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Remodeling grandma's kitchen: what you'd pay today

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | June 24, 2013

How many times have you heard someone say, "I remember when gas was less than a dollar per gallon?" The world is changing, and so are prices. The cost of almost everything goes up over time, including that of materials for kitchen remodeling.

Kitchen remodeling: classic cabinets are timeless

Kitchen cabinetry has seen changes over the years, with many trends coming back around time and time again. For instance, laminate was considered state-of-the-art in the 1960s before dropping out of favor in the '70s and '80s. Today, it has made a comeback as an affordable and surprisingly versatile material. The use of materials like oak, cherry and walnut have stayed the same, even though the styles have changed.
 
In the 1980s, linoleum floors and wide open space were the hottest trends in kitchens. Cabinets were often made of sturdy oak and opulent trim. Colonial and traditional styles were popular, as long as they were made of some form of wood material.
 
"The marketplace for hardwoods has always been a very active market place, and it has remained stable," said Richard Brooks, owner of Brooks Custom in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. "It really is a sustainable, renewable material, and when people are responsible and respect the different types of wood species, it will continue to thrive."
 
What's new in the last few decades? Stainless steel and other modern elements have marked a shift in what appeals to consumers. But today, the price is much steeper. "Metals have sky-rocketed in price over the years, especially copper," Brooks said. "Growth, especially in the Pacific Rim, has pushed the cost through the roof."
 
That increase in pricing is reflected in the cost of kitchen remodeling through the years. Just in the last decade alone, for example, the national average cost of a major kitchen remodel with semi-custom wood cabinets went from $43,213 in 2002 to $57,494 in 2012, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value reports.
 
High-end products have not been immune to the housing crisis: The national average cost for an upscale kitchen remodel with custom cherry cabinets was $70,368 in 2002. It jumped to $110,964 in 2006 but decreased slightly in 2012 to $110,938.

The crystal ball for the coming years shows that wood should remain popular, especially if it's painted. "We're still seeing the 'white kitchen' going strong for trends. It has a very clean look, and you can incorporate a lot of different materials into the design," Brooks said.

Appliances: avocado green and eggshell white?

Besides cabinets, another major expense when it comes to kitchens are appliances. In the 1950s, a ColdSpot refrigerator would set you back $329. Fast-forward another decade and you could get the brand-new side-by-side refrigerator -- a style that remains very popular today -- for $499.95. By 1972, that price had jumped to about $700; today, a side-by-side refrigerator might cost anywhere from $1,800 to $3,000 or more.
But even as some prices went up, others have gone down -- way down. For instance, the 1951 High Pop Automatic Toaster cost $21. Today, a model with similar features can be purchased at any big-box store for less than $10.

There is always something new coming down the pike -- and Chris Taylor, CEO of Taylor Homes in Louisville, Ky., thinks that appliances are only going to get smarter.

"The layout of the home is critical but compatibility functions for the customer's electronic devices as well as their convenience is important," Taylor said. "This could be the smart appliances that are rapidly growing in popularity, to the heating and air systems, to the security systems -- all of which can be programmed to talk to one another and operated remotely via a smartphone. This is an ever-changing area with new homes today -- and at the rapid pace of technology these days -- it's hard to keep up with."

Built to last the next few decades

With the cost of kitchen components increasing year after year, it would be foolish for homeowners not to pay attention to the warranties that protect their investment. From the time retail business began the "money-back guarantee," has proved to be a worthwhile selling point, and as the quality of materials and products has improved, so has the quality of the warranties and guarantees. Better products mean better warranties, which means more peace of mind.
"With the quality of the products improved so much, this alone has enabled the manufacturers to increase their warranties as well," Taylor said. "These improved warranties are not provided just for customer service, but they truly are producing much better products that stand the test of time."

But no matter how good the product is, those who install it are the ones who make sure your warranty holds up. "Warranties are still about the integrity of the individuals in business," Brooks pointed out. "People's expectation for how we listen and respond is a very important science. With social networking the way it is, the last thing you want is to be ousted for not living up to a warranty."

What does the future hold?

Kitchen cabinets and appliances are definitely not the same as what you found in your grandmother's kitchen. Avocado green has been replaced with sleek stainless steel, and fine cherry and other woods have taken precedence over laminate. But just as new innovations come along, some things stay the same: Count on seeing oak, cherry and pine cabinets in traditional styles for decades to come, and look for old-fashioned appliances to come back around in modern kitchens.

As the quality and craftsmanship of kitchen goods continues to improve, so will the warranties and guarantees associated with the products. Making sure it lasts is still just as important today as it was 50 years ago, and it's a safe bet that longevity will be on the top of the list generations from now.

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist who has spent over twenty years writing about home improvement, education, relationships and medical and health topics.