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Friday, January 22, 2010

Budget Kitchen Renovation: Thoughts on Style

I went into a home right after Katrina where I saw the kitchen of my dreams. The homeowner was a friend of a friend. Mr. FS and I were taking a walk after the storm (since there was nothing else to do); also, the rumormill said that someone on that street had a working phone. En route to the phone, we saw Catherine, who had just returned to town. She said we could see if her phone worked. We went into the kitchen and discovered that the phone indeed worked. We called our families to tell them we were okay. Meanwhile, Catherine discovered that several trees had gone through the roof of her newly renovated house.

But the kitchen! Beautiful antique-looking (custom) cabinets that went up to her high ceilings. Glass front cupboards (custom) filled with beautiful dishes.A custom-made island that looked like something you'd see in a fantasy of Provence. An 8 burner Viking stove. I admired the kitchen. She said, Yes, I bought the house for the kitchen. The previous owner--a cigar chomping youngish guy who looked like the Master of the Universe--had done the renovation. No one ever saw Mrs. Master. Catherine said that the cabinetry had been in natural wood. She "couldn't live with that." So she had it painted white.

Catherine is from an old wealthy Louisiana family. So is her (now ex-) husband. That kind of kitchen could be mine--for about $100,000.00. Out of my league, I'm afraid.

The first time I went to a kitchen place, I witnessed this exchange. Customer: I want what's popular. Salesperson: Maple cabinets and granite. Customer: That's what I want. End of design process.

Salespeople assume they know what you want. I kept being told that I "needed" an island or peninsula. I pointed out that I would have to remove my table. To which the salesperson replied, You could eat on stools at the island! No, said I. Then you could eat Japanese=style on your living room rug! So much for the design process.

When I said I wasn't crazy about granite, I was looked at with pity.

So what do you do when you don't want the maple/granite kitchen of most middle-class dreams? What if you REALLY like Catherine's magazine-worthy kitchen but don't want to spend $100,000?

Well, you have to figure out how you can get something of the atmosphere you want (unassuming Creole cottage?) while staying within the boundaries of pathological frugality. In other words, you have to figure it out yourself. Even if it drives you crazy. And you over-research. And everyone laughs at you for not being able to make up your mind. What else is new?


FB @ said...

Bah to granite

BF and I think that it reminds us of tombstones.

Still, granite or marble is great for baking.

Duchesse said...

I see renos from time to time in magazines like Metropolitan Home that were done to cottages, and the owners wanted to use local materials, or didn't want a decorated to death kitchen. One woman made shelves 'paved' with old state license plates! Other people recycle garage doors as counters, etc. I think you're in front of salespeople with very little imagination. Except for the Japanese seating thing, LOL!

You've done your reno but anyone else: if you live in a city with a design school, ask if there are students who want a project. They are thinking green and can come up with some fantastic ideas. And so can architects, who need the work now. We used one and it was worth every penny, times over. He was great at figuring out where to use costly materials and where to save.

Duchesse said...

Frugal, I have another remark which might sound tart but is *so not* meant that way: If one wants a $100,000 kitchen, one has to spend the bucks or be a master fine carpenter. It's kind of like my passion for pearls. 20mm finest South Seas are going to be multiples of tens of thousands, period. And therefore not on my neck.

But I am not wearing glass pearls, either. There's a lot of room inbetween for beauty.

Funny about Money said...

Hm. I'm not sure you really do need to spend a hundred grand to get the "look." On the other hand, you probably need to spend more than ten or twenty grand.

Architect: good. Ex-DH and I hired a friend's dad, who was an architect, to design an add-on to our historic house that had the Real Deal wonderful old cottage kitchen. With all the trouble-shooting and supervision he did, that guy paid for his fee many times over.

Here's my take on the current styles in kitchen design:

1) I would like cabinets to go to the ceiling. It's hard to find cabinetry that will go all the way up to the kitchen ceiling and not leave an annoying ledge or line of cabinet tops to collect dirt and grease -- and not rob the homeowner of space where she could've had several more shelves of storage.

2) Truly I dislike granite. It's not that granite isn't wonderful. It's that everyone has it.

3) I find granite suspect as a product. Some of it emits surprising amounts of radon. As surfaces go it's sensitive to acid etching (lemon juice, vinegar). If your cabinetry or kitchen floor settles, the stuff is likely to crack, and then instead of replacing a few tiles, you get to replace the entire. freaking. expensive. countertop. Which you probably won't be able to match, so you can then go out and replace ALL the countertops.

4) Maple's nice, no doubt. I want cherry. If I can't have cherry, painted will do, if the paint doesn't offend.

5) An island is something you have to walk around.

6) When an interior is done up in the latest style, there's no point in installing top-of-the-line quality, because the stuff will outlast the style. In five or ten years, visitors will take one look around your house and sniff, "Oh, she did THAT in 2010." Why spend a ton of money only to have your interior outdated before it wears out?

7) Ever try to clean one of those swell eight-burner Viking stoves? If you can't afford a cleaning lady and you actually do cook, it may be best to go for something a little more bourgeois.

I really liked Susanka's "Not So Big House" books. Although most of the examples she photographed were absolutely expensive, the principles she described can be engaged, with some creativity, on a budget.

g said...

We remodeled our kitchen years ago and couldn't afford granite; got formica instead. I am not in love wiht formica, but I'm glad I didn't get granite. I would have preferred concrete or soapstone, but that was way out of our league. As it is, our formica is understated and almost the color of concrete.

We did it on the cheap but as well as we could. I found some slate tiles in earth tones, cheap because they came unwashed - i had to take them outside and rinse them off with a weak acid solution to remove the dust. The cabinets are maple but with a pickled finish.

After the cabinets and appliances went in we had to wait four years living with plywood floors until we could afford the hardwood.

But it's pleasing now, and way cheaper than $100K.

Frugal Scholar said...

@FB--I think I'm too harsh on granite...I guess I just get all contrarian!

@Duchesse--Great idea about using someone from architecture school. The architects around here mostly lack imagination. We're just too small potatoes for most of the good ones anyway. Second comment--not "tart" at all. True.

@Funny--I got tall cabs (42 inches). Up to the ceiling is great--that's what old houses have. I detest the dust-catching junk on cabinets. Everything you say is true, but the best is #6. No matter what you do, you cannot create a kitchen that won't look dated.

@g--I like formica, but couldn't use it. My contractor said old houses were so out of square that the slabs of formica don't work. I think formica is a true classic!

Lizzle said...

RIGHT ON! We dislike the current mindless granite and cherry or maple look, but have started to wonder if we are the ONLY ones.

Shelley said...

I like the way granite looks, but it's not as durable as the cheaper stuff we have now (MDF covered with something). Removing any financial consideration, I'd probably choose a dark wood, but we don't plan to be here more than a few years longer and then it will be rented out.

I've already decided I definitely don't need new cabinets, which if course is probably because I live 20 minutes from an Ikea! I may go check out what sorts of things they have to fancy up the insides of my cupboards though. We, too, have a pantry and it's so useful.

These posts are incredibly helpful, I want you to know! Especially the part about having to figure it out yourself even if it makes you crazy. I don't feel so alone in the world...

Frugal Scholar said...

@Lizzie--My crystal ball says: oak is going to come back! Let's see if I'm right.

@Shelley-I actually like the way granite looks too--I just get all contrary when people say one "has to have" something. It is very loud though.

barkbarkalldaylong said...

My gripe about kitchens is stainless steel everywhere. Stainless steel is what morgues use to autopsy bodies on. I don't want anything that cold and fingerprint friendly in my kitchen. I also cringe when HGTV paints wooden cabinets. Refinish, yet, slap on paint, no. Someone has to clean that paint.

Tiny square backsplashes are the same issue--someone has to clean that backsplash. Greasy mess on white grout.

I agree that islands are to walk around and are in the way.

I like Silestone. No resealing and granite look. Good for baking.

Frugal Scholar said...

@barkbark--I like painted cabs. They're easy to clean if you use oil based paint. We also have a good hood, so things don't get greasy.