When we last checked in with Consumer Reports to see which things matter to the magazine's practical-minded readers, we learned that their kitchen remodeling decisions tended to boil down to two words: resale value.
That was a mere two years ago, when so many homeowners were daunted by the once-unthinkable prospect of being stuck with a house that couldn't find a buyer. The homeowners' thinking, a Consumer Reports editor told me at the time, was that every kitchen-design decision seemed to revolve less around what pleased them than around winning the heart (and pocketbook) of the next owner.
It's a different story now, said Daniel DiClerico, a senior editor at the magazine, whose July issue is a special report on kitchen remodeling. DiClerico, in an edited interview, explained that Consumer Reports' extensive interviews with homeowners, architects and designers suggest that the "trophy kitchen" is less crucial now than the way a kitchen functions. And, he said, his readers shared their views on what they loved — and regretted — about their remodeling efforts:
Q: You asked visitors to Consumer Reports' Facebook page to tell you about their favorite aspects of their kitchen remodeling projects. What did they tell you?
A: We got more than 1,000 responses, and one of the biggest positives they told us about was, to the degree possible, their decision to work with the existing kitchen — not just the footprint of the space, but many readers told us they were happy that they had decided to stay with their original cabinets, to repaint or to refinish them. It's actually pretty easy to resurface or reface existing cabinets, and you won't believe the money you can save.
When we did this (kitchen remodeling) story five years ago, we heard of a lot more people knocking down walls and bumping out the room five feet to get more space, which is very expensive. Now it's more common to work with the existing footprint and make the space work for you.
We have definitely seen a scaling back in terms of kitchens, which I think is a positive development. People are thinking through the space and designing something that works for them, rather than for a prospective buyer down the road. I don't want to say that resale value doesn't matter anymore, and certainly the kitchen sells a home better than any other room. But I think people are taking a longer view. If you design a kitchen you love, chances are, other people are going to love it too.
Q: What did they tell you about their regrets?
A: One of the most important features in a kitchen is going to be storage, and I'd say people regretted not thinking through their storage needs completely. This is something that's become increasingly relevant with the dominance of the open kitchen design. Open kitchen/family rooms have so many benefits, but the downside is you probably have two fewer walls to work with and hang cabinets on — your storage opportunities decrease dramatically with the rise of the open kitchen, and it puts a premium on things like pantry space.
Q: Which kitchen features and trends seemed to suggest they'll have staying power in the market?
A: When we test appliances, we're looking for new features, and it was kind of exciting to hear people talk about how they like certain ones. We're seeing more and more ranges with two ovens below, which allows you to cook two dishes at two temperatures. I was surprised to see how many people went for this and said they're happy that they did.
We're also seeing more cool stuff in refrigerators. The French-door refrigerators have become the most popular configuration, and now we're seeing them with a middle drawer, which is popular for households with young children — it's a convenient place to put snacks for the kids.
The magazine also talked about the banquette — I talked to at least half a dozen designers, and every single one talked about banquette seating, that fixture of 1950s architecture. That also feeds into the storage story as well — you can incorporate some storage into a banquette as well as getting that nice, casual seating.
Q: Is the reign of stainless steel waning?
A: That's a story we've been following for several years. We've heard complaints about stainless, that it's difficult to keep it clean. There are some finger-proof finishes out there, and I don't know whether that's going to be a saving grace for stainless, but we are definitely seeing some competition from black, white and gray appliance finishes.
Remodeling is cyclical, and some people say it runs in 15-year cycles. Stainless has been here since the late '90s, so if that's true, its run is just about over. I don't think it's going to go away completely though.