Homebuilders have long known that old, unattractive kitchens and bathrooms are why many people want to "trade up" to new homes. However, with house prices and mortgage rates still going up, more and more homeowners have decided to stay in their current houses and remodel obsolete areas.
Up-to-date kitchens also bring better prices when houses are put on the market. It is axiomatic in the real estate business that a modern kitchen is the one feature above all others that enhances the resale value of a property.
With enough space and a big enough bankroll, you may be tempted to pick one of everything for a kitchen remodeling, like a child in a candy shop. Figure on $3,000 for a minimal remodeling project. Most, however, run $5,000 to $6,000, including new floors and appliances. But you could escalate to $12,000 in no time at all.
For some time it seemed that the most original kitchen designs came from Europe -- but no more. One person not bothered by foreign imports is Lynn C. Conner, president of Krown Kitchens. His company's 14,000-square foot showroom, six miles from Lancaster, Pa., is considered one of the largest of its kind and has been renovated along the lines of a mini-mall. In it are 26 model kitchens, plus a bath shop and displays of built-in cabinetry for living room, bedroom and family room.
"Europeans had a jump on us [in kitchen design] while we sat on our hands, but at present we're about even," he said. "Now Europeans are incorporating our wood fronts in their designs -- there's a tremendous amount of oak [used abroad]," Conner said.
A veteran of 20 years in the business, Conner goes abroad each year to keep an eye on what the Europeans are doing. He goes there to stimulate his own thinking, he said, and often comes across ideas to adapt here. The Italians are exceptionally creative, he said.
"I think we should make use of good ideas wherever they originate, especially if we can improve upon them. I have been bringing back the best of European ideas and working them into American cabinetry."
For example, a contemporary American design makes use of wire roll-out baskets and shelves that Europeans like very much. Krown imports the fittings for cupboards and tall lockers, concealing all behind rose-patterned Formica.
Not everything found abroad works here: A long, skinny compartment for French bread or a built-in meat slicer are two examples. Things making more sense in American kitchens are cupboards specially fitted to hold blenders, coffee makers and other small appliances, or pull-down trays for pot-scouring pads in that panel at the front of the sink that usually goes unusued.
A sit-down sink was Conner's own brainchild. A cook himself, he appreciates convenience and comfort and, for a visitor, pulls up a chair to demonstrate how the sink functions.
He had his staff design a table with a small sink built in it. With a top of chopping block and ceramic tile, the unit doubles as work space and a breakfast table. That entire kitchen, based on an Italian style, divides into sections: a liquor cabinet, a serving buffet, a range and a corner unit containing dishwasher, sink and grocery cabinets.
The effect is elegant, yet simple. The cabinets are oak and all other surfaces are large-block Italian tiles.