Cooking up a design

Consider your real needs before you do that expensive kitchen remodel

By Brian Kelly

Herald Writer

Scan a dozen home-for-sale ads, and you’re bound to see it. There, tucked ‘twixt descriptions of fireplaces and hardwood floors, like a claustrophobic slice of smothered ham in cordon bleu, a phrase that sends some into a lip-licking dinning dream: "gourmet kitchen."

For some people buying a house, the kitchen is a make-or-break factor.

And for those making the best of the house they already call home, upscaling the family’s feed station is one of the most popular areas for renovation projects.

"Between 50 to 75 percent of the remodel money goes into the kitchen," said Karen Fugate, owner of Emerald Design Inc. The Marysville company specializes in kitchens and bathrooms, and has a team of three designers to help homeowners undertaking renovation jobs, as well as assisting professional architects with new construction projects.

Despite the prevalence of microwaves, fast food and the growing number of people who don’t know the difference between a pot and a pan, kitchens still play a vital role in every home, even if there isn’t a gourmet chef in the house.

"It’s a very popular place to hang out," Fugate said. "Families and friends like to spend their time socializing in the kitchen, even if they’re not eating."

Emerald Design takes a project from the idea stage through drawings and designs. It also has a crew that can do the actual nails-and-hammer work as well.

The company primarily works with remodeling. Typical clients range from first-time homeowners who have lived in their home five to 10 years, to owners of homes 50 years or older who want the interior completely gutted and redone, and an addition built.

When it comes to a "gourmet" kitchen, though, it’s really up to the users to define how grand is good. Some folks favor custom cabinetry, solid granite countertops or other components that meld the realms of function and aesthetics, while others focus on appliances or the work areas of the kitchen.

"Some people are convenience cooks; they’re busy working parents. Other people, the little bit older homeowner, likes to spend a lot more time cooking," Fugate explained, adding that the latter may intensely scrutinize the choices of appliances and other details, such as drawer space or other basics. "What we try to do is really listen to the customer’s needs and try to choose the products that match their needs and their budget."

Focusing the design for those who will actually use the kitchen is crucial, said Dean Davies, an Everett architect and a kitchen designer certified by the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Some equate gourmet with large, expansive kitchens. But for a cook that has to take three or four extra steps to reach that whisk or open the fridge, too much space can be a bad thing.

"My feeling is, people are making kitchens too big. I see a lot of kitchens that are designed more for glamour than for function. It’s the bigger-is-better kind of thing," Davies said.

"I wouldn’t really call those gourmet kitchens. I would think that a gourmet kitchen is something that’s easy to use, easy to clean, the surfaces are at the heights that people use," he said.

Access to kitchen tools, the choice of appliances — it all comes down to details. Some stoves, for example, have high heat ratings but are actually less efficient than ones with better-designed burners, Davies said. Built-in refrigerators can be disguised as cabinets, but also can be more energy-efficient. Granite countertops are handsome, and they won’t be damaged if someone sets a hot pan on the counter.

The attention to detail shouldn’t stop at the kitchen entryway, though. A big challenge is making the custom kitchen match adjoining rooms that may not have as much remodeling done, Fugate said.

"We’ll try to maintain the character and the taste that the original home has. If it’s a very old home, we’ll go with the more traditional tastes and flavors," Fugate said. "If it’s a more modern home, we’ll go with choices that maintain that flavor depending on what the atmosphere warrants."

Creating a custom kitchen can bring benefits in the short and long term. First, homeowners get to enjoy the new kitchen that’s been created.

And when it does come time to sell, a custom kitchen can turn the heads of potential buyers. Although the home’s value depends largely on square footage and location, Fugate said, home buyers look long and hard at the kitchens when they’re shopping around.

"They say that remodel money is best spent in the kitchen, because you’ll get your value back out of it when you try to sell," Fugate said.

"Potential homeowners are not interested into coming into a home and remodeling the kitchen right away," she said. "The best money you can spend, in terms of increasing the sale-ability of your home is in the kitchen and bath."

You can call Herald Writer Brian Kelly at 425-339-3422 or send e-mail to

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