Saturday, September 27, 2003

Kitchens play catch-up

Two couples' experiences in remodeling offer lessons for anyone thinking about an upgrade

By Michele Day
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Doug and Karen Michelsen are happy with their Pleasant Ridge home's new kitchen.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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Karen Michelsen of Pleasant Ridge never worried about how her kitchen functioned.

"I don't cook," she says. "I just go in the kitchen to get my Diet Coke."

But Connie Castor of Blue Ash, who loves baking, couldn't live with a finicky oven that burned cookies and caused cakes to flop.

An electric stovetop with solid surface elements that took "forever and a day to heat up and twice as long to cool down," wouldn't do, either. She wanted the regulatory control of a gas stove.

Here are two looks at kitchen remodeling projects that fit different lifestyles. For more ideas, the Greater Cincinnati Kitchen, Bath and Design Show will run Thursday-Oct. 5 at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington.

Aesthetic concerns led Michelsen and her husband, Doug, to launch a kitchen update in their 77-year-old Pleasant Ridge home.

"We just didn't feel comfortable in the kitchen," Doug says. "It had old fixtures and old appliances. We probably won't die in this house, but we wanted to be comfortable - and the kitchen was a sore spot."

"It seemed dated and dark and drab," says Karen. "They had green-and-white striped wallpaper, dark brown cabinets. And they had jury-rigged a lot of things. Cabinets were sitting on top of wood blocks ... and pushed into cubby holes. And we needed more space."

Virtual decisions

They sought an estimate from a remodeling company, but the price blew their budget. They ended up doing their own design, with the help of a computer kitchen design program at Home Depot that, for free, allows shoppers to virtually try out cabinets, countertops and paint colors, using their kitchen dimensions.

"I'm a very visual person," Karen says. "And it was really amazing they could get that detail just by us providing some measurements."

The Michelsens chose maple cabinets and Formica countertops speckled with flecks of blacks, browns and oranges.

A Home Depot contractor installed the cabinets. But the couple hired a separate contractor to replace the worn linoleum floor with slate-colored ceramic tile.

That contractor redid the drop ceiling - adding 18 inches of height to the kitchen - rebuilt a wall as a backdrop for additional cabinets and replaced fluorescent lighting with can lights.

Kitchen cabinets with Formica countertops: $5,000
Ceramic tile floor: $2,500
Replacing drop ceiling (labor and supplies): $2,500
Stainless steel gas stove: $1,000
Stainless steel refrigerator: $600
Stainless steel microwave: $400
Ceramic sink: $200
What: Greater Cincinnati Kitchen, Bath and Design Show, featuring more than 220 exhibits of kitchen and bath trends and ideas. There will be 20 kitchen designs, bath displays and advice available from 100 design and remodeling experts. New exhibits: "Home Theatre and Automation," presented by Basement Living System, and sale of design, architecture and home improvement books by Borders Books & Music.
When: 5-9 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and next Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 5.
Where: Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington.
Admission: Adults $7, children $3. Discount tickets ($4) available at Kroger.
Information: 281-0022; Web site
Initially, the only appliance the Michelsens planned to add was a microwave above the stove.

"But once we bought the microwave, I twisted my husband's arm and said why can't we get the matching stove - and golly gee, we might as well get the matching refrigerator," Karen says.

Doug relented, and the kitchen ended up with all stainless steel appliances with black accents.

New appliances change look

The additional appliances boosted the project's cost to about $12,000, but Karen has no regrets about the extra expense.

"It was the right investment, because it makes it look like we truly did an overhaul instead of just putting cabinets in," she says.

But one thing the Michelsens agree they would do differently is pick one contractor to oversee the whole project.

"With two contractors, there was a lot of 'he was supposed to this,' " Doug says.

"They weren't real happy to talk to each other. They'd go back and forth: he said, she said."

For a two-career couple working long and erratic hours, the cost of a project manager would have been worthwhile, Doug says.

Overall, however, the Michelsens, are thrilled with their new kitchen.

"I like the fact that it's contemporary, it's hip and it looks a lot more open and clean," Karen says. "It looks modern and very inviting.

"I don't cook in it any more than I used to, but I love walking in it.

And it's a funny thing; the last month or two I've become intrigued with Cooking Light magazine. I think it's because I enjoy being in my kitchen and I enjoy the environment.

"Maybe I'll be ready to tackle using the stove soon."

Dennis and Connie Castor's remodeling project began as a hunt for state-of-the-art appliances.

But they soon found many other ideas for making their 15-year-old Blue Ash kitchen more comfortable and inviting. The result: a $14,000 kitchen remodeling project.

The Castors' biggest purchase was granite countertops from the Great Indoors store in Tricounty. They chose a surface called UbaTuba, a rich green-based stone from Brazil with flecks of gold, black and white. The Great Indoors allowed them to visit its manufacturer to choose the slab they preferred before the final cut.

"There are variations in the pattern from slab to slab," Dennis says.

The countertops dictated the color for the new appliances (black) and ceramic tiles (beige and other earth tones) that they placed diagonally around a wall of windows and over the countertops to give the room more pizazz.

But they couldn't settle on a paint color.

"We'd gotten a bunch of samples," Dennis says. "For a long time we had one wall that looked like a patchwork quilt because we were basically testing paint."

They thought a Tuscan gold might work, but it didn't. They tried four shades of green before they found a blue-green color that was just right.

No quick jobs

But taking time to make decisions is one tip Dennis would give other potential kitchen remodelers.

"Don't believe those TV programs that do everything in a half-hour or hour show," he says. "It's never like that in reality. Our kitchen all worked out and a lot of the reason is because we took our time and didn't rush."

The Castors also recommend other remodelers follow their businesslike approach on choosing appliances. They used a computer spreadsheet to compare prices, styles and features from ovens and stoves at home stores throughout Greater Cincinnati.

They found most stores will match prices with other stores, and they were able to make a deal with the Great Indoors for the appliances they wanted at 5 percent below the lowest price advertised.

The family's culinary expert is pleased with the results.

"I cook five out of seven nights now," Connie says. "It's great."

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