Your Kitchen Design Questions Answered

My architect does not design kitchens. Help?

A facility of 540 square feet is currently being designed. The screened porch will be part of the kitchen. It has not been decided upon yet which space will be used; however, my architect is a young fellow who claims to spend about three minutes a week in the kitchen and that he will not provide much advice on the layout of the kitchen.

During my first visit to this type of store, I spoke with a kitchen planner who had done some preliminary cabinet layout work and she mentioned that if I had just four inches more of wall space between the kitchen and porch, she could fit in a 9″ cabinet and make good use of a blind corner. Having said that, I am a bit worried that this seems like an odd way to design a cabinet layout…the walls are still flexible, but I am unsure whether I want to use (big box store) and their brand of cabinets. Obviously, I cannot spend a lot of money on cabinets, but I want them to last.

What are your thoughts on how we should proceed? It feels wrong to spend more money on design and layout while we are already spending a lot of money on architect fees…though I am willing to be swayed if this is the best decision for us.

I sympathize with you both – for yourself and for your architect. I have to tell you that when it comes to the architect’s fees, it’s not much different than a restaurant’s chef hiring a pastry chef to assist in preparing dessert for the entire establishment. A chef can whip up a decent flan, but it is a pastry chef who can come up with desserts that the chef has never heard of. As a side note, this analogy may not be relevant to everyone since desserts are not for everyone.

A significant challenge is the fact that today’s kitchens are no longer “standard” – almost everything can be customized. There are not all products for a kitchen in every country, and not all products even work well with each other. Obviously, your architect has done you a favor by admitting that he isn’t an expert on the subject at hand.

There may be some small studios and businesses where there are some very experienced and/or trained kitchen designers, or even a Certified Kitchen Designer. Sometimes this may end up being less expensive than the big box stores. I know this because I worked for years in the showroom run by my family, and I work for a company that has a division that offers cabinets to the general public, and the prices are very reasonable.

For instance, a cabinet that is comparable in price may be different for two reasons:

1) The company is using them as a “loss leader” – such as selling them next to cost to bring you into the store (in which case, this is a great deal for you, so don’t hesitate).

2) The designer actually designs the kitchen for you, not you for the designer. To explain that, let me give you an example. Let’s say you have a professional designer who designs a home around your lifestyle. There is no doubt that budget is an important consideration; however, if what you receive doesn’t function as well as it could, especially in a kitchen design, then you are wasting money.

Being a designer, I have seen countless bad design layouts based on budget all the time. You can only tell where some corners are being cut if you have a good idea what you need to look for. The design of corners may have been created with less expensive blind corners rather than a lazy Susan corner, having too many spacers or fillers between cabinets where you don’t need them to save space, or by omitting a 2-step crown molding from the design altogether. As I said earlier, I’m not implying all cabinet sales work toward this end but I’m merely giving you information you may not have considered. A mid-size kitchen design, whether you choose oak cabinets, maple cabinets, or tile can increase the cost anywhere between $500.00 and $1,3000.00 depending on the style and amount of moldings that are used. Oftentimes, you shouldn’t automatically assume that a higher price means it is overpriced. I am confident that there are far too many options in today’s kitchens for anyone to be sure of that…even a designer!

My experience has been that kitchen designers design for the client’s lifestyle, not just the bottom line, and I am sure this is true for all designers. We also have to consider our livelihoods, but there is also a great deal of professional pride at stake, since our reputations make or break our careers. Basic, cookie-cutter layouts are not what we specialize in – we want to know what your storage requirements are, where we should place the small appliances, and how we can set up your space so that you can work in the kitchen while the kids are making after-school snacks without blocking it.

Please talk with some smaller companies that have similar lines of cabinets or similar products and see if you can arrange some interviews with them. If you can find family run businesses, even better. However, I am happy to prejudice myself, and make no apologies for that. In case you purchase the cabinets from the designer, there will either be no cost or very little cost to have his or her services.

Alternatively, you can consider hiring an independent designer to help you design your kitchen. This individual will be paid bMake sure they work with your architect to ensure a perfect fit.them to work with your architect for the best fit. The price of a good designer can vary between $ 50.00 and $ 150.00, depending on his or her experience. In general, the more experience, the fewer hours it takes to complete the project. Getting the design hammered out first will make the process much easier for you (or at least for me and my clients).

The last thing you want is to look back and say, “I wish I had done this…” While it may seem wrong now to spend all this money on the architect and then have to continue to spend more for the kitchen design, you won’t feel that way if it doesn’t come out the way you want it.

What is the best way to establish a mock-free budget?

It was revealed in an article that an original quote for kitchen cabinetry came in at $70,00. During the process, the homeowner found an ornate antique piece of furniture for $900, simplified the cabinets, and reduced the quote to a bit more than half. In my opinion, if you look at the pictures – I can’t imagine that the cabinets will ever look as good as they do in these pictures.

In order to answer my question, I am wondering if you have any suggestions on how to establish a budget before meeting with a designer? It seems to me that if I were to present (a blogger who designs websites) with images that were indicative of this look and then tell him my budget of $35,000, he would laugh and I’d become one of those clients he would roll his eyes over. Although, a designer may be able to work their magic in order to achieve the desired look for less. So, if the client is preparing a budget, how should they go about it? How can they give the KD (kitchen designer) something to work with without making a fool of themselves?

I know there is some anxiety and misconceptions about not having enough budget for a designer, but I can honestly say based on your question, you aren’t the potential client that he was referring to. Because you are interested and diligent in your search, you are better positioned. A lot of people do this.

In his post, the designer spoke of media misinformation and lack of preparedness that some people have when they decide to start a home improvement project. Several of our customers get very frustrated when some homeowners come in without any research and say to us that “our prices are outlandish” and “it should only take x number of days and cost x number of dollars” to accomplish something…especially when it appears that their experience has been watching a few television shows on home design.

There is something frustrating about warning someone that the items they are choosing are out-of-budget, yet they refuse to believe we are not able to purchase them at a fraction of the cost. There’s no way this same designer would scoff at a $35,000 budget (unless that was the cost of an 18×18 addition); however, he does scoff at unrealistic budgets where someone thinks the whole remodel should cost $5,000 and look like something from Architectural Digest, and gets angry with us for not doing it. Homeowners who are genuinely lost do not warrant the same level of frustration that we do. There are zero chances that a designer worth their salt is going to get upset by a client who a) walks through the door knowing nothing and wants to learn or b) has inaccurate expectations about costs or c) comes with a modest budget and asks what’s doable. It doesn’t matter whether I’m the designer of choice or not, I have always tried to spend some time explaining what my choices are to people.

With regards to the kitchen example you presented above, the dollar amount is still high for the number of cabinets. I have designed 3 kitchens right now at the same price which are double the size. I would be able to design that kitchen for about another 7,000 to 9,000 less dollars if you look at the floor plan…and of course, I’m talking about California, a land of high rent and overheads, and not Minnesota. I am guessing that the multi-step crown molding that they are showing is likely to set you back at least four figures. As a result, it is not really representative of a low-to-mid-end home, and therefore, the extreme swing between $ 70k and $ 35k wouldn’t be as extreme.

Therefore, I would like you to see what you are capable of doing. You need to know before you even walk into a retail store what will be your “can’t-live-withouts” so you can determine your budget before you even walk through the door. These could be pullout drawers, a fancy range, or even glass doors. Many of these things can be done over the internet before you ever need to leave your house. You can also consider the newest kitchen magazines such as Kitchen and Bath Business, which have articles showing kitchens of different materials and displaying the corresponding costs for each of those materials.

You may wish to take a rough drawing of your room to a showroom with the dimensions and layout of your room. Just mention you are still in the research phase. You would like to describe what you are looking for in terms of cabinets in kitchens that they have done in a similar layout to yours. I would appreciate it if you could describe the door style of the Shaker Cherry cabinet or at least some details about it. An experienced designer should be able to give you some ballpark ranges that you can tuck away for your research. If you’re a bit further along than that, then get a cabinet price.

If you haven’t done it yet, homeowners normally want all the bells and whistles when they are designing rooms – not just kitchens. It’s like “when we go to Europe, it’s all going to be first-class, baby!” Then, when they see the price, they turn white. Sticker shock is nothing to laugh at. It bothers me when I never see the individual again, but hear later that the project was completed elsewhere more simply (and at a lower cost) with half the quality and a quarter of the bells and whistles. In addition, they say, “Yes, we wanted to work with her, but she was too expensive.” They have forgotten that they asked for all those goodies…and they didn’t give me the chance to scale back.

Once you receive the out-of-budget price, discuss it with the contractor, designer, and/or architect and simply say, “This is not in the picture.”. How do we scale back?” And work with them to come up with new figures. We don’t see it as being a bad thing because it wasn’t what you wanted to spend; we all have the same choice to make. We want to make sure you like what you get. Working with you is important to us. Especially when I look at the project and see so many areas where it could have been done better, there is nothing worse than not being given the chance.

An experienced designer knows 1,001 ways to make a room look great without spending a whole lot of money

What are the reasons for the difficulty in getting an accurate price? Even professional designers may be overwhelmed by the amount of choices available to them today, which is understandable. In the showroom at which I work, there are three lines of cabinets that it is possible to choose from. We offer over 200 different door styles, a selection of 3 different case constructions, 4 types of box constructions, and over 70 colors, stains, and pigments. With these cabinets, I’m able to design a mid-sized kitchen layout anywhere from $ 12,000 for a simple stock design to $ 55,000 for exotic woods and custom everything. With these cabinet lines, I am able to design the same mid-sized kitchen layout anywhere from $ 12,000 for a simple stock design to $ 55,000 for exotic woods and custom everything.

I worked with clients this year on two projects where we devised a “wish list” or, as my designer mother would say, a “budget reality check” and then we cut back, like the homeowner in your example.

Let’s give us a chance to design…at least give us a chance.

Where can I find design help for a small project?

I live north of Atlanta, in Georgia, and I am in the process of planning a kitchen renovation for my home. There is a problem. We have a very small budget, only 20-25K MAX for the firm. I know that I would be able to benefit from the assistance of a kitchen design professional, but most of the ones that I have been able to locate are either aimed at high end clients or find my budget insulting. The cost of cabinets before the cost of installation is three thousand dollars, so I cannot spend 15,000.

The stealth problems you describe are also something I cannot afford and I feel as though I am out in the cold as my own designer/contractor, lining up subcontractors, selecting materials, etc. The majority of the time I spend speaking with independent cabinet makers etc., they are not designing for the big picture but rather for the cabinetry. I understand that there are a lot of considerations for the homeowner. How does one go about finding a certified kitchen designer that one can pay for either by the hour or for specific design input without being tied to that designer’s cabinet maker, etc? Once I find one, how does one proceed?

It is frustrating to have to deal with that kind of situation. In my opinion, although it might prove useful to have a freelance designer to hand-hold you throughout the entire project, the budget you have in place won’t allow that to happen – it will eat up too much of your budget. There will be some work you have to complete on your own first – researching, designing a rough layout, choosing some basic colors, and selecting the plumbing appliances. You don’t need to purchase anything just yet.

The thing is, you should be looking for a designer to look over what has been done and get his or her opinion as soon as you’ve got something you’re reasonably happy with (or two or three options). If you can afford it, you can pay for one or two hours of consulting. Designers tend to charge anywhere in the range of $ 50.00 – 150.00 per hour (and sometimes even more). It is still worth the money spent. When you have someone who has experience in your project, he or she can glance at it and tell you immediately what’s good and what needs correction. Ultimately, the amount of time and material you will save is far more than the fee you will have to pay in case they catch even one mistake. Furthermore, you will be able to keep your budget in check if this method is followed.

If you look on the N.K.B.A. (National Kitchen and Bath Association) website, you can search for professionals near you to follow up with and ask about their specialties: NKBA Homeowner ProSearch or you can search the internet for online kitchen design consultants.

In addition, if someone feels your budget is insulting, you can walk away from that situation without a second thought. It’s a fact that people who stick their nose up the next time it rains are going to choke on their own vomit. I know that professionals will take the time to explain how they conduct their business – without sneering–and maybe offer a helpful suggestion along the way, if they have time.

I have a question regarding the height of a peninsula in a small kitchen. Can it be lowered?

Is there anything else you would like to add about the dropped baking peninsula? Our smallish two-cook kitchen could have benefitted from something along those lines, but our designer was not able to see how it would work technically or in the space available.

If you have a small kitchen, it will be challenging to place a dropped peninsula for baking. My primary reason for not designing a peninsula, dropped or otherwise, rests on two factors:

1) It is located in close proximity to a main work area (such as a sink, refrigerator, or range)

Whenever you stand at the edge of a peninsula, you’re effectively obstructing any access to any appliance or storage that is adjacent to the peninsula, such as the dishwasher, the china storage, the refrigerator or oven, or even the dog dish. It should be noted that if you must move repeatedly away from the baking peninsula in order to work, then this is not a good use of space.

2) If the peninsula is not long enough, then you don’t get any benefit from it. There are a number of factors at play with spec homes, or with kitchens that aren’t designed properly. (Or is that a well-designed one?) There’s a term for that, a “short return” and if it’s a working peninsula, then it’s not the best or most helpful. During growing up, I called it a “short return peninsula”, since it is not long enough to add adequate storage and it only compresses useful lineal storage into the corner. However, the sad reality is that you will be paying extra money for a peninsula that will only be 42″ or less. Hence, when you “turn the corner”, what you are left with is less than 18″ to 21″ of what I call frontal counter space, the area where a person performs their duties. It is interesting to note, however, that ergonomically, we are all approximately 24″ wide from shoulder to shoulder. This space should be at least 24″ – 36″, especially when it comes to food preparation such as rolling out dough (it’s not just rolling, but also the pan, pie, sheet or bowl nearby that adds to this space).

Adding to this is the fact that your height also plays an important role. There might be a problem if the peninsula was dropped, because you would have a harder time reaching the corner from the inside, though it would still be possible if you were on the other side. The problem, however, is that when there is so much storage inside the kitchen, no one wants to do any work on the outside.

As a point of reference, if I were looking to design a peninsula, I’d want a kitchen width of 120″ (10′ wide) which would give a baker 36″ of frontal counter space. I would be able to have a kitchen that is up to 114″ wide at the widest point, but that would be about it. There could be a technical reason for this, if the size of your kitchen is smaller than this. You should ask your designer for more details.

Does it make sense to get wall cabinets if I have no floor cabinets?

Considering the concept of not replacing upper cabinets in the kitchen, I am very interested in the idea. On the internet and elsewhere, I have seen pictures of kitchens without upper cabinets that are stunning. However, I wonder how this would work for our home. In our case, we come from the middle class and our kitchen will never look the same as some of the showcase kitchens you see online, but I am open to giving it a try just to see how it would turn out.

There are several reasons why I do not want to participate in the program:

1) Husband is 5 feet, 7 inches tall. My height is 5 feet, so I am barely able to reach the second shelf in an upper, let alone the third one.

2) I like the openness of the design and the fact that there is no upper.

(3) Our kitchen is a place where we spend a lot of time so having no upper cabinets will make the kitchen seem more homey and less kitchen-y.

4) We will have plenty of storage space without having to buy the uppers.

5) We plan on living in this house for a long time, so we do not care about what the resale value will be.

Can you please tell me if this is a good idea for an average family and if there is anything that I am not considering in making this decision yet? How about the benefits and the drawbacks?

Please accept my apologies for the water damage. That’s always painful but the end result will be positive, right? Having said that, I completely understand your concern about the upper cabinets, and you are not alone. In the recent past, modern kitchens have certainly led the way with regard to the elimination of wall cabinets in favor of storing things in nearby tall cabinets or pantry units.

Pros & Cons

One of the advantages of eliminating wall cabinets is that it makes a kitchen look larger and more spacious. One of the cons of wall cabinets is that they do provide a great deal of storage space that must be made use of somewhere else.

According to your height, the “everyday storage” usually consists of the bottom shelf of all wall cabinets; the rest of the wall cabinet becomes secondary storage for your less frequently used items. In our case, we will be reclaiming the space traditionally used for storing drinking glasses or other dishes. It used to be that we grew up reaching up to get a glass of water or a coffee cup, or butter on the stove, or any number of items that are now stored in base cabinets or otherwise require that we bend down rather than reaching up.

Considering you will stay at your home and like not having uppers, don’t let anyone put an end to what you want to do. As I mentioned, you own the house, so even if you won the lottery tomorrow and moved, you would be able to add wall cabinets pretty quickly.

Growing old in your own home

There is also something else that you need to keep in mind: growing older at home. In the recent past, I have noticed that my mother seems to be losing her balance slightly every time she leans over. Many people find that their joints are not as flexible as they used to be – and as a result, access to base cabinets might prove vital, if not now, then certainly down the road.

There was a time when I designed kitchens for ocean-view homes (not overly fancy, but perhaps upper middle-class when it was all said and done) and there were no upper cabinets to be found in them. The following is what I used to discuss with clients:

I would recommend installing either 12″ or 15″ deep base cabinets (perhaps on the back or side of an island)

We also had a 15″ deep, 60″ high, and 21″ wide pantry located towards the end of a cabinet run (usually a sink wall) that put our dishes and glasses at elbow height and could be adjusted to fit. For every month for a waffle maker or a set of cook books, lower shelves are the perfect place. Having designed these mini-pantries for the end of an island with custom heights of 48″ high, I have also customized them to be 48″ wide.

If the nearby areas have roll-outs or drawers, you may want to consider including them.

It is not necessary to include these items; I have found that full-depth (24″) base cabinets with pull-outs may not always be ideal for holding glasses and mugs, since if they are opened too quickly, everything will tip over. To separate items, there is a peg option. However, it will only be as effective as the person with a strong sense of organization.

What are the best kitchens for left-handed people?

Do you think that there are any guidelines or rules that can help design a kitchen that is suited to a cook who is left handed? The drawers should be on the left side of the desk, while the sitting area should be on the right.

Yes, there are, and most of them are common sense. As a general rule, people reach with their dominant hand when activating, opening, and/or manipulating an object. Even though we can easily open the door of an appliance with our non-dominant hand just as well as with our dominant hand, if we are lost in thought, we will always use our dominant hand. Left-handed people have to adapt, but why? For instance, why are all two-door refrigerators and freezers only in position on the right side of the refrigerator? I have a question regarding microwaves. Why do the microwaves always hinge to the left and the control panel to the right? What is the reason behind the fact that, with a 48″ or larger pro range, the oven is always placed on the right side?

You probably don’t think of it often, but I bet you do, frequently, as a right-hander. I never even thought about it until I started working in the kitchen design business. (Full disclosure: I am right-handed.)

It is unfortunate that some house plans or old kitchens don’t provide us with the best of both worlds. In order to create a kitchen which is suitable for a family of left-handed cooks, here are a few areas that I can suggest:

Left-handed people tend to wash dishes at the sink by placing the dirty dishes on the right side of the sink, and finishing the process with the clean dishes on the left side of the sink. Please ensure that there is enough counter space on both sides, but I would prefer to have the bigger counter space on the left side.

If a faucet has a side-mount lever, you will want it on the left, if it is available. If you want to mount a soap dispenser, then it should be on the left side of the faucet.

If the dishwasher is installed to the left of the sink, then it will be easier for a left-handed person to rinse or empty a cup in the sink and put it in the dishwasher.

The range or cooktop: I use the right ones, you might choose the left ones. I believe the pot and pan drawers would fit better on the left side of this range, with the pot holders and trivets stored in the top drawer.

My recommendation would be that you make even one of these adjustments and you’ll be well on your way to success.

Are distressed cabinets timeless or do they have a short shelf life?

Throughout my life, I have always had an interest in kitchen cabinets with a distressed look to them. Would you consider that something that can be considered timeless?

Yes, of course. Just ask any busy parent with two toddlers and a small dog in the house who likes to scrabble up the cabinet to get to the…oh, I see, you didn’t mean that. This is timeless…not inevitable. As a side note, for those of you who don’t know, distressing is the process of making a new cabinet look old – either a painted door with “rub-through” areas where the wood shines through, or a door with various dents, scratches, and cracks applied.

Nevertheless, there will always be certain regions across the country where distressed cabinets are timeless – for example, older farmhouses and estates from the late 1700s and 1800s, or ancient regions where traditions are passed from generation to generation. Does distressing also need to be done on newer homes? That is a given. In the past decade, we have seen an influx of black and distressed kitchens showing up in homes as recently as this year. The situations where distressing doesn’t always work are when the distressing is either applied too heavily or does not match the style of the home. In the midwest, we might see a few requests due to our Tuscan-like climate and the Italian-American population; however, we’re not seeing that many requests here in Northern California. Yes, it was in a Colonial home in Philadelphia.

Lastly, there’s the final aspect to consider – if it’s something you enjoy, even if no one in your town knows anything about it, and you aren’t planning to sell your home anytime soon, then have it. It’s a shame to live a short life if you aren’t surrounded by what you love.

What is a cabinet skin? What are the benefits of using a cabinet skin?

There is a renovation going on in my parents’ house in Honolulu where they are currently remodeling their kitchen. In their case, they chose a cabinet company on the mainland to have the cabinets made and shipped to Oahu. Rather than opt for a factory painted finish, my parents chose a Benjamin Moore color which matched their existing furniture.

I just wanted to let you know that the boxes have arrived, and they have been installed (other than the door and drawer fronts), but they are not yet painted. Apparently, my parents have been told that the painted “skin” is supposed to be applied next and that they are waiting for it to arrive at the factory. According to the diagram, space has been left (1/2 – 3″) to accommodate for this layer.

This is something I didn’t know about before. I did not think it was a good idea to have cabinets painted at the factory, although I thought that it would be a good idea to ensure a solid, baked-on finish. There is one layer, which is often called a “skin”, that I am concerned about, especially if you are living in a humid climate like Hawaii. Would the color layer of the cabinets be susceptible to buckling or bubbling if the cabinets were to be dropped? Could such an application of paint to cabinets be as a result of dropped cabinets? I’m very curious to hear your response.

There is nothing to worry about, it is a standard procedure. There are either skins (1/8″ – 1/4″) or panels (1/2″ – 3/4″) that are shipped separately from the cabinets and are applied to the sides of the cabinets on the job site. It is possible to make custom adjustments to compensate for wall, floor, and ceiling crookedness using this separate application.

For wavy walls or for walls that lean away or any number of details, the installer can scribe the skins to the walls and possibly hide the gap between the wall and the cabinet cavity as well as the shims that cover the gap (the shim is a piece of wood held between a crooked wall and the back of a cabinet, much like a lower back pillow between a chair and your back). The hollow space between the side of a cabinet and the waving wall cannot be covered up by a pre-finished panel. The only alternative is to use a wide scribe trim (not the best option). There should not be any problems once the skins and panels are attached, either by means of glue or a combination of glue and/or finishing nails.

As far as I know, all skins and paneling in Hawaii is finished with the catalytic or baked-on finishes and I have never heard of one buckling or bubbling (let’s hope this is true as I have no idea what cabinet line your parents selected). A line I have sends a lot of cabinets to Hawaii and has been doing so without any problems for almost 20 years now.

It is also possible for some cabinet manufacturers to preinstall panel or skins at the factory with a slight over-size at the back of the cabinet to allow for scribing. There is however a limit to how far it can extend and it is not useful for a project where the walls are sticking out more than 1/4 inch. As a homeowner and a resident of earthquake country, I have seen walls fall out a lot more than that in older homes. The results may vary for you.

I have a question regarding painted cabinets: MDF vs Hardwood?

I am writing to you today to ask your opinion about M.D.F. Painted Doors with Glazing vs. Painted Doors with Glazing that have a Hardwood Frame and a MDF Center Panel. Is there a pro and/or con to either of those approaches, and is there one you would recommend over the other? Would you have any feedback to offer?

First of all, let me provide a little background so that others can understand what I am talking about:

A medium-density fiberboard or MDF, for short, is a wood product made from recycled wood and densely packed with binders to form a bond between the fibers and the surface of the board. As a result of the pressure applied to the board, it is very, very dense across the entire surface.

A hardwood frame is made out of real wood such as maple or birch, or any other wood with a straight grain, while the center panel is constructed out of MDF.

So if one is better than the other, the question arises as to why? To answer this question we have to first go back to the original question of why we aren’t using wood, and the reason is simply this: wood is not a stable material. In the case of humidity and temperature, wood will expand and contract. This phenomenon is known to wood-workers, which is why the center panel of any door is not fixed to the frame – it sits inside a u-channel of the frame, which leaves space underneath for the center panel to expand and contract.

During the early days of woodworking, solid wood doors were made with a center panel made from a single solid piece of wood, which is why you see 200-year-old doors that have cracks in the middle. It’s important to note that when someone refers to a “solid center panel” in a door, what they actually mean is that today’s wood center panels are created by joining the pieces in a butcher block fashion. Each piece has the grain running in the opposite direction from its neighbor. There are as many as six to eight pieces making up a center panel, depending on the width, and unlike the early version, it is not as susceptible to cracking or warping as its older cousin.

Mortise-and-tenon is the construction of the frame that makes up the door. In this construction, swelling or shrinking of the grain runs lengthwise along the frame. (Have you ever noticed your old interior doors on your house sticking in the summer with a big gap in the winter? That’s why it happens – shrinks in the cold and expands in humid heat.)

As far as structurally speaking, it is superior to a picture frame joint, where the corners of the door come together at a 45-degree angle. As beautiful as this style is, this style is more prone to the joints moving because the grain expansion and contraction of the frame is pinched at the corners. Each section will move and adapt in such a way that you might not have all four corners opened, or all of them. There will be no one taking a vote and saying, “Oh, we’re all going to expand at the same time, let’s go!”.

When it comes down to applying paint onto a door, we have to make sure that it has the proper MDF and hardwood centres and frames for it to look beautiful after it has been painted with the glaze. With regard to shrinkage and expansion, we want to minimize those, especially with glazings since as the center panel shrinks, a line will appear where the glazing ends. The fact that we have had some hot, dry summers in the past has certainly raised some concerns among my clients over the years

It would be hard for me to suggest which one I would use unless I could take into account three factors:

1) Depending on whether it is a mortise-and-tenon or a picture frame door – The stiles, or side frames, of a mortise-and-tenon door extend the maximum height of the door on both sides. The center rails and the center panel can be thought of as two pieces to snap together using the two pieces. The picture frame door is made when the corners are sewn together at a 45-degree angle, exactly like a picture frame and that is how the name came to be. Mortise and tenon as a wood frame expands with less cracking at the seams than a picture frame because it prevents the top and bottom rails from expanding (much more) because of the two stiles. It is possible in some cases for all of the outer stiles and rails on the picture frame to contract at the same time. I would certainly recommend MDF for a picture frame door because of the reasons mentioned above.

2) If cabinet doors are intended as appliance panels – MDF, although stable, is also heavy. Not every cabinet door can hold the weight of an appliance panel.

3) How much we care about paint cracking at the seams – Regardless of how good the door is made, your climate, location, home humidity, and even how you slam or do not slam the door all have an effect on the final paint job.

Many countries outside the United States dislike the cracking and if I have clients from outside the U.S., say Canada or Europe, we may use the modern European methods for door construction: the doors are constructed from a single piece of MDF – no seams, no cracking, no worries. I think that this is not as smooth as it should be, but to each his own, right?

What sort of tile would you use for your backsplash if you had to use an expensive one?

Over the last three years, I’ve probably written about fifty or sixty blog posts about ceramic tile (posts on tiles) about my love of ceramic tile. I was taken by one particular tile in particular because I have always been fascinated by the infinity of possibilities available with this medium. Having checked out the prices just a short while ago, I was amazed to find out that a 6″ tile costs $48.

My quick look at it just now tells me that I would need approximately 33 square feet of tile to cover the entire walls under the cabinets as well as behind the stove and sink. This would come to about $6600 using these prices.

Is that the kind of decision that you would make? Will you use the tiles as a focal point more often, or will you use them as accents more frequently?

I don’t think there is anything wrong with the choice, because as I said previously, I believe the tiles are very slick. In addition to that, I also don’t like to do things on the cheap. As fortunate as I am to be able to make my own cabinets when the time comes, but now that I understand what goes into making a quality cabinet, the idea of having to replace our admittedly dreadful cabinets with more cheap ones is just unthinkable to me. That is why, in that sense, I am constantly banging the drums for the best cabinet a person can possibly afford, and that is because the person touches these cabinets every day of their lives.

I wonder if you choose to use a tile as costly as this if you knew you were cooking in your own home with a budget of your own.

It is the range that is important to some people. The cabinets are important to others. For me, the tiles are important. If the wall could be used as a backsplash, I would use it but as you mentioned, I would do it in a way that might eliminate some of that higher cost. These types of tiles are so definitive that there would only be special circumstances where I would use them throughout – they can be overwhelming unless they are done correctly. I tend to use them as focal points, instead of covering an entire wall. For example, I might design a trio behind a cooktop, or I might use a standard field tile and sprinkle a few pieces here and there through, or I might design a border around the crown.

Please do not hesitate to order some samples before you decide on the purchase of custom tile pieces and to choose the colors yourself. The pieces are handmade, so a certain degree of variability is to be expected. And don’t be afraid to add two or three beautiful pieces as an accent to your room. It will cost you less than buying a piece of art.

How should I choose appliances for my small luxury kitchen? Which ones would you recommend?

It is at the beginning stages of planning (or at least dreaming) that I will remodel my 90 square foot urban kitchen. I wanted a wall oven and an induction cooktop as well as several other luxury items. I am concentrating on a few small appliances though–a 24 inch oven, 24 inch fridge, 18 inch dishwasher, etc.–in order to accommodate everything AND, most importantly, do not overdo it on appliances. On every single appliance website I have seen that features “small kitchens”, I can see that full-size appliances are used.

How about writing a post showing how a small kitchen with the right sized appliances can be great and luxurious?

There is no need to preach to the converted here. When it comes to designing new small kitchens, we have to deal with consumer perceptions of real estate value as well as buying agents’ perceptions. The reasoning behind this is as follows:

1) The mass produced houses of the late 1940s and 1950s fostered the assumption for three generations that every home must be the same. There must be a family room and a living room (a left-over from the days when a parlor was reserved to entertain guests), a nook and a dining room (still dealing with formality), and a kitchen that manufacturers tried hard to promote.

2) Although our grandparents and my parents were perfectly capable of cooking Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners in 24″ – 27″ ovens, the belief that we are no longer able to do so persists.

3. As much as I hate stereotypes, there is some validity in the idea that appliances have become power tools — bigger, stronger, faster — when television shows featured chefs and gourmet food and more men began to be interested in cooking.

4) Manufacturers advertise #2 based in part on #3, as do editors, consumers, the real estate industry, and designers and architects. The cycle is inescapable. It is extremely difficult to photograph small kitchens as well, which makes it seem as if they do not exist, even though there are a lot of them out there.)

I know that I sound as if I’m attacking the appliance manufacturers, but the truth is that they are creating a demand and then propagating that perception, which is what advertising is all about.

As long as you have 24″ appliances, you can cook just fine in the rest of the world. As long as the appliances are appropriately scaled for the size of the room, small kitchens do not pose a design challenge – it’s when “standard” sizes are introduced into these spaces. A small kitchen isn’t a space to show off your appliances. This is especially the case if you have a small one.

Besides the dishwasher, the only appliance I would not reduce in width is the refrigerator – since I don’t find those 18″ wide models very useful unless we’re really tight on space. As a possible alternative, you might consider having a single dishwasher drawer, which leaves space below for a drawer.

In the words of my grandmother, who stands 4’10” tall, “good things come in small packages.”.

Would farmhouse sinks continue to be popular in the future?

Is it because farm sinks have become so popular in recent years? Does it have anything to do with just how they look? Or is it something that is different from the usual? It has been noted that someone expressed concern about scratching this kind of sink if they were wearing a belt buckle. The fact remains that I had never thought of that. What is your experience with these sinks or is it just a matter of how the owners prefer it?

Taking a wild stab at making an educated guess about why farmhouse sinks are still popular, I would suggest that nostalgia must be the driving force, especially in homes that were never old enough for them originally. Despite the fact that I do not do them often, I included them in my book on what to pay attention to since they are dictated by the owners.

It is possible that you could scratch your belt buckle if you decided to lean hard against the sink while wearing a particularly rough belt buckle. However, you would have to lean a lot before it could happen. Also, scratches on a stainless steel sink or a copper sink may be more noticeable than scratches on a vitreous china sink. Despite this, if you lean hard enough and scratch the sink hard enough with the buckle of your belt, your clothes would soak up all the drips first. Do you see? Surely there is something to be gained.

If you are a fan of farmhouse sinks, here are two items you might want to consider:

1. The sink lip, installation process, and your lifestyle: If any members of your family are sloppy with water, know that the round edges on the sinks are a perfect conduit for water to run over the edge, down the face, and under the cabinet doors. Water constantly landing on any type of cabinet over time will eventually cause the finish to be damaged, no matter how good it is. There was no cabinet underneath the original farm sinks. Usually, they were supported by legs and had a curtain below them.

In this case, I suggest a drip dam, which is a thin piece of wooden bead attached just above the doors as a water break. As long as it does not get damaged, then it can always be replaced, just as the doors can be replaced. However, the beaded trim is usually much less expensive than the doors.

2) Larger garbage disposals to go with the smaller sinks: With a one-horsepower disposal attached to a large farm sink, the distance between the doors and the front of the disposal is approximately 1-1/2″ to 2″. I am currently working on a solution. There are some gaps in the access to cabinet interior due to the disposal. The disposal could be small or eliminated entirely, depending on the individual’s needs, but fortunately this is for a single person who preferred the larger disposal. It seems she wasn’t too concerned about it, but I can imagine that someone might be surprised by how much room the disposal takes up and how limited the access becomes.

Is it likely that they will go out of style anytime soon? No.

What is the minimum amount of kitchen space that I require for two sinks in my kitchen?

Despite the fact that I am planning to remodel my kitchen, I am very much enjoying reading. The best part of your article was your explanation on how to decide whether to get a range or double ovens/cook top for your kitchen. In light of the fact that my kitchen is too small to accommodate a separate range/oven, I am wondering whether it is too small to accommodate a clean-up and prep sink as well?

There are many reasons why people want a prep/secondary sink in their kitchen. One of the main reasons is so that two or more people can work in the kitchen without getting in each other’s way. I agree with you that every layout is different, but I would say that if the second sink interferes with the traffic flow of the main sink, does not leave at least one side available for a decent landing or counter area, and take away from valuable storage space, then it’s not big enough.

However, I don’t know what your layout looks like, but I tend to avoid placing a sink next to a refrigerator, as that landing space for the refrigerator is very important. In an ideal world, both pathways from the stove to each sink should not cross one another, or at least, if there are two cooks at each sink, then there should be a minimum disruption as both move about the kitchen.

As long as you leave at least one base cabinet space between another appliance and the sink (dishwashers do not count since they do not penetrate counter tops), your kitchen might be a good candidate for having a secondary prep sink.

My suggestion is to take your favorite recipes and mentally cook through them, once you have designed your layout. It is crucial to identify your storage, prep, and work spaces so that you can determine whether adding an additional sink to the house will be beneficial or a nuisance.

Can I vary the size of the cabinet handles in my kitchen if they are different sizes?

I am currently in the process of renovating my kitchen, and it is a whole new experience for me… So far I have been making decisions pretty quickly and easily after reading about whatever it is that is currently being decided upon. Toward the end of the project, I have lost my way on something I thought would be easy – the cabinet hardware.

The problem is that I bought four different sizes of drawer pulls to accommodate the differences in cabinet heights and varying sizes of drawers. As you can see, I have 3″ pulls on the short drawers, 7″ pulls on the long drawers, 4″ and 5″ on the drawers and cabinets in-between, etc. There are a few upper cabinets that are really high and I probably will not use many of the knobs, so I added some coordinating knobs. As a result, I’ve ordered six 3″ pieces, twelve 4″ pieces, fourteen 5″ pieces, five of the 7″ pieces, and six knobs. Could you tell that I took a lot of time over this decision?

There is a requirement for them to all be of the same size, according to my contractor. Could you please confirm? With all the different sized drawers and cabinets, it seems like some of them will look out of proportion. He told me that he thought it was probably trendy right now, but will not look trendy in five years.

Is this true or false? My thoughts are that different sizes make a good design (I believe), but I do not want to go ahead and do something that will make me regret it once all the holes have been drilled….he said I will regret it and I am frightened. Could he be right?

It sounds like your kitchen is lovely. It is a natural part of the process that my mother and I always tell our clients they can expect most decisions to be made fairly quickly, but they should also expect at least one item to stump us all – it is a natural part of the process. It looks like you have found the one for you!

Despite the fact that your contractor’s advice has some validity, I have a feeling that he may have missed an important piece of information you need to make your decision.

The first thing to keep in mind is that sizing handles to the cabinets is something that is done all of the time – some small drawers that are recessed are simply too small for handles larger than 3″.

The problem that your contractor is correct about (and the one he does not mention) is that we have to carefully balance the number of sizes and shapes or the handles will detract from the overall picture.

Having handles of different sizes side by side on a single cabinet may seem great, however, having handles that are of different sizes along the same length of the cabinet may lead to a distracting effect on the eyes that we do not really want.

Design point: What does it look like when the handles are arranged side by side?

My rule of thumb is to draw elevations from the ground up so that I can see how the handles balance beside one another. The most sizes I’ve ever used were four – and the fourth were the large-scale appliance handles. Think of a pantry drawer with an overly large handle along with a small drawer with tiny handles alongside a large drawer with medium-sized handles. Keeping the uppers all the same size, I only changed the base handles, leaving all the uppers the same size. However, this is obviously a subjective matter. When it comes to larger kitchens, you can get away with more than you can in a small kitchen.

I’m not entirely certain whether the addition of knobs with so many handle sizes is a good thing or not, but it’s hard to say until I see the final product. You can draw an elevation of the cabinet and replace the knobs with identical handles on the upper cabinets and then decide if you like the look.

Does a professional range top need a special cabinet for it to function well?

Can any type of base cabinet be used for holding a cook top? Is there a specific cabinet meant for holding cook tops or will any type of cabinet work?

Yes, it is. I believe you are talking about range tops that have the controls at the front. You can’t really get them in stock or semi-custom cabinets where you can modify the drawers and/or frames as you wish, so if you want everything to line up, custom cabinets may be your best bet. Here’s what you might see in stock or semi-custom cabinets:

1) A large flat front panel which does not conform to anything else – It would be ideal to have it be a “one-size-fits-all” panel which could be cut out to whatever height the range top would be. The overly large blank face is especially popular with stock cabinets. This could double as an apron sink if you were so inclined.

2) Most stock cabinets do not have drawers below the lower doors, because the hight of the middle drawer depends on the range top that was specified – most lines only have doors below. There is the possibility of rolling out shelves as an extra option.

(3) The doors under the top of the range are rarely aligned with the doors and drawers on either side of it.

4) Having a combination of all three, as shown above.

I believe that there is nothing wrong with the above if it is what you expect. As you can see in design magazines, most of what you see is custom-made, so you would be forgiven if you thought you simply ordered cabinets and then they came out perfectly. That’s not what happens.

When it comes to the cabinets, I would suggest matching the quality of your appliances with the quality of your cabinets.

Should I choose a range or separate wall ovens and cooktop or a combination of both?

A new house is about to be built in our neighborhood. I’m finding this one decision to be a little troublesome. What is better, a cooktop (or “range top”) and a double wall oven or a range with an oven below it? Could you please let me know your thoughts? It has been a day since I Googled, posted, and read in my forums and I still cannot figure out what would work best. Could you tell me how it is possible to determine what would work best? Is the difference cost-wise very great also?

It’s a very good question — I would strongly suspect that the reason you might find this challenging is that you don’t have any strong preferences. Let’s see if I can help.

Having a cook top/range top and separate ovens in your kitchen might be a difficult task for some people for one simple reason: there is not enough space in the kitchen. Having double ovens in a tall cabinet removes approximately 30″ – 33″ of valuable counter space. In the 1970s, this was one of the reasons why there was no room between the cook top and the wall oven; the opposite was also true. (And why the side of the wall oven appeared to be a little crunchy.)

As a matter of fact, there was a time when I used to say that if someone was watching their budget and were picking out standard appliances and cabinets, the price for the cook top/single oven would be $ 1,000.00 – $ 2,000.00 more than installing a regular range. One-half of the cost of the oven was the cost of the tall oven cabinet that was needed to install it in; the other half was the cost of the extras associated with “splitting” the appliances. The double ovens ran a little faster than that.

I’d like to bring to your attention another point regarding double ovens: our mothers did not have the technology of today’s new ovens to do all their cooking and baking in the convection oven. Baking three or four trays of cookies at once in one oven is sure a lot faster than I remember from my childhood, and this might make a big difference in whether you decide to get 1 oven or two.

I think the cost is going to be all over the place if we’re talking custom orders. Honestly, I do not know what the difference is when it comes to professional appliances and custom cabinets, because most higher-end clientele do not often think of such things as savings. However, if that is not your main concern, perhaps you can approach it from one of the following angles:

What are your cooking methods? Is the majority of your meal preparation done on the stovetop, or do you prefer cooking in the oven or making casseroles on a regular basis? The other way to put it is that Asian cooking uses high-temperature cook or range tops, but almost no ovens. Meanwhile, French cuisine makes heavy use of ovens as well. American cooking takes a few different directions depending on the region. Additionally, some people make use of their second oven for cooking, while others use it for storage (much needed).

What are some of the health concerns you might have that might make it difficult for you to bend down and remove something heavy from the oven? The top of a regular range is at least a couple inches higher than the top of a wall oven that’s been installed underneath the cook top.

Does the main cook use the oven? If so, how tall is he/she? I am 5’4″ tall. If I installed a double oven for myself, it would mean one of two things: either install the lower oven so low that it can no longer serve as a wall oven (so why pay extra for it?) or install the lower oven too high which would mean my arms would be burned every time I tried to remove something from the top oven. Anyone who is taller has more options when it comes to accessibility. It is a good idea to position the racks you use the most at elbow level when using a wall oven as a rule of thumb for choosing the safest ergonomic height.

Safety is important. Will young children be running through the kitchen as they play? Are there going to be any appliances with their doors open? Is there a chance the ovens might be positioned in a too-active traffic pattern? The safety issue depends entirely on lifestyle and room layout.

All of these factors will affect your decision.

Is there a height limit for hanging pendant lights over an island?

The pendant light we bought has a height range of 3 – 10 inches. Each light is four inches across, made up of a frosted white round tube that resembles a cylindrical cylinder. The fixture as a whole is 28 inches long and wide. From an 8 foot ceiling, how low do they need to hang? It will be over my 7 foot island. It seems that my shadow follows me everywhere.

This is a question I am regularly asked. What would be nice is if there were a clear rule that said: “Never hang your light further than …”, would it not? But really, it’s an open question. How high should the light be depends on:

Depending on the depth of the island – If your island is only 24″ deep, then I would recommend against pendant lighting, as there would be no good way to install a pendant without having someone’s head hit it when working at the island. Having said that (I suspect your island is deeper, but I thought I’d throw this out there for others who are just starting out.) In a 36″ deep island I am not a fan of centered lighting when the cook only cooks on one side, simply because the pendant creates another obstacle to reach by when the cook leans over to chop or cook. The lighting can be placed in the center of a 42-inch-deep island or larger if it is not too deep.

The height of the people working on the island – right now I am working with a couple that is tall – well, everybody is taller than me – but they are in the range of 6 feet and above. The pendant lights would have been like a tether ball, or simply annoying because they were right in sight of the player. The lighting was discussed in the beginning and the pendant lights were eliminated. Putting the pendants in the proper spot is a balancing act, because the scale of the pendants may sometimes act as a hindrance to someone who is 5’6″ or taller.

We like the size and scale of your pendant lights – they are slim and slender – that is also helpful. The shade may be short and squat, but if they are mini-pendants that are almost invisible, one can normally install them higher if they are short and squat.

What is the minimum amount of space I need on each side of the cook top?

There is a question I would like to ask regarding counter space. Please find attached an amateur sketch of what our kitchen will look like. It will measure 15’5″ by 13’8″. Although we would love to create a corner pantry, we are concerned it may not leave enough counter space for the 36″ cooktop to be installed. If we center the cook top, we will have about 15″ – 17″ of space on each side.

I would like to know the minimum amount of counter space we need on each side of the cooktop. The framing of the new addition will start next week and the only other option we may have is to take a half foot out of the dining room (currently 10’10” by 13’8″), which is just south of the kitchen. In spite of this, our G.C. (general contractor) is wary of making the dining room appear too small. We would love for you to let us know any tips or suggestions you see for improving our design based on our initial design!

According to the N.K.B.A. (the National Kitchen and Bath Association), the minimum range/cooktop must have is 12 inches on one side and 15 inches on the other, whereas originally it was 12 inches on one side and 15 inches on the other originally. What they don’t explain is why, so here is what they don’t tell you:

As an example, the average pot diameter is 10″- so that minimum 12″ space allows us the freedom to remove a hot pot onto the side counter (hopefully with a trivet in place). I believe one of the reasons for the change to 15″ on the one side is that many of you have become foodies due to the semi-professional pots and pans you now own, some of which are larger than average pots and pans.

It is very likely that in case you have the counter or “landing space” on both sides, then you will have top drawer space on both sides as well. In my mind, I always think that one side should be for pot holders, trivets, etc., and the other side should be for spoons, whisks, flippers, etc.

I do not use minimums because of the following three reasons:

It is not very useful to have a 12″ cabinet – If the cabinet is framed, the opening is now 9″ wide (10-1/2″ wide with a frameless cabinet). You don’t pay much of a difference between a 12″, 15″, or 18″ wide cabinet because the drawer glides, hinges, box construction, and doors are already paid for either way. It takes the same amount of labor to construct them (which is why a small kitchen isn’t always much cheaper, by the way), so why not choose one that has some purpose?

The second reason is safety – Although a 12″ counter is sufficient to accommodate the pan, it’s not wide enough to allow you to fit a handle on a frying pan. Let’s explore a possible scenario: a hot frying pan was moved to the counter next to the doorway, the handle sticking out into the walkway. When someone is not looking, or a child comes tearing around that corner, you have a problem on your hands. The answer is yes, you can move the pans to the other side. When this isn’t according to the way you’re used to cooking, it can be a bit awkward at first, but once we get used to it, there is no turning back. What I suggest is at least 15 inches – 18 inches or 21 inches would be ideal.

3) The width isn’t enough for two people to work – There should be more counter width between appliances – 12 inches of space between a refrigerator and an oven is frustrating when one person uses the counter to make a sandwich while another uses it to make a pancake. According to NKBA rules, we can combine the two widths for a wider total – 12″ by the range plus 15″ for the latch side of the refrigerator leave us with a 27″ minimum space, making it possible to store pots in a decent-sized cabinet as well.

In other words, you should be able to manage with 15″-17″ on either side of the cook top, since there is no refrigerator nearby.

What is the best flooring choice for a partial remodel?

I am really intrigued by the concept of a magic kitchen bag – my weekly shopping is still to do and I would really appreciate the help!

Vinyl flooring was first introduced in the 1980s as an alternative to dark kitchen flooring, but as we all found out, it’s a pain to clean. There are pet hairs and toast crumbs on it, as well as tracks left by rubber-soled shoes. Two hours after washing it, it is still dirty.

To answer your question, “…I can’t afford to replace the cabinets…yet.” If you’re planning on replacing the cabinets later, then vinyl is a viable option for both short-term and long-term (even if your short-term is 5 years or less).

Vinyl flooring has improved a lot – I’ve laid tile-look vinyl in laundry rooms that I had to scratch with my fingernail to confirm it was vinyl. Furthermore, it requires less maintenance and is more forgiving on the back than a tile or even wood. In this case, I’m talking about sheet vinyl rather than tile vinyl.

If you pick the right color, you won’t notice anything until you sweep it up. Here are some tips:

Watch the quality – You know those thin sinks from apartments that dent or mark if you breathe on them? Yeah, those. Aim for middle-grade or better – don’t go with the cheapest. Compared to chairs and heavy items, they are more dent-resistant, and the photos are better as well.

Keep an eye on the width of the material – Avoid a 6’foot wide floor if you have a large kitchen, as you’ll have more seams. Linoleum is making a comeback; it’s a green alternative. There are both tile and sheet goods to choose from in this case.

There was a time when sheet vinyl tile looked like old stone tiles with holes and staggered crevasses. Also, the crevasses provided a perfect place for dirt to collect depending on their depth.

Now I’m revealing my trade secrets:

You can test the resiliency of the flooring by pinching the edge of a sample enough to leave a dent with your fingernail. There are two things you want: a) a dent that springs back, and b) a shorter recovery time for the dent to spring back. More expensive flooring recovers pretty quickly. The less expensive ones will not spring back, so your chair legs will leave marks over time.

Take your samples home and let the dog eat them. Sprinkle dirt on them and rub them in. Observe how easy it is to clean up. If you notice toast crumbs, place it next to a window. See if it is easy or difficult to clean by wiping it with a sponge. Test it now before it gets on your floor and it’s too late. (Don’t forget to clean the sample before returning it.)

Now here’s the tricky part. At some point you should consider replacing all the flooring, especially since your comment about “pre-finished, mid-toned, pseudo-hardwood” makes me think you should seriously consider replacing all the floors, especially if you’re planning to live in your current home.

That should help. Best of luck!

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