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.

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