Today's Kitchens Require Attention to Detail

It's the little things that count in larger, multipurpose kitchens.

The devil is in the details. Today's fancy kitchens entail considerable attention to details by general contractors and remodelers when it comes to planning and installing a kitchen, says Hank White, president of Hallmark Kitchens, a Houston kitchen and bath remodeling firm. But the result of meticulous attention to such things is client satisfaction and customer referrals.

"People show great interest in getting more detailed in the functionality of the kitchen. They're asking things like, 'Where can we put our pots?' or 'I saw this on HGTV.' "

White outlines a number of kitchen design trends:

Larger kitchens = more features and appliances. Depending on the size of the kitchen and the client's lifestyle, appliances play a dominant role. Think niche items, such as a swing-out pot filler faucet on the wall next to the stove, an additional dishwasher placed for convenience (and even extra dish storage), double ovens and warming drawers, as well as wine chillers and specialty refrigerators.

Kitchens as gathering centers. Contractors who get involved in kitchen design, layout or millwork, take heed. "The trend toward entertaining while you're cooking or being entertained while cooking has caused layouts to change," White says. He notes emphasis on islands as a center for baking or food preparation or as a serving-buffet area. So are flat-screen TVs, cleverly hidden behind slide-out panels or framed by wood pieces and integrated into the cabinetry or into the wall.

Dimensions matter. Likewise, White says today's appliances, which often take on additional roles (such as a microwave-convection oven combination), can be far more complicated from the installation perspective. High-end European lines can be more complicated from the hook-up perspective. And design trends rule today. "The integrated look of wood-overlay panels over fridges and dishwashers and fitting out fillers and trim pieces like pilasters on either side of the fridge means no room for error in measurements," White says. "Contractors also need to plan for proper hinging of makes like Sub-Zero fridges in order to have them open fully, given these fillers."

Planning the installation. Allocating for electrical and plumbing considerations is critical. White recommends that contractors pay extra attention to appliance specifications and utility hookups to get bids correct the first time. "Utility hookups are always important in bidding out to your client. Remember basics like including GFI plugs and making sure outlets are included every 24 inches."

It's important to know the specifics of the individual models of the appliances, too. On a Dacor in-wall coffee system, for instance, a $200 option-upgrade allows for the unit to use a water line, as opposed to a tank in the standard model. "Contractors need to allow for heavy-duty ranges, many 36-inches wide, which require additional ventilation," White says.

Uniqueness sells. White notes that some clients just want something unique. "Work closely with the kitchen designer," he advises, adding that it's up to the contractor to anticipate the work involved around highly unique selections. While granite and other stone-composition countertops are now common, he's even installed a pewter countertop. Other choices include treated concrete surfaces as countertop. White says consumers are taking a cue from the institutional sector and asking for stainless-steel cabinets and counters for a sleek, modern look. Embellishes such as granite inlays or ornate tile in the backsplash are increasingly sought.

Minneapolis freelancer Marcia Jedd frequently writes on residential design and construction.

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