Luxury drives the new kitchen remodel

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | November 19, 2012

These last few years have been rough for the housing market. There have been record foreclosure numbers, a slump in sales and a slowdown of remodeling and renovation. But if recent reports are any indication, all those negatives are finally giving way to positives, and a luxury remodeling revolution is starting in the kitchen.

The kitchen remodeling boom

The 2012 U.S. Remodeling Sentiment Report -- an annual survey distributed to 5,000 homeowners who plan to remodel but have not yet started their project -- found that kitchen remodeling has returned to the top spot for remodeling projects for the first time since 2008.

The shift from bathroom remodeling to kitchen remodeling -- which is usually much more expensive -- is an indication that luxury projects and products are enjoying a resurgence. The new desire for remodeling is indicated in the latest report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, which predicts a double-digit growth in home improvement spending in the first half of 2013. Signs of the times are also clear on the stock market, where stock in Lowe's and Home Depot have soared over the past year as consumers anticipate better times ahead.

Why go for luxury?

In the Remodeling Sentiment Report, homeowners are reporting the use of "expensive" products at the highest rate since 2008. Is all this luxury really going to pay off in the long run?

Thomas Schoos, a renowned interior designer who has worked with the homes of Will Smith, Ellen Degeneres, Jessica Simpson and Courtney Cox, says that depends on what your definition of "pay off" means.

"If the purpose of a remodel is to increase the value of a home for resale, then the investment should be strategic, producing maximum visual impact without exceeding the financial bottom line," Schoos said. "There are many ways to achieve a good result while being budget conscious, and one can definitely fall prey to overkill."

If comfort is what you crave, Schoos thinks it pays to splurge. "We even have clients who invest in dual kitchens," he said. "One is a "functional" kitchen where family or staff can do serious cooking, and the other is a "family kitchen" where family members may hang out, grab prepared food or do minor cooking and entertain friends in an attractive space. Clearly, these types of clients are not thinking of their home as purely an investment."

Luxury on a budget

If you are viewing your property as a long-term investment that should leave you with more than what you put into it, incorporating luxury into your kitchen remodel can keep you comfortable now and get the attention of potential buyers later.

"If you have to pick one area that gives the best return on an investment, I would have to say high-end appliances give you the most bang for your buck, because potential buyers can easily see and understand the value of known brand names," Schoos said. "Seeing a Viking stove or appliances by Gaggenau or Miele clearly sends the message that quality was important in the remodel."

If you can't afford to put a fantastic appliance in your kitchen, there are other options for luxury on a budget:

  1. Look for countertops that are man-made, as they provide both beauty and durability. Feel free to mix and match materials to keep your costs even lower. "We often use man-made stone in conjunction with natural stone, choosing different textures for different areas. For instance, you might be practical in the cooking areas and reserve the natural marble for a bar or island," Schoos suggested.
  2. Glass and high-lacquer cabinetry are hot remodeling trends right now. Schoos thinks it is part of a trend toward pure, clean modern design. "Previously, transitional designs were more common, with traditional elements being mixed with modern accents. But these days, people are going more contemporary in their kitchens, getting rid of the fussy details in favor of bold, gleaming modernism."
  3. If you can afford either a few mid-range luxuries or one large splurge, go for the big bang. "A great technique is to keep the room clean, simple and modern and then splurge on one item, like beautiful hardware or lighting," Schoos said. "In fact, hardware is being used more and more like jewelry to accessorize a kitchen, adding a touch of style or a focal point. More elaborate and beautiful hardware is being offered by many retailers these days."

Will the move to luxurious kitchen remodeling last, even in a tough economy? Many people look to the kitchen as the selling point of their home, but just as many look forward to spending another decade enjoying the comforts of their kitchen remodeling investments.

Either way, Thomas Schoos puts it very simply: "Kitchen remodeling will always be a priority for people because a kitchen is the heart of a home."

About the Author

Shannon Dauphin is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. Her current home was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her necessary hobbies.