So often when I give design presentations, there is enthusiasm for the concepts shown and concern about the budget. My work with builders has confirmed that great kitchens sell homes, and that there must be a huge return on every dollar spent in order to maintain the budget and reach that goal.
Often, we find greater variety and some flexibility in the budgets of our private clients, but I have never heard a client wish to compromise on their vision of the kitchen in order to balance the books. A recent discussion with friends, designer Mary Jo Camp and architect Manny Gonzales, focused on what makes a great kitchen and how to design it on budget, basic tenets that cannot be compromised and concepts for stretching dollars in budget kitchen design. Following is a roundup of our top 10 guidelines for distinctive kitchen design on budget.
- Design can and must be good at any price point. The most luxurious kitchen will not be appreciated unless it is designed well with a client’s needs and lifestyle in mind. Likewise, the most affordable kitchen will be a success if thoughtful design is applied.
- A very close second is what Manny calls the WOW factor (see related story, “Wow Appeal“). The look and character of a space must speak to all of the client’s senses, and to their personality and approach to life. Time in this kitchen should impact the cooks and guests with outstanding memories. Meeting the budget cannot detract from the wow factor.
- Along with function, storage, flexibility and access should be guiding principles. Pantries, whether “walk-in” or created in cabinetry, provide some storage within each cook’s reach as long as you have planned an entry to the pantry that is flexible and accessible. “Found storage” in adjacent spaces, such as under a staircase or between the studs of a wall, can individualize a design with minimal expense. Flexibility in the size, shape and configuration of the work centers can support differences in the habits and abilities of the household members, and they can make more happen in less space. A center that works as a place to eat, do homework or pay bills can keep the budget of space and money down, and it can provide an alternative height work surface, and allow for personalization.
- Decide when to spend. Choose that one luxury – the island top or the accent tile or that range that is at the top of a client’s wish list – that will become the focal point or memory detail and adjust the other elements to fit the budget.
- Don’t be swayed by the latest fashion, but style the space to be compatible with a client’s home and approach to life. If a design or color trend is of interest to your client, add it in the accents, where it can be easily changed at minimal expense.
- Create a strong connection to the outdoors at whatever level fits the budget and the program. From increased window area, improving view and natural light sources, to French doors or a glass wall, the kitchen must relate to the outdoor social area. An “outdoor kitchen” may be as simple as a grill on the lighted terrace. Planned directly outside the main kitchen, the two spaces can work together. When appropriate, using the same material for flooring inside and out can enhance the connection.
- Cabinetry can be configured to reduce cost and improve function. Consider combining cabinets, which can sometimes increase the flexibility of the storage and reduce the cost. Using drawer bases can also improve the design. While the drawers are higher in cost than a cabinet without them, they are beautifully accessible, they can emphasize a horizontal design statement and they eliminate the cost of storage accessories. To be sure the function is not compromised, larger drawers may need heavier hardware. When the design supports it, eliminate returning corners as this can be storage that is tough to access. When there is a returning corner, accessorizing it to make sure the storage works is money well spent.
- Careful selection and combining of appliances can sometimes fulfill the dream and reduce the cost, but this must be done carefully. When a range replaces a cooktop with an oven immediately beneath it, there is a healthy cost savings, but if that oven was planned at a more accessible height, this compromise would impact both design and function. Selecting an appliance that performs more than one function, such as a steam or a speed/convection oven, might be another way to save not just cost, but space. Proper and sometimes creative installation can raise the perceived sophistication of a design. A full-size freestanding refrigerator can be installed to appear cabinet depth by pocketing it into the wall, or by building out adjacent cabinetry to accommodate the extra depth, making sure to design for proper door-swing clearance.
- Think of hardware and lighting as jewelry. Simple hardware throughout a kitchen can be enhanced for little cost through the use of a unique finish, or the selective application of contrasting hardware only at the focal point, such as on a sink cabinet or hutch storage for dishes. As we know, lighting serves both decorative and functional roles in the design, and like the stand-out hardware, this may be a place to splurge.
- Whether it’s walls, floors or ceilings, counters or backsplashes, it is often possible to imitate a lavish finish at lower price points. Large-format laminates can imitate the stone or metal finishes more common at the high end. Less expensive materials can be applied in unique ways, such as a standard machined subway tile in a herringbone pattern, to add the distinction of a luxury product. Color, texture and pattern can be applied for impact at very little extra cost. The contrast and balance of these finishes go a long way to defining the luxe message in a space.
Of course, there is much more to be said on this topic, so consider this a starting point for your own collection of ideas and guidelines for designing kitchens on a budget – without compromising their quality.