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Kevin Bunnell, Renovation Design Group
BEFORE: A new tile backsplash and a fresh coat of paint on the walls and ceiling was all it took to get this kitchen sparkling like the other parts of the house that this client was remodeling.

In our columns the past few weeks, we have talked about replacing front doors, finishing attic spaces, adding wooden decks and selecting new garage doors.

As the last column in the series of the top five remodeling projects that yield the highest return on investment, let’s talk about minor kitchen remodels.

The Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report says the difference between a major and a minor kitchen remodel is about $35,000.

In the mid-range category, the average price for a minor kitchen remodel across the U.S. is $18,856, which yields an average 82.7 percent return on investment. A major kitchen remodel on average costs $54,909 with a 74 percent return on investment.

One main difference between a major and a minor remodel relates to the cabinets. For a minor remodel, the kitchen cabinet boxes remain in place and panels, doors and drawers or drawer fronts are refinished or replaced. A minor kitchen remodel also usually involves new hardware, a new energy-efficient wall oven and cooktop, a new countertop, a mid-priced sink and faucet, and new paint, trim and/or flooring. Basically, a minor kitchen remodel just gives the existing kitchen a facelift.

A major kitchen remodel gets into reconfiguring the layout and possibly structural elements of the kitchen, and considers the circulation to and from the kitchen and its relationship to the rest of the house.

Kitchens may be the last in the column series, but they are definitely not the least when it comes to the impact on a home and family. It is still true that the kitchen is the heart of the home — the ultimate gathering place, the nucleus, the hub. It is more than where you prepare the meals. Today, it is where we eat, entertain, organize the family, pay the bills, do homework and build the science projects.

Therefore, this type of remodel needs to help you better use your kitchen to support your family goals and activities. When planning a kitchen remodel, major or minor, first consider your lifestyle. Who does the cooking? Are multiple people usually working in the kitchen at a time? What about traffic? How many people are coming and going? Do you use your kitchen for any other purposes like organizing the calendar, paying bills or schoolwork? Are you an entertainer?

Any remodel should make it easier to live in your house and should be designed with your lifestyle in mind. If you entertain a lot, then your kitchen should be designed to allow for more gathering space and open to adjacent spaces to accommodate more people and easy circulation.

Once you determine what elements of your lifestyle will ultimately impact your kitchen design, then you need to determine your kitchen style; usually it will match or at least complement the existing style of your home.

You may get overwhelmed discovering all the many options available for the design of your kitchen. The options for cabinet hardware alone will take you a full day’s work to review. It is important to determine your style first to narrow down the search.

The options don’t stop there. Cabinets, countertops and appliances come in as many varieties as we can count. All these little decisions are what make the kitchen one of the most complicated remodeling projects.

The Internet provides a convenient way to "shop" for styles. Websites such as Houzz.com literally have millions of pictures related to residential architecture. Create an account, if needed, spend some time browsing and save anything that catches your fancy the first time through. When you return to review your choices a few days later, you will be able to see what styles attract you. For instance, if you are not sure if you want painted or stained cabinets, try this exercise. You will most likely find that the majority of your inspirational pictures favor one or the other style.

After you have narrowed your selections down to a reasonable number, your electronic file will serve as a great way to communicate your vision to your architect, interior designer or tile supplier, saving money and time in the end.

If the size of your existing kitchen is in good proportion to the rest of your house, and its location works well, a kitchen facelift may be just the thing to update your home without having to reinvent the wheel. Remember to think this through, however, because once you have invested in the existing kitchen, you won’t be changing it for a long time.

In remodeling, think in terms of function, efficiency, style and longevity. Your new kitchen should last 20 years or more and clearly impact your lifestyle for the better.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com