Renovating with Resale in Mind
There are many reasons why homeowners decide to embark on a kitchen renovation: disintegrating cabinetry; outdated or undesirable styling; water damage from a leak or flood; or even the need for a new refrigerator that won’t fit into the existing space. Sometimes customers merely want to freshen up the room at minimal cost in order to prepare it for sale. But how do you approach a renovation when you want a change suitable for your own taste and lifestyle, but expect you won’t be in the house five to seven years from now?
Aside from the first impression impact of curb appeal, studies show that kitchen and bath renovations yield the highest ROI (return on investment) upon resale. I always advise clients that if your intention is to remain in your home for the distant future, feel free to design your dream kitchen in whatever style pleases you, with whatever popular flourish your heart desires. Because history proves that trends will have changed in 10+ years, and prospective buyers would most likely want to update or replace the kitchen after that point. But if you foresee a short-term stay in the home, it becomes crucial to remodel with an eye toward attracting the largest buyer pool. Does that mean you can’t have a kitchen that reflects your personality? Definitely not. We’ve reached out to Senior Designers Paula Greer, CKD and Randy O’Kane, CKD, realtor Lucille Corrier of Douglas Elliman in NYC, and owner Regina Bilotta, to weigh in on tips for choosing materials that will make you happy, but still have universal appeal.
Before you make a single selection for your new kitchen, your first consideration has to be the layout. This may be a very short section. Although Lucille concedes that a formal NYC apartment may call for the separation of kitchen and family room, she agrees with our other experts that an open concept plan (where the kitchen opens onto eating and family room areas) is by far the most coveted feature in a renovation, and a leading requirement on buyers’ wish lists. Establishing long, clear sight lines through the space not only creates an expansive, airy environment, but homeowners love the communal feeling and easy flow for family time and entertaining. Is it expensive to put in a support beam if the obstructing wall happens to be loadbearing? Of course! But I’ve never encountered a client who regretted the decision once they experienced the transformative result!
Your next decision is cabinetry, since it’s usually the largest surface in the kitchen. This category encompasses color, material, and door style. Whether your residence is a co-op, a penthouse apartment, a townhouse, or a single-family suburban home, the general rule is to stay neutral. Some of you may be wincing with disappointment at this, but we promise it’s not a negative thing. It so happens that the esthetic of quiet palettes and clean lines is in perfect step with current trends in even the most high-end, spectacular kitchens. Gone are the days of elaborate carvings, posts, and moldings, with heavily glazed finishes.
Randy states emphatically that classic white is the color of choice, with Paula expanding that to white or light colors. Lucille Corrier also recommends going neutral, but cautions that the shades of gray that have been so popular over the last few years may have already reached their peak. Regina reminds us that today’s whites can be many things, and suggests either cool whites with gray or blue undertones, or warmer whites with beige or taupe tones. Just be careful to avoid the pink-hued whites. Regina also proposes using a stained wood, such as rift-cut white oak or walnut, on the island; both are beautiful complements to a painted perimeter, provide textural and visual interest, yet maintain the broadly-appealing palette that won’t turn anyone away.
When it comes to your choice of door style, your mantra should be “simplicity”; for today’s homeowner, less is definitely more in this regard. While Randy, Paula, and Lucille all champion the timeless, transitional Shaker design with a recessed center panel, Lucille also feels that contemporary flat panel doors are equally appropriate, especially in her urban market. Regina’s philosophy is that even traditional framed inset cabinetry would garner acceptance if the door itself is streamlined.
As for the cabinetry “bells and whistles”, Paula, Regina and Lucille enthusiastically endorse accessories that add function and efficiency to your kitchen while you occupy the house, yet add excitement for potential buyers. These include pantries; interior rollouts; trash and recycling pullouts; spice, cutlery, and utensil dividers; and corner swing-out solutions. For NYC apartments, Lucille also loves cabinetry that keeps countertop clutter out of sight.
Just as you would add a piece of jewelry to complete your outfit, the decorative hardware is the crowning touch for your cabinetry. There are hundreds of thousands of choices available for knobs and pulls, as well as dozens of beautiful finishes. It may be tempting to choose something that’s uniquely suited to your particular style, since hardware is a relatively easy thing for a new owner to switch out at a later date. But I have found there are definitely some people who just cannot see past hardware they find distasteful, and will be blinded to the beauty of the kitchen as a result. So once again, the advice is to keep it simple and avoid trends. While Lucille and Paula acknowledge that satin brass hardware is having a moment (even when mixed with stainless steel appliances), they both feel it may end up dating your kitchen. All four women agree that polished or satin nickel is definitely your safest choice. (For more info on hardware click here to read one of our previous blogs, “Kitchen Jewelry”.)
On the issue of countertops, it’s virtually unanimous: man-made quartz tops are the way to go. Although natural marble is coveted for its gorgeous veining, it requires care and maintenance and may not be the wisest choice for resale. On the other hand, quartz (and other similar stone-based manufactured surfaces) will withstand years of everyday use, yet still promises to look as good as the day it was installed. It’s available in many colors and patterns that are sure to coordinate well with your other finishes. Randy also likes glass countertops, especially in contemporary interiors.
There is also consensus on backsplashes: once again, nothing too trendy. All are proponents of continuing the quartz countertop material up onto the backsplash for a cohesive, uninterrupted ambiance. If you prefer a tile backsplash, stick with something timeless, like a subway tile. There are various sizes and finishes (such as crackle or the undulating face of a handmade tile) for an individualized look. And after all these years, I still love the depth created by a beveled subway tile. Additionally, subway tile can be transformed by layout: aside from the familiar “running bond” brick pattern, it can also be stacked vertically or horizontally for a more contemporary interpretation.
Appliances are the other big-ticket item that have a huge influence on the room’s appearance. Paula believes high-end buyers look for top-of-the-line luxury brand-name appliance packages, whether they’re stainless steel or paneled to match the cabinetry. Similarly, Regina feels both stainless and paneled appliances can be equally appropriate, but she points out the sure sign of a well-designed kitchen: a flush refrigerator/freezer, where the doors do not protrude. This should not be confused with “counter-depth” refrigeration, as the doors in this category must still sit proud of the side panels. Flush appliances (sometimes referred to as “fully integrated”) have become such an important element in kitchen design that more manufacturers have introduced this technology into their lines to provide more options at multiple price points. Though Paula leaves it to the clients’ preferences for either stainless or paneled refrigeration, she strongly recommends at least a paneled dishwasher for its clean look. On the other hand, Lucille always favors paneled, integrated appliances: since NY apartments tend to be smaller, the uninterrupted cabinetry creates a more spacious look. There are also luxury appliance and fixture options that will add to your life and delight any future owners: filtered water and soap dispensers are appreciated conveniences; while wine coolers, refrigerator drawers, built-in coffeemakers and steam ovens will certainly become favorite additions to the renovation.
The issue of electronics is also one to consider. In this category, opinions are mixed. If your kitchen renovation is part of a whole-house remodel, and the homes in your neighborhood support higher price points, Randy and Lucille suggest installing “smart home” features, especially if your house will be compared to nearby new construction where this technology is often included. However, Lucille cautions that you should consult with experts to ensure your selections can be easily upgraded as technology evolves. On the other hand, Paula doesn’t believe “smart home” technology is something you’d add if you were thinking of selling in a short period of time. Of course, there are now many “smart” appliances on the market that have Wi-Fi capabilities, offering eye-catching convenience for users; this can be a relatively easy way to some high-tech appeal for potential buyers. But there is one technology upgrade that is fast becoming a must-have: adding docking drawers to corral the ever-expanding mess of the family’s numerous electronic devices. Customers’ eyes light up when I suggest there’s a way to clear the countertops of chargers and cords, and prospective buyers will be just as enthused about that thoughtful feature.
Now that we’ve explored the strategies for remodeling your kitchen with an eye toward future marketability, let’s discuss how to customize the décor to reflect your taste. The most obvious tactic is the use of color. All our experts like to introduce “temporary” accents that can readily be changed down the road. This would include wall paint, window treatments and upholstery, as well as dishware and other decorative items. Randy even suggests wallpaper since today’s “peel and stick” wallcoverings are easily removed. Paula and Lucille believe your choice of lighting can veer toward more personal styling, since most potential buyers recognize that a fixture isn’t difficult to replace. And despite earlier advice to keep your hardware and backsplash simple and neutral, these are features that can, in fact, be switched. If you really feel you’ll be missing out without those brushed gold handles and the patterned backsplash tiles, go ahead and bring your vision to life.
So have fun planning your kitchen renovation, knowing that it will improve your family’s quality of life in the short term, and increase your home’s value down the road.
This post was written by senior designer, Paulette Gambacorta. Paulette has been designing kitchens with Bilotta for over 25 years.