Vital signs

In the 1980s the cowboy signwriters peppered the retail landscape with quick and cheap vinyl solutions. Now the “designer sign” is fighting back.

You either love ’em or hate ’em: vinyl signs for shops. They are either the key that has opened up a new world for retailers – or they’re the beginning of the end. And the combinations of computer technology and vinyl sign supplies has led to a proliferation of sign-makers.

Bring up the subject of signs and computers to Pentagram partner, John McConnell, and he reveals his membership of the Luddite society – and he’s proud of it.

“The computer issue makes steam comes out of my ears,” says McConnell. “It’s staggering. These sign-makers seem to be totally inarticulate when it comes to the classic discipline of type. They ask you which typeface you want, punch Plantin into the machine, and what comes out is nothing like Plantin. It’s squodgy lettering, appalling letter-spaced. When you point it out, they look at you as if you’re from Mars and as if they’ve never heard of letter spacing. And when you come to line breaks! …”

He feels the sign industry is in danger of being taken over by “cowboys” with these machines producing signs often crude and unsophisticated, but cheap and quick. “The old boys had a love for lettering where as signmakers now are just a `cut-it-out-in-plastic’ brigade,” he adds.

It’s not computers he objects to, but lack of proper training. The sharp end of the stick for him is when operators argue that nobody notices a badly designed sign. “If the sign’s badly done, it tells a story to any lay person although they might not know what’s wrong.”

He wishes retailers would stop reinventing the signs wheel every ten minutes and gain the benefits of doing it well once, not doing it poorly six times. “Retailing is less transitory than it was in the 1980s when you did a shop, and then every three years, tore it out and did it again. Those days have gone.”

According to McConnell, in terms of sign-style, Britain is caught between the twin influences of Continental Europe and the US. “We’ve always benefited from being between the two – and nicking bit from each,” he suggests. Given a choice he admires the disciplined and ordered signs of Germany and Switzerland. “I enjoy their style because it’s so reassuring and secure, although I’d hate to die in Zurich because it’s so boring.”

Philip Burtenshaw subscribes to the same school of thought. Managing director of the family sign-maker, Opus Signs, he sees vinyl as the number one material for cheap and cheerful short-term promotional signs. He avoids the material where possible although he has to offer it for certain jobs such as “no ball games” notices for the local council. “You can’t get quality with vinyl. It’s there as a glossy, self-adhesive tacky material.”

Thankfully, he says, there are still clients who want quality signs – what he calls “designer” signs – stove-enamelled, aluminium letters, providing a more traditional look to shops. “Customers are asking for limed-oak facias and subtly illuminated enamelled signs with intricate screen-printing or detailing.”

Furniture giant IKEA does not commission external designers so design at each store is generated on site. The number of stores is growing so there’s a move to centralise activities such as silkscreen printing.

Kevin Beard, deco manager of IKEA’s latest store in Croydon, accepts that the company Scandinavian roots made the signs in its first UK stores too bland for local tastes. Now signs and designers are in tune with local audiences.

Although the base colours and typefaces have come from the IKEA trademark manual, the company’s philosophy is not carved in stone. Typfaces include Future Regular, New Century Schoolbook, Dom Casual, Times New Roman. “Our theme is red and blue – red labels and signs indicate that customers should seek help from store staff; blue is directional and for self-service purchases,” explains Beard. Outside of Sweden, store buildings are blue and yellow; in Sweden they’re red and white to avoid conflict with the national flag.

IKEA Croydon has 22 staff in its display and communication department – interior designers, display carpenters, graphic designers and sign and banner writers. Designers work on Apple Macs linked to vinyl-cutting machines running FlexiSIGN, Illustrator and Mac-Interiors. Some 60 percent of storesigns are cut from vinyl; the rest are A4 product communication and pricing tickets.

This move to self-sufficiency is something with which ex-retailer Paul King, and now-partner in M and K Design, sympathises. Designers, he says, should understand retailing. It’s hilarious, says King, that large design consultancies doing big retail projects don’t have the first idea what it is about. “They will design a `temple’ and then be offended when the retailer goes and slams a sale sign in the window. That ‘s what business is about.”

The 1980s proved a bananza for the design industry, he says. Now the recession will sort out the cowboys. Major retailers are querying whether they are gaining anything from a major refit, new signs or corporate identity change.

King divides signs into two classes – the “once up, stay up” permanent variety and the semi-permanent ones. It’s in this latter area that designers do clients a disservice.

“Just look at the number of red and white windows in London’s Oxford Street,” he explains. “Few designers appreciate the flexibility that retailers need to change signs. It’s critical that a permanent sign is not only visible but doesn’t fight what a retailer may do seasonally. Designers will create wonderful signs only to find at Christmas, or in a recession, retailers bang up a big red card that says “Sales”.

In the 1980s, King suggests, too many retailers were “design-cloned” and given exteriors in the same style. Many retailers suffered, losing their inherent imagery for the sake of style. “That’s not happening now. I love it when designers go on about what a bad time they’re having and how it’s caused by the recession. It was also they who caused it. Clients are a lot cleverer than they were and not as gullible. They’re saying: ‘Look, you say neon signs! What’s the point and where is the profit?’ Redesign fees are a third of what they were. Clients have learned a lot.”

Hardwood flooring finishes include water-based treatment

The “green revolution” has hit the home floor industry — and not a minute too soon. “The newest thing out now is a water-based finish that leaves your floor looking velvety,” says Dave Warrenchuk, owner of DMW Hardwood Floor, who works out of his home. “It’s a lot more environmentally friendly than the oil-based urethane. It’s like a latex paint.” A number of U.S. states have banned the use of toxic, potentially cancer causing solvent-based finishers. However, there are some advantages to using oil-based finishes, like making cracks disappear after your hardwood floor is sanded. “A cold winter and dry air will cause the floor boards to shift and the cracks to reappear,” says Warrenchuk, whose now-retired father was in the floor restoration business for 47 years. “But with an oil-based (finish) they won’t appear. With a water-based finish they will appear, but we can use a darker color.

It’s a problem – wood expands and contracts with dryness.” After applying the finish, Warrenchuk informs the homeowner about any existing and potential floor cracks. “Some people like the cracks because it adds character to the home,” he says. “The nice thing about a water-based finish is that it won’t hide the scratches, but it’s durable and easily maintained. Water based is used in newer homes, because the floors are tighter and there is less settling in the home.” Besides rejuvenating existing floors, Warrenchuk will also install brand new ones. It’s a process that can take him several days to complete. “Usually the material has to sit for seven to ten days (in the client’s house) to acclimatize itself to the environment,” says Warrenchuk, who also does fancy floor inlays of walnut or purple heart. “Wood has a moisture content of seven to ten per cent. And it has to match the moisture level of the home. We pile it in a room until it adjusts to the humidity level, otherwise it will expand or shrink.” After the wood has adapted to its new environment, Warrenchuk, who charges 90 cents per square foot, lays and then staples the individual planks across the sub-floor’s joists.

Then, he lets the other trades people complete their work (if it’s a complete home renovation) before finally sanding the new floor. As well, Warrenchuk can mechanically buff walnut, black, red or other staining colors on to the floor.

Like Warrenchuk, Emmanuels Flooring Ltd deals solely with hardwood floors. “I give customers an estimate and help them move all their furniture out, so all the rooms are empty,” says Gideon Kotulas, owner and manager of the company. “We charge by the square foot and by what kind of material we’re using (when resurfacing floors). The minimum charge is $250.” Depending on the type of wood used, installing a new floor runs from seven dollars to $14 per square foot.

Maybe your taste runs to vinyl or  Wood Flooring in Santa Cruz CA, rather than tile. Then Judy McGregor, manager of retail flooring may be of assistance.

Among other products, her store carries the new Mannington gold series vinyl flooring and fresh introductions from Armstrong products. “Flooring is now much more colorful than before when it was mostly white,” says McGregor, adding vinyl covering ranges from $9 to $53 per square yard. “From a design aspect, they’re a nice contrast to the white European cabinets. There has been a shift from a high gloss to a Mexican look in ceramic tiles, so you get a little bit of texture.” Bill Knight also installs new floor coverings, including hardwood. “Lots of people are yanking out their old carpets and refinishing the existing hardwood floors or installing brand new ones,” says McGregor, adding low maintenance, affordable, track-less carpets are currently fashionable.

Ceramic Tile is a natural for outdoors

While ceramic tile is much appreciated for kitchens, baths and other hard-working rooms around the house, it deserves to be better known for its usefulness outdoors.

Tile is made of clays, so it’s a natural material and perfect for the garden and yard, explains Peter Johnson, Jr., head of Summitville Tiles. In addition, ceramic tile requires little maintenance and its durability is well documented All over Europe, Asia and Africa one sees tile work that’s hundreds of years old.

Decks, patio, barbecues, fountains and walks are just a few of the garden features where tile can be used to great advantage.

We need to rethink the deck, says Johnson. Yes, it is nice to have an “outdoor living room”, but wood is getting scarcer, and it needs constant upkeep.

“A tiled patio makes much more sense. It will always look great, and it’ll only need occasional sweeping and hosing down.

Suitable products for patios, pool decks and walks included quarry tile and ceramic paving bricks.

COLOR SCHEMING

Today, quarry tiles come in many colors besides the well-known terra-cotta reds and browns, and that’s something to keep in mind when you plan your landscaping. For example, Summitville offers such variations as Palomino, Oxford Gray, Harbor Blue and Wintergreen.

They are all subtle and earthy, so they are easy to work into a garden scheme, and yet they challenge the imagination in the new ways.

According to Summitville, few people consider color coordination outdoors, but that’s precisely why professionally designed gardens look so glorious.

For instance, a patio and walk featuring sand-colored quarry tiles would be an interesting choice for a contemporary beach have surrounded by dunes and ornamental grasses. And Wintergreen, a soft sage green, would be the perfect background for color for a New England herb garden or, for that matter, for desert cacti and silvery succulent plants.

TILE CREATIVITY

For special design interest, two or more tile colors may be combined to form borders or patterns. This is a technique much used in the mosaics work of old-world artisans, but it is just as effective when larger sizes are used.

Actually, the effect is bolder and much more suitable for today’s home styles, explains Johnson. We find that increasing numbers of landscape designers employ this technique, and there’s no reason why handy do-it-yourselfers shouldn’t give it a try as well.

A border outlining a patio is enough to set it apart from any other on the block. Over-all designs are easy to come by, too. For example, folkloric designs abound these days. You can find them in rugs, wallpaper and fabrics, and since they are usually based on geometric motifs, they are quite easy to adapt to tile patterns.

However, Summitville’s designers warn against using a lot of vivid colors and overly busy patterns.

Remember, your tile patio is almost certain to last as long as your house, they say. You’re safe with soft colors like those featured in Summitvile’s quarry tiles, but an over-abundance of strong color and pattern will tire the eye after a while.

TILED POOLS AND TUBS

But don’t limit-backyard tile use to walks and patios. How about a tiled hot tub? The advantage of creating it in tie is that the tub can be any shape, size and color. Or how about a small garden pool for water lilies or fish? Remember, water features are endlessly fascinating and landscape designers agree that they tend to cool sultry summer months.

Tiling the barbecue pit makes a lot of sense. Here, glazed tile is in order, for you want a surface that will shun grease and wipe clean with the swipe of a sponge.

Choosing the best kitchen flooring

The three most common flooring types used in kitchens are vinyl, tile and wood. Flooring should be easy to clean and durable. It should also complement your kitchen cabinets while, at the same time, blend with adjacent rooms.

Vinyl: One of the most popular kitchen flooring materials on the market, it’s durable, soft under foot and comes in a variety of patterns, colors and textures. Vinyl comes in either sheet form or tiles. In most cases, sheet vinyls should be installed professionally. A skilled installer will be able to make unwanted seams disappear. When comparing prices, be sure to compare apples to apples. Ask the dealer – Tallahassee floor store about thickness and the wear layer or number of top coats. Try not to settle for less than a 10-millimetre topcoat as this affects the tile’s life expectancy.

Wood: Oak’s durability makes it the most popular wood floor on the market. A pine floor, however, works in a country setting as dents give it character. Other woods available are walnut, ash, cherry and maple. Strip floors are the most economical wood floors and are usually made of 2 1/4-inch slats. Wider strips, known as planks, come in many widths and typically suit pine. Try adding variety by varying the widths. Parquet floors are wood pieces glued together in patterns. The most common patterns are herringbone and block. Again, add variety by mixing dark and light stained pieces to form a pattern. There are many stains and finishes available that allow you to customize the floor to your decor. To cut down on cleaning and waxing, look into polyurethane. This finish forms a hard, transparent coating that protects wood from the daily wear and tear associated with the kitchen.

Tile: Ceramic tile has many advantages due to the variety of colors, sizes, shapes and textures. It’s easy to maintain, almost impossible to damage and can make a dramatic statement. A pattern can be designed throughout the entire space using a combination of colors, shapes or sizes or you can design a floor using plain tile throughout with accent tiles as a border. The same floor design can be worked into the backsplash and counter top on a lesser scale or by simply reversing it. For example, if you want a green floor with blue accents, use a blue counter top with green accents.

Kitchen remodeling as a multipurpose family room

What if your tired old kitchen’s heartbeat is weaker than it should be? Is it financially prudent to remodel? And, if you do decide to remodel, how can you design a kitchen that works well today and into the 21st century?

For starters, take heart if you’re living in an older home with a 1950s-era “Leave It to Beaver” kitchen, because you’re far from alone. According to the U.S. Census, more than 60 percent of American homes are now more than 20 years old. For the first time in U.S. history, more money is being spent on home improvements than on new home construction, and a dated kitchen is an ideal room for improvement.

Furthermore, renovating a kitchen is one of the smartest ways for a homeowner to spend his or her remodeling dollars. In its annual cost vs. value survey, Remodeling Magazine reports that within one year of a professional kitchen remodel in a mid-priced home in an established neighborhood, a minor project would recoup 104 percent of its cost upon resale. Under the same circumstances, a major kitchen remodel would recoup 95 percent of its cost.

As for design trends that will take you and your kitchen into the future,  Jim Krengel, a kitchen guru, suggested thinking of your kitchen as a multipurpose family room – a casual, comfortable, unpretentious place for family and friends to congregate.

Casual is the word to remember, he said.

“We have casual workday attire now, and we’re getting more casual in our interior decoration, too. Remember the formal dining room? It got used maybe two or three times a year. What a waste of space.”

Casual doesn’t mean bland or uninspiring. For sheer impact, Krengel advocates a healthy dose of color, the “forgotten element” in good kitchen design.

“People are afraid to put color into their kitchen,” he said. “They want to stay with safe, boring colors because they don’t realize that the right colors reflect favorably on food. Red, for example, stimulates the appetite, while blue gives a harsh cast to food.”

Krengel feels soft earth tones are making a comeback to the kitchen, but not the saturated golds and avocados of the 1960s.

He is excited about the two-tone concept, which he said is one of today’s leading kitchen trends and a look that is going to be around for a long time.

The two-tone concept means moldings or trim on cabinets are painted in different hues. For example, natural maple cabinets are accented with burgundy trim or, in another scenario, lipstick red and shiny black laminate cabinets share the spotlight with wood and glass.

“The two-tone concept allows cabinets and work stations to stand apart from their ‘neighbors,’ ” he said.

Cabinets are the most dominant as well as the most expensive element in the design equation. To offset the high cost of cabinets, Krengel suggested using standard-stock cabinets in unorthodox ways.

“Stagger the heights of cabinets instead of lining them all up,” he advised. “Or place a base cabinet forward a bit.”

To give standard cabinets the look of furniture, he recommended replacing a door front here and there with a glass insert. (If you use glass doors on bottom cabinets, remember to use safety glass so that tykes on bikes won’t have accidents.)

Glass cabinets dress up any kitchen, providing you are the neat type. If not, forget the glass option.

“A colorful box of Cap’n Crunch cereal looks great behind a glass door, but an open box of pitted prunes may not be so appetizing to look at,” Krengel said.

Krengel’s kitchen pet peeve is vinyl flooring, followed closely by ceramic floors.

“Vinyl is constantly pretending to be something else,” he said. “And ceramic is hard on the feet — not to mention a baby’s knees — and everything that’s dropped on it breaks.”

His solution is natural wood floors, which he dubs a forever floor.

“Wood floors are big in the Midwest,” he said. “Even if they get scratched, it’s part of their beauty and patina. But if you’re unhappy with the scratches, you can always refinish your wood floor.”

Krengel is delighted with the new wood laminates, too, saying they often wear better than wood.

Construction tips from king of the sand castle

he reason I noticed this was because I had forgotten my own folding shovel, and wasn’t digging myself.

For me, a trip to the beach isn’t complete without making a sand castle. When the kids were younger, they would join me in making ramps, doorways, tunnels and moats. When the channel to the water was complete, the waves would rush in, filling the moat and eroding our creation.

As the kids grew older, I suspect they might have thought that Dad, sitting in the sand, dribbling wet sand out of a cardboard cup, had lost his marbles.

But I don’t mind. There’s a fascination with making something from sand that still attracts me, even if my castles are rudimentary or misshapen.

Maybe it’s a bid by an aging boomer to recapture some of the joy of youth. Maybe it’s the visceral thrill of creating something so fleeting. Maybe it’s a form of artistic expression.

It’s the artistic expression that draws Todd Vander Pluym, of Redondo Beach, Calif. At 55, you’d think he was too old to be playing in the sand, but after winning 188 of the 194 sand-sculpture competitions he’s entered, he parlayed sand sculpture into a full-time job, doing “installations” at fairs, malls and events across the continent.

“It’s man’s oldest art form, done since Neanderthal times,” he said from Cincinatti, on a break between jobs. “Ramses II used sand sculpture. Da Vinci used sand sculpture.”

Really.

“I think about one-third of the population is the visual builder type. They enjoy putting things together. Sand is an easy medium to work with. You just have to have the desire.”

Assuming you have the desire, here are sand sculpting tips from an expert.

You need the right sand. Pick up damp sand and squeeze the water out. Then open your hand. If it rocks back and forth in one piece, it’s good. If it breaks in two, it’s OK. If it breaks in many pieces or sticks to your hand, you’re in the wrong place.

To give yourself sculptable sand, cut the bottom from a five-gallon bucket. Invert the bucket firmly in the sand and pour in water. Then shovel in sand, and pack it down with a two-by-four until you meet resistance.

Add more water and more sand, repeating the procedure until you are about one inch short of the opening. Then slide the bucket off, with a helper tapping the sides to free the sand. You can use anything up to a 55-gallon trash can, but you’ll need a team to remove that.

Vander Pluym says that, undisturbed, this sand will last for years, but his explanation — involving capillary water action, the sand’s pendular state and the positive ionization of the sand particles — will make your head hurt. Just take him at his word.

Sculpting tools can be “anything that works. Just don’t take anything you want to keep.” Melon scoops are good for the notches under parapets, cake-decorating spatulas are good for sharp edges. A spray bottle with an ample supply of tap water (grit will clog the nozzle) is essential.

Dribble castles are fun for kids and adults. Cut the bottom from a plastic jug and drill a one-quarter inch hole in the cap. With your finger over the hole in the cap, half-fill the jug with water and half-fill with sand, leaving water standing at the top. Then take your finger off the hole to let the sand dribble out.

You can hand-build a castle by having your supply of wet sand one second away from the building site. Make a large sand egg in your hand and quickly lay it in position, like brick-laying. Or use both hands to make a hamburg patty shape and pile one atop the other to make a tall conical tower.

Just don’t move the shape once it’s placed.

Remington sculpture is very beautiful art form, that crosses all ages, races and religions,” says the expert. “It is a totally reusable resource, that takes nothing away from the earth, but leaves a visual pleasure.”

And if it’s OK for Ramses II and da Vinci to play in the sand, it’s OK for you, too.

Ideas for Great Kitchens

How the kitchen looks, how it greets you each morning and its functionality are important. That’s why paying attention to details such as kitchen cabinets reaps such great rewards. Just as a friendly smile is welcoming, so to are handsome kitchen cabinets.

This week, we’ll show you how to choose the best quality cabinets that you can reasonably afford. We’ll do this as we review the book, Ideas for Great Kitchens.

Cabinets are generally manufactured and sold in three different ways. The type you choose will affect both the cost and appearance of your finished kitchen.

Stock cabinets are mass produced, standard-sized cabinets. While purchased “off the shelf,” you can always specify door styles, the direction they swing as well as finishing details.

Custom cabinets are, in turn, more expensive. Made by professional cabinet makers, these cabinets can accommodate non-standard configurations and complexities that can’t be handled with stock modular cabinets.

Custom “modular” cabinets combine the best of both worlds. While still manufactured, they are of a higher grade and offer more design flexibility than stock cabinets.

Whichever model you choose, you must still judge for quality. While not always easy, you can usually look to a cabinet’s drawers to find elements of fine workmanship. Literally a cabinet within a cabinet, drawers take a greater beating than any other cabinet component. As such, they offer the first signs of sub-standard quality.

Look for drawer guides that run smoothly. Check that the drawers are properly aligned and make note of whether or not they fully or only partially open.

Because cabinet costs can vary so greatly, determine a budget before shopping. You’ll quickly find a range of cabinets whose prices you can afford. You can then begin judging for quality and looking for a style that suits you and your kitchen.

For other great kitchen renovation ideas, read our book, Ideas for Great Kitchens. Its 96 pages include design basics, measuring guidelines, actual case studies from 18 remodeled kitchens as well as a shopper’s guide for everything from cabinets to counter tops.

If you plan to do much of the renovation work yourself, ask for our book, the Kitchen Remodeling Handbook. It will guide you through even the most complete kitchen makeover.

Quick kitchen cures

Looking for ways to dress up your kitchen quickly for far less than the cost of a complete makeover?

Here are three tips to do just that. All are taken from one book, Ideas for Great Kitchens. n Replace a counter top. Counter tops are not only the most used and abused aspect of any kitchen, they also go a long way in giving your kitchen character. For example, while wooden counter tops provide a warm country feel, white counter tops are known to liven up a dull kitchen. n Change your lights, both for practical and esthetic reasons. Use large bright lights for cooking but switch to soft track lighting or under the cabinet lighting to accent the style of your kitchen when all the cooking and cleaning is done. n Change floors. Linoleum flooring is now available in all sorts of designer styles. Wood flooring provides added comfort for long days spent standing in the kitchen, for more information, please visit this website.

Beautiful kitchen cabinets can completely update a tired, old kitchen.

Home design tips

Made in the shade: Shading fabrics for windows used to be pretty predictable. You could almost always count on them being ugly. But all that’s changed.
New, pleated-shade fabrics provide a wide array of choices. Advanced techniques in printing, weaving and pleating have given people affordable options in color, texture and fabric.
The Mystic Moods collection from Hunter Douglas, for example, features a semi-opaque shade with a random open weave and a texture that appears embossed. Viewed from indoors, one can see the fabric’s highlights across the surface as sunlight seeps through the small openings in the shade. A glowing effect is achieved.

Want to add the elegant look of marble to your home but can’t afford to do the floor of an entire room? Go small. The powder room. It won’t take much marble flooring to create the impression you’re looking for. Please, Follow This Link.

Lighting up: So you spend countless hours working in your yard only to watch it fade to nothing as the sun goes down.
By nightlighting your yard or garden, you can transform it into a place of beauty even if the sun has decided to call it quits for the day.
Lighting trees, shrubs, and flowers brings out their color, form and texture, and brings an air of magic and excitement to any landscape after dark.
Landscape lighting increases the number of pleasurable hours you spend outdoors, enhances the beauty of your property and makes your home safer and more secure. Plus, it’s an investment.

Renovating your Kitchen on a Budget

Kitchens and bathrooms are the most common targets of the remodeling homeowner’s gaze. They are the most expensive rooms to do because of appliances and fixtures.

A good rule of thumb for a total kitchen renovation is stay within 10 to 12 percent of the home’s market value. Remodeling magazine said the best kitchens were those with lots of light to make the space appear larger.

With good quality materials and appliances, a kitchen should last for 20 years but your taste will probably change halfway through. Since fashion colors may change before an appliance wears out, some decorators suggest neutral colors such as white or washed aluminum.

“You can update a kitchen with new countertops or by changing cabinet doors,” said Burgin Barousse of J. Burgin Barousse Interior Design in Metairie. A coat of industrial paint on the existing cabinets can give a facelift too.

New countertops – granite and tile are popular choices – or floor covering can update a kitchen too, explore more. Barousse prefers ceramic sinks although stainless steel is easier to clean because you don’t have to worry about scratches.

Among countertops and cabinets there are major variations in price. Cabinet prices vary according to the type of material they’re made of from including high-pressure laminates to woods – oak, hickory and cherry, said Jerry Keller, manager of Singer Kitchens and Baths in the Lake Forest Plaza.

Priced at $11 a linear foot plastic laminate countertops are the most popular, Keller said. Compare Corian at about $100 per foot or granite at $150 to $175 a foot. Appliances come in a wide range of prices, but generally homeowners have been out of the appliance-buying market for so long they go through sticker shock when they start to shop around.

Installation is available but many customers hang their own cabinets with diagrams supplied by Singer, Keller said.

Creating a Bathroom Oasis

When it comes to bathrooms, the overriding factor is personal taste. Older bathrooms are often tiny, akin to tiled closets. Homeowners – especially younger couples – want lush and lavish surroundings, but that requires more room. Mirrors and marble have crept in where four-inch tile once sufficed.

The extra space for such an oasis can come from a closet in a neighboring room. Some people fold two bedrooms in with a bath to create a master suite complete with walk-in closet. It is good to try and keep the addition within the existing structure when you can, but some homeowners have added onto the house to accommodate a larger bath.

For those who cannot expand into other rooms, there are whirlpool baths that will fit the space presently occupied by standard 30-by-60 tub, said Lisa Trouth, a showroom consultant at LCR Plumbing Supply in Gentilly. Whirlpool baths are becoming routine in new construction.

In existing houses, it may not be possible to bring a preformed shower enclosure into the house. But there are seamed enclosures that arrive in parts and can be assembled inside the bathroom, she said.

When it comes to fixtures, price depends mostly on manufacturer and color. But color preferences change according to the women’s ready-to-wear fashions.

So rather than get a tub or toilet in the latest color, Trouth suggests using color as accent tile or trim. Despite the myriad offerings, the most popular colors are still white, gold and silver gray because they are so neutral, Trouth said.

Four-inch tile is popular again for walls as well as man-made marble. The same color tile can be available in glossy version for walls and non-skid finish for floors, please follow link.

Whatever your decision, remember: The kitchen and bathrooms are probably two rooms potential homebuyers scrutinize most.