A smart kitchen remodel ‘doesn’t have to break the bank,’ say designers

Walk through a well-remodeled kitchen with Portland interior designer Garrison Hullinger and you’ll never see the busiest room in the house the same way again.

He’ll point out the snack zone and beverage center that keep people from interrupting the home chef at the command center.

You’ll be introduced to the “workhorse sink,” made of durable Silgranit granite in a color that matches the counter, and the breakfast closet, with pullout shelves for small appliances to make coffee, smoothies and toasted bagels in the morning, before the pocket doors close, concealing what’s inside.

And you’ll see a double refrigerator holding ingredients for meals on the side closest to the main cooking area and on the other side: Yogurt, cheese sticks and other quick-to-grab treats.

“An organized kitchen is not a struggle to manage,” says the designer who has seen trends come and go since he founded Garrison Hullinger Interiors 12 years ago, but he doesn’t fall for hype.

Kitchens are expensive to update and need to be designed to look great and function for decades.

The 2022 Houzz & Home Study found kitchen remodels required the longest construction period, almost five months, added on to the planning phase, which can be nearly twice as long.

Money is best spent on timeless styles, organizing storage and surfaces that serve multi purposes in the heart of a home, where everyone gathers, Hullinger says.

Instead of one wide, freestanding island, he likes two narrow, parallel islands: One for preparing food and a slightly taller one that blocks the messy scullery work and is used for serving and entertaining.

“Good design makes life easier now and in the future,” says Hullinger. An island, once covered in baby bottles or used as the kids’ table, can eventually become a place for a wine bar.

“Then it’s finally adult party time,” he says. “Create a kitchen that serves you over the stages of your life.”

A 1950 house in West Linn’s Marylhurst neighborhood was renovated in 2022 by Black Sheep Design.  A 1950 house in West Linn’s Marylhurst neighborhood, which was remodeled in 2020 by Black Sheep Design, is on the 2022 Portland Modern Home Tour. Ruum Media

A 1950 house in West Linn’s Marylhurst neighborhood was remodeled in 2022 by Black Sheep Design.Ruum Media

Many people, hunkered at home, improved their living and yard space in 2020 after offices, schools, restaurants and factories closed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Other people put remodeling projects on hold due to labor shortages, rising costs and uncertainty over production and delivery delays.

“There was enough chaos,” says designer Hullinger, “why would you take on a kitchen remodel?”

Now, shortages are easing — merchandising and supply chain teams work to quickly replenish in-demand items, says a spokesman with the Home Depot — and designers with the National Kitchen & Bath Association are recommending alternatives to high-priced products.

People who purchased their home in the last few years secured a low mortgage interest rate, but in the frenzy of a highly competitive market, they may have settled for a kitchen that wasn’t the showcase they wanted.

Owners of homes that were built 20 to 39 years ago are most likely to want an upgrade, found the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

They’re now ready to take down cabinets, a wall if needed, and rebuild the most-complicated area in a home, using new materials that look like pricey designer products but are durable and easy to maintain.

Aubrey McCormick and Walker Templeton of Black Sheep Design in Portland bought, remodeled and sold more than 20 houses in the last two years.

They faced challenges like everyone else: hiring a reliable crew of workers, staying on top of supply chain issues, especially with windows, and absorbing the cost of of lumber that added $20,000-$30000 to a whole-house project, says McCormick.

Splurging on a kitchen still makes sense. Home sellers like McCormick know that the kitchen is a big factor in finding a buyer.

One of Black Sheep Design’s projects, a renovated 1950 house in West Linn’s Marylhurst neighborhood, has a new kitchen with an Italian white terra-cotta backsplash, wood slat island and custom bench in the breakfast nook.

The dwelling was selected to be a stop on the 2022 Portland Modern Home Tour.

“The first thing we look at is how we want the house to feel and how we can reconfigure the flow to allow the house to work as it should,” says McCormick.

The team draws natural light into a kitchen by expanding windows and if possible, they redesign the layout to have a wall free to add a sliding glass door and make the ceiling vaulted.

They reuse what still works and look for high-end fixtures, drawer pulls and soft close cabinetry that won’t break the bank, she says.

“There is so much tile out there now that mimics the high-end selection,” she says. “You can still make your kitchen look stunning for half the price of more expensive tile.”

Cabinets are the biggest expense in a kitchen remodel, and they range widely from custom ones that can cost around $50,000 to stock cabinets at IKEA for half the price, and Home Depot and Lowe’s cabinets for even less, she says.

If the existing cabinets function well and the design and layout still fit, they might just need a cosmetic lift with new hardware or paint.

“Use your imagination and think how you want your kitchen to operate for you,” she says.

AFTER photo of a small kitchen. Portland interior designer Garrison Hullinger of Garrison Hullinger Interiors designed this small kitchen.

The easiest way to ensure a kitchen has a timeless feel is to match key elements with the architecture and era of the house. Garrison Hullinger Interiors

Experts agree that the kitchen is the most expensive space in a home to remodel and the most complex, requiring plumbing, electrical and design experience.

A budget can quickly go off the rails. Decide on the objective and create a checklist of priorities, including storage and organization, appearance and layout.

Here are tips from kitchen designers:

Complement existing architecture. The easiest way to ensure a kitchen has a timeless feel is to match key elements with the architecture and era of the house. Consider the rooms visible from the kitchen when selecting the cabinet style. A neutral solution: White or wood grain cabinets, says Barbara Miller, design director for the Neil Kelly design and remodeling company.

Create work zones. Make it easier for people to flow into the kitchen and get what they need without crossing into command central and driving the main cook crazy, jokes Hullinger. It takes time to plan and organize a kitchen, but when everything has a place in the right zone, life is easier, he says.

AFTER photo: Portland interior designer Garrison Hullinger of Garrison Hullinger Interiors designed this small kitchen.

Garrison Hullinger Interiors designed this small kitchen with drawer pegs and inserts that keep items organized.Blackstone Edge/Garrison Hullinger Interiors

Use forgotten space: Some homes built in the 1930s and 1940s have deep coat closets that back up to the kitchen. If the coat closet is made shallow, the leftover space can become kitchen storage with pullout wire racks or a walk-in pantry.

Make it simple: When your hands are full or greasy, you can tap your knee against an electric-assist cabinet door to get to the trash and recycle bins.

Design for pets. “I’m not trying to dress up a rhinestone bowl for a dog,” says Hullinger, whose firm designs residential and hospitality projects. “I’m really looking at storage, for small or big bags of dog food, and lifestyle.” Some people want a Dutch door to see their dogs during dinnertime but not have them underfoot.

If a remodel is on the back burner, but you’d still like to dress up the kitchen for the holidays, Hullinger suggests packing up and storing anything you don’t use often. “There’s no space in the kitchen for something that you don’t use 80% of the time,” he says.

With more space in the cabinets, take off a few doors and see if open shelves appeal to you. “Put your favorite things on display,” he says.

Spend a few hundred dollars on kitchen storage solutions. “This will add sanity to your life during the holidays,” he says.

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman

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