Thursday, May 31, 2018

8 Summer Home Renovation Projects

Longer days means more time for projects around the house!  Here are 8 ideas for some renovations and projects you can tackle this summer, from the website Clark.  

Summer brings pool parties, ice cream and popsicles, playing in the yard…and renovations. Many homeowners find that some home upgrades are best completed during the warm summer months. The weather is much nicer, contractors have longer daylight hours in which to work, schedules tend to slow down, and labor costs might actually be lower.

Here are 8 of the most popular renovations, ranked from shortest to longest:

Small DIY projects

Remember all those little projects on the back burner? Now is the time to tackle them. Everything from staining the deck to installing a new porch railing is fair game. You can do some work in the house too, renovating closets to create more space or creating a study area for the kids. Speaking of the kids, now that they are home for the summer, you can enlist their help in smaller home upgrades that give them a sense of accomplishment.

Painting the house

Whether you are painting inside or outside, summer is the best time to get the job done. When painting outside, summer means you don’t have to deal with spring storms or winter snows. When you are doing the work inside, you have the advantage of keeping all the windows wide open for the best ventilation and drying. Small jobs can be a do-it-yourself venture, while large projects call for a contractor.

Paving the driveway

Working with asphalt is much easier during the summer months, which is why you so often see contractors working on driveways in the intense heat of the season. The asphalt hardens more slowly, which means a flatter, smoother surface. A good contractor can get the job done in a day; after a few days of curing time, your driveway is ready to use.


If you want to know what your landscaping will really look like, now is the time to set it up. Plants and shrubs need the warm months to become acclimated to their new home. You have the freedom to move flowers around a bit before giving them a final new residence in the yard. Since the ground is easier to dig into during the hotter months, you might also find it easier to install irrigation systems or garden lighting, as well as garden ponds.

In-ground pool installation

This serious home improvement project requires digging through a large part of your yard; and as you can imagine, digging through the dirt is much easier when it’s warm. Since the job is easier in the summer, you can find a contractor more willing to tackle it. Since it’s faster work, you get your job done sooner, and perhaps you can even enjoy that new pool by the time the hottest dog days roll around.

Kitchen upgrades

During a kitchen renovation, the contractor will kick you out of the space in order to complete the job. So what will you do about eating meals? During the summer months, that is a problem solved by a small refrigerator in another room of the house, a tiny prep area, a few disposable dishes, and a nice grill. Enjoy the great outdoors and have dinner al fresco
every night while the kitchen is out of commission.

Adding a home addition

A major home addition requires serious commitment from you and your family. Most home additions take several weeks to several months to complete. During that time, part of your home will be at least somewhat exposed to the elements. No, you (hopefully) won’t deal with rain or wind, but your home will be affected by the outdoor temperatures. Better to have the summer heat than the winter cold! You will understandably want this upgrade over as soon as possible, which is another reason why summer is a great time: The days are much longer, meaning that your contractor has more daylight to work on the project.

And that’s not all…

Remember that these projects are just a sampling of home improvements you can do during the summer. Caulking windows, trimming trees, repairing fences or cleaning out gutters are just a few of the other options you have during the long, lazy days of summer. Start your planning early for those long weekends, and enjoy your new renovations before the autumn leaves fly.

Top 5 Pro Tips on How to Hire a Contractor

Do you have a list of home renovations you'd love to have done, but don't have a knowledgable and trustworthy contractor to help execute your dreams? Here are 5 tips from This Old House general contractor Tom Silva for how to hire a contractor.

Get Recommendations

Start with your friends and family and then check in with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for a list of members in your area. You can also talk with a building inspector, who'll know which home renovation contractors routinely meet code requirements, says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva, or pay a visit to your local lumberyard, which sees contractors regularly and knows which ones buy quality materials and pay their bills on time.

Meet Face to Face

Once you've assembled a list, Tom recommends that you make a quick call or set up a meeting with each of your prospects and go through these questions to ask a contractor:

 Do they take on projects of your size?

• Are they willing to provide financial references, from suppliers or banks?

• Can they give you a list of previous clients?

• How many other projects would they have going at the same time?

• How long have they worked with their subcontractors?
The answers to these questions will reveal the company's availability, reliability, how much attention they'll be able to give your project and how smoothly the work will go. A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts you at ease. Tom says that it's crucial that you two communicate well because this person will be in your home for hours at a time. On the other hand, don't let personality fool you. Check in with your state's consumer protection agency and your local Better Business Bureau before you hire a contractor to make sure they don't have a history of disputes with clients or subcontractors.

Make Plans, Get Bids

You have your short list of contractors whose track records seem clean and whose work ethic looks responsible. Now it's time to stop looking back at past work and start looking forward to your project. A conscientious contractor will want not only a complete set of blueprints but also a sense of what homeowners want out of a project and what they plan to spend. To compare bids, ask everyone to break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins and other expenses. Generally materials account for 40 percent of the total cost; the rest covers overhead and the typical profit margin, which is 15 to 20 percent.

Don't Let Price Be Your Guide

"Throw out the lowball bid," says Tom. "This contractor is probably cutting corners or, worse, desperate for work"—hardly an encouraging sign in a healthy economy. Beyond technical competence, comfort should play an equal or greater role in your decision. The single most important factor in choosing a contractor is how well you and he communicate. All things being equal, it's better to spend more and get someone you're comfortable with when hiring a contractor.

Put it in Writing

Draw up a contract that details every step of the project: payment schedule; proof of liability insurance and worker's compensation payments; a start date and projected completion date; specific materials and products to be used; and a requirement that the contractor obtain lien releases (which protect you if he doesn't pay his bills) from all subcontractors and suppliers. Insisting on a clear contract isn't about mistrust, Tom assures us. It's about insuring a successful renovation.
Finally, remember that as soon as a change is made or a problem uncovered, the price just increased and the project just got longer. The four most expensive words in the English language? "While you're at it...."

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Top 10 Tips to Save Money on Your Kitchen Remodel

When many people think of a kitchen remodel, the first thing that comes to mind it the high cost.  Things like appliances, expensive tile, and custom cabinetry can add up quickly.  This article by the Washington Post details 10 different ways you can still get the kitchen of your dreams while remaining on budget!

How to get a high-quality kitchen remodel without the sticker shock.

Be sure to sit down when you meet with a designer in the kitchen department of a big home improvement store — otherwise the price might knock you over. 
According to Remodeling magazine, the national average for a full kitchen remodel is $54,909. I have never been able to get my mind wrapped around this, considering that the national median income is only around $51,000.

The average full kitchen remodel is defined as:
“Update an outmoded 200-square-foot kitchen with a functional layout of 30 linear feet of semi-custom wood cabinets, including a 3-by-5-foot island; laminate countertops; and standard double-tub stainless-steel sink with standard single-lever faucet. Include energy-efficient wall oven, cooktop, ventilation system, built-in microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal, and custom lighting. Add new resilient flooring. Finish with painted walls, trim, and ceiling.”
Remodeling magazine also reports that a major kitchen remodel returns an average of $40,732.  My average kitchen remodel usually comes in at less than half this national average cost.  Here’s how you can save money on your kitchen project and turn your effort into a positive gain in home equity without sacrificing quality:
• Start with your design.  Figure out the layout you want for your kitchen.  A simple and sleek design will appeal to most buyers and help keep your costs down.  Keeping your existing layout is always cheaper.  Avoid moving plumbing and electrical items if possible — at least try to keep your stove (especially gas stoves) and sink in the same location.  Moving a gas stove will require relocating gas lines and moving your sink plumbing can create additional problems. They also require additional permits and time.
Try to pick an overall theme — country, modern, rustic, etc.  This will help you select materials and ensure everything comes together properly.  Have a good idea of the look you want before you go into a design center or talk to contractors.
Get a design early and plan ahead. Cabinets can take six weeks or more to be delivered.  You don’t want to have your kitchen torn apart while you’re waiting for an item to be delivered.
 Determine the scope of work. Once you have a very good idea of what you want, sit down and write up a good detailed list of tasks that you want completed.  You don’t have to be technical and you don’t have to use construction terms but just state all the things you want a contractor to do and bid.  It can be as simple as: remove all existing flooring and cabinets; install new flooring, cabinets, countertops, sink and appliances per the plan; paint; hook up sink plumbing; and install new light fixtures.

When you start talking to contractors and designers you may find additional work is required.  That’s okay.  It’s easy to update your list and resend to all the bidding contractors.  Otherwise, the various contractors will list the items they believe you want and it will be difficult to compare bids.  A basic scope of work also eliminates some guess work by the contractor.
Ask your contractors to line item their bids as you’ve categorized the items.  This, too, will help you compare costs and refine your plan.
 Try to select the materials yourself.  Asking a contractor to supply big-ticket items such as flooring, cabinets, countertops and appliances leaves them with a huge range to guess on and there is a chance you’ll end up paying the contractor an additional fee on top of the supplied costs.
A lot of money can be saved in a kitchen remodel by shopping around on your big-ticket items.  I’ve not been able to save much money on things like paint and light fixtures.  So I focus on my cabinets, countertops, appliances and flooring.
• Don’t select cabinets based on name brands. Cabinets are a huge expense.  There can easily be a $15,000 difference between various designs and manufacturers for 30 linear feet of semi-custom cabinets.  Taking some time to select a good quality cabinet can save a lot of money.
I’ve never seen a home buyer ask for the name brand of cabinets in a home.  You can get a very good cabinet for a fraction of the cost of some of the big-name manufacturers.

You should look for cabinet boxes made of furniture-grade plywood. Doors and drawer fronts should be made from a solid wood frame surrounding a panel and I prefer a solid wood panel.  Furniture grade plywood panels are okay as long as it looks good but avoid laminated particle board.
Drawers should be constructed of solid wood with dovetail joinery and a plywood bottom that is tightly fitted into a groove in the side of the drawer. I also look for a good slide and soft-close feature. Shelves should be made of at least half inch furniture grade plywood.
If you ensure your cabinets have these features then the name on them doesn’t really matter.  Most cabinet makers will provide similar warranties anyway.  Check with your supplier.
Wood species and design have a major impact on price.  Often you can get the desired look but save money by going with a little simpler design and different wood.  Most all cabinets are made of a hardwood so they will be durable.
• Choose the countertop wisely. Countertops also range widely in price.  My top of choice is granite.  Countertops are one of the first things people notice in your kitchen.  Particle board wrapped in Formica or other laminate is almost always a turn off to potential buyers.  When selecting granite, first choose the color you want, dark or light.  Price will often be determined by what your supplier has available.   Granite is granite so there is no significant quality difference in the stone.  You can easily pick a $20 a square foot granite and get the same look as a $45 a square foot granite.

Watch the installation costs. When it comes to granite, the supplier will almost always do the install.  I’ve found that some suppliers advertise really cheap per square foot costs but then they jack up the installation costs.  Make sure you get a full bid from the various suppliers you visit.  You might find the shop that advertised $20 granite is actually more expensive than the shop that’s selling a $30 granite.
When it comes to cabinets and countertops, try going to one of the many small local suppliers.  Shopping around with these shops can often save you thousands vs. what you’ll pay at the big home-improvement stores. And you are much more likely to be dealing with just one person rather than whomever happens to be on duty on a given day at a big retailer.  I also find that many of the small shops can deliver in half the time required by the big retailers.
• Low-priced flooring may be just as good as the costly kind. Tile and hardwood can easily range in costs from $1 a square foot to $15 a square foot or more.  I find that I can get a very good look in a home with a $2 or $3 a square foot tile.
For tile, I normally go to the big home improvement stores.  Big retailers normally have the best price on tile but their selection is limited.  Avoid using real stone if you’re cost conscious.  The material is more expensive and it’s usually tougher to install and your contractor should charge you more for installation.  If he doesn’t charge you more, there’s a good chance he’s not very experienced with it and you may end up with quality problems.  I prefer a simple and clean look anyway.  Granite or marble tile can look out of place if not installed correctly and properly incorporated into an overall design.
Good prices on hardwood can be found at one of the surplus or overstock warehouses.  This may take some time because you never know what they may have in supply at any given visit.  If you can use an overstock item you can save thousands in material.  This may require you to start watching months in advance of your project.  I once purchased 2,000 square feet of solid maple wood flooring and rented a storage unit to keep it until I had a project ready.  Be careful that your storage fees don’t wipe out your savings.
• Go for midgrade name brand appliances. Appraisers and buyers rarely value top-of-the line appliances at anything close to their purchase price.
Appliances are sold a bit like cars.  There are appliance sales people in almost every big box store.  Make contact with several sales people.  Get their cards and see if they’ll call or text you when they’re having sales.  This is what I do.  I buy packages of appliances well before I’m ready for them when I have upcoming projects.  These retailers have also been willing to hold my appliances for months until I’m ready for delivery.
• Do your homework to find the right contractor. Knowing your rough layout, desired materials, and armed with a scope of work, you can begin getting bids.  Dealing with contractors can be a daunting task.  Virginia, Maryland and the District all have good guidance for consumers.  Check your jurisdiction’s Web site to find good tips for researching your contractor and items that need to be in a construction contract.
Make sure you get four or five bids.  Be wary of any bid that is too cheap or too expensive.  Have contractors line item their bids and closely compare the items.  If one of the items varies greatly in price from bid to bid then you may not have properly explained your needs.
Getting the best price on labor is not always about just finding the right contractor.  It’s about finding the right contractor at the right time.  If a contractor happens to be busy he’ll probably still give you a price but he probably won’t give you the best price. So always get multiple bids from reputable contractors.
If you have a choice, try timing your project after the holiday rush but before the spring thaw.  This is typically contractors’ slowest time of the year and they’ll appreciate having indoor work.
Big retailers will provide you with local contractors.  This is almost always the more expensive option but it does provide you with an additional layer of protection.
• Avoid change orders. Change orders kill.  Do your best to flesh out your desires before the bidding process and get as much as you can bid and priced out prior to signing a construction contract.  A contractor knows you are probably not going to bid out a change order so he’s not likely to give you the best price.  Most times the contractor will have pulled permits for the job so it will be difficult or impossible to bring in another contractor to fill a need.
• Try doing some of the work yourself. If you’re adventurous and handy, consider installing the cabinets yourself.  This is much easier than one might think and there are ample videos and books available to help the do-it-yourselfer in this task.  Some contractors really seem to overcharge for cabinet installation.  Check to see how your cabinets will be delivered.  If they come preassembled, installing them yourself is that much easier.  If assembly is required, you may reconsider because it will require significantly more time.
Kitchen remodels are never painless.  Expect the project to take a least a couple weeks.  This is time when you will not be able to use a vital portion of your home.  Starting to plan your remodel months in advance is key to finding the best price on materials and mitigating the stress of the construction process.
Have a plan, start early and work with good people and you can save thousands of dollars and immeasurable stress.  In the end, you’ll not only have a beautiful kitchen to enjoy but also add significantly to your home’s value.

Top 5 Renovation Trends to Avoid

If you're in need of design advice for your next renovation, you may want to avoid Pinterest!  While many of us think that would be the first place to turn to, many of the more popular images show trendy designs that may pull you in the wrong direction.  This article from Architectural Digest talks about 5 regrettable design choices you should avoid when thinking about your next project.  

Don't Let Pinterest Trick You Into These 5 Regrettable Design Trends!

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Beware the Pinterest house.Mottling together a home chock-full of trends—be it anything from open shelving to popular metals—can be at the least disorienting and at the most a very expensive letdown. Even when the magazines and the internet are in a tizzy about something, telling everyone this faucet or this tile will be the next big thing, it’s good practice to put on the blinders and make sure the idea really works for you and your space. Don’t just take our word for it. Which trends are probably best avoided in a renovation? Heed the advice of five designers on which trends to leave pinned in “Dream Kitchen.”  

Specialty Finishes on Hardware

Specialty finishes in the kitchen or bathroom can quickly date your space—and you might be stuck with them for longer than you’d like, since they can be expensive to install or have changed. “Remember rose gold? Brushed bronze?” asks Anishka Clarke, cofounder (along with her partner Niya Bascom) of interior design firm Ishka Designs.“Specialty finishes tend to be a thing of the moment, and the up-charges associated with them may not be worth it if you don’t absolutely love the look.”
Susana Simonpietri, Creative Director for design firm Chango & Co,agrees, advising clients against “face-planting” into the brass trend. "Brass has become very popular, and people are integrating it as the main finish in their bathrooms and kitchens,” she says. “While I think brass is timeless when used correctly in a powder room or moody master bathroom, I think we will be seeing a lot of brass faucets getting pulled out come 2020.”

Don't use trendy colors for your hardware.

Do use a classic, timeless finish instead.

Custom Cabinetry for Temporary Uses

Natalie Myers, the interior designer behind Los Angeles–based Veneer Designs, often steers her clients away from custom cabinetry that might not be relevant after a few years. Think: built-ins designed to house everything from a beloved espresso machine to office supplies.

“I applaud the effort to stow away unsightly electronics, but to build a special cabinet for a printer's exact dimensions seems regrettable,” she says, noting the ever-shrinking size of devices. “I fear clients being stuck with oversize cabinets for undersized or nonexistent future versions of their electronics.” Instead, she suggests investing in something like a rolling cart to stow in a closet. “It’s important to think about the longevity of your clever solution to a current problem,” she says.

Over-the-Top (or Unnecessary) Bathroom Additions

While it’s extremely popular to do gut renovations of bathrooms, several designers suggest seeing what you can salvage first. “I really love old bathrooms,” says Starrett Ringbom, the interior designer behind Starrett Hoyt. “There is a dignity and integrity to old prewar bathrooms—sturdy pedestal sinks and strong, old fittings marked 'cold' and 'hot,' tile that you can’t find anymore with barely visible grout. It’s a dream! Why rip all that out?”
As Anishka and Niya point out, the trendy features you're adding in might not age as nicely anyway: A veined marble wall can be beautiful, but if you go overboard, it can be overwhelming and, in a few short years, feel dated. “Not to mention very costly,” they add.

Don't follow the trends and go overboard on your bathroom addition. 

Do utilize the current space you have and if you want to use trendy design ideas, use them sparingly.

Graphic Tiling

According to interior designer Nicole Gibbons, colorful, graphic tilework is really trending right now—but she tends to steer her clients away from it. “People see it, it gets filtered through Pinterest and Instagram, and then everybody wants it,” she says. “Generally when those types of really strong prints or patterns or color choices are hot for a moment, it doesn’t last long. And then people grow tired of it, and it’s a really expensive thing to change.”
She suggests instead incorporating these kinds of design ideas in small ways that are easier to replace; in this case graphic accessories like pillows, throws, moveable lighting, or even a rug. Paint is also a much easier thing to change when it comes to injecting color into your home, she adds.

Open Shelving

While it’s not often the most expensive and can be low maintenance, open shelving is a trend that takes a certain kind of person to pull off well. Anishka and Niya feel as though only “truly organized, visually skilled folks” can make this minimal aesthetic sing. “We are not saying don’t do it, but be mindful of . . . how they truly function in [the] kitchen,” they say. Nicole points out that with open shelving, you'll end up having to dust regularly and wash your dishes all the time. “It becomes a very impractical thing, even though it looks nice and it’s great to have beautifully styled shelves."

Don't use too much open shelving in the kitchen, it can easily look cluttered.

Do stick to primarily closed cabinetry, which provide a sleeker, less cluttered feel.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

10 Kitchen Cabinet Ideas for this Year

Here's another helpful post from Houzz on kitchen cabinets.  If you’re looking to update your kitchen style for the new year with something different, you might consider reworking your cabinets. These new cabinet ideas will likely be showing up more in 2018, but I’m betting you’ll be seeing them around for years to come.

1. Embossed fronts. While we might think of modern style cabinets as having minimalist flat-front doors and drawers, many companies now are producing fun versions with embossed patterns, adding a sense of texture and personality while still maintaining a modern sensibility. 

You can opt for simple linear grooves or a fun geometric shape like this charming fish scale pattern.

Embossed cabinet doors look especially great in a dark, glossy finish, with reflected light catching the pattern and making it pop.

2. Jewel tones. Speaking of dark colors, after so many years of white kitchens being the dominant look, we’re definitely finding that more and more people are now choosing to use rich, deep hues, with jewel tones being particularly popular.

Classic jewel tones like amethyst, sapphire and emerald introduce an unmissable dose of color to shake up the all-white mold. They feel sophisticated and timelessly luxurious, making them a safer long-term choice than, say, bright orange or trendy pink.

3. Blue. For those who want a little color in the kitchen but not such a radiant tone as jewel purples, a soft, friendly blue is another timeless choice. But lately, we’ve had more clients looking for this hue than ever before.

4. Mesh inserts. Glass door cabinets and open shelves continue to be popular ways to make a kitchen seem more open and airy, but many homeowners prefer to keep their storage a bit more discrete behind closed doors.

Metal mesh inserts are a great middle ground, giving a slight peek at what’s inside the cabinet but without putting your stored goods on full display.

I’ve used mesh inserts instead of glass on many recent projects. It works beautifully in both traditional homes and contemporary designs with some transitional flair, bringing a slight sense of old-world charm.

Consider using mesh inserts on the “upper-upper” cabinets in a tall space on a full pantry wall …or on a single cabinet at a specific station like a mixing center or coffee bar.

5. Metallics. For those homeowners who love the crisp, industrial appeal of steel, why stop at the appliances? Consider bringing that “chef’s kitchen” vibe to your entire set of cabinets.

Stainless steel door and drawer fronts give a cool, ready-to-work look to your cabinets, for serious home chefs or just fans of industrial-style kitchens.

6. High gloss in dark tones. Metal isn’t the only finish that can bring a glossy sheen to a kitchen. Lacquered or lacquer-look cabinets are a powerful option, and many suppliers at every level now offer high-sheen cabinets. In a murky tone like a charcoal gray, the deep, mirror-like appearance becomes all the more noticeable.

7. Gray. Is gray the new white? It’s hard to say for sure, but for those who like a light and airy look but are tired of white, a sumptuous gray or gray-beige is the next best thing.

At first thought, you might expect gray to seem cold and off-putting. However, as you can see in these examples, a wide range of tones, from charcoal to clay to just-off-white, make an excellent complement to wood floors or shelves for a welcoming palette that feels anything but chilly.

8. Sliding doors. Barn-style doors on a sliding track have become a very popular choice for interior doors, both as a functional solution in tight spaces and as a style statement. Now they’re starting to pop up more and more in kitchen cabinets as a fun way to create a gallery-case look.

A sliding door on a set of uppers combines the appeal of open shelves with the tidiness of a classic door cabinet, and it works in farmhouse style kitchens and modern spaces alike. Plus, not having to swing a door open and shut will make your kitchen feel just a bit bigger, and it makes a world of difference when two cooks are in the kitchen.

9. Two-tone cabinets. Throughout this article you can find many examples of two-tone cabinets, which feature upper and lower cabinets in different colors. Here’s a twist that takes the idea to another level: using two-tone doors on individual cabinets. For example, this breezy kitchen uses a single row of wood drawer fronts on otherwise white cabinets to get just a little touch of natural interest and a fun personality.

10. Mixing modern and traditional styles. Speaking of not wanting to choose, many homeowners and renovators are deciding not to choose only modern or only traditional cabinets. Instead they’re using a mix of both to create spaces that are rich with inviting character while looking current and interesting.

10 of the Latest Kitchen Trends You Should Consider

Do you want to update your kitchen, but you're not sure where to start or feel overwhelmed by design choices?  Here are 11 of the latest trends from HGTV to help you narrow down your choices.

Lighter, Brighter Kitchens

Make room for windows. By using smart storage strategies like extending cabinets to ceilings, you can open up the kitchen and sacrifice some wall space in these areas.

Convenient Kitchen Cabinetry

Aside from featuring soft-close drawers and doors (once a luxury, now a "must"), cabinetry today works overtime to organize and improve the efficiency of the kitchen design. Cabinetry works for the kitchen — it has become much more than a place to store stuff. 

Universal Design

There are more features today that allow homeowners to age in place, applying Universal Design principles. Base cabinet drawers, large-loop hardware, drawer microwaves and movable countertops accommodate any chef, young or old.

Right-Sized Spaces

The kitchen is the soul of the home, the center of activity. But that doesn't necessarily mean the space must be large. In fact, Peterson says kitchens are shrinking down from recent overblown dimensions and functioning as well, if not better. "We've long seen kitchens as the center of family life, with places for doing homework, working online, along with cooking and dining," she relates. "After years of growing larger, kitchens are becoming smaller, more compact, using technologies adapted from boat design, such as high-quality custom cabinetry."

Time-Saving Kitchen Appliances

"We talk about efficiency, but in the kitchen that really means time savings," says Nancy Divita, showroom director at Trevarrow Inc. Sophisticated appliances help us maximize every minute so we can spend more time living in the kitchen and less time cooking. For example, a convection microwave works as a true speed oven. Induction cooktops perform faster. A good convection oven allows you to produce food quicker than a traditional bake/roast/broil oven.

Kitchen Cabinet Storage

Rather than floating wall cabinets, designers like Jorge Castillo of Jorge Castillo Designs in Miami, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, are installing floor-to-ceiling walls of cabinetry made from interesting exotic wood, such as sapele or anaglade. His contemporary designs feature lacquered wood finish, a return of 1970s design, "but not as strong as it was back then," he says. 

The storage wall creates a backdrop for the kitchen and allows space for stowing away appliances, cookbooks, dishes, bakeware and more.

Pullout Kitchen Cabinets

Pullout cabinets can house several bins for recycling glass, plastic, periodicals and waste. Partitioned bins with a sealing top prevent odor and leakage; foot-operated bins allow for touch-free use. Though not mainstream, compost systems are available for kitchens and adjacent spaces (mudrooms), some models operating with energy from a light bulb. 

Before choosing a cabinet configuration for waste collection, find out what your city's recycling requirements are and will be in the future. For instance, if the city doesn't require separation of glass and plastic now but could move in that direction, you'll want to plan for an additional bin in your design. 

Quartz Countertops

Move over granite. Quartz and similar man-made surfaces generally come with a warranty, and they do not need to be sealed like granite does. Plus, they are easy to clean with soap and water. "It is a material traditionally used in hospital labs, and the reason it's so good for kitchens is because it is not porous, so it is not going to absorb (spills) and stain," Castillo says. 

Castillo chooses quartz surfaces for their consistent look, which provides a sleek and clean surface so he can afford to embellish the backsplash without getting too busy.

Exotic Wood

Maples are phasing out and cherries and darker woods are in for Brad Burgin, Burgin Construction Inc. in North Tustin, Calif. He also specifies a lot of mahogany and bamboo. "Alternative woods are gaining popularity," he notices, adding that these varieties tend to be more expensive. But for an Asian-themed kitchen, nothing beats bamboo, which offers neat, slender veining when stained. This kitchen features exotic wood veneers and a black-brown bamboo shade that gives the space a little extra flair.

Specialty Kitchen Lighting

There is task lighting, cabinet lighting and smart systems that are programmed for entertaining, cooking or homework time. Lighting draws the eye to interesting surfaces and improves the overall functionality of a kitchen. "The lighting is what makes a kitchen — it creates a feel and an aura for the space," says Daniel Steinkoler