Friday, January 28, 2011

10 Tips For Small Kitchens

  Thanks to our Twitter friend @kitchenviews, we were turned on to this 2009 article with some pretty great, and easily applied design tips for small kitchens. Many of these ideas we apply to AK kitchens of ALL sizes - things such as custom cabinetry (shelving & roll-outs) and playing with color and contrasting elements. Thanks to Gold Notes for the great post, we're happy to share it!

Sensible Style: 10 Small Kitchen Tips 

Part One - How to maximize your storage capacity

Small kitchens never seem to have enough cupboard space for all the items their owners want to store. After carefully culling to make sure you're only storing regularly-used cooking, meal preparation and clean-up gear in your kitchen, you can increase your storage capacity in several ways.

Tip #1 - Use your backsplash

Backsplashes offer dozens of square feet of untapped storage potential. Usually considered only for decorative purposes, these 18 inch spans between your countertops and wall cabinets can be put to great use as zoned, organized storage. For example, you can clear some counter space by installing a backsplash-mounted utensil crock near your cooktop. You could also mount a spice organizer in your meal prep zone, freeing up some cabinet storage.

Backsplash organizers, like these from Ikea, take advantage of untapped space in your kitchen and free up countertops and cabinet space.
Tip #2: Use empty walls or ceiling space

Even small kitchens typically have an unused wall or ceiling space above a peninsula that can be tapped for additional storage. By adding a pot rack to your kitchen, you can free up base cabinet space that would otherwise hold your cookware. There are racks available in almost any style and size to accommodate your needs. Small kitchens typically lack islands, but a peninsula housing a cooktop can be a good spot to tap into added storage potential.
This wall-mounted pot rack by Enclume lets you take advantage of unused wall space in your kitchen for both hanging and shelf top storage.

Tip #3: Use the back of doors

Another way to add organization and storage capacity to your kitchen is to install accessories on the backs of doors. For example, you can hang an organizer for your cleaning supplies on the back of the cabinet holding your sink. Additionally, you can add pantry capacity by putting a canned goods or food wrap holder on the back of its door. There are numerous options that can add to your kitchen's efficiency, as well as its storage potential.

Tip #4: Get Rollin'

Replace base cabinet half shelves with full-depth roll-out trays. Most builder-installed base cabinets have a shelf halfway between the bottom and top that is only about 12 inches deep. This means that a good amount of storage space is unusable. Replace this half shelf with a roll-out tray and you could gain close to 25 percent more storage capacity in that cabinet. This tip works best with cabinets 18 inches or wider. (Narrower cabinets can benefit from replacing the half shelf with one or two dividers to store flat items like trays, cutting boards, pizza stones or cookie sheets vertically.)

Increase base cabinet storage by up to 25 percent with roll-out trays.

Tip #5: Add baskets

If you have at least eight inches between your wall cabinets and your ceiling, you can add storage capacity - and style! - to your kitchen with decorative baskets. Shelf baskets can easily accommodate small items that you want to keep in the kitchen area, but don't use on a daily basis. They can add a splash of color or neutral texture, depending on the look that works best with your space.

Baskets can add style and storage to your kitchen in a wide range of colors and textures. This selection is available at Michael's.

Part Two - How to make a small kitchen look great

Tip #6: Minimize contrasts

Compact kitchens tend to look smaller and choppier when there are too many colors and patterns running through them. Minimizing contrasts, on the other hand, makes them feel airier and spacious. You can achieve this effect by selecting solid-colored countertops, for example, and maple or painted cabinets, rather than oak, hickory or glazed finishes.

This New York City condo kitchen looks larger because its base cabinets match its flooring and its countertops, appliances and wall cabinet frames all coordinate to minimize contrasts.

Tip #7: Add glass

Replacing solid door fronts on your wall cabinets with glass fronts can also make your small kitchen look larger and brighter. To enhance the space-enhancing effect, you can paint the insides of your cabinets the same color as your walls.

This kitchen by Westlake Village, Cal. designer Laurie Burke looks larger and brighter, thanks to its glass-fronted wall cabinets.

Tip #8: Light it up

Kitchens look better - and bigger! - with great lighting. When I take on a kitchen design project for my clients, I always look for every opportunity to add lights to the space. This includes ceiling-mounted fixtures or recessed cans, under-cabinet lighting and, where applicable, island or peninsula lighting. Sometimes, above-cabinet and in-cabinet accent lighting are also applied. This layered approach to lighting makes working in the space easier and safer. It also enhances the beauty of your countertops, cabinets and flooring.

This small kitchen by Arlington, Va.-based Kitchen & Bath Factory features three layers of lighting, plus natural rays streaming in the large windows, to enhance its beauty and spaciousness.

Tip #9: Open it up

Open shelving can make a small kitchen feel larger, too. It also shows off your pretty serve ware, making it a well-deserved element in your room's style. One other organization benefit offered by open shelving is making it quicker and easier to find things in your kitchen!

Small kitchens like this one look larger with open shelves, rather than closed wall cabinets.

Tip #10: Minimize countertop clutter

Countertops loaded with accessories and other items will make your kitchen look cramped and cluttered. That's why real estate agents always advise you to minimize what sits on your tops when you list your home for sale. Larger kitchens are more appealing to home buyers - and homeowners! The backsplash system, storage baskets and door organizers will help in reducing countertop population. So will prioritizing the small appliances that need to remain accessible. For example, if you only serve coffee when guests arrive, keep the coffee maker in a remote storage area when you're not entertaining.

Minimal countertop clutter makes this petite kitchen from the National Kitchen & Bath Association Inspiration Gallery look larger!

Looking For Design Or Renovation Help For Your Kitchen? Small Or Not, AK Complete Home Renovations Can Help:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The REAL Way To Use Social Media Effectively

  I've always thought that no one stayed in touch with past clients better than real estate agents. This thought was probably formed early as I moved several times during my childhood and adolescence and had the opportunity to know many agents. But even beyond that, my idea continues to be supported by my interactions today. While visiting my parent's home at Christmas I saw they had received a personal Christmas card from a real estate agent who sold them their second home - 30 years ago!
    Then I had a real "wow!" moment. 

Beverly Fenello
    My husband and I purchased our home a little more than five years ago. We worked with an incredibly sweet real estate agent, Beverly Fenello, here in Georgia and were very satisfied with our experience. We would have been happy to recommend her to a friend and we knew someday when we sold our house we would look her up; but, beyond that we didn't think much more of the relationship. Sure, we got cards in the mail from her, listing and comp information and even a Starbucks gift card once - yummy! But that was just good marketing. She was just trying to keep her name "top of mind," right? Another real estate agent doing a great job of keeping in touch!
     Until Beverly connected with me on Facebook. We connected from both of our personal Facebook accounts, where I keep in touch with old friends and far away family and don't get into any business. Several months back I announced on my Facebook account that my husband and I were expecting our second baby. I got many congratulations posts, and one of them was from Beverly. But I didn't have my "wow!" moment until a few days later when I received a card in the mail. When I opened it I saw a cute picture of yellow baby booties and the big words "Congratulations!" I had only received two other cards and was curious to see which of our family this was from. It was from Beverly!
     Beverly, our sweet real estate agent who I had not seen or talked to for over five years had used her connection with me on Facebook to help us celebrate a very personal moment in our family's life. She had used social media to connect personally with her client - not just online, not in email, but much deeper than that! This is the REAL way to use social media effectively. Though it's tempting, Facebook and Twitter should not just be ways for businesses to push their message. The effective way to use these resources is to listen. Listening to what her clients had to say about their lives is what made Beverly my new social media hero.
      For Beverly it was not strategy - it really just came naturally. But for those of us who don't have the inherently sweet disposition, we can purposely develop a blueprint that will yield the same results.
  • Respond and interact more than you "update"
  • Take information you've learned about your clients on social media and use it outside of social media
    • Is your client looking for a plumber but you're an architect? Email or call them with a referral to a trustworthy professional plumber you may know. Your selflessness won't go un-noticed.
  • Be like Beverly! Send out cards (snail mail cards!) when your clients announce they are engaged, married, expecting, moving, etc. These are tangible proof that you're listening and you care.
  And for anyone who may be looking for a real estate agent in or around Atlanta, might I suggest someone who is a great listener? Find Beverly Fenello @
-This blog was written by AK's Marketing Communications Manager, Emily Smith-

Friday, January 21, 2011

Kitchen Design Ideas For 2011

 Builder Magazine Online published a list of 20 Kitchen Design Ideas, compiled by Jenny Sullivan. It caught our eye because many of the principles are things that AK has been incorporating into our designs for years, specifically multiple prep areas, universal design, color & contrast and function first! We agree that these concepts will continue to be at the forefront of kitchen design for 2011 and for years to come!
  Check out Builder's list of Kitchen Design Ideas for 2011 below and let us know what you think. (All photos by AK)

Houses are shrinking in the recessionary economy, but kitchens? Not so much. As other rooms are eliminated from downsized plans, their functions are naturally migrating to the kitchen, placing more pressure than ever on this culinary zone to perform double or triple duty as the home’s primary living space. Flexibility is a must in open areas that are used not only for cooking, but also dining, entertaining, homework, family time, and even telecommuting.  Thrift is also a virtue. And there are other ingredients in the mix, too. Aging baby boomers, sustainability, health consciousness, stricter energy regulations, new technologies, and the rise of the single woman buyer are all factors shaping kitchen aesthetics and functionality today. These were just a few of the observations noted by kitchen designers Mary Jo Peterson and MaryJo Camp, and architect Doug Van Lerberghe in a January 13 session on “Reinventing the Kitchen” at the International Builder’s Show in Orlando, Fla. They offered these timely tips for creating kitchens that shine in today’s market.

1. Prepare for prep. Sinks aren’t just for doing dishes anymore. As core prep areas, they are best when accessorized with trash and composting within reach, adjacent work surfaces, and motion sensor faucets for dirty hands. When it comes to functionality, large single bowls are more versatile than double wells. And if the budget allows, provide more than one sink.  "As we go up in size, the first thing we want two of in the kitchen is sinks," Peterson said. "That allows two cooks to work simultaneously in the space."
2. Design for all. Baby boomers may not like being reminded of their age and may bristle at the term "accessible design," but they will love you for creating a kitchen that simply feels better and works better. Consider making universal design features such as right-height appliances, ergonomic hardware, user-friendly task lighting, and reachable storage part of your standard practice.  At the end of the day, universal design is simply a synonymn for good, smart design that benefits every user. And when it’s done well, it’s transparent.
3. Work with what you've got. Don't fall for the "gotta have it" mentality and feel obligated to cram certain features into a kitchen space that can't accommodate them. Be mindful of the room dimensions. If the kitchen is a skinny one, a peninsula may work better than a puny island, and a thoughtfully appointed pantry with French doors will feel less cramped than a walk-in. Maximize all available cavities with pull-out shelves, racks, and drawers that are easy to access—preferably at the point of use when possible.
4. Get some green. Even if you don’t have the budget for full-on solar or a geothermal loop system, small choices in the kitchen can make a difference—particularly when there’s a payback for the homeowner in the way of energy savings or health.  Look into WaterSense plumbing fixtures, Energy Star-rated appliances, and recycled or rapidly renewable materials such as bamboo, cork, or quartz composite.
5. Enter growth mode.  The local food movement is gaining traction—and there’s nothing more local than a window box herb garden or a tomato grown in a planter just outside a homeowner's kitchen door. If you have an opportunity to provide built-in garden space, do so. It’s not expensive, and green-thumbed buyers will appreciate the gesture. 
6. Speak with an accent. It goes without saying that memorable spaces have personality. Does your kitchen design go beyond plain vanilla? If not, identify a focal point such as an island, vent hood, or picture window and emphasize it with a unique color, special lighting, or a change in finish.  That kind of attention to detail will make the space more unique and memorable.
7. Try new hues. “Color alleviates monotony and is a wonderful, inexpensive way to make a statement,” said Peterson. To spice things up, try a little variable color blocking in your cabinets and/or island. Mix natural woods with paints or stains in muted colors such as violet, navy, yellow, or beige. For accents, try a dash of turquoise, orange, raspberry, tomato red, or grass green. 
8. Go for contrast.  Not into color? You can also create sophisticated spaces with strong juxtapositions of light/dark, matte/shine, and smooth/texture in your cabinetry, flooring, countertops, and backsplashes. “Multiple, compatible, smooth countertop surfaces are best coupled with textured backsplashes,” Camp advises. Black and white is an ever-classic combo, but you can also achieve a similar affect with cream and chocolate brown. “Today we are seeing texture and depth replacing layered glazes,” Peterson said. Visual brushstrokes and surfaces with an aged, distressed look are popular.
9. Make short and long-term decisions. Being trendy is okay, but be strategic about it. Take risks with finishes and materials that can be easily and economically swapped out at a later date, such as paint colors, furniture, upholstery, or cabinet hardware. Keep the permanent stuff more neutral. A purple appliance is a 10- to 20-year investment, but a purple wall doesn’t have to be.
10. Warm it up.  Homeowners are entertaining more at home these days and they want spaces that feel welcoming, not sterile. So it's no surprise that Craftsman style is a current favorite, given its emphasis on craftsmanship and natural materials. Sinks and faucets finished in matte and warmer artisan finishes such as bronze, copper, and brass are making a comeback, too.
11. Exercise restraint. If your kitchen is graced with a dramatic feature such as exposed ceiling structure, a veiny countertop stone, or wood cabinetry with a pronounced grain, keep everything else simple and give that element space to breathe. “If your reclaimed wood floors are full of character, don’t make them compete for attention,” Camp said.
12. Simplify it. Traditional looks never quite go out of style, but their nuances do ebb and flow with economic tides. Today's idea of "traditional" is all about cleaner lines with minimal ornamentation and lots of white. “People are looking at heritage in a new way,” Camp observed.  Old World features such as heavy corbels and raised island bars are being traded for simpler elements such as crisp painted bead board, picture rail, and single height islands.
13. Put function first. People naturally congregate in the kitchen, and this tendency has only increased now that kitchens are intended as entertainment hubs. Be generous with clearances, allowing a minimum of 42 inches for work galleys (preferably 48 inches) and 36 inches for passage. And be sure to think about gathering space.  If your house has no formal dining room, consider a built-in banquette or bar seating in the kitchen.  Just avoid the “crows in a line” mistake of putting all of the seats in a row facing the same direction, Van Lerberghe advised.
14. Think portable. For maximum flexibility in a small kitchen, make this movable.  Put dining tables (or even the island) on casters that can be rolled and repositioned during parties. Or eliminate one small section of base cabinets so that a chair on casters can be pushed under the countertop to create a laptop station. Build as many multiple uses into the space as possible. 
15. Multitask your appliances. If space is limited, consider appliances that perform more than one function, such as the oven that is both microwave and convection, or the fridge with flexible drawers that can be separately programmed for refrigeration, freezer, or storage space, depending on user needs.
16. Accentuate the positive.  If your budget is meager, the worst thing you can do is to skimp on everything unilaterally. Create a design hierarchy and spend accordingly.  Identify one or two pulse points in the space and put higher priced finishes there.  For example, go for the expensive tile in the backsplash, but then complement it with a less expensive field tile elsewhere.  
17. Look for savings. There are ways to achieve the look of high design without the high price tag. A counter-depth free-standing refrigerator, for example, will cost thousands of dollars less than a built-in fridge but offer a similar visual effect. Plastic laminates made with photos of natural stone look like granite at a fraction of the cost. Smart lighting choices can also be cost savers. “An Energy Star CFL bulb will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about 6 months,” Camp pointed out.  “It uses 75% less energy and lasts about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb.”
18. Lighten Up. For maximum ambiance and functionality, be sure to layer ambient, task, and accent lighting. Install the antique chandelier or cascading blown glass fixture for style, but then augment in spots that are closer to the action with undermount cabinet and task lighting. And have some fun. “Small LEDs installed in the toe-kick area are fun and can also be used as a night light,” Camp said. Just be sure to pay attention to the temperature of the light. “The color rendering index (CRI), which operates on a scale of 1 to 100, indicates how well lighting renders eight standard colors,” she explained. “A lamp with a CRI of 80 is better than one with a CRI of 50.” Check the CRI before you buy.
19. Embrace nature. If your kitchen and great room open onto a patio or other outdoor living space, create harmony by using some of the same materials both inside and out—such as continuous surface floor tiles, brick, or even concrete block.  To create visual connections, you can also specify natural colors and materials in the kitchen that evoke the colors and textures of the landscape outside, such as natural wood and stone.
20. Go ahead, splurge. A small thing of beauty or a tiny indulgence can have an amazing psychological impact in a time of recession. It isn't wise for homeowners to spend beyond their means, but if you can value engineer or trim costs and put a little more toward one precious item that resonates, do it.  Perhaps it's a small wine fridge, vintage drawer pulls, or a reclaimed wide plank wood floor.  The kitchen with a little dash of character is more likely to sell than the one with the plain jane scheme that takes no risks at all.

Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor covering architecture and design for BUILDER.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Moen's The Evolution of Cabinetry and Flooring

 Thank you to Moen and to writer Pat Curry for recognizing AK. We're always happy to participate in your professional and topical articles!

The Evolution of Cabinetry and Flooring
New material options highlight value and sustainability.

There are two big items customers want built into their homes these days -- value and sustainability. New materials in cabinetry and flooring are helping contractors and designers satisfy both demands. Here's a quick look at some evolutionary ideas and innovations in both categories.

Renewable and faux woods
Stock kitchen cabinets now offer more choices in renewable woods. One example is alder, a member of the birch family that has a cherry-like grain and holds a rich, dark stain much like cherry does -- in fact, it's sometimes called "poor man's cherry." "It's less expensive than cherry, but the average person can walk into a kitchen and not tell the difference," says Emily Smith, marketing communications manager for AK Complete Home Renovations in Marietta, Ga.
Alder often is available with a number of glaze and distressing options, which can help break up the visual 'blockiness' of a large run of cabinets. One potential drawback to alder: It's somewhat softer than cherry, making it slightly more prone to dents or scratches.
If you’re building or ordering custom cabinets for your client, newer eco-friendly options include products crafted from Dakota burl, Kirei board and Durapalm. All three are derived from agricultural waste products -- namely, sunflower seed husks, sorghum stalks and coconut or sugar palms past their fruit-bearing years, respectively.

Flooring finds
Underfoot, today's customers seem to value a combination of sustainability and stain resistance, says Michelle Giguere, lead designer for Mathew Hall, a building materials supplier based in St. Cloud, Minn.
Shaw Flooring is using a new fiber technology in its Anso nylon carpet that makes the fiber "super soft," according Shaw spokesperson Mollie Surrat. "You can take a nap on it," Surrat says. The material is made from 25 percent recycled carpet and features Shaw's R2X stain-resistant sealer. (It stood up to the torture of the world's largest pie fight in January.)
Scratching is a concern among consumers looking at hardwood floors. Surrat notes that Shaw finishes all of its hardwoods with ScufResist Platinum finish. "It's a miracle product," she says. "I have it in my own home. High heels, pets -- it resists all those kinds of scuff marks."
On the other hand, and in an ironic twist, Giguere says hand-scraped floors are gaining in popularity. "It already looks beat up, so the drop of a can or the scratch of a toy doesn't matter," she says. Hand-scraped floors feature the same polyurethane and aluminum oxide finish as other hardwood floors, making them easy to clean.
In vinyl flooring, Giguere says she's impressed with a new class of luxury products (an example is the Karndean line,) that mimics other materials, including wood, marble, slate and mosaic tile. "They're just stunning," she says. "I'm using it a lot in basement finishes. People are getting that warm look on their concrete. It's warmer, it's quieter, it's very usable and it looks great."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Warm It Up: Fireplaces

 It's a snowy day in Atlanta. It's a site us southerners are not used to! It's beautiful and confusing for us warm weather junkies. It may be one of the first times many of us have used our fireplaces, which got us to thinking about these indoor centers for burning wood. What is so great about them? If we rarely use them, do we really need them? The answer is a resounding "Yes!" says that for the best resale value an home "absolutely must have" a fireplace in the family room. Nigel Kelly, a freelance writer out of LA, also wrote about them, "the offer you receive for your home from potential buyers could be impacted by the small details in the interior. A great looking fireplace can turn even the most drab, boring room into a picture pretty space."
  A fireplace, and all it's accouterments, also make a great focal point for a room - from a design perspective. Let's look at some fireplace inspiration from those who have really made their hearth the heart of the room!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wacky Kitchen Products

 We love these wacky kitchen products from This Old House! Which one do you think is the craziest?

  • The Pizza Saw
"Sure you could use a run-of-the-mill pizza cutter, but you could also hire someone to custom cut your crown molding, and really what's the fun in that? Get perfectly straight edges with the Pizza Boss 3000. This mini table saw has a stainless steel blade that is sure to cut through the deepest of deep-dish pizzas and sports a removable shield for easy clean-up. Show your pizza who's DIY boss."

  • Dress For Dinner Napkins
"Got a 5:30 black tie dinner you just have to go to? Take these sophisticated napkins along in your toolbox and voila, your flannel Carhartt work shirt is transformed into something even Brooks Brothers would be proud of. The perfect accessory for the discerning DIY-er."

  •  Pen/Utensils
"Ever sat down to dinner only to obsess over whether you got the dimensions right on the deck to be installed out back tomorrow? Have no fear, dedicated DIYers. These utensils attach to a standard Bic pen, allowing you to work and eat at the same time. Throw on the Dress for Dinner napkins and you can eat in style right at the job site."

  •  Finger Food Party Plates 
"Live in a small space but love to have blowout parties? If your guests are elbow to elbow try freeing up space by giving them these classy mini-plate rings that allow them to hold both their champagne and their pigs in a blanket at the same time."

  • Learn To Share Frig
 "If your college-age kid is always hitting you up for more grocery money because he claims his roommate steals all his food, this idea could potentially put an end to all his financial excuses. Flatshare, a concept modular fridge and winner of the Electrolux 2008 Design Lab Contest, has up to four separate compartments, one for each person residing in an apartment or house. After the lease is up, each compartment, which can be customized with different colors, can, theoretically, be transported to a person's new residence. "

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Best Returns

Home Base, the publication for the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance provides advice to help people buy, sell, finance, remodel, build, or maintain their homes. This month Home Base featured an article about the home remodeling project that provides the best return. Can you guess what it is? 

"Remodeling Magazine’s recently released 24th annual Cost vs. Value Report shows that exterior home improvements are leading the list of home improvements based on the return on investment. The free 2010-2011 report covers 80 U.S. cities and is available for download at The report contains data that compares construction costs for popular remodeling projects against the share of those costs recovered at resale. In addition to city data, the report includes tables with national and regional averages, as well as complete project descriptions, 3-D images and QuickTime movies for all 35 projects surveyed. 

The best return on investment was a steel entry door replacement which provides a 102% return on the cost at resale. A garage door replacement provides an 84% return. Projects with a 70-80% return included attic bedroom remodels, basement remodels, wood decks, minor kitchen remodels, window replacements and siding replacements. It is interesting that half of the eight best returns on investments, including the two top ones, were exterior improvements. This suggests that they might be effective investments for home sellers looking for an extra edge in the curb appeal department. The best return on investment for owners of single family homes will be landscaping in many cases. Thoughtful landscaping on an under landscaped home can return more than 100% of the investment, especially if you plant smaller trees and shrubs and give them a few years to grow..."