What to know about renovating your kitchen during covid

I know I’m not the only one more than a year into this pandemic who is looking around their kitchen and thinking the space needs a little TLC and perhaps some revamping. Although my situation is different from most people’s — I’ve started a little baking business, so the toll on my countertops, painted cabinets and tile floor has been massive — I think the current appetite to improve the appearance and function of this much-used room is shared by many.

Unfortunately, a kitchen renovation means two things: You need to be prepared to spend some serious cash, and you need to be patient; the wait lists for contractor availability and access to raw materials and appliances are longer than ever.

When it comes to the first scary point — the budget — Eric Shipe, owner of Bath Plus Kitchen, a kitchen and bath remodeling company based in Alexandria, Va., says to prepare yourself for sticker shock, primarily because of the current high cost of lumber and building materials. Expect to spend $65,000 to $90,000 “if you’re replacing all materials in a 200-square-foot kitchen, L-shape with an island,” he says. A luxury kitchen will range from $110,000 to $150,000 or higher.

Claire Staszak, principal designer and owner of Centered by Design, a Chicago-based design firm with a specialization in kitchen design, says that depending on where you live and your kitchen’s size, “the average renovation with high-end appliances and semi-custom cabinets” starts at $100,000. Of that budget, both Shipe and Staszak say the bulk of it — about 40 percent — will go toward cabinets, with appliances as the second-biggest line item.

If these estimates are out of your price range, Shipe says, think about taking out a loan for your project. “Even if you have the cash, with rates so low, why not consider financing?” He continues: “The number one regret is not spending enough to get what you want. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize they can finance until after they’ve spent tens of thousands on a kitchen remodel.” His advice: If you want a kitchen you’ll love and one that will last, spend the money to get you there.

As for hiring the right people, Staszak says, vet everyone with referrals, and see their work in person, either in a showroom or a former client’s home. “The execution of your project is what is most important,” she says, “so invest in the best contractor, designer, cabinet company, etcetera, that you can or feel comfortable with.” And Shipe cautions against using anyone who is too eager. “Demand is at an all-time high,” he says. “By the time a crew is available to start your project, materials should be, too. If someone is telling you they can start your kitchen remodel in the next one to three weeks, that’s a red flag.”

When it comes to selecting the nuts and bolts of a kitchen remodel, both Shipe and Staszak shared some of their top recommendations.

Countertops: Both like quartzite, because it’s a natural stone with the look of high-end marble, but it has the durability and heat and stain resistance of granite. Shipe also says to consider either quartz or Dekton because of their practicality; both are manufactured, rather than naturally occurring, and require little care. If you end up choosing a natural stone, Staszak says, make sure you see a full slab, not just a small sample, because the scale of the pattern or veining can vary.

Flooring: Both experts say that wide-plank white oak is the choice du jour. Staszak says it takes a variety of stains well. But Shipe cautions that because of its high demand, prices have gone up. He suggests considering luxury vinyl planks, because they’re waterproof and half the price.

Appliances: Shipe likes the matte white models from GE’s Café brand, but he also uses luxury brands, such as Sub-Zero, Wolf and Viking. Staszak leans toward Thermador, GE’s Monogram and Sub-Zero. For lower-priced models, she recommends Samsung for refrigeration and Bosch for dishwashers, as well as the Café line.

Because appliances play such a big role in the design process, Staszak tries to have clients commit to models before she begins drawing up the kitchen. The clients’ ultimate choices are those that meet their cooking, space and installation needs. Whatever you end up selecting, Staszak says, ensure your cabinetmaker has all of your appliance choices and measurements before cabinet production.

Cabinetry: Shipe says to consider more affordable laminate cabinets, especially given long lead times for painted and stained cabinetry. “Laminate cabinet technology has come a long way,” he notes, “and many include features such as anti-fingerprint and antimicrobial.” Shipe also recommends frameless cabinetry, which can give you 5 to 10 percent more storage space. And he says to think twice before installing trendy floating shelves. “They are a commitment. Your challenges are dust and organization,” he says. “We recommend not cramming too much onto floating shelves. If you’re using them for everyday items, such as plates, bowls or cups, it may end up looking too cluttered.”

It’s not surprising that both Shipe and Staszak emphasize the importance of working with a skilled kitchen designer or architect to lay out your cabinets, because a large portion of your budget goes to their fabrication. Staszak sees a lot of awkward cabinet designs that don’t seem well-planned, useful or beautiful. “Good cabinet design comes down to tiny quarter-inch details,” she says.

Layout: A skilled designer will help you think about how the space meets your needs. Take, for example, the case of an island design. Before beginning, Shipe would ask his clients if, when hosting, they want a large, open island where everyone can sit and be part of the action, or an island that hides the kitchen mess but provides great storage. Depending on the answer, he provides a design in which the island top is all one level, so the kitchen is open and inviting, or has a raised bar and a tall storage area to hide the kitchen mess. A designer should listen to your needs and be able to translate them to the design.

Trends: Lastly, both Shipe and Staszak are cautious of kitchen trends. Although they realize that Pinterest and Instagram are great resources for gathering ideas, picking a timeless design, especially when making such a big investment, is more prudent. Staszak says that if you want a trendy note in your kitchen, then focus on lighting and hardware; they are the easiest to swap out and experiment with. And whatever you do, Staszak says, gather samples of all your materials, look at them together before you order and pick your paint color last.

Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”

Backyard kitchen trends provide budget-friendly options

You might think a decked-out backyard kitchen in Pennsylvania defies logic, but thanks to new technological advancements, year-round patio dinner parties are now well within reach — no matter the climate where you live.

“It used to be just the purview of the Sun Belt, but it has spread because of the improvement of materials and design of the components,” says Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of product for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, an outdoor kitchen equipment manufacturer based in Chicago and Galesburg, Mich. “In a very high-end home, you might have radiant heating under the bathroom floor, and people will do that for their countertop. Flip a switch, melt the snow and use the outdoor kitchen.”

Of course, someone willing to install a counter-warming snow-buster would be on the “pointy end of the budget stick,” as Faulk puts it. The reality is that not everyone can afford all the bells and whistles, such as a cocktail station, a countertop fire feature, custom granite or a grill burner for cooking sauces.

Go for the grill

David Bond, president of Florida-based U.S. Brick & Block Systems, which installs pavers, pools, outdoor kitchens and more, says the grill is the cornerstone for your budget. To stay within your price range, you might have to pass on luxuries, such as a sear zone, a griddle or infrared rotisserie. “That can bring the cost down,” he says, adding that size is less important than quality. “It’s always best to get a good grill brand than to have a big grill that’s not going to last.”

Faulk, who also authored the recently released cookbook Food + Fire: Cooking Outside with Kalamazoo Outdoor Grillmaster Russ Faulk, agrees that the grill is the most important feature of any outdoor ooking space.

“Where I tell people not to scrimp is the grill, especially if it’s being built into masonry,” he says. “If you hate your grill, you’re probably not going to love your outdoor kitchen. And they’re tough to swap out because they don’t come in standardized sizes.”

Faulk adds that opting for movable components like tables and countertops rather than large stone kitchens with built-in grills is an increasing trend, somewhat driven by budget-minded homeowners who like the idea of growing their outdoor kitchens gradually.

“Instead of making your design decisions permanent and literally set in stone, there are a lot of other options to change and evolve your kitchen over time.”

Exceptional extras

When it comes to design, the next thing to consider with built-in kitchen spaces is what type of accent  materials you’re interested in for countertops and cabinets, which often feature some type of masonry. “Typically, the thing with the most impact is the type of stone used on the cabinet,” says Bond. “Most everything else is just stainless steel appliances, so your stone and countertop will make the most difference.”

Despite efforts to rein in the spending, the urge to splurge on alfresco cooking and dining isn’t going anywhere.

“People are using the outdoor of their homes more than ever,” says Bond. “There are certainly instances of people spending more time and money on their outdoor kitchens than they are on their indoor kitchen.”

For those who really want to go all out, popular add-ons include entertainment zones like bars, dedicated cleanup areas and specialty refrigeration like wine coolers, freezers and under-counter refrigerator drawers to keep meat and produce separate. Faulk says smokers and wood-fired grills are especially hot right now, following the cooking trends popping up in restaurants across the country.

“What’s great about the outdoor kitchen, especially how it relates to the enthusiast, is it’s really difficult to implement this specialty equipment in an inside kitchen,” he says of restaurant trends influencing home trends.

He points to the rise in home pizza ovens after chefs across America fell in love with Neapolitan pies.

“You have to be cooking those pizzas at 800 degrees, and that was really hard to implement in your home, so it went outdoors, naturally,” says Faulk, who adds that he expects Argentinian-style grills, which are equipped with an adjustable height and a sloped V-shaped grate surface to allow more precise temperature control and uniform cooking, to gain in popularity this year.

Perhaps the best splurges, however, are those that make your outdoor kitchen available whenever the mood strikes, such as weather-proof cabinetry so you can keep everything you need stocked and handy — or maybe even that fancy countertop warmer.

“If you feel like you have to spend three to four hours to get your outdoor kitchen ready just to use it, you’re not going to be excited about using it,” says Faulk. “It should be always ready to go, always easy.”




Kitchen Storage a ‘Priority’ in Renovations, Study Finds

Kitchen storage is a key priority that’s leading to continued growth in cabinet replacement and modification, according to a survey conducted recently by Houzz, Inc., the Palo Alto, CA-based online platform for home renovation and design.

According to Houzz’s “2021 U.S. Kitchen Trends Study,” 94% of the kitchen renovations initiated by survey participants included some work on cabinets, with most (64%) replacing all cabinets.

Of the one-third of homeowners who opted for partial cabinet upgrades, more than a quarter added at least some cabinets to their newly renovated kitchen, nearly four times as many as the previous year, said Houzz. The percentage of homeowners adding or upgrading a pantry space also increased, with nearly half the surveyed homeowners upgrading pantry cabinets and one in eight adding a walk-in pantry, both gains from the previous year.

“Storage has really come into focus as people have spent more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Liza Hausman, Houzz v.p./industry marketing. “We’re seeing an increase in the amount of cabinetry added in renovations, and more homeowners are reaching out to professionals for help making their kitchens work better, most often within the same layout and square footage.”

Among other key survey findings:

• Cabinetry in renovated kitchens is often equipped with built-in specialty organizers, drawers or trays. The most popular organizers are for cookie sheets and spices (48% and 39%, respectively), while the most common specialty drawers are pullout waste or recycling drawers (60%). More than one-third of kitchen renovations include specialty shelving trays, such as revolving trays, pullout or swing-out trays, making hard-to-reach spaces more accessible.

• The number of renovating homeowners creating an open-concept floor plan by opening their kitchen to other interior spaces has dropped dramatically since 2019, although one in five homeowners opens the kitchen up to outdoor space.

• Nearly two-thirds of renovated kitchens feature an island and more than half of those newly added or upgraded islands feature a new appliance, up three percentage points from the previous year. Among these islands, more than a third include a dishwasher and/or microwave.

• High-tech features appear in more than half of upgraded faucets and nearly one-third of upgraded appliances. Popularity for appliances with wireless controls has grown by five percentage points since last year.

Houzz’s survey was conducted online among more than 2,000 homeowners using Houzz who are in the midst of, are planning, or recently completed a kitchen renovation, according to the company.

4 Kitchen Renovation Trends for Investors To Consider in 2021

2020 brought about major changes to the way we live. So it’s not surprising we saw changes in kitchen design as well. After all, if you’re in lockdown, you start to notice what you like and dislike about the heart of the home. If you want to get the kitchen in your rental properties or flips on trend for 2021, here are some renovations to consider.

1. Touchless faucets

Hygiene was among the biggest changes Americans made around the house during COVID-19. Remember when you couldn’t find any retailer with disinfecting wipes?

Because of food prep, the kitchen should be the cleanest room in the house, and the biggest hygienic tech advance for home kitchens has got to be the touchless faucet. After working with raw chicken, for example, most cooks wash their hands before moving onto prepping something else. But that entails touching the faucet while your hands are still contaminated (or awkwardly trying to turn on the faucet with your elbow). Handwashing using a touchless faucet means everything, including the faucet, stays clean.

For savvy real estate investors, the best thing about this new trend is that a brand-new touchless faucet is attractive and makes for a cheap upgrade, as little as a couple hundred dollars.

You’ve no doubt used touchless faucets before, probably in public restrooms. You wave your hands in front of a sensor, and the water activates. You can also get a voice-activated faucet if you choose; not only will that device turn on the water when you tell it to, it will dispense a particular amount as well.

2. Large kitchen islands

With more people at home all day during the pandemic, flex space has become important. With people in the kitchen much of the day working or doing homework besides cooking and eating, the oversized kitchen island (which has been popular for a few years now) is more important than ever.

By oversized, we’re talking an island large enough to seat at least four people. With an island this big, not only can the home chef enjoy a surface large enough to prepare food, people can eat at the island and, when it’s not mealtime, can comfortably work or do homework there as well.

3. Warm colors

If you have a white kitchen, there’s no need to change it. White kitchens remain a perennial favorite. People tend to keep a white space cleaner because they can better see those spills and smudges. (See the hygienic trend above.)

But because people have been home more, a warm and cozy kitchen, to match the comfort food prepared there, is also appealing. If you want to add color to the kitchen, the 2021 trends are practically limitless. You can work with shades of green, blue, red, and yellow and make them work with your existing color palatte.

4. More storage

With more people preparing food at home, storage space is becoming even more important than usual. People want a dedicated pantry and clever spots to store all the new must-have appliances they’ve been amassing: the air fryer, Panini maker, toaster oven, juicer, bread maker, and Instapot.

The Millionacres bottom line

The kitchen can make or break a house sale, as it can be a huge turn on or turn off to buyers and renters. Everyone scrutinizes, or at least notices, the kitchen. If yours needs an update, it’s probably a good choice of your investment dollars to do so. And while you’re renovating, why not stay on trend? It will make a difference.

Pandemic drives kitchen remodeling projects

COVID-19 has meant more people are staying home and cooking in their kitchens now than in the past. Not surprisingly, that has resulted in a flurry of kitchen remodeling projects.

People are “forced to be home” and are “sick of their kitchens,” said Alicia Molenaar, a designer and co-owner of Kitchen Fair in Willmar.

During the pandemic people are looking for a new look and ways to improve functionality and efficiency in their kitchens.

While updating paint or adding a colorful backsplash can be handled by a weekend do-it-yourselfer, a kitchen makeover can benefit from a professional designer.

The process begins with taking measurements of an existing kitchen space and an interview with the homeowner to find out how they use their kitchen, how many people typically cook there at one time and what they want in terms of style and functionality.

Giving a kitchen a new look can be as simple as installing new hardware – where the trend is for larger handles that can fit a man-sized hand – or as complex as totally gutting an existing kitchen and installing new cabinets, countertops, appliances, lighting and flooring.

Molenaar, who’s had 20 years experience as a designer, and fellow Kitchen Fair designer, Bruce Dexter, who has more than 40 years of experience designing kitchens, shared their observations on what’s currently trending in Midwest Minnesota kitchen designs.

Drawers vs doors:

Using deep drawers to store dishes and pots and pans are a design favorite, according to Molenaar. For people who are shorter, or those with back and shoulder problems, storing heavy plates and pots below the counter is easier than reaching up into a cupboard.

Soft-close drawers

Unlike old kitchen drawers that could be pulled out three-fourths of the way, full-extension drawers allow even the dark recesses of a drawer to be utilized. Two-tiered cutlery drawers allow silverware to be stored on the first layer and then slid back to reveal lesser-used items on the second layer. Drawers fitted with tilted shelves create easy-to-use storage for spice jars as another way to utilize space efficiently in ways that make a kitchen seem larger than it is.

With a gentle touch soft-close drawers close magically by themselves. Having a fight in a kitchen isn’t quite the same in a remodeled kitchen because drawers can’t be slammed shut, said Molenaar with a laugh.

Secret spaces

Kitchen nooks and crannies can pose design challenges but pull-out drawers can be fit into skinny spaces to store utensils like cutting boards and cookie sheets. Dead space in front of the sink can be turned into a small storage place for sponges and scrubbers.

Special cabinet designs are popular for large stand mixers that may be too big to store on the counter and too heavy to carry from a storage cabinet to the counter. A mechanical lift allows the mixer to be stored out of site in a cabinet and then brought to counter-height.


Kitchen Fair has been busy reconfiguring cabinets in kitchens to allow space for a first-time dishwasher. A new trend is for dishwasher drawers in islands that accommodate open floor plans without a lot of walls for traditional dishwashers. Raising dishwashers up to waist level is another popular design trend. Surprisingly, a fair number of people don’t want a dishwasher, said Molenaar. However, often a cabinet will be installed close to the sink that could easily be removed to install a dishwasher in the future.

Smart appliances, like touchless faucets, ovens that can be turned on and off when you’re not in your house, refrigerators that record inventory and garbage cans that let you know what you need to put on the grocery list based on the container you recycled or threw away are quickly making their way into current design plans, according to Dexter. “The smart appliances are quite appealing,” he said. “It’s here. It’s all happening.”

Islands in the stream

Most people want a kitchen island but sometimes an existing kitchen space isn’t big enough to allow adequate space and cooks are “bumping into each other,” said Molenaar. Installing a tiny island just for the sake of having an island may not be the most efficient use of space and it might have to be sacrificed or replaced with a peninsula.

Open shelves

Despite HGTV’s apparent love of open shelving for plates and other kitchen decor, most people in this region opt for cupboards. “They want to hide it all away,” said Molenaar, for a kitchen that’s “clean and clutter-free.”

Soffits, or bulkheads, are coming out and replaced with cabinets that go to the ceiling to maximize storage. Staggered cabinet levels are out and one-level cabinets with “clean lines” are in.

Cabinet styles

When Dexter started designing kitchens 40 years ago, cabinets were “oak, oak, oak and oak.”

Now the trend is for natural hickory, cherry and maple cabinets. About a quarter of the time cabinets are painted, with white the most popular color.

The most popular style of cupboard doors is a “Shaker” or Arts & Crafts” style with beveled edges for easier cleaning.

When removing the dark cabinets from the ’70s or the golden oak cupboards from the ’80s, homeowners may be tempted to just update the exterior look. Molenaar said installing new units has the advantage of the full-extension and soft-close features at about the same price as updating existing cabinets.


Shiny floors and ceramic tiles are fading from kitchens and being replaced with “luxury vinyl” floating floor products. The current trend is for weathered “distressed-looking” styles that have a lot of “movement” and doesn’t show dirt as easily as solid dark wood colors, said Molenaar. The easy-to-install plank flooring is water resistant and easy to clean.


Under-cabinet lighting to brighten up the countertop is a popular trend, along with overhead recessed lighting and a large “statement” light with one or two globes over an island.


Low interest rates on home improvement loans, which is currently around 5 percent or less, is making it more affordable to finance home improvement projects. Dexter said he remembers doing projects when interest rates were around 19 percent.