Perhaps more than any other room, the kitchen is the ultimate multi-tasker. It is a family hub, a magnet for guests, the place we sort mail and solve math homework, as well an everyday workhorse for family meals. So a subpar kitchen, be it due to efficiency or aesthetics, can be a bummer on many levels.
Kitchen design expert, Cindy Collins, has certainly designed her share of down-to-the-studs kitchen remodels. But she also believes that smaller fixes can have a dramatic effect.
The partial remodel
If you have a moderate budget to work with, she recommends looking at a portion of the kitchen that isn’t pulling its weight. The current trend of eclecticism means partial redos are perfectly acceptable.
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For starters, Collins suggests taking a hard look at your kitchen island.
“Sometimes a large island can be an obstacle and interfere with flow,” she said. “Or maybe you need to add a place at the end to sit and have breakfast.”
Your kitchen island may have awkward, fixed shelves or be one cavernous compartment. Rebuilding it could provide the opportunity to tailor storage to meet your most pressing needs. Maybe you lack big drawers for pots or small appliance storage. Or perhaps recycling bin and garbage can rollouts will keep your dog from ransacking the trash.
On an aesthetic level, a kitchen island redo could introduce new materials to break up large expanses of one material — such as a painted island to contrast with wood cabinets, or a wood countertop to provide a break from too much granite. Collins is a fan of wood counters in seating areas like bars and islands.
“When you put your wrist down on the countertop while you’re reading the paper, butcher block is a nice, warm material,” she said. “It’s also visually warmer than granite and more economical.”
She does caution that butcher block shows wear over time. Although this can be repaired, wood may not be for those who crave a pristine surface.
Another partial remodel might involve retrofitting a seldom-used space. For instance, if a built-in desk area gets little use, it might be better used as additional storage drawers or cabinets.
Collins offers one caveat regarding the partial remodel: one dramatic improvement can make the rest of an outdated kitchen look shabby.
“I remember someone coming to me who had replaced their countertop with granite and it made them realize how old their cabinets were. Their kitchen actually looked even worse,” said Collins who noted that polished granite countertops are so slick and contemporary, they clash sharply with dated cabinets and fixtures.
The ‘unfitted’ kitchen
Another alternative to the major remodel is what Collins calls an “unfitted” look for the kitchen, which uses freestanding units in addition to built-ins.
“It’s more of a collected furniture look rather than wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling cabinets,” she said.
Cucina frequently builds custom pieces that fit a particular space or function. But off-the-shelf furnishings or vintage pieces also work and can offer an easy update. An armoire cabinet or hutch can be used for food storage without looking like a typical pantry. A table with banquette seating creates a casual eating area in a small amount of space. Smaller pieces, like a mini island on casters or a wine storage unit, add function without eating up space.
One of the best perks of freestanding furniture pieces is that they “allow for more storage with the flexibility of traveling with you to your next home,” said Collins.
Reorganize and refresh
Even seemingly small upgrades can have a big impact in the kitchen. Reorganization, for instance, might not cost a cent but can vastly improve efficiency.
Collins suggests analyzing how you use your kitchen and organizing it into zones. That might mean keeping knives and cutting boards near one another in the food prep area, which should also be near a sink and trash can. Or locating the pantry near the refrigerator so that all food is together. Her other zones are non-consumables (such as dishes and utensils), clean-up and cleaning, and cooking.
As for storage, Collins’ rule of thumb is to reserve the cabinet space from your knees to your shoulders for things you use every day. Items stored lower or moderately higher can be used less frequently. Seasonal or infrequently used items can go on the highest shelves.
Storage tools and inserts help to maximize storage and keep countertops clear. Cucina makes a range of custom inserts, but you can also find off-the-shelf items. Backsplash rails take advantage of a frequently underused space to hold things such as utensils, spices, and cookbooks. Drawer inserts contain everything from spices to compost. Rollouts make base cabinets, corner cabinets and pantries easier to access. There are even in-cabinet pull-out racks designed to hold dish towels.
“A lot of times you walk into a kitchen and the first thing you see is the wet towel slung over the faucet or looped through the refrigerator handles,” she said. “It’s easy to remove that kind of visual clutter.”
In addition to de-cluttering, simple aesthetic updates include new cabinet pulls, a new coat of paint, a piece of art, or a vase of fresh flowers. Or perhaps upping the comfort quotient is what your kitchen needs. A sturdy table, comfortable chairs and good lighting makes any kitchen more inviting.
“It’s the concept of a kitchen as a central gathering place for cooking together and enjoying a meal together as celebrations,” said Collins, “because the time we spend with family and friends is so important.”