Kitchen Perfection

If Cameron and I were to poll homebuyers as to what single room can make or break a home purchase, the winner would be the kitchen. (Duh!) The kitchen is the source of food and drink, comfort and relaxation. And even if you don’t cook much, you probably find that the kitchen is where your family and guests congregate.

The kitchen is also the most expensive room in the house to remodel, due to the water and gas lines, drains, extensive built-ins and large appliances that are required.

So, what do people want in a kitchen these days? Large work islands, of course, where people can pull up stools. And Instagrammable walk-in pantries. Two ovens, two dishwashers. A beverage fridge. Maybe a fireplace? How about a built-in coffee bar?

Here are seven practical things that we see and have heard discussed endlessly. Let these suggestions guide you should a kitchen refresh be in your near future.

  • If you are investing in all new cabinetry, include a generous set of bookshelves for your cookbook collection. Consider installing garages with electrical outlets for small appliances like blenders and food processors. Add a few tall narrow slots for cookie sheets, cutting boards and flat trays. Glass fronts on cupboards are a style choice, but I like them. It’s very satisfying to view neat stacks of plates and cups and pretty glassware. Keep some open wall space to hang art. Don’t spend money on electric low-voltage drawers, though soft-close drawers (the mechanical type) are nice. Be sure to have a counter spot or nook for cut flowers. Always.

Nix lower cabinets for storing pots and pans. Instead, build nice big double-deep drawers and install them on heavy-duty runners. Over-engineering is okay on drawer hardware – you want drawers that never sag or float open. You’ll thank your carpenter when you never again have to get on your hands and knees to reach for something in the very back of a dark cupboard.

  • Clients and agents are divided about pot fillers installed on the backsplash behind the stove. They look impressive and are available in beautiful finishes. But they are expensive and, honestly, how often do you really need one? Being behind the stove means the pot filler is just one more thing to keep clean and shiny. Perhaps you would be satisfied with a second sink closer to the stove. We installed a small hammered-copper sink on the kitchen island, and it works almost like a pot filler. Plus it’s a utility sink with hot and cold water and a second garbage disposal.

  • Speaking of garbage disposals: They are not all created equal. Spend a little more money – not much – and buy a disposal that is both more powerful and quieter than the typical contractor choice. We recommend the InSinkErator garbage disposal Evolution Essential XTR 3/4 HP. An air switch is a nice feature, too.
  • Everyone wants stone countertops these days, and they do add to the appeal of a kitchen. Acres of white marble countertops can be stunning. But white stone might not be practical for your family. We chose black soapstone for most of our counters, and after five years we could not be more pleased. Soapstone is practically indestructible – remember the chemistry lab tabletops in high school? It is non-porous, so it doesn’t need to be sealed. Minor dings can simply be sanded out. We treat the soapstone countertop with mineral oil, the same way we treat the island’s butcher block countertop.

  • As butcher block ages and darkens, it becomes more and more beautiful. And it’s absolutely the most useful counter surface for actual food prep. But butcher block demands upkeep. We sold a house in West U that had exquisite butcher block countertops. The seller was very specific about its care and left a bottle of Howard Butcher Block Conditioner for the new owner. Maybe butcher block is too big of a commitment? Here’s an article with upkeep advice.
  • Think twice about installing a microwave drawer. They look great and free up counterspace. But they are much more expensive and, if our experience was typical, don’t last very long. When ours blew up, I did some research and found out that Sharp makes most microwave drawers, even those sold under other brand names. Here’s what Consumer Reports had to say about microwave drawers, as well as refrigerator drawers and dishwasher drawers.
  • Finally, there’s lighting. Overhead recessed lights are basic, but they add nothing to the ambiance of a room. If you think of your kitchen as a place that should be beautiful as well as practical, then add pendants, chandeliers or sconces to warm up the space. Splurge on something special, maybe an antique. Just be sure it’s easy to keep clean. Under-cabinet lights are a must-have and so much less expensive than they used to be. And, if you installed the cabinet glass fronts mentioned above, light those up, too.