Pro has designs on kitchen and bathroom projects

Kitchens and bathrooms monopolize new-home and remodeling budgets, but for good reason: Each is a collage of lighting, cabinetry, electrical, plumbing, appliances, tiles and hardware that must be lovely but livable.

Composing these rooms is designer Barbara Quatroke, owner of Q's Cabinet Shoppe Ltd. (qscab in Naperville.

Equipped with a tape measure and camera, Quatroke begins each remodel design with a trip to the client's house. For a new house, she begins with the blueprints. She determines the client's budget, style and must-have products.

"It matters whether you want a 36-inch or 48-inch refrigerator, for example," she said.

After the client agrees on a plan, she heads to Quatroke's shop to select products.

"A big part of my job is education," said Quatroke. "The more questions they ask, the better. Which woods take dark stains the best? What's the difference between ogee and bull-nosed edges? Why are these drawers deeper?"

Quatroke opened her showroom in 2005 after running her business out of her home. Before that, she studied accounting and home design, then represented a cabinet line.

Kitchens, especially, require plenty of planning because they are the hearts of today's homes, said Quatroke. While the husband usually chimes in with his likes and dislikes, she said, "The wife considers her kitchen a reflection of her and an extension of her."

"We are very patient with the design stage," said Quatroke. "One client was Mr. Decision and made all the choices for five bathrooms in an hour. But most people take much longer, some up to a year. Better to take your time at the design stage, when it's easy to make changes."

Rare is the kitchen that is large enough, said Quatroke.

"Usually, I try to figure out how to make it bigger or at least more functional," she said. "That might mean taking out the old peninsula or removing the wall between the kitchen and dining room."

Hot kitchen amenities include islands, message centers and recharging stations. Peninsulas, soffits and desks are out. Glass-front cabinets are in, but many of her clients want them frosted to hide not-so-fancy dishes.

Quatroke's clients favor furniture-look cabinetry in natural tones or white, often with glazing or distressing.

Bathrooms have graduated from their utilitarian, builder-grade status, said Quatroke.

"They are more like the rest of house, with sconces and custom-framed mirrors," she said. Soaking tubs are out; showers are in. Counters are taller than the previous 30- to 33-inch standards.

In remodels, Quatroke tells clients to be sure to set aside money to add lighting because even a 20-year-old house lacks lighting buyers want today. Remember, she added, lighting updates often lead to new ceiling drywall.

"Today's homeowners are on a budget, so we suggest ways to save," she said. "For cabinets, they can skip decorative panels on the ends and elements such as columns and corbels. They can go with a lower-cost cabinet line and not have dovetail drawers. They can skip panels on refrigerators and dishwashers. Appliances don't have to be Sub-Zero."

In a bathroom remodel, the best way to keep the budget in check is to keep the toilet, shower and sink on the same walls as their predecessors, said Quatroke. Her buyers are not willing to skimp on countertops, though, she said.

"They want stone, not Formica or solid-surface," she said. "Some love recycled glass but consider it too expensive. Quartz is more popular as more people learn that it is impervious to bacteria and you can buy a brand that's made in America."

In addition to kitchens and bathrooms, Quatroke also designs mudrooms, laundry rooms and home offices.

Evenings, Quatroke unwinds by reading historical biographies and tackling sudoko puzzles. She and her husband enjoy bike riding and museum trekking with their 4- and 5-year-old grandsons.

Remodeling clients keep Quatroke's job roster filled during the housing downturn.

"Many of them know they will have to remodel in order to sell their houses," she said. "So they say they might as well go ahead and do it now so they can enjoy it."

One on one with Barbara Quatroke

Q. What are your favorite kitchen design rules of thumb?

A. The countertop, cabinets and floor should contrast. The (stove/refrigerator/sink) work triangle is still a good rule. And the kitchen needs at least seven drawers: one for silverware, tea towels, potholders, (food-wrap) boxes, knives, utensils like spatulas and, of course, the junk drawer.

Q. And for the bathroom?

A. Don't be afraid to move a wall or replace the tub you don't use. Build storage into every nook; you can't have enough for medicine, toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc.

Q. What common remodeling mistakes do you see homeowners make?

A. Some people re-face their old cabinets, but that costs 80 percent of new ones, and they're stuck with the same layout. So they end up getting new ones after all. Others buy cheaper granite from someone who can't fabricate it correctly, so they wind up with an expensive piece of stone with rough edges. Or they install a new countertop but leave the old cabinets and soffits. To future buyers of that house, it looks half-done.

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