It’s Gotta Be Big

BY MARLA R. MILLER ON AUGUST 1ST, 2017

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Embarking on a kitchen or bath remodel or expansion isn’t for the DIY weekend warrior.

As two of the most important rooms in a house or condo, designers agree a well-done remodel will always add value to a home. But homeowners should carefully consider what they hope to accomplish with a remodel or expansion – more room, better flow, a place for the family to gather, indoor-outdoor access, a bathroom-bedroom suite or spa-like retreat – and whether it’s a starter home they plan to resell, grow in, or live in retirement.

A kitchen or bath expansion involves commitment, planning and budget and product considerations before the work ever begins. It often requires obtaining various permits and hiring a variety of professionals – designer, architect, contractor, carpenter, electrician, and plumber – along with having your two most used rooms in disarray or out of commission for up to several months.

“It’s important for homeowners to remember a kitchen or bathroom is one of the most important things they’ll do and they will get their money back on it,” says Jonathan Legate, an internationally published interior consultant and designer from Halifax, Nova Scotia and 2015 High Point Market Style Spotter. “It makes the biggest different. If they can find a little extra in their budget, it won’t go unnoticed.”

Many homeowners think they can do the work themselves to save money, but they may not have the time or skill. It’s best to be realistic and it’s worth hiring a professional designer to oversee the process, or work alongside the general contractor to make sure a homeowner’s vision for the space comes together, says designer Vanessa Deleon of Vanessa Deleon Associates in New York.

It also can save time and money in the long run by avoiding change orders, product delays and other setbacks.

“Hiring a designer first is super imperative because it’s really important to know a little bit of everything in design and construction,” she says. “Even with the array of different brands and products, a designer knows the pros and cons of all those elements.”

Good planning goes a long way in making the project go smoothly, says Jason Hebert, lead designer and architect for luxury home builder Jenkins Custom Homes in Austin, Texas.

Serving as both architect and builder, Jenkins uses a Lifestyle Analysis and Design Proposal system to determine the things most important to each client and how they live. It also takes into account site variables such as views, prevailing winds, deed and permitting restrictions, and topography.

“Everything is according to budget, obviously,” Hebert says. “Get a good handle on the timeframe, cost, probably the biggest thing is having everything selected so everything goes smoother. You have to work everything out in the beginning so you’re not changing all the time. It’s a process to make changes and there has to be some kind of stopping point to move forward.”

Homeowners have to be realistic about physical space constraints, both exterior and interior, if they want to expand a room. Taking out a load-bearing wall often poses problems, along with the added expense and hassle of architectural drawings, building inspector approval and other structural issues.

Condo dwellers are often restricted by the overall layout of a building and what is hiding behind walls. Some provide structural support for the entire building. Others conceal piping and wiring that often feed other condos and cannot be changed, Deleon says.

Hebert says people should focus more on how they want to live in the space and quality over quantity.

“Sometimes bigger isn’t better,” Hebert says. “I figure out their needs and likes and typically I can work from those ideas and give them a proposal of the concept design work from there. If you make it too big and counters are too far apart, it’s hard to function in the space. Utilize the space you have and add as much as you need to make those functions work or aesthetically make the design work.”

It’s also important to add elements that are unique or special to the people who will live there – maybe it’s a place for a family to gather and play a game, a spa-like bathroom with a custom shower, or easy access to the outdoors with doors that open onto a patio or deck off a bedroom-bath suite or the kitchen, Hebert says.

“Overall, keep it clean and simple and try to do less with more,” he recommends. “Stick to some of the more classical, simpler designs that aren’t too edgy. Better quality, better lights are definitely part of making them places you want to be in.”

Adding onto the exterior of a home will take space away from the yard and involve a lot of demolition, permits, construction and finishing work, which also increases the cost of the project.

If expanding is not an option, the dilemma becomes how to reconfigure an existing space to create the desired floor plan. It usually means giving up a closet, hallway or spare room or encroaching into an existing bedroom or dining room, says Stephanie Pierce, senior design studio manager at MasterBrand Cabinets.

Pierce agrees a lifestyle analysis is a critical first step. It’s also important to plan for lost elements such as pantry or wall space.

“Really asses your lifestyle and what you want to get out of that space and come up with the plan,” she says. “If you’re giving up space to make a bigger floor plan, you want to maximize the storage or function in the new space.”

A lot can be done with cabinetry during a kitchen remodel to make the most of space, including cabinets to the ceiling and adding oversized or pantry-sized cabinets for extra storage.

“People want a beautiful façade, but they really want those storage solutions,” she says. “There are storage skews that give the interior of the cabinets a specific purpose and adaptability for individual use; wider doors and pullouts maximize those interiors.”

Plumbing and wiring can be another challenge in bathroom and kitchen remodels and should be factored into the redesign. It’s important to consider the placement of the sink, stove and fridge for prepping and cooking food. Moving the sink may also involve moving the plumbing and windows.

“I always say follow the triangle method,” Deleon says. “You want the stovetop centered to the triangle and you don’t want the refrigerator on the opposite side of the room.”

Islands continue to be a popular way to create a more open-concept floor plan that connects to a living or dining room and utilizes what would be dead space. Islands also offer additional prep or cooking space, extra cabinet storage and an informal eating area.

“I love islands and the versatility of islands,” Deleon says. “The bigger the island, the better. The kitchen is always the heart of the house.”

If you do tear out a wall but still need the structural support, you can build an island around support posts or columns, Legate says.

“People do still seem to want an open kitchen design,” he says. “People are using specific rooms less and they like one larger room.”

Legate says small kitchens can often be more functional than large kitchens. He recommends a galley layout for small homes and condos.

“Sometimes, making the best of what you have can work well,” he says. “Reconfigure it so you have the kitchen sink on one wall and stove on other wall so one person can do the prep and one can do cooking. Just make sure to not put them directly back to back because it makes it impossible for two people.”

Another feature both Legate and Deleon are seeing in the kitchen is a dedicated area for seating or a small workspace so children can do homework or a spouse or guest can sit and chat with the cook.

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