Five years ago, a booming housing industry meant a booming remodeling industry. Easy access to credit, rising home values and a high return on home improvement investments produced remodeling jobs with big budgets. The average Bethesda-area kitchen renovation easily cost $250,000, according to Michael Johnson, owner of Bethesda’s Art Design Build. High-end cabinets, countertops and fixtures and an abundance of top-of-the-line appliances and accessories drove budgets sky high.
The emphasis was on convenience. Multiple sinks, including a main sink, prep sink and bar sink, and two dishwashers to handle party ware were common. Stainless-steel Viking appliances remained the homeowner’s top choice. “Clients thought nothing of dropping $40,000 on appliances alone,” Johnson says; a typical appliance package included a cooktop, double oven, warming drawer, large refrigerator and wine cabinet. Homeowners, he says, wanted a kitchen that fit like a glove.
During the past few years, clients have become more budget conscious, says Tracy Thornett McCann, owner of Nancy Thornett Associates custom cabinet design firm in Bethesda. “The budget discussion between the kitchen designer and the client is extremely important,” she says. “The same kitchen can be renovated within various price ranges and we need to get the right quality, look and feel within the homeowner’s budget.”
Balancing needs and wants while keeping an eye on the bottom line can be complicated, but with the array of products and finishes available at every price level, and expert advice from kitchen designers and contractors, homeowners can get a beautiful, functional kitchen within their budget.
In 2007, when Anna and Dave Spencer moved from a row house in Mount Pleasant, in Washington, D.C., to a single-family home in Bethesda, they thought they could live with the house’s tiny galley kitchen—at least for a while. Three children and a sizable dog soon proved them wrong. “Everyone always ended up squeezing into the kitchen,” says Anna.
Dave, 44, and Anna, 38, approached Marc O’Grady of Art Design Build to redesign the kitchen with a contemporary feel and enough room for Rowan, now 6, Emmett, 4, and Eva, 2, to sit and eat while the adults “fussed around the kitchen.” They decided on a 14-by-30-foot addition combining a kitchen and family room.
O’Grady showed the Spencers a number of product and finish options to keep the project within their $100,000 budget. According to Johnson, of Art Design Build, the vast number of choices can overwhelm some clients. “But those choices make it easier to dig around and find value,” Johnson says. The Spencers chose high-end cherry cabinets with slab-style doors that highlight the color variations and patterns inherent in the wood. The contemporary look is accented by the clean, straight lines of the drawer pulls and cabinet handles.
The Spencers splurged on a second dishwasher drawer for overflow dishes and glassware, which Anna says they use at least three times a week, and on the panel of narrow, rectangular amber and green glass tiles that extend from countertop to ceiling on the wall behind the cooktop. “Using the tile on one wall instead of the whole kitchen really creates a focal point,” O’Grady says.
In the end, says O’Grady, the most economical remodeling measure is an efficient use of space. “You ask, ‘How does this family use the kitchen?’ ” he says. Because both Dave and Anna like to cook, additional counter space was essential. In the original kitchen, the main counter consisted of a wooden slab that slid out from beneath a drawer, making food preparation difficult. “It was like camping,” Anna says. Additional counter space and an island were incorporated into the design. And the family now has an island prep sink, vital for the cooks and where the children wash their hands.
Not only is the Spencers’ new kitchen beautiful, but O’Grady says he feels he gave the family what they needed without overkill. “Really,” says Anna, “I can’t imagine what else we’d add.”
Adding New Space
In February 2008, John and Dawn Ziemski bought a house in Potomac with a lot of character and “good bones.” The house had the potential to be a great family home—with one stumbling block. “The kitchen was the big obstacle,” Dawn, 39, says. The original owners had lived in the house for 30 years and “because there were no children in the house, the layout really wasn’t sufficient for our family of five,” she says.
The 1970s kitchen was a small, dark rectangle with a tiny eat-in area. The Ziemskis knew opening up the kitchen to the neighboring den and adding a dining area would meet the family’s needs. The couple decided to remodel before moving in. At the time, they were still living outside New York City. “Not being here meant we needed a lot of guidance and expertise,” says Dawn. “It was a challenge dealing with this long distance, but we made it work.”
Dawn and project manager Kerriann Ford of O’Neill Development Corp. in Gaithersburg communicated often via e-mail and telephone to keep the renovations on schedule and under $100,000. After removing the wall between the kitchen and the den, contractors tore down an existing deck off the kitchen and in its place built a new breakfast room, widening the original entryway to the deck to allow light from the window-lined breakfast room to flood the kitchen. Keeping the sink and appliances close to their original positions in the kitchen saved the Ziemskis the cost of relocating pipes and rewiring.
All-white cabinets and cream-colored walls give the kitchen a bright and airy feel. A rustic island provides contrasting color and texture and creates the room’s focal point. The island’s distressed alder-wood cabinets, which are finished in an olive tone, are complemented by an amber-and-black-flecked granite countertop with rock-face edges. Early on, the Ziemskis designated the island as a work space rather than a dining space with chairs. “I’m so glad we did,” Dawn says. “Chairs would have interrupted the whole flow of the room.”
Dawn says Ford helped her trim costs. After seeing the white subway tile Dawn chose for the backsplash, Ford found similar tile at a lower price. “There’s no need to buy designer tiles when you can get the same aesthetic for less,” Ford says. Saving money here and there allowed the Ziemskis to add a large farm sink and increase the original size of the kitchen island, creating much-needed storage space.
As planned, the kitchen area has become the hub of the Ziemski home. Before dinner, the children do their homework and play board games in the breakfast area. “It’s nice when my husband and I are cooking to have the children nearby,” Dawn says.