Remodelers and kitchen designers from both coasts and everywhere in between are saying the same thing: When it comes to kitchen remodels, “clients want the biggest bang for their buck.” No news there, but now, with the continued perception — or reality, in many cities — of a shaky economy and tight lending environment, consumers at every level are more value-driven than they have been in the past decade, seeking “safe” projects that will hold value for resale.

To get clients what they want for their kitchens, “focus less on [individual] pricing and more on the budget,” advises Monique Flesher, an interior designer and the owner of Custom Design By Monique, in Salt Lake City. Up-front discussion and getting good budget numbers can help determine the best design.

Luckily, design trends are making it easier to stay within budget. “People want a cleaner look,” says Kim Holmberg, a designer with Lecy Bros. Homes & Remodeling, in Minneapolis. That translates into less fussy woodwork, “getting away from raised-panel cabinetry and going to a Shaker style door, which saves money,” she says.

Kathryn O’Donovan, designer with Normandy Remodeling, in Hinsdale, Ill., agrees that establishing a budget early in the process helps designers guide homeowners toward smart decisions. She sees assisting clients with value-engineering as a key role for remodelers.

But in the end, notes Ron Klassen, owner of Wallner Builders, in Milwaukee, “What’s important to one person doesn’t mean diddly to another. That’s what’s cool about remodeling; it’s the details that make the difference.”

Kitchen Control

Though most homeowners committed to working with a designer appreciate the value of good design, kitchen and bath designer Christie Board says that they still want the best return for their investment. She points out that the renovated kitchen shown here looks more expensive than it actually is. Read on for tips about making your clients’ remodeling dollars go further.

Larry Kantor

A. Cabinets

The owners of this kitchen chose price-friendly knotty alder cabinets but splurged on a contrasting darker distressed finish for the island, which has more of a furniture feel.

B. Countertops

Board says that using a lower-level granite, such as the Level I she used in this kitchen, can save $1,000 or more compared to a Level III or higher product, which is more expensive. The more movement and pattern there is in the stone, or how unusual the color is and the stone’s rarity, affect the level it is assigned, and therefore the cost.

C. Appliances

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Ways to meet homeownersí demands for value in their kitchen and bath remodels

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The 30-inch-wide range and twin 32-inch-wide refrigerator and freezer are from Frigidaire’s Professional Series. The fridge and freezer have a similar built-in look to luxury brands but cost just over $2,000 each. Board also saved money by installing the Panasonic microwave in a cabinet rather than building it in. Though it lacks a trim kit, this creates a more custom look.

D. Hardware

Just changing the cabinet hardware can make a dramatic difference with minimal cost and effort, says Lecy Bros. Homes designer Kim Holmberg, who will often show clients how to do this themselves to save money.

E. Backsplash

Board used a closeout sale tile for the backsplash. She says that the decision to keep the backsplash low was a design decision, not a cost-cutting measure — she didn’t want to have a large expanse of the textured tile because she felt it would make the area look too “heavy.”

F. Flooring

Concrete floors run about $7 per square foot. In this kitchen, the concrete company that did the floor charged $3.50 per square foot to pour the floor, and the homeowners saved the additional $3.50 per square foot by staining it themselves. Installing a midrange tile floor would have cost about $9 to $10 per square foot.


  • Simple door styles and construction are more cost-effective: partial versus full overlay; flat panels versus raised panels. As luck would have it, the recent trend toward “the contemporary style and cleaner Craftsman look is also a very cost-effective way to design and build,” notes Holmberg.
  • For a 60-inch-wide space, Lori Krengel, owner of Kitchens by Krengel, in St. Paul, Minn., recommends using two 30-inch cabinet boxes instead of one 30-inch and two 15-inch boxes and using dividers and accessories to organize items in these larger boxes.
  • Several designers mentioned cost-effective alder as an alternative to cherry or maple. Katie Hurst, showroom manager at Hurst Total Home, in Centerville, Ohio, says that alder has a similar grain pattern and accepts stain almost like cherry.
  • Cabinet finishing is the first place to save money, says Jeff Kida, of DDS Design Services, in suburban Chicago. Painted and glazed finishes are more expensive than stain.
  • Open shelves save on cabinetry costs.
  • “In the same location where you might have a base cabinet and wall cabinet you can have a tall pantry-style cabinet, instead,” says Andrew Forman, an architect at Legacy Design Build, in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Give clients storage spaces that function better in the same locations.”
  • Check for manufacturer incentives and rebates.
  • Consider refacing the cabinets (see “Refacing Options”, below).


  • Check in your supplier’s scratch-and-dent room or for marked-down appliances from last year, says Board, which are often still under warranty.
  • See if manufacturers are offering rebates or packages.
  • Instead of installing “trophy” stoves or ranges, ask homeowners to be realistic about their needs and to choose an appliance that fits their lifestyle, says Molly McCabe, founder of A Kitchen That Works, in Bainbridge Island, Wash.
  • If clients cook often, help them invest in good equipment, and maybe cut back on storage, which in kitchens “is not as important as the ability to cook,” says Emily Bourgeois of DeRhodes Construction, in Charlotte, N.C. The clients are better off updating during a remodel and not waiting to buy later. “It’s hard to say that the space you create today will fit the appliances in the future,” says Lecy Bros.’ Holmberg. “Plus, newer appliances are a lot more efficient than appliances that were available even 10 years ago — another money saver.”
  • Hide an inexpensive refrigerator or microwave in a nearby pantry.


Granite Look The “amore” profile on this laminate island resembles ogee-edged granite ó at a much lower cost.
courtesy Hurst Total Home Granite Look The “amore” profile on this laminate island resembles ogee-edged granite ó at a much lower cost.
  • Granite remains popular for kitchen countertops, and there are cost-effective options to consider with this material, too. Slabs with simple edges, such as square eased edges instead of an ogee profile, are less expensive than detailed profiles, says Normandy Remodeling’s Kathryn O’Donovan, adding that another budget option is to use a detail profile on just the island, not the entire kitchen. Monique Flesher, of Custom Design By Monique, also suggests “installing granite tile instead of a slab in countertops and doing your grout 1/16 of an inch.” She usually uses 12x12 granite tile for a countertop.
  • Quartz is another option that is a little more cost-effective than granite, but the look is different, so it depends on the clients’ preference.
  • “There are great looking laminates out there,” Board says. “If you do a rolled edge full 180 bullnose and pair it with a fun stone backsplash, it can look great.” Hurst says that Formica’s 180fx  collection uses images of real granite and stone. And McCabe adds that Wilsonart’s High Definition  faux stone products look “so realistic that you have to be within five feet of them to realize you’re looking at laminate. You get the stone look, but not the stone costs” (about $35 to $40 per square foot in her Bainbridge Island, Wash., area).
  • Some of Hurst’s clients are choosing quartz or granite for the island and high-definition laminate that looks like stone for the perimeter. McCabe says that granite stands out more when you use it in a special area such as an island.
Faux Wood Manufacturer Karndeanís† wood-effect vinyl flooring looks realistic and is durable.
courtesy Hurst Total Home Faux Wood Manufacturer Karndeanís† wood-effect vinyl flooring looks realistic and is durable.


  • Hurst uses a commercial-grade vinyl tile, which she says is glued down piece by piece. Depending on the size of the space, the labor cost is $4 to $5 per square foot less than ceramic tile.
  • Kida stands by LVT — luxury vinyl tile — which can be glued down or placed over an existing floor. Or, he says, “You can use a floating laminate or floating vinyl that has a rich look.” The slightly higher costs on these are outweighed by their longevity. “You can get 10 to 20 years out of them,” Kida says.
  • O’Donovan uses oak as a cost-effective wood species for floors, and says that finishing the product on site is also budget-friendly.
  • Upo, an engineered wood snap-together floor, is available in different species and patterns. “It’s a bit pricier than other choices on the market, but it has a 25-year warranty,” says Wallner Builders’ owner Ron Klassen, who also uses Mannington’s Adura, a manufactured tile.


  • Check with your supplier for discontinued tile. Use plain field tile with a few pieces, or one area, of more expensive accents. Flesher suggests using one run of glass tile (instead of a whole wall) when using subway tile, and Hurst points out that mesh-mounted tile is less expensive than individual listellos or borders. She cuts up 12x12 mosaic sheets to create liners.

Creative Facades

In Plain Sight Concealing work areas behind a bold blue door.
Dustin Peck In Plain Sight Concealing work areas behind a bold blue door.

Hidden Sides

Homeowners want kitchens that are part of an open living space, and designers such as Eddie DeRhodes, of DeRhodes Construction, in Charlotte, N.C., are getting more savvy about creating a working kitchen that still blends with the living area. In this townhouse project, DeRhodes and designer Emily Bourgeois came up with the idea of creating a large working and storage area separated from part of the kitchen by a barn door. Bourgeois describes it as “outside-the-box thinking” in what might be considered a traditional kitchen.

The main part of the kitchen that is open to the adjacent dining and living room is a quieter, more friendly place, says DeRhodes, and that’s where the gas range, dishwasher, and sink are located. The refrigerator, microwave, and other storage is in the pantry area, which has open shelves for easy access.

Refacing Options

Looks Like Custom Cabinet refacing is a good budget option.
Jewel Cabinet Refacing Looks Like Custom Cabinet refacing is a good budget option.

Cabinet refacing is an economical way to dramatically change the look of the kitchen, says Lecy Bros. designer Kim Holmberg. She is seeing more clients — at every price point — go this route. But refacing only makes sense if the box is well constructed and if the design calls for keeping appliances and maintaining the kitchen layout. “The box itself has to be in good shape,” Holmberg says. “Most of the wear and tear is on the doors and the drawers, anyway, and that’s the part that can date a kitchen.”

She suggests using a reputable subcontractor that uses real wood — anything from cherry to alder to birch or maple — to do the job. (The cabinets shown below, left, are refaced with quarter-inch solid maple.) “Just like anything else, you can find the guys that use laminates or the iron-on type of fake wood,” Holmberg says, “but I’m talking about ¼-inch solid hardwood that gets attached to the face and the box, so you essentially have a brand new solid cabinet.”

Jewel Cabinet Refacing Before

Typically, the refacer covers the cabinet box and stiles with wood, then replaces the doors and hinges and installs new, matching molding. Most clients are changing out raised-panel doors with Shaker- or Craftsman-style flat panels with hidden hinges. Done well and with solid wood, “they look like custom-made cabinets,” Holmberg says. Add new hardware and “it’s a really inexpensive way to update.”

Projects can range from $4,000 to $10,000 depending on the number of cabinets, the wood species, and the number of unique angles. Instead of several weeks for a custom cabinet job, refacing takes four or five days. “It’s a really efficient process,” Holmberg says. “Refacers can transform just about anything.”

Value & Splurge

For this hall bath, Hurst Total Home, in Centerville, Ohio, worked with the client to select standard options for most areas, with a few “splurge” items

courtesy Hurtst Total Home

B. Countertop

The countertop and backsplash are cultured marble — one of the most economical materials on the market. The 3-inch-high backsplash abuts the shower’s tile border.

E. Tile

The client opted for some high-style for the shower tile: a combination of several brands of expensive tile. The field tile and 1x1-inch mosaic in the niches is Walker Zanger; the mosaic border and pale blue liner are from Sicis, and the picture frame border, turtle, and bubbles are from Sonoma.

D. Fittings/Fixtures

The customer chose a Moen  ShowHouse line faucet and shower fittings — an upgrade from the company’s standard price point but not one of its higher-end lines. The Kohler  toilet and Americast tub from American Standard  are midprice point products.

C. Vanity

The 36-inch vanity is a midprice product from Yorktowne. Hurst Total Home showroom manager Katie Hurst says that although painted finishes like this one are more expensive than stained cabinetry, they are more affordable for a small unit. The homeowner chose standard drawer glides rather than upgrading to full-extension, soft-close glides.

A. Medicine Cabinet

The client splurged on a Robern PL Series  medicine cabinet because she needed storage but wanted the mirror to be framed with a finish that matched the light and faucet.