Maybe it's the avocado-green appliances and godawful orange-and-gold wallpaper you picked out in the '70s, when those colors were actually in style. Or maybe it's the pink bathtub, toilet and washstand-style sink that have been making you cringe every morning since the day you first moved into your otherwise-perfect dream home. Whatever the reason, you can't ignore it any longer: The kitchen and bathroom need to be remodeled, preferably as soon as possible.
But Alan Abrams, a certified kitchen designer at Cabinet En-Counters in Cleveland, points out that there's a difference between redecorating and remodeling. "Remodeling is a physical change, whereas with redecorating, you're changing the look," he says. Most kitchens and bathrooms require the former, an often expensive and inconvenient process which explains why most people don't do it that often. As a result, they experience a sort of sticker shock when a contractor hands them an estimate for the job.
$5,000 or Less?
Working on a kitchen or bathroom with a very limited budget is like going through a smorgasbord, observes Terry Bennett of Terry Bennett Builders and Remodelers in Westlake. The similarity lies in the fact that homeowners have to pick and choose from the items on their to-do list of projects.
Below is a sampling of what might be accomplished for $5,000 or less. Handymen and -women may be able to afford a couple of projects by doing some of the work themselves; the thrifty by sticking to less-expensive appliances, fixtures and materials.
Less than $10,000Abrams recently remodeled a 168-square-foot kitchen in a Mayfield Heights bungalow for $8,600, including labor and materials. The job consisted of installing new production-grade maple cabinetry, laminate countertops, a single-bowl stainless-steel sink, Blanco-brand chrome faucet and Congoleum-brand linoleum floor.
"The quality of the materials has a lot to say about how far you can go," Bennett says. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, Bob Somrak Jr., a certified kitchen designer with Somrak Kitchens in Bedford Heights and Westlake, explains that production-grade cabinets are standard-sized, factory-made products that usually offer a selection of door styles, stains and wood species. "They could be solid wood, but generally they're a combination of veneers, particle board and solid wood," he says.
In this case, Abrams says, the cabinets had a wood frame and solid-maple door, particle-board core and all-wood drawer box with undermounted hardware. "The slides for the drawer are underneath the drawer, not on the sides," he explains. "It makes for a wider drawer box, and they're concealed. When you open the drawer, you don't see those ugly tracks on the side."
According to Bennett, those on a limited budget often choose to simply reface the cabinets, which involves replacing the doors and drawer fronts, and covering the frame with a matching laminate.
"It's the cheapest way to go," he says.
Abrams estimates that the occupant of the aforementioned bungalow spent "a couple thousand dollars" on a new 30-inch, self-cleaning gas range, over-the-range microwave and basic refrigerator purchases that took his kitchen remodeling project into the $10,000-to-$19,999 range. (All appliances, with the exception of the dishwasher, were freestanding.) He says homeowners with kitchens of up to 200 square feet can afford the same job on that kind of budget.
Those with small kitchens can choose higher-grade appliances and materials, maybe cabinets with a plywood instead of particle-board core or a countertop made of a solid-surface material such as Corian. Bennett says homeowners may also be able to hire a painter to finish the walls. (He recommends that do-it-yourselfers hone their skills in a child's bedroom or basement before trying to paint the kitchen.)
$20,000-$29,999Somrak says people can begin taking kitchens down to the studs and redesigning the layout. He warns, however, that relocating plumbing and electrical wiring can be very labor-intensive and, therefore, costly.
Abrams is more optimistic: "This starts to give you the opportunity of getting into more involved construction maybe taking out a wall, adding windows or skylights, even bumping out part of the house if you're trying to gain more space," he says.
Somrak says some homeowners may choose to upgrade flooring to a laminate or ceramic tile or install semicustom cabinetry, perhaps with a built-in double oven and separate cooktop. Semicustom cabinetry, he explains, can be ordered in a number of set widths and heights.
Others, Bennett points out, opt to add spice racks, tilt-out drawers and open shelves or invest in solid-surface countertops. Then there are those who, according to Abrams, hire a professional to hang a moderately priced wallpaper or buy appliances such as a trash compactor, a warming drawer or a more expensive, quieter dishwasher.
"This is where the client has the ability to take that money and put it where it's most important to them," he says.
$30,000 and over
Bennett says a recent study conducted by a remodeling magazine put the national average for the major makeover of an outmoded 200-square-foot kitchen at $38,769. That figure includes layout design and installation of 30 feet of semicustom cabinetry and laminate countertops (including a center island 3 feet wide by 5 feet long); midpriced sink and faucet; energy-efficient wall oven; cooktop; ventilation system; built-in microwave; dishwasher; garbage disposal; custom lighting; "resilient" floor; and painted walls, trim and ceiling.
According to Somrak, homeowners with this kind of money to spend can afford hardwood or designer-tile floors; countertops in a 1/8-inch solid-surface or 3/8-inch granite veneer; and what he calls a "quasi built-in" refrigerator, which he defines as a freestanding model that can accept wood panels.
However, a true built-in refrigerator and commercial-style appliances generally can't be considered in a complete kitchen redo until the budget approaches $50,000 or more. The same goes for solid granite and solid-surface countertops; floors of natural stone or pavers; and custom cabinetry with specialty finishes, intricately carved moldings, fluted pilasters, spindle posts, furniture bases and so on. Abrams adds amenities such as multilevel islands with a second, "veggie" sink.
Most Bang for the Buck
The most important thing, according to Bennett, is that everything in the kitchen, particularly appliances, is functional. He then advises sinking money into cabinetry first, then appliances. Cabinetry, he explains, is the element around which everything else revolves "the first thing your eye sees when you get to the kitchen" while appliances are used on a daily basis even in homes where the occupants consider boiling water an accomplishment. He lists countertops, flooring, wallpaper/paint and lighting in their subsequent order of importance.
"Lighting may be down the list, but it still is crucial," he adds. "It's really becoming an important part of the whole design process."
Somrak strongly suggests investing in the services of a design professional, especially if the space is going to be reconfigured.
"The professional is going to give you the best-laid plans," he says.
Less than $10,000
The bathroom may be the smallest room in the house, but Abrams calls it "the most expensive room in the house to remodel" per square foot. He estimates that it will cost a bare minimum of $8,000 to replace a tub, two-piece toilet, faucet and sink either wall-hung, pedestal or mounted in a small vanity in a bathroom 5 or 6 feet wide by 8 or 9 feet long. Somrak says the fixtures will undoubtedly be standard white, the toilet of two-piece construction, the vanity of production-grade cabinetry. (Bennett notes that his customers have a choice of a laminate countertop and china sink or cultured-marble countertop with an integral bowl.)
According to Abrams, a new fiberglass or acrylic tub and enclosure is the most inexpensive replacement option. But Bennett says the dilemma of an unsightly tub can also be handled by "relining" it, an economical process that "molds" a new fiberglass or acrylic tub over the old and eliminates drywall repairs.
"When you pull the tub out, half the tile comes off of the walls," Abrams explains.
For those who must stay under the $10,000 threshold, Abrams suggests laying a new linoleum floor, installing sliding-glass tub doors and painting or papering the walls.
As the budget increases, Somrak says homeowners will not only be able to replace fixtures, but replace them in high-fashion colors. The tub may actually be a whirlpool surrounded by a solid-surface material or ceramic tile with decorative accents. Abrams adds that the flooring may also be upgraded to ceramic tile, the sink/vanity countertop to a solid-surface material with an integral bowl. Bennett says some homeowners, particularly those with smaller bathrooms, may even be able to gut the space, install new drywall, hang wallpaper and add some extra lighting over the vanity, for example.
This is the price range where Somrak says people can truly afford to install a luxurious glamour bath with amenities such as custom cabinetry, recessed downlights with decorative fixtures, custom mirrors, his-and-her vanities, undermounted china sinks with decorative high-end faucets, solid granite countertops, floors of granite or marble, one-piece toilets, even a bidet if space permits (Abrams says that the thoroughly European convenience can be found in an increasing number of American homes). The shower is often a separate entity with multiple heads and body sprays. Some are of the walk-in variety; others are fully enclosed by the heavy glass doors needed to accommodate a steam unit.
"Steam units have become very popular," Somrak says. "People here hydrate themselves with moisture in the winter."
Abrams says some homeowners also upgrade their plumbing by installing a thermostatically controlled valve that ensures a consistent water temperature.
$30,000 and over
According to Somrak, on this kind of budget, homeowners can enlarge a tiny utilitarian bath by, say, knocking out a wall and expanding into an adjoining bedroom. The extra space can be used to construct a separate room for the toilet and bidet; a tub mounted in a deck surfaced with high-end ceramic/natural stone or a solid-surface material; or a large shower with a built-in bench where the man or lady of the house can sit and enjoy the sensation of water cascading over them from a large shower head mounted on the ceiling.
"You may have six to 10 different shower heads within that same shower," Somrak notes. The fixtures, he adds, are often a pricey European brand such as Grohe.
The custom wall cabinetry may include glass-fronted vanity-to-ceiling storage spaces with illuminated interiors and, if the bathroom is used by a woman, an area where she can sit down to put on her makeup. An electrical outlet in at least one drawer is another requested feature, one that eliminates the winding and unwinding of blow-dryer and curling-iron cords.
Other little luxuries that can be afforded in this range include heated towel bars, heated floors, a built-in television, even a recirculating system that ends the seemingly endless minutes of waiting for water to travel from a hot-water tank in the basement or garage.
Most Bang for the Buck
Once again, it's important that fixtures and plumbing are in working order. Bennett advises that those who can afford to do so invest in a complete, if very basic, professional remodeling job.
"If your tub is good enough, just spend the money on your vanity, sink, faucet and toilet," he says.