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Mistakes to avoid

Remodeling a kitchen is a complex and complicated process. Here are some common remodeling mistakes and how to avoid them.

Not having a detailed plan. Know where you’re going before you start demolition. Your project will proceed more smoothly if you spell out everything in advance.

Not doing your homework. Educate yourself about appliances. Many stores offer free cooking demonstrations. Take the time to learn about the many options available.

Putting looks before function. Think about how you move and work in the kitchen, and plan accordingly. Consider hiring a professional kitchen designer to help with space planning.

Not budgeting enough money. There are always surprises in any remodeling project. Set aside an additional 15 to 20 percent of the total budget for unexpected changes.

Not asking for samples. Get a sample of your countertop material and try it out at home. Put lemon juice, bleach and red wine on the sample. Then ask yourself: Can I live with these results?

Giving short shrift to lighting. Lighting is a big expense, but it’s important: What good are all those fancy appliances, cabinets and countertops if you can’t see them?

Not recognizing the process will be stressful. It’s hard to live without a kitchen for weeks or months. Realize the process will strain your living arrangements.

Cheaping out on the small stuff. Spend money on things like hinges and door pulls. Good hardware is key to a kitchen’s function and looks. Not asking for samples. Get a sample of your countertop material and try it out at home. Put lemon juice, bleach and red wine on the sample. Then ask yourself: Can I live with these results?

A Kitchen That Fits

Your kitchen should fit you like a glove.

So says Elaine Corn, a food journalist, cookbook author and former restaurateur who knows a lot about kitchens. So much, in fact, that she recently began teaching a class called Organize Your Kitchen at Sacramento’s Learning Exchange.

In her class, she shows how to create a space that works for you. Her motto: It’s the cook, not the look.

“You spend a lot of time in the kitchen,” Corn explains. “It should look good, of course, but first it’s got to function.”

She rattles off a laundry list of rules for creating a kitchen that’s efficient and easy to use. “I don’t bend and I don’t reach,” she says crisply, explaining why she doesn’t like tall overhead cabinets-and why she does like dishwasher drawers. The trash can belongs in a pullout drawer near the sink, she notes-the farther away from the sink, the more you’ll drip on the floor. And the can’s got to be large enough to hold a lot of refuse, so you don’t have to empty it too often.

She also has definite likes and dislikes. Corn likes “snug kitchens,” with everything located within a few steps, so the cook doesn’t have to travel far between fridge, stove and sink. She doesn’t like two-tiered islands, designed to hide all signs of cooking from guests. “It sends the message “I really don’t want you in my kitchen,” she explains. And she rebels against lots of counter space. “Too much counter space can be a problem,” she says. “The mess expands to fill the space, so limit yourself.”

Corn has her students fill out a questionnaire designed to get them thinking about how they use their kitchens. It asks questions such as: How many people cook in your kitchen? What sorts of things do you cook? Do you bake? Do you make a lot of salads? (If so, you’ll want storage near the sink for a salad spinner, colander, chopping board and knives.)

She doesn’t get into the aesthetics: Frankly, Corn doesn’t care if you have granite countertops or cherry cabinets. “This is about the cook,” she says firmly.

Kitchen on the Cheap

You don’t have $50,000 or more to remodel your kitchen? That’s no reason why you can’t improve the looks and function of your space. Here, some cost-conscious solutions:

  1. Remove the upper-cabinet doors. Open shelving is in right now and will give your kitchen a charming, French-country look.
    Cost: nothing
  2. Paint the cabinets. With just a few hours of effort, your cabinets can look brand-new.
    Cost: $20-$30
  3. Replace old hardware. Remove old door handles and install high-quality nickel pulls. (These are from Restoration Hardware.)
    Cost: $7 per pull
  4. Give your dishwasher a face-lift. Have a metal fabricator cut a new stainless-steel panel to fit your old appliance.
    Cost: $50-$100