Jolynn Johnson

President, Crystal Kitchen Center,Crystal, Minn.

Clients have tighter budgets and are scaling back on high-end products. Instead of custom cabinets they’re choosing semi-custom, or an acrylic product in place of a cast-iron whirlpool tub. They’re keeping fixtures in their existing location to save on plumbing and electrical.

Tile manufacturers offer nicer looking tile so clients don’t have to choose natural stone to get a great look. Manufacturers are also becoming more price-sensitive, cutting their own internal expenses and passing the cost savings to homeowners with sales and rebates.

Once we’ve helped a client establish a budget, we try hard to steer them in the right direction by educating them about costs and finding out what they’re willing to splurge on and what is less important to them.

Glen Knight

General manager, E.A. Knight Construction,Carterville, Ill.

We’ve had a lot of requests for minor modifications to kitchens, such as new appliances, tops, and surface refinishing. We are not getting as many requests to gut and completely remodel. Instead, our customers seem to want to take a smaller bite, while still sprucing up an aspect of the kitchen that annoys them.

We are still remodeling bathrooms at the same pace as before the downturn. As this is a smaller project — $6,000 to $15,000 — more people are willing to take the plunge with this upgrade.

A major change that we’ve noticed is our customers’ wish to provide fixtures and/or to complete portions of the work themselves. We’ve completed many jobs recently where the customer has bargain-shopped fixtures/cabinetry online or by some other means. This is a slight inconvenience, but not a big deal if you plan ahead. We have also had many folks who want to paint or install the toiletry items. We are OK with this also as long as the customer promises to take credit/blame with their friends and family.

Mark T. White

Owner/director of design, Kitchen Encounters,Annapolis, Md.

We are doing more with semi-custom cabinets on jobs that would have previously been custom. With creative design ideas, we can produce “custom” kitchens without the expense of custom cabinets. Another money-saving option is to use particle board cabinets instead of plywood. When we do this, we specify a plywood sink base cabinet since it is more at risk for moisture damage.

Most homeowners don’t realize that stained cabinets cost less than painted. With a painted kitchen, we sometimes have the contractor provide the crown molding and paint it on site to match the cabinets. This can be more cost-effective than ordering painted trim from the cabinet company.

Redesigning the kitchen within the existing walls certainly saves compared to moving walls, doors, and windows. Creating a “pass through” can open up a plan without the cost of removing a whole wall. Keeping the sink, refrigerator, and stove in existing locations helps save time and money.

Paul Lesieur

Owner, Silvertree Remodeling,Minneapolis

I do midrange and some lower-budget kitchens, and my customers are now bringing up laminate for countertop choices and also looking at shaving costs on flooring. I have had two clients recently go with an inexpensive vinyl floor tile. It looked good but it is a cheap product and won’t last.

However, clients are still choosing well-made wood cabinets. Lighting is not the place to save money. I tell clients that it will never be faster or less expensive to run wiring than before your cabinets or backsplash are installed. I tell them that if they want to save money on lighting, get rid of recessed lights and go with task (undercabinet) lighting and general surface-mounted ceiling lights. We are spending more time asking questions to hit the hot buttons for a useful and value-priced kitchen.

Bill Dolan

Residential sales and design manager, Pine Street Carpenters,West Chester, Pa.

A lot of our clients still have a taste for the high end — they just want it at a deep discount. Without compromising quality, we’ve been able to manage some sharp new value-driven kitchens and baths by:

  • Limiting choices to items that fit within the client’s budget.
  • Suggesting that clients use recycled glass tiles, which are costly to buy and install, as an accent strip and not for a whole wall.
  • Right-sizing. We tell clients they really don’t need to have a gigantic bathroom — a 30-inch by 60-inch tub or a 3 foot by 4 foot shower is still a good size for human scale.
  • Telling clients to select a well-made cabinet box with good internal hardware, then choosing wisely on the door style and finish, which can swing the cost of the same cabinets by thousands. Our semi-custom line is currently outselling our custom lines.

Limiting choices requires discipline — a common trait in the first brave group of customers to venture back into the market.

Sarah Michalowski

Designer, Sawhill Custom Kitchens & Design Minneapolis, Minn.

We are installing:

  • Simplified, but classic cabinet door styles, such as Shaker versus doors with applied molding/raised panels.

  • We suggest alder or maple wood species versus more expensive cherry or walnut, though clients still usually go for cherry.

  • A single stain treatment versus a stain with a glaze or other techniques.

  • Clients are choosing budget-friendly sinks and faucets.

  • Rather than including an extra purified water faucet at the sink, they are using the main faucet or refrigerator as sources of filtered water.

  • Instead of a full backsplash of high-end tile, we are installing simple field tile with high-end accents.

  • Mid-level appliances can offer some similar attributes to higher level appliances, so clients are really gauging whether or not to double their appliance budgets. Some might choose a built-in refrigerator versus an integrated refrigerator.

  • Simplified versus elaborate moldings.

Jodi Swartz

Kitchen Designer and selections specialist, Encore Construction, Sudbury, Mass.

We help all clients explore the design-build process, because by allowing Encore to design the project, we can take into account the scope of work and the client’s budget and in that way control the cost of the project. Clients are taking advantage of the different cabinet manufacturers’ promotions. These promotions have the potential to save them 5% to 40% on cabinet orders. We steer clients to the right cabinet line during the promotional timeframe. Tall pantry cabinets with roll-out shelving are expensive. Increasingly, we are designing 18-inch deep cabinetry without roll-outs, which allow our client to see most items without difficulty. In addition, we are designing shelved pantry closets with a door rather than purchasing and supplying pantry cabinetry.
We are ordering and installing some after-market items ourselves, such as tray dividers, and utensil and cutlery drawers, which saves on the cost of the manufacturer’s customization and modification process.
Some clients are purchasing ranges, instead of a cooktop and wall oven, saving cabinetry costs. Many customers are opting for small microwaves sitting on a shelf, instead of larger, built-in models. Many clients are opting to purchase counter-depth free-standing refrigerators instead of the more built-in versions.
We are purchasing stone at promotional prices, so we are able to offer our clients a broad selection of stone and quartz products at a savings. We are designing some kitchen floors, backsplashes, and bathrooms with inexpensive field tiles, and accenting those with a smattering of more expensive decorative tile. For some backsplashes, we’re using laminate sheets instead of tile. Other alternatives for walls include Chemetal metal laminate, magnetic boards, chalkboards, and dry-erase whiteboard.