Anatomy of a Kitchen Remodeling

Kitchen Remodeling

Kitchens remain the most popular room in a house when buyers shop. They want them updated and functional, boasting top appliances, quality countertops, flooring, and today, even energy efficient lighting. And if the kitchens don’t meet expectations, but everything else does, they’re often at the top of a remodeling wish list.


For those considering a change, kitchens remain an expensive, time consuming undertaking. According to Remodeling, a highly respected site, the national average for an upscale redo is $123,000 and $65,000 for a mid-range change (  (GREEN Editor’s Note: These numbers reflect only one source. Upon consultation, GREEN’s Paul Kazanofski, operating in the greater Nashville area, placed an upscale remodel [e.g., a 3 million dollar home] at $90,000 and a mid-range at $35-40,000 [e.g., a $500,000 home] and $25-30,000 [e.g., a $250-300,000 home].  Prices vary greatly based on the price of the home in question AND the degree of customization [e.g., appliances, cabinetry, flooring, etc.]. Bottom line: Do your homework and shop wisely.)


In either case, those dollars don’t guarantee an automatic pay back.


According to the latest “Cost vs. Value” Report in Remodeling magazine, the upscale redo repays only 62 percent; the mid-range just a slightly higher 65 percent. So that means if a kitchen remodel is a project that appeals, buyers are wise to do it for their own enjoyment rather than a future buyer.


For a minute, forget the dollars and cents. Many potential remodelers are intimidated by all that’s needed to make any change. It is challenging to decide who to hire to undertake the work. More perplexing is figuring out the desired look, and which appliances, cabinetry, countertops, backsplash, countertops, flooring and lighting to incorporate. And even when plans seem set, budgets may run higher, problems may arise during the process, and timelines may extend longer.


Yet, diligent research can help. Any homeowner should start by deciding on a budget and adding in 10 percent above just in case. They should make sure to find out the time frame and then mentally add in an extra month or six weeks. Next, they should search for looks and a color palette that appeal by scanning shelter magazines, online resources like and Pinterest, and books. Understanding the main steps that go into a kitchen remodeling project will also help.


Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design, Chicago, IL.

We talked with designer Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design in Chicago, whose firm has remodeled countless kitchens, to detail the dozen key steps that went into one rehab for a Chicago couple’s kitchen remodeling. Examining these steps can help guide others.





#1. Decide how it’s to be changed.

The house was only 15 years old but they wanted a different layout—a larger, more open plan so the eating area wouldn’t be separated from the work space and would be open to a family room and deck. Openness would help parents keep an eye on their two children; they also hoped for a third. We took down a wall by the hall to open it up, and worked with their architect to make all the changes.


#2. Hire the right team. The homeowners hired Kaufman Segal along with Foster Dale Architects and a cabinetmaker to gain all the expertise needed for the entire home’s remodeling.


#3. Do homework in advance for a wish list.

These homeowners had a strong sense of the concept they envisioned—a big, bright, open kitchen that would work since they like to cook but also be a place to hang out with their kids and friends. They knew what appliances they wanted, so they purchased those on their own. Appliances are a very personal choice if you use a kitchen—if you like a single or double door refrigerator or want the freezer on the top or bottom, for example; or in their case want gas rather than electric or induction for cooking.


They also knew what type of cabinet detailing they wanted but for the countertops, flooring and other choices they turned to us to help them and find low-maintenance and light colored choices. We also made suggestions such as drawers rather than cabinets below countertops, which most homeowners find easier to use and better for storage.


#4. Decide on a layout, including whether the classic work triangle will be used.

That didn’t work in this case since they both like to cook so we needed separate areas and counters. But in any case, you need enough space around an island or peninsula for people to move freely. Here, it’s 42″ but it could have gone up to 48″. But we also put the sink on a peninsula of the work area so it can be used on the work side but also is near the table area, which has chairs and a cozy banquette. There are two places to sit since there’s also seating at the island.


#5. Develop a realistic budget.

This couple had an overall budget for work for the house, and we helped figure out how much should be devoted to the kitchen. The contractor we worked with constructed all the cabinets as part of the remodeling budget so we didn’t buy those from a manufacturer. Usually, it’s wise to get several bids and then scale back if necessary but that wasn’t needed in this case.



#6. Develop the color palette and material choices.

It was to be white but not too bright and harsh for the paint color of the cabinets, which we wanted to hand paint rather than spray. Painting allows them to be easily touched up since this was a kitchen that would get hard use. The clients also knew they wanted a panel-style door, so we chose a flat style with ogee edge. Because they didn’t want marble countertops (since they can stain), we went with quartzite, a natural stone that’s dense like granite and easier to maintain.


Photography by Bruce Van Inwegen.

#7. Add in some contrast or pops.

To add some sparkle and a bit of a color contrast, we went with a mix of pulls in polished nickel—larger ones on lower drawers below countertops, smaller ones above countertops, and knobs on the cabinets at the top near the ceiling. The backsplash adds some pattern with marble mosaics in a herringbone pattern. For more color and warmth the floor is 4 1/4″-width walnut boards, which repeats the walnut of the island cabinetry. And the bar stools are walnut with a blue-gray upholstery. The countertop quartzite is gray rather than white. The large appliances have stainless steel fronts rather than white panels.


#8. Decide whether to add any splurges.

Since the clients cook, the equipment is all top notch—SubZero refrigerator, Wolf range, built-in Miele coffee maker, and a meat slicer on a rolling cart in the adjacent butler’s pantry that can roll into the main work space by the island. We also made countertops 2″ thick, which gives a luxurious look, even more so with a square edge.


#9. Incorporate some energy conserving ideas.

Conservation is a mantra for today’s buyers whether EnergyStar appliances, green materials, and also LED lighting, with bulbs of that kind here in the recessed cans and undercabinet fixtures. They won’t require replacement for a long time, and their once high costs have come way down.


Photography by Bruce Van Inwegen.

#10. Be ready for some design challenges.

Making everything look interesting with so much white cabinetry was the biggest. We had to break up the space, which we did with the stainless appliances, polished nickel hardware, big light pendants over the island, and different materials for the island cabinetry, countertop and backsplashes. And it all won’t look dated in a few years but has a classic, calm, natural look.



#11. Be ready for some structural or mechanical surprises.

We gutted the space so there were no problems such as finding rotted subfloors or load-bearing walls that couldn’t be removed. We did need to change some inadequate wiring. The kitchen, along with the rest of the remodeling in the house took about a year.


#12. Make life easy as possible under these sometimes stressful conditions. To make life run smoother during construction, we set up a temporary kitchen, something every kitchen remodeling should include. In this case, we placed it in the basement.


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