Remodelling your kitchen provides the best return on investment of any home renovation. Why?  Because the kitchen is the focal point of your home, day-in and day-out. It’s where your family congregates two or three times every day. Upgrading your kitchen with the latest innovations will not only make meal preparation and clean-up easier, it will increase your enjoyment of the entire main floor!

To help you conceptualize kitchen design, we spoke with Vaughan Wallace, owner of Wallace Fleming & Associates in Calgary. (They are a perennial winner of our annual Best of Awards and they’ve also won our Giving Back Award for the remarkable charitable work they do in their community.)  We asked Mr. Wallace seven questions about kitchen design and here is the ‘inside scoop’ from one of Calgary’s best!

Everything has to work together

Kitchen renovation by Wallace Fleming & Associates

HomeStars: What are the keys to a successful kitchen makeover?

Vaughan Wallace: In my opinion, there are three keys to success:

a) Budget considerations. Know what you can afford overall and where you’re willing to spend money and/or save money. Also decide what’s important to you and how you envision your kitchen functioning. Is an island important? If so, how big? Are interior cabinet roll-outs something you desire? Do you want hard surface counter tops (quartz or granite) or another type (Formica or other manmade materials.)

b) Enlist the help of a kitchen or interior designer. Most, if not all, kitchen cabinet suppliers offer basic design services at no charge, but beware: ‘you get what you pay for.’ Design is critical in the overall flow of the kitchen, placement of appliances and ergonomic considerations. The last thing you want is an appliance that’s located too far or too close to another, as in a dishwasher that’s too far from the kitchen sink or a fridge on the opposite side of your prep area with a door that opens in the wrong direction! A good designer can ease the stress of decision making and help you understand the process. They can also help you keep things in perspective and not get overwhelmed by the myriad decisions that need to be made.

Before and after of a kitchen renovation by Easter Wester Construction

Before and after of a kitchen renovation by Eastern Western Construction

c) Hire the right contractor. The right contractor should be licensed, bonded, insured, carry Workers Compensation Insurance and, if a general contractor, has a proper provincial license (such as is required in Alberta and Ontario). The right contractor is also someone who has done this type of work many times before, not just once. You wouldn’t trust your car to an amateur mechanic, so you shouldn’t open up your walls to an inexperienced contractor.

HS: What should homeowners know before redesigning their kitchen?

VW: Homeowners should know their budget constraints. You should have a general idea about style and features you want in your kitchen. Get ideas and inspiration by searching the web, visiting model show homes in a new community and checking out as many kitchen suppliers as possible to see what’s out there and what’s possible.

Lastly, a kitchen renovation is a big inconvenience and you should be ready to prepare, eat and clean up meals in other rooms of your house. Plan to dine out more than usual! Maintain a positive attitude and always look to the end result for the motivation to get through. It will be a dream come true once it’s done!

HS: What questions should you ask prospective contractors?

VW: Asking questions of prospective contractors is no different than conducting a job interview. Ask how many jobs of this size and scope have they completed before. Ask them to provide references for the same scope of work you are planning. If they can’t or won’t supply references, simply move on to the next contractor.

Also ask for credentials documentation, such as: insurance number(s) and insurer contact information; WCB number (with a Clearance Letter from your respective provincial WCB office); if required, get their bonding insurance information and check to ensure it is valid. Of course, you have to like the people you’re going to hire because you’ll be spending a lot of time and money with them.

HS: What are the most common issues clients face when remodelling their kitchen? (Space, ideas, budget, planning, time management, disruption, etc.)

VW: Again, there are three common issues we encounter with clients looking to remodel their kitchens:

a) Knowing your budget limitations and/or exceeding them. Exceeding budget often is the result of either poor planning upfront, adding new features mid-project that were not in the original scope of work, or not considering the bigger picture of what you are trying to achieve by remodelling.

b) Disruption of routine and daily life. Many clients are excited to start their kitchen reno and it usually goes well for the first few weeks. Then what was once fun becomes a burden! The general mess and fine dust, plus microwave and BBQ cooking, cleaning dishes in the bathroom sink and dining out all become a major inconvenience. But understanding and accepting the impacts goes a long way in making the renovation exciting from beginning to end. The best experiences we have are when the client has the right expectations and ‘goes with the flow’ on the disruption and inconveniences.

c) Many clients are in a rush to get started. They’re picking colors, finishes, and fixtures before any design work is done. This can often lead to disappointment when the design phase begins and they realize they either can’t afford the materials or they simply won’t work with their preferred design. The best way to approach any kitchen design process is ‘plan first, pick second.’ Develop a layout, agree on that layout, then move to finishes. This doesn’t mean you won’t consider finishes during the planning phase, but it’s best to finalize them after the design is complete.

HomeStars: Regarding recent trends in kitchen design, which do like the most?

VW: I like two kitchen design trends in particular. One is the liberal use of kitchen organization solutions, such as pantry and corner cupboard pullouts, drawer organizers, and any other door/drawer/organizer that cleans up a counter top or stores a small appliance out of sight, but is easily retrievable.

The second trend is islands – the bigger the better! They create a large working area and double as gathering spots in kitchens where you can lay out your finger foods or prepare a Thanksgiving feast.

Pantry pullout drawers by Shelf Genie of British Columbia

Pantry pullout drawers by Shelf Genie of British Columbia

HomeStars: Most common homeowner misconceptions about kitchen renovations?

VW: There are two common misconceptions. The first is they happen quickly. Kitchen renovations can happen quickly if you’re not changing the footprint of the kitchen and just changing out or resurfacing cabinets. However if you are changing the footprint and moving or removing walls, the process is far more involved, more disruptive and takes a lot longer. Plus, when removing walls there’s other considerations such as flooring repair, ceiling repair and, if a load-bearing wall is removed, some major structural changes will take a week or two to accommodate.

The other misconception is budget. Most people look at the ‘cost’ of kitchen cabinets at their local home improvement store and think, “That’s not too bad. We can afford that.” They fail to realize that there are many other considerations that can easily double or triple the cost of their kitchen renovation.

HomeStars: Best advice you can give a homeowner who’s considering renovating their kitchen?

Know your budget and the quality you want. Quality costs money. And no two contractors or kitchen designers will give you the same dollar estimate if you don’t specify your budget and your desired level of fit and finish. Be wary of any contractor or kitchen supplier who says they can give you high quality on a shoestring budget. That is a contradiction and is simply not the case.

So if you’re contemplating a kitchen reno, be sure to start by reading reviews on both interior designers and kitchen contractors. Or if you’ve just finished a reno, please write a review to share your experience with fellow homeowners.

Posted by David Bounsall