Friday, October 28, 2011

Five Ways to Simplify Your Kitchen

A trio of experts weighs in on the steps you need to take to create a structured, stress-free kitchen! - By Rose Kennedy

If your quest for a simpler life has led you to the kitchen, you'll find lots of opportunities for streamlining. But contrary to what you might think, the most valuable ideas come from examining your already established work style, not by developing new habits.

"People put too much effort into antiquated ideas like the work triangle, which isn't individualized enough to work well," says Chicago-based designer Jessica Kalina, of Kalina Kitchen & Bath. "Most designers today start with how you work in the kitchen, from sink to fridge to dishes, and then design a personal solution for simplicity instead of expecting you to change your behavior to fit a one-size-fits-all kitchen organization." 

Whether you're starting fresh with a brand new kitchen or just attempting a few tweaks for simplicity's sake, Kalina, organization expert Louise Kurzeka and feng shui guru Danielle Kovach have five key ideas to consider:

The most basic way to simplify an existing kitchen is to arrange equipment and dinnerware so that everything's stored close to the place where you use it. "That means dishes next to the dishwasher, pots and pans next to the stove, and so forth," says Kovach, an architect based in Charleston, S.C. "That will make your life in the kitchen much more relaxed and will also help you identify the things you're not using on a daily basis, which you may not need at all, or, at the very least, may need to store somewhere else." 

The things you do use often should be stored closest to the work counters. "That means in the base drawers directly below the counters, or the cabinets right above," says Kovach. When you place objects according to their "point of main use," really think about what you do in the kitchen instead of blindly following convention, recommends Kurzeka, of Everything's Together in Minnetonka, Minn. "Do you love to entertain, but actually call in caterers to do the cooking? Are you a fanatic baker?" she asks. "Make whatever you use the most often the highest priority for using the space available. If that's a microwave and the stuff you use to heat up frozen dinners, that's what you should create as the focal activity center and where you should devote most of your storage space. Just remember, you're the one who's going to use the kitchen, so never mind what another cook or family would make top priority."

To make your kitchen look cleaner and work more efficiently, pay as much attention to the inside of storage cabinets and drawers as you do to that pretty veneer or dashing color. "If you're not gutting the kitchen, a manageable improvement is upgrading the interior of your storage," says Kalina. "Consider each piece in terms of what goes inside and how you need to access it. Then consider adjustable and roll-out shelves, drawer dividers, and even upgrades like vertical tray dividers if you have a lot of cookie sheets."
Kurzeka often helps clients draw up preliminary kitchen plans, and one thing she always encourages them to think about is using drawers in place of under-counter cabinets. "Those cabinets can be really deep, which means wasted space and crawling around on your knees to get the stuff way in the back — and designing pullout shelves for them can be expensive," she says. "That might be an advisable approach to hold heavy pots and pans, but drawers are very helpful for any number of other things. You can use them to hold mixing bowls, for example, or create a baking drawer below the prep counter that holds the mixer, the pastry cutter and the sifter." 

High-quality drawers can hold a decent amount of weight, too, she adds, and can be fairly wide if you need to hold implements such as griddles or baking sheets. One such heavy-duty brand to consider is Glide-Out, from Shelf Conversions. "They offer drawers with pegboards and upright dowels on the floor that strategically keep a stack of plates or bowls from sliding as the drawer closes," says Kurzeka.

"The trend in the past several years has been to get away from having a message center in the kitchen, but I think that's a mistake," says Kalina. "Most people have always used the kitchen as a place to hang the car keys or for the kids to store their homework or even to check recipes on the laptop. If that describes your household, you shouldn't take that component of the design away and expect people to be able to change their ways." 

You can make the message center simpler, though, says Kalina, by eliminating that extra chair or desk-chair combination. "You probably need an under-counter file cabinet more, so you have a place to store all those papers." 
Once you've tackled the concealed aspects of your kitchen, consider the visual impact of the materials you can see. "A simplified kitchen design isn't so much about which materials you use in the visible spaces, but how many," says Kalina. "If you have a stone counter below a backsplash made up of several types of tile, that's going to look busy."
Try to limit the materials you use for kitchen focal points to two or three if you're going for a simple, soothing look. "If you have a marble counter and want the tile backsplash, consider making the tile the same color as the marble," says Kalina. "Or if you're using two kinds of cabinets in separate areas of the kitchen, consider using just one material and color for all the counters, even the island, to unify the look and keep it from being too jarring." 

As a certified feng shui consultant, Kovach does recommend having at least a bit of material representing each of the five elements incorporated somewhere into the kitchen for simple harmony and balance. "Fire and water are usually covered between the sink and the stove, and stained wood cabinets or a wooden floor take care of the wood element," she says. "If you're missing metal, consider something as basic as a stainless steel container on the counter, or a ceramic canister if you've neglected the earth element." 

That said, like Kalina and Kurzeka, Kovach can't emphasize enough how much simplicity relies on personal style and workflow. "Some people find lots of natural light in the kitchen to be soothing and simple, but for others it's chocolate brown or pale green," she says. "You don't have to go overboard, and your kitchen doesn't have to look like an Asian spa. It's much more about your personal style and your intentions."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

5 of the Worst Home Improvement Mistakes to Avoid

Even if you love HGTV, unless you love "do-it-yourself" projects, remodeling isn't something people do very often. As a result, homeowners often make costly mistakes that can be avoided.   HomeSavvi has talked to experienced homeowners as well as many professionals to  assemble this list of most common mistakes, no matter what kind of project you are taking on.

Assume you know what your project will cost without doing the research first.
We’ve met homeowners who think that a kitchen remodel with all new appliances, custom cabinets and granite countertops will only cost $20,000. What they find is that a $20,000 kitchen most likely includes a basic appliance package, laminate countertops and stock cabinets from a home improvement store. In fact, the average kitchen remodel is closer to $50,000, with many approaching $80,000. (See Our Kitchen Budget Calculator)
“Many homeowners develop a budget based on what they think things should cost versus knowing what they actually do cost,” says Bruce Donnally, principal of award winning Donnally Architects, based in Seattle. “Home products have advanced tremendously in the last 10 years, so what you got for a refrigerator in the ‘80s isn’t what you’ll get today.”
This concept of developing a real project cost goes hand in hand with selecting your materials before starting any work. Materials will make the biggest difference in what your remodel costs. Because cabinets are usually a big ticket item, we talked with Ingrid Miller of Rainier Cabinetry and Design about the variance in cabinetry costs. She tells us that the labor cost to install new cabinets doesn’t really vary much. However the cabinets themselves can vary from $100 per lineal foot for already made stock cabinets bought at Home Depot to over $500 per lineal foot for custom made or specialty cabinets.
We can continue to give lots of examples, but the point is to do your research, and don’t forget to account for every little thing – even drawer pulls and door knobs can start to add up. It may seem unnecessary to develop a budget that detailed, but you’ll be much better prepared if you do.
Says Tom Fine, owner of award winning Fine Construction in Seattle, “A great idea is to work with a contractor AS PART of setting the budget. You can get a lot of good advice during the bidding process, and learn whether or not you can work with that contractor.”
Donnally reminds us, “Don’t forget to include all non-construction costs such as permits, and design costs. And don’t forget to add tax. In Washington State it is 9.5 percent, so a $300,000 construction quote from a contractor actually will come in at $330,000.” 

Start without a design or a plan.
Many homeowners don’t know how to come up with a plan or design, and don’t understand the importance of how design will affect the final outcome.  Design is not decoration. It is the practical application of where permanent items will be installed in your home, how they will function, and what they look like.
One easy example of poor design is a bathroom where the door can’t be opened without hitting the toilet.
Emphasizes Fine, “Don’t start without design, and make sure you take the time to understand it. If you don’t allow enough time to understand it, you’ll be surprised in the end, which is always bad.”
Faith Sheridan, top designer and winner of HGTV’s  Designer Challenge, agrees. “Visualize the design and do a final check when the construction is in the rough in phase. Check the height, distance and spacing for countertops, electrical switches, shower heads, and faucets. Otherwise, fixing mistakes later is quite expensive.”

Neglect to create enough time in your already busy schedule.
It’s all too common for home improvement projects to take longer than you think they will, even after you’ve doubled or tripled the estimate in your head. Whether you are doing the work yourself, or working with a professional, things don’t always go as planned.
One homeowner we know has spent at least 10 weekends putting a new roof on an outdoor shed. The project got delayed when the homeowner slipped off the roof and broke his ribs. Ouch! Hopefully not a common delay, but unexpected things do happen.
And for large projects, many homeowners just don’t have the experience to know how long a project can take. “For instance, says Donnally, “what might seem like a simple addition to your home can take up to 2 years from permit to completion.  The homeowner needs to allocate time for drawings, design, building permit, to interview contractors, get quotes, to buy the materials, move out, and schedule the workers.” And, there are many more tasks than just those.
Says Fine, “I advise homeowners to allocate at least 2 – 4 hours per week, and sometimes more when selecting materials. Allow time each week for meetings, walk throughs, decisions, and progress reports.”
And, remember if you are working with professionals that you’ll have to take time off from work during the day to meet with them. Contractors, architects and designers have families at home, too!
Fail to set clear goals for what you want to do, and change your mind in the middle of the project.

Nia Collins, chief designer at Collins Group Architecture and Design suggests, “ Ask yourself why you want to do this project? Is it for resale, to make your home more functional while you live there, or just improve its cosmetics?” Each of those answers should help in your selection of materials, colors, and maintenance. 

Once you have those selections made, don’t get wishy washy and change your mind about design or materials choices mid-stream. This will almost always cost more, and take more time. On the other hand, says Sheridan, “it’s wise to allow 10% of your budget for surprises or to adopt new ideas.”

Select professionals based on price alone.
Of course, we’ve all heard horror stories about contractors gone bad, but reputable designers, contractors and subs want you to be happy with their work and will stand by it with written guarantees.
“Don’t cut corners by going with a cheap installer for an expensive product. If you are using a general contractor, get a warranty for work done by subs – get it in writing, and get it for more than 1 year. A reputable firm will stand behind their work,” says Collins.

Sheridan agrees, “If you are handling really high end or specialized materials, you may need a higher level of expertise for installation than normal.”
Fine stresses, “Trust and communication are the number one and two qualities you should look for in a professional who will be coming into your home.”
Hourly rate is the last thing to consider when selecting a designer. Sheridan says, “The question to ask is “I want to know if you are the designer who can help me create my dream within my budget.” Find out if this is the designer who can help you achieve your personal dream.”
Says Miller, "Remember, pricing and service go hand in hand. When you focus on price alone, you may save hard dollar costs, but the end result may not be what you wanted."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Islands You'll Love

Our favorite islands aren't necessarily vacation destinations; they can be found in AK kitchens all over Atlanta! Take a look at just a few of our favorite AK islands. 

Which one is your favorite?
This distressed beauty boasts many of the kitchen's appliances as well as decorative columns and base.

This island hosts much of the kitchen's function, as well as serving as structural support. Eating, washing, has everything but the kitchen sink. has that too!

Even though it's still under construction, this island is going to be a treat to the eyes - and the mind. Hidden storage, space for seating, a farmhouse sink and high-end dishwasher are enough features to keep the homeowners utilizing this space in a new way every day!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's Back, Baby!

  We know this is not exactly the news flash of the century, but we feel we need to sing the praises of wallpaper. Since it's reputation took a dive after some well-meaning 1960's and 70's decorators over-used the popular prints of the decade, it was considered totally "out" in the 90's and has slowly and quietly crept it's way back into our hearts!
   Decorating a nursery about 6 months ago, one AK staffer searched HIGH and LOW for a proper pink and white Damask print paper and wound up doing her own stenciling on the wall. (A decision she regretted during the 12+ hours of painting, but the end result is stunning.) We realized at that point that despite wallpaper making it's way back onto the front page, it can still be hard to find - at least in it's new, more glamorous forms. The wallpaper books at Lowe's and Home Depot looked like they had been collecting dust since buyers were picking out their big 1980's floral print papers. Selection was disappointing. Where we found a better selection was at paint stores, like Sherwin Williams and the like. Do you know a great, Atlanta area wallpaper source? We'd love to hear and share your nominations!
   Here are a few examples of some new wallpaper trends - some inspiration for outside the wallpaper box thinking:
The Nursery
Borders are so yesterday...Accent walls are where it's at for your baby's chic crib! 
The Powder Room
Texture is the name of the game for this room. Accent walls and dark colors, surprisingly, can liven up this small space.