For many the kitchen is the heart of their homes. So, when homeowners are looking to improve their abodes, the kitchen is often the first choice of rooms in which to sink renovation money.

Studies consistently show that kitchen renovations have one of the greatest return on investment in terms of property value, and costs to build a dream kitchen can climb to near-epic heights. Open concept kitchen-dining rooms are all the rave, so tearing down that dividing wall could be in order. Mixed media, combing metal, marble, butcher block counters, reclaimed wood and other materials can run homeowners a pretty penny.

But not all improvements will have costs go through the roof.

There are several ways that homeowners can cost-effectively freshen up the kitchen, taking advantage of modern trends, livening aesthetics and new technologies without breaking the bank.

Budget First

The number one consideration for any kitchen renovation needs to be budget, says Stephanie Brown, Sales Manager at Cabinetsmith/CanSave. “Ask yourself, what is your home worth? Real estate experts say you should spend (max) 20% of the value of your home in your kitchen.”

“This may or may not be a reasonable number, but it’s the one they use.” With the over-the-top real estate values of some urban markets such as Toronto and Vancouver, that ballpark number may not make sense, Brown notes. “If your home is valued at $700,000 in the market, it doesn’t make sense to put 140 grand into your kitchen. That’s nonsense.”

Still, thanks to those skyrocketing home prices, a rational investment in kitchen renovations, especially when part of a larger renovation, makes great sense and it is a definite value-add, Brown notes.

To List or to Live?

Recognizing the purpose of the kitchen refresh is also critical. A renovation with the intent of improving resale value and attracting buyers is different than an upgrade when one is planning to love their new kitchen for many years to come.

“You need to know what your reason is for renovating,” says Brown. “Are you renovating to move or are you renovating to stay? Are you doing it to make your home livable for five years, but you then are still planning to sell?”

“If you’re renovating to stay and your favourite colour is electric blue so you want electric blue cabinets, I wouldn’t for a second try to talk you out of them.” With the intention of selling, however, Brown suggest white and grey tones are more in order. Greys have become increasingly popular, she says, while the dark browns big in past years are falling out of favour.

Painting cabinets has continued to grow as a trend, adds Alison Goldman, Marketing Manager at PPG Architectural Coatings Canada.

She agrees that when selling, whites and greys are the way to go, with only slight variations in tones. “If you’re selling it, you want to make your kitchen as monochrome as possible.” She says giving cabinetry a coat is a worthwhile consideration regardless of whether the property is being put up for sale.

“You can get a lot of value out of painting your cabinets,” she says. First off, it’s not difficult for home owners to do themselves, and it’s a low-cost improvement. “Cabinets are the number one return on investment in a kitchen, so it’s worth every bit of the elbow grease that goes into it.” “If you are willing
to do the work and don’t want to spend the money on new ones, paint them,” she says. “I did it about four years ago, when my maple cabinets started to show their age in terms of style. I painted them white and it was absolutely the most dramatic difference you’ve ever seen.” “It was like I had a new kitchen.”

Photo courtesy of Moen

Bright as Morning Breakfast

While colour choice is about individual tastes, Goldman does say a few colours are great for kitchens. “If you’ve got an eat-in kitchen, a soft, creamy yellow colour is gorgeous. It does a great job of making you feel like a sunny breakfast.”

Consider the role of colour accents in the kitchen. If it already has an impressive marble countertop, for example, don’t distract from it by painting walls an eye-catching colour. If the kitchen cabinets and counters are all white and boast the streamlined ultra-modern look becoming popular; however, making the walls the colour focus is a consideration.

“Kitchen walls are a nice place to start playing with colour,” Goldman says. “Popular colours today are ‘ folksy’ and fashion-inspired, such as the orangy-reds.”

Kitchen walls, like bathrooms and laundry rooms, should be coated with a mildew-inhibiting paint, while cabinets would benefit from a furniture and cabinet paint with a melamine finish that self-levels to prevent streaks.

Plan for the Future

Even if homeowners are planning to stay in the home for 10 or 20 years they should keep in mind that love sometimes fades. “Are you prepared to hate your race-car flames kitchen?” she jokes. Décor styles, like fashions, come and go she reminds homeowners. “Do you really want to have the acid-wash jeans of kitchens?” Brown asks rhetorically.

Think five to eight, or even more years ahead when making decisions about kitchen aesthetics, but also around appliances and electrical. For example, consider that Internet-enabled is fast becoming the buzz of new kitchens and their appliances.

“I did my own kitchen about eight years ago, and purpose-fully only put in two electrical outlets because I don’t like the look of them,” Brown confesses. “I’m so regretful because now we have two laptops and three tablets to plug in.”

Always be sure to consider both form and function with any kitchen reno, she warns. “The kitchen demands more balance between them than any other room in the house.”

Tap Into the Past

New kitchen hardware—kitchen sink faucets or knobs and drawer pulls on cabinetry—is another quick way to give the space an entirely different feel, says Garry Scott, Vice President of Marketing and Ecommerce at Moen Canada.

He recommends matching faucets and other hardware. “Moen offers a wide array of knobs and pulls that are designed to match our faucets in both style and finish, so you can create a cohesive look through your space.”

It’s another easy change for DIYers, he points out. “Since all you need is a screwdriver to install them, you can have a new look in no time.”

Photo courtesy of Pfister

Faucets can be an excellent product with which to balance aesthetics with ergonomics. “The key is to select fixtures that offer both style and functionality… to make cooking, cleaning and entertaining simple.” Scott points to his company’s Spot Resist finishes that prevent fingerprints and water spots, and suggests for homeowners who entertain or cook for large groups might consider a pot-filler faucet or beverage faucet with a filtration system.

If the kitchen walls and cabinets are the dress, then hardware are the jewelry. “As with any plumbing purchase above the deck there’s a fashion component,” says Adam Findlay, Senior Marketing Manager for Pfister.

“Be on trend,” he urges. “Right now, something trending is the mainstream-industrial look, which takes you back to the industrial revolution. You see it in lighting with Edison bulbs, or with old-style looking fans, or exposed air ducts.”

“We have faucet selections now that focus on that style, with handles that look like gas valves, and tubular designs. It’s taking kitchen aesthetics to the next level.”

And like jewelry, faucets can be replaced easily, so also can be installed with little risk around being stuck with their selections. “After all, it’s easier and more affordable to replace a $200 faucet than it is flooring or a countertop. So, if I was going to be daring anywhere, it would probably be with my faucet, and it’s something I can replace myself.”

A word to the wise though: water efficiency is best saved for the bathroom. Low-flow is no help when it comes to filling a kitchen sink and may, in fact, ultimately be less efficient. Instead, Findlay suggests looking for technology that makes kitchen life easier, such as his company’s hands-
free faucets, water filtration and finger-print resistant chrome.

“There’s still been plenty of room for us to innovate in the kitchen.”

Photo courtesy of CabinetSmith / Cansave

Going Green
Homeowners may not be able to cut water in the kitchen, but they can still show their environmental stewardship.

Stephanie Brown, Sales Manager at Cabinetsmith /CanSave says environmental-friendliness is an area she continues to see increase in importance for homeowners. “We really want to make a change. We’re asking, ‘What impact do we have on the environment?’”

“When you see your kitchen sitting out in a dumpster you feel a little bit sick.”

She points to trends such as the setting up of small kitchen growing stations or indoor gardens, and increased concern around material harvesting and product lifecycle.

To that end, Cabinetsmith has invested its time and money into developing a new wood alternative for its EcoStyle cabinets. These MDF (medium-density fibreboard) cabinets are made from recycled wood fibre and burn clean, so there is no off-gassing. EcoStyle is some-what less expensive than wood and allows textures that would be unavailable (or too costly)in traditional wood cabinetry, Brown says.

“You can get cabinets that look like barn doors, for example. If you wanted to do that with wood, you’d be looking at reclaimed wood, and that would be extremely expensive.”

Brown is enthusiastic around the efforts her company and its customers are making. “It’s really exciting and encouraging.”