero appliances can take six months and longer to come in. “If you are going to do a good job, plan on a couple of months to come up with proper design and figure out how to stay within budget. Contractors are booked six months out,” Bolling said.
Kitchens range from affordable to lavish. If you are sticking to the original footprint and not moving the plumbing, gas, and electrical, you can keep your costs down. Cabinets can cost $10,000 to $30,000 or as much as $60,000. An appliance package can be as little as $6,000 or as much as $35,000, just for appliances.
“For first time renovators, the best tip is to learn their budget. The average kitchen costs $50,000. They say, ‘We only have 20K.’ My advice to you is to go to work and do what you do best. Earn money and save it for a new kitchen and do it right. Call me in two to three years,” Yates says.