A recipe for a reno success

By Sarah Richardson

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Sarah's House - Kitchen Makeover

You can design a fabulous, functional kitchen without breaking the bank. It's a matter of knowing when to splurge and when to save.

A house is not a home without a place to entertain, welcome friends and whip up some gourmet feasts. In any project I tackle, its imperative that adequate funds be allocated for the kitchen and dining area. It's the hub of the home and the centre of the action so I like to create a space equivalent to "mission control."

In order to achieve this goal, my preference is always for an open concept plan, yet this desire is almost always at odds with the bare bones existing space I have to start with. I tend to tackle more reno's than new builds, so the first step towards satiating my gourmet tastes almost always involves upheaval, dust, demolition and a sledgehammer (plus an engineer, a beam or two, and all manner of skilled trades).

Decorating can solve many cosmetic blemishes, but the big changes that create the best payoff can't be accomplished without a real reno. If dollars are tight you'll need to prioritize where to save and where to splurge to make it all happen — here's some tips that I hope will help.

Sarah's House - Kitchen MakeoverDetermine the demo scope

My first step in any renovation is a meeting with the contractor to find out what the most logical plan for making structural changes will be. Instead of arbitrarily deciding that all walls must go, I like to ask my contractor what makes the most sense and what the most cost effective solution can accomplish.

In this case I was able to remove the entire wall towards the dining area and most of the wall connecting to the living room, save for one vertical post that needed to remain if I wanted to save some dough. In the grand scheme of removing over 18 feet of existing wall, is it really such a big deal to be left with one measly post?

Keeping my eye on the bargain prize, I decided that I could instead make the post useful to me. I widened it to 18 inches to accommodate enough width on the kitchen side to mount a small flat panel TV, a bank of plugs, and a phone jack. By discreetly hiding this technology I was able to put TV right where it would be most easily watched from both the kitchen, eating counter and dining room (thanks to a swivel arm), and ensure that the sightlines from the front door weren't marred by a direct view of phones and wires. Clutter has no place in the open plan kitchen!

Design around what remains

I'm pretty flexible when it comes to layout and floor plans. No matter what the available space looks like, there are always numerous workable solutions to make the room function in an efficient and useful way. It's one of the elements I love best about my work — no two spaces are ever the same and a new, original design is always needed.

Embrace the challenge of what's possible instead of allowing yourself to become frustrated by what you can't have, what doesn't fit, or what you can't afford. Being reasonable and realistic about what's achievable is paramount to having a happy renovation.

Shift your views

I've often found that the major stumbling block to a great design stems from an existing window opening. In my case there was a picture window in the kitchen that looked right into the neighbour's kitchen and a tiny door in the dining room that made the space feel even tighter than it was, while also limiting access to an awesome, private side deck (the perfect place to slip outside on a beautiful morning and enjoy coffee and the paper in the peaceful morning sun).

Building codes only allow a certain percentage of window and door openings on any side of the house so you may find that you can't open a new door unless you close a few windows. My solution was to trade off a small window in the powder room and to shift the opening from the kitchen, allowing me to knock open the entire dining room wall, creating a glorious 9 foot wide "lift and slide" door in the dining room.

The new opening blurs the distinction between indoors and out, and fills the room with so much light it now feels open and airy — and far bigger than the tiny footprint would indicate! In bricking up the kitchen window, I gained enough wall space to hang much needed upper cabinets, replacing much of the storage I lost when the walls came down. This allowed me to centre the range to create long runs of prep space on either side — a better solution to its original placement where it was crammed into the wall with no room to move around.

Cash in on your cabinet choice

I love the endless possibilities that custom designed and manufactured cabinets offer, but it's not always in the budget. When push comes to shove, I would rather have it "all" and get the floors, counters, backsplash, appliances and accessories that I want rather than sacrifice everything else for custom cabinets.

This is where my save/splurge approach to design really comes into play. By selecting an in-stock, off the rack cabinet style from those clever Swedes at Ikea (that happened to also be on sale for 50 per cent off the regular price!!!) I was able to install all my cabinets and granite counters, customized to my preferences as much as the building blocks would allow, for a grand total of about $11,000. With over 30 linear feet of counter top (thanks to a raised bar that wraps around from the dining room right through the living room) you can imagine that my save really paid off!

Never sacrifice your need for custom touches

My design partner, Tommy, laughed at my inability to accept the in-stock kitchen cabinet choices exactly as they were offered. He mocked my dismay when I couldn't get everything I dreamed of, but then I showed him a thing or two.

By re-spraying some the upper cabinet doors and the door faces that opened onto the living and dining rooms, I was able to extract a reference to the muted olive undertones in both the kitchen counters and the living room fabrics; by cutting down pieces of in-stock laminate countertop with an aluminum edge, I was able to turn a dead corner into a stunning open display area with floating shelves; by sourcing handles and pulls from other retailers I was able to give my cabinets the high-end look I desired (and had satisfied my obsessive need to make it "mine").

Keep your inner chef in check

No kitchen seems complete these days without sleek and sexy stainless steel appliances to give the cool look of a restaurant kitchen. But let's face it, top of the line professional grade appliances would have completely blown my budget, so I was on the hunt for a more palatable solution.

Instead of professional restaurant I opted for "café" appliances, which cater to kitchen enthusiasts trying to get it all for a little less. In the end, by making a few simple tradeoffs I happily ended up with a dynamite kitchen that guarantees "mission control" is humming whenever the chef is ready to roll.

Topics: Kitchen, How-To, Sarah Richardson, Sarah's House, Inspiration, Interior Design, Decor

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