Lots of ways to save money in designing a new kitchen

Sure, most home buyers would like a dream kitchen, fresh from the pages of glossy magazines. But rare is the buyer with an unlimited budget. By working with a kitchen designer, though, a buyer can stretch her new-home dollars as far as she can.

For some cost-cutting tips, we called Cathy Sparling. In addition to being a certified kitchen designer with McNulty Design Group in Park Ridge, Sparling is the president of the Chicago Midwest Chapter of the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

Q. Starting with what typically is the biggest kitchen expense, the cabinets, how can a buyer get a luxury look on a limited budget?

A. Stock cabinets cost 20 percent to 30 percent less than custom cabinets, but you can get the custom, furniture-like look with stock items. Depending on the line, you can change their depth or height or add moldings. Some lines offer glazing, too, which enhances the molding details.

You can choose a `countertop depth' refrigerator and surround it with stock cabinet panels to make it look built-in. You sacrifice some cubic feet that you get with built-in refrigerators, but the loss isn't much.

The right hardware can upgrade the look of stock cabinets. Some cabinet lines offer granite hardware to match your countertops.

If you don't like the standard hardware the cabinetry line offers, order the cabinets without holes drilled and buy your own. You can go online and find thousands of styles.

You can save about 30 percent on cabinets if you skip the upper cabinets and instead go with wooden or stainless steel shelves.

Q. How do costs of countertop materials compare?

A. These days, granite, quartz and solid-surface are all neck-and-neck, price-wise, so there is no longer a big difference. If you like granite, you can save money by using granite tiles instead of solid granite.

Laminates are still the least expensive choice for countertops, and there are lots of new patterns. Some mimic stone or granite. Skip the laminate backsplash and you get more of a granite or stone look.

Q. As for appliances, how can buyers get the commercial-grade look on a residential-grade budget?

A. The free-standing type is still the most affordable type of range. But instead of putting the standard microwave/fan combination over it, you can get a stainless-steel hood for not that much more. Then put the microwave elsewhere in the kitchen.

A lot of buyers tell me they want double ovens, but admit they will only use them on holidays. In that case, I suggest getting one oven plus a convection microwave oven. You can put the turkey in the oven and side dishes in the microwave.

As for the dishwasher, you can get the popular stainless-steel look for less by getting a model with a pop-in steel panel.

Q. Today's kitchens have more lighting. How can you maximize this on a budget?

A. You can add a lot of drama without needing a lot of money by adding some under-cabinet down-lighting and over-cabinet up-lighting. If you have glass cabinet doors, put lights in there, too. In fact, some cabinet lines offer them. Pendants can be great focal points and they no longer cost a lot. Use them over the sink and the island.

Q. What's the most affordable way to spruce up your kitchen plan?

A. Paint. Use it to add your favorite colors, not structural things like countertops and appliances. It is easier and costs less to repaint a blue wall than to replace the blue countertop.

Q. Where should a buyer not cut back on cost?

A. Don't skimp on the kitchen sink. You really get what you pay for there. The low-quality stainless-steel sinks, for example, sound tinny and are too shallow.

Also, get a good faucet. Cheap ones aren't worth the money because they will break.

If there's an upgrade you really want, like the more expensive countertop, getting it when you build the kitchen costs less than doing it later. The builder already has all the tradespeople there--the electrician, plumber, carpenter. Also, if you do it later, you will have to live with the construction. For most families, whether or not they cook a lot, the kitchen is their hub.


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