When a kitchen remodel goes right

At a party this weekend, I chatted with a couple of friends about their recent kitchen remodel, a project they’d been wanting to do for years. (Though having enjoyed many dinners at their home, I can attest that their kitchen’s outdated cabinetry and partially working stovetop never stopped my friends from cooking delicious meals and hosting fun evenings.)

My friends worked with a local design firm specializing in kitchens and baths, and the husband remarked more than once — and with some incredulity — about how much time the designer spent getting to know them: their priorities for the new kitchen, how they cooked, how they lived, their color and style preferences. A competitor they considered presented them with a workable design, but one that felt far less personal and more off-the-shelf. It also had twice the budget and timeline.

The footprint of their kitchen didn’t change: no walls were moved, but the appliances were relocated for better workflow and the 104-year-old floor was leveled. They got several new appliances, and all new cabinets, fixtures, lighting and hardware. The project was on budget and largely finished within the promised four-week window.

I later heard my friends telling their renovation story to others at the party. They are ecstatic — and I look forward to enjoying a meal made in that new kitchen soon.

Elevating the category

Kitchens (and baths) will be top of mind for many in the home furnishings industry next week when the National Kitchen + Bath Association’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show kicks off Feb. 27 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The NKBA recently announced the creation of its first Design Council, a group of designers and influencers that the association hopes will “elevate the kitchen and bath industry.” The inaugural council includes celebrity designers Thom Filicia of New York-based Thom Filicia Inc., Michel Smith Boyd of Atlanta-based Smith Boyd Interiors, Caleb Anderson of New York-based Drake/Anderson and Celerie Kemble of New York-based Kemble Interiors. The quartet will appear together at the NKBA | KBIS booth at 1:30 p.m. PT Wednesday, Feb. 28, if you happen to be at the show and want to stop by.

The Design Council seems like a good move, because while many people spend more time in their kitchens than most other rooms of their home, they don’t love the idea of renovating a kitchen. Oh, they may have a long list of things they’d like to update, improve and change, but the actual process of renovating a kitchen is so disruptive and pricey that homeowners put it off for years. My friends had lived with their less-than-ideal kitchen since 1994!

Well-known interior designers may help to convince homeowners to take the plunge and create their dream kitchens and baths sooner rather than later. And the sector could use a boost: The frenzy of remodels during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic has quieted.

The NKBA’s 2024 Kitchen & Bath Market Outlook expects revenues in the kitchen and bath sector to be down 3% this year, driven in part by a still sluggish housing market and high interest rates. The report finds a bright spot: “To combat affordability issues, homebuilders are providing more quick-move-in homes that offer limited customization options. This trend is expected to prompt homeowners wishing to replace standard finishes with personalized upgrades to remodel sooner.”

A recently released Houzz survey of kitchen trends says the cost of a major kitchen remodel (replacing all cabinets and appliances like my friends did) has jumped 22%, from $45,000 in 2022 to $55,000 in 2023. My guess is that inflation drove most of that increase, rather than homeowners splurging on higher-end appliances or countertops.

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Why remodel?

Like my friends, homeowners have two primary reasons for beginning a kitchen model, according to Houzz: “They can no longer stand its style” (42%) or the kitchen is no longer functional because of deterioration or other reasons (35%). Having the money helps, too. Some 36% of respondents said that having the financial means to pay for the renovation prompted them to get started.

“While improving the home’s resale value remains a consideration in kitchen upgrades, it has declined in popularity, dropping by 3 percentage points (to 26%) year-over-year,” the Houzz report says. I noted, too, that 4% of respondents said “unforeseen situations” prompted their kitchen remodel. A friend who had a tree crash through her house last summer falls into that category, but that is a far-less-pleasant story for another day.

And, like my friends who are thrilled with their new kitchen, many homeowners know a kitchen remodel is not a project to tackle on their own. More than half (55%) hire a general contractor. A quarter of those renovating the space hire a kitchen designer and 16% enlist the help of an interior designer. But that means there are still plenty of homeowners who aren’t taking advantage of the expertise of designers, who could introduce them to more functional floorplans, new finishes and new technologies. Maybe, in addition to elevating the kitchen and bath sector, the NKBA’s Design Council will help homeowners to see the value of hiring an interior designer for their kitchen projects.

Next week, we’ll look at some key trends in kitchen design, because that’s the fun part, right?

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