A kitchen remodel yields stunning results

My daughter and her new husband love to cook and entertain. To make their home what they want for the long-term, they would like an upgraded kitchen. If they can’t get one, they would like to move.

The remodel-or-move debate is a common conundrum among homeowners weighing one set of unknowns against another all in the effort to answer one question: Will it be worth it?

They ask themselves, would I rather endure months of inconvenience, dust, noise, strangers in my house, dozens of decisions, financial surprises and life with no kitchen, or put everything I own into boxes, pay a bunch of moving costs and set up house all over again in a new neighborhood with new problems yet to be discovered?

My daughter and her husband talked to a couple of designers and contractors. One designer drew up a proposal that outlined the scope of work and her design fee but did not include any creative solutions or construction estimates.

“I value her talent and want to compensate her for her time,” my daughter said, “but I don’t want to pay the design fee unless I know what I will get and what the total project will cost, and she can’t know that until she designs it.”

“Um-hmm,” I said, the wisest two syllables any mother can say.

My daughter and I bat around the pros and cons of remodeling or buying a house that has the kitchen she wants. Whatever side I take, she takes the other one, which is how we roll. Like a dog chasing its tail, we go round, get nowhere, get tired and give up.

AFTER: Interior designer Sara Malek Barney moved a wall in this 1952 bungalow in Austin, Texas, to double the kitchen's size, then updated cabinets and finishes, and incorporated the now-open kitchen into the home's main living area through wall color and flooring choices. (Photo courtesy Madeleine Landry)
AFTER: Interior designer Sara Malek Barney moved a wall to double the kitchen’s size, updated cabinets and finishes, and incorporated the kitchen into the home’s main living area through wall color and flooring choices. (Photo courtesy Madeleine Landry) 

Just as I was about to throw in the kitchen towel, I got an email featuring a kitchen makeover by interior designer Sara Malek Barney, founder of BandD/Design, in Austin, Texas. Another young couple wanted a bigger, better kitchen — and got it. The transformation was impressive. This gave me hope. I called Barney to ask how homeowners can know whether their kitchens can be saved, or whether they should put out the for-sale sign.

“Almost anything is possible,” Barney said. “The question is at what cost?”

Cost, of course, includes not just money, but time, inconvenience and fried decision banks. Though the answer isn’t black and white, Barney offered the following dos and don’ts to consider before you bring in the sledgehammer.

Don’t do it, if you won’t love it. If you won’t get what you want in the end, don’t do it, she said. “You might get a nicer kitchen, but you don’t want to just put lipstick on it and not be fully happy.”

Don’t do it if it’s going to be too costly. “Often, giving clients what they’re dreaming of requires taking a wall down,” Barney said. If it’s a load-bearing wall, removing it could add several thousand dollars to the project. If making room for barstools means moving plumbing and gas lines, that, too, gets expensive. Weigh the cost against your budget and the value of the home, then decide.

Don’t focus only on looks. Don’t remodel your kitchen to make it look better, if it’s not going to also function better. In addition to improving flow, a good designer can help you make small, inexpensive moves that make a huge improvement in how your kitchen functions. These include adding pull-out shelves, pantry drawers, power strips inside drawers to charge devices, soft-close cabinet drawers and doors, and angled drawer organizers.

Don’t do it if your tolerance for chaos is low. “Consider the sanity factor,” Barney said. Though remodels are not as scary as people think, construction is still messy, intrusive, loud, unpredictable and expensive.

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