Thursday, September 20, 2007

Problem Kitchens & How to Fix Them

I was just reading John Audette's The Sweet 16: Principles for Building a Successful Internet Business, where he delineates his principles for creating successful Internet-based businesses.

Not really much to do with kitchen design, you say? True, but his 16th principle, Convert Liabilities Into Assets, stirred me to bring the discussion over here.

Converting liabilities to assets is what the successful kitchen remodel is all about, especially the kind of projects I do day in and day out.

Most of my projects involve kitchens that are a "problem" for the homeowners...A problem they can't figure out how to solve themselves.

This is especially true working in a place (the San Francisco Bay Area) where home prices are very high, and communities "close in" were built out long ago. People buy homes that are less than perfect and call themselves lucky to have found something...anything to call home.

Anybody can easily figure out how to remodel a kitchen that is essentially good to begin with. But it takes a special kind of designer to solve the problems in a problem kitchen, and turn it into a good kitchen that will never be a problem again.

Let's examine some of the kinds of problem kitchens I am commonly presented.

Problem kitchens very often have too many doors and traffic patterns. Consequently there is not enough contiguous wall space to place cabinetry and appliances in such a way that traffic will flow around the cook(s).

Problem kitchens very often are situated BETWEEN heavily used rooms or areas in the home, making the kitchen, and particularly the prep/cooking areas, a traffic thoroughfare.

Problem kitchens have architectural protrusions: Chimneys, pipe chases, bulkheads, stairwells, and other rooms, often protrude awkwardly into older kitchens. This is often because kitchens in "better" 18th and early 19th century homes were used by servants, not family members, and therefore occupied the "leftover spaces" in the home. Other times the reason is just plain poor design or previous remodeling choices gone awry.

Problem kitchens do not relate well to the surrounding rooms or spaces in the home. Many homes were, and are to this day, built without much regard for the "flow" of traffic within, and in and out of, the home, or the principles of good design and architecture. Only a small percentage of homes are custom designed, most being tract homes. Some kitchens are just plain misplaced in the home. Some are correctly placed, but surrounding rooms and spaces are misplaced or even just used for the wrong purposes.

People who buy and live in such homes often think a new kitchen will solve their problems. But, truly, their problems cannot be solved just by planning a new kitchen within the existing parameters and space. Some changes, usually only achievable by remodeling, will have to be made. What kind of remodeling, and how extensive it needs to be, are all part of the design process in studios like mine around the world.

By looking at the BIG PICTURE, of the entire home, the rooms surrounding the kitchen, and the kitchen itself; designers present solutions to problem kitchens in new and creative ways. Ways that homeowners usually do not see themselves...It's a forest and trees thing.

A practiced designer's fresh eyes are often all a homeowner needs to set off on a project that will not only create a wonderful new kitchen, with all the attendant accoutrements, but also an altogether better home; where the rooms relate logically and traffic flows without impediment.

So, if your kitchen falls into one or more of the categories above, be prepared to spend more money. Because your project is going to be more complicated and expensive to correct that just installing new cabinets, countertops, flooring and appliances. Reconfiguring space in a home is always more expensive than not doing so. But the rewards of such a project are vast, for you and all the people who will occupy your home in the future.

Such a project will add intrinsic value to your home, making it far more desirable and livable than it has ever been before. A problem-correcting remodel is also the most likely project to ADD value to your home beyond the cost, since problem kitchens drag down the value of the homes they live in.

And there has never been a better time to embark on such a project (if you have the money stashed away or are able to get an equity loan). Quality contractors are unbusy and looking for work for the first time since the mid-'90's. Materials suppliers are sharpening their pencils and discounting to stay in business. Even designers (like me) are wondering where their next project will come from.

You can actually SAVE money.

What are you waiting for? The wealthy shouldn't be the only ones to benefit from difficult times. Your dream kitchen awaits.