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Kitchen Updates Suit Families’ Lifestyles, Home Values

From simply changing paint and lighting to a complete overhaul, a variety of reasons inspire residents to upgrade the heart of their homes.

For many, the kitchen is the centerpiece of the home. It’s here where families gather to chat, catch up, read, discuss the day’s schedules, hover over textbooks and laptops, tune into news … oh, and of course, cook and eat! These days, the kitchen is command central.

Recent statistics prove kitchen remodels are one of the best investments you can make in your home. A national average, midrange remodel costs about $21,695 with a resale value of $15,790 and a cost recoup of 72.8 percent, according to Remodeling magazine's 2010-11 “Cost vs. Value Report.” Kitchen updates, in fact, fall in the top five best things you can do for your home from an investment standpoint.

“Upgrading kitchens still provides a great return on investment for the homeowner,” said Suzanne Walker, a Realtor for Max Broock Realtors in Birmingham. “It’s wise for homeowners to carefully consider the upgrades and cost vs. the value of the home.  Some kitchens just need paint or countertop and appliance replacements. Others may require a complete upgrade.”

Walker suggests that if homeowners are on a limited budget, they should make a plan of improvements and then prioritize their plan. “It’s also beneficial to contact an experienced real estate advisor before making any significant improvements,” she added, noting that homeowners can learn about neighborhood values and at what level neighbors are making improvements.

Along with investment benefits, a whole host of additional reasons inspire homeowners to upgrade their kitchens.

“The kitchen is the room that everyone uses everyday so why wouldn’t you want it to be one of the best rooms in the house?” said Arturo Sanchez, an interior designer and co-owner of Art-Harrison Interior Design in Royal Oak.

He and co-owner Barry Harrison are working on several kitchen makeovers in Bloomfield Hills, Orchard Lake and Northville. “We are designing more kitchens today than in the past few years,” said Sanchez, who attributes the increase to the fact that people are not moving as much but are opting to upgrade what they have.

Rick Carmody, owner of Au Courant Interior Design in Ferndale, agrees. "In this economy, everyone wants to be careful," Carmody said. "For resale, of course, the kitchen is on the priority list for potential home buyers. However, in the meantime, what a joy to have a wonderful kitchen for not only cooking and eating, but for gathering."

Homeowner Carla Schwartz agrees. “My kitchen is the heart of my home,” the West Bloomfield resident said. She hired Jodi Caden, who also lives in West Bloomfield and runs in Birmingham, to orchestrate her kitchen makeover.

“We consider the kitchen as a gathering place where we spend a lot of time,” said Schwartz, a mother of three grown children and director of community affairs and advocacy for . “We updated it to be more functional and more aesthetically pleasing, not to mention that we believe it will be great for the resale value of our home.” 

Schwartz’s favorite attributes include a table built into the island and her Pewabic-inspired tile backsplash that includes two images of dogs. Now that her golden retrievers are no longer alive, the tiles are a nice remembrance, she said. Schwartz also adores her gas stove. “I swear it has helped my cooking improve,” she added with a laugh. 

Partial upgrades add instant appeal

Realtor Suzanne Walker invested in extensive upgrades to her kitchen when she and her husband, Gary Walker, moved into their Bloomfield Township home, but did not opt for what she calls “a gut and replace.”

With a 1980s vibe, the kitchen called for a refreshing look so the couple decided to incorporate some new cabinets, granite countertops, stainless appliances, lighting and cabinet hardware into the design. “That cost around $10,000, vs. the $60,000 we would have spent had we installed all new cabinetry and wood floors.”

Lowe’s Companies’ Colleen Carbott tracks several upgrades similar to the Walkers’ project. “Painting, adding tile backsplash, replacing the hardware on the cabinets or replacing a faucet are simple updates that take less than a weekend to accomplish and still provide a big impact in the space,” Carbott said. 

"Small changes can make a huge difference," Au Courant's Rick Carmody added. "Lighting, counters, color are all easily altered and upgraded."

As for cabinetry, Carmody said one doesn't have to spend a fortune. "I recently consulted with a client about selecting cabinets from Lowe’s, which has a private cabinet line, Schuler, that features great quality," he said. "Although not a custom line, the selection is generally extensive.  It certainly added value to the property, but more importantly will ensure an additional quality of living for the client."

Builders Mark and Walter Pytiak of West Bloomfield-based Walter Pytiak & Co. offer several tips for homeowners who are interested in affordable upgrades. "One simple tip to up your ROI (return on investment) on a kitchen remodel is to find less costly standard cabinets, then add custom drops at the top," Walter Pytiak said. "This will give your cabinetry a high-end look for a low-end price. We did this in a Ferndale remodel with fantastic results."  

The Schloss family of West Bloomfield, the Lucianis of Birmingham and the Tites of Clawson had renovation goals that ranged from creating more elbow room and bringing in additional light to enhancing collections and building more storage opportunities. Although their kitchen styles are completely different, all of the families’ renovations successfully blend with the rest of the home, while perfectly meeting the needs of their lifestyles.

From galley to golly!

When architect Glenda Meads first met with homeowner Leslie Luciani to discuss options for updating Luciani’s kitchen, it was with the desire to not only make the kitchen 100 percent family friendly, but also maintain its 1920s-era charm. 

The Luciani family, including three sons, a pet dog and a busy mom and dad, live in a historic Wallace Frost-designed Tudor-style home on one of the prettiest streets in Birmingham. But with charm and history come a lot of challenges for modern-day families, noted Meads, who runs Glenda Meads Architects in Bloomfield Township. 

“The space constraints, as always in Wallace Frost kitchens, were limiting in every direction between the back stair and a chimney flue,” Meads said.

A quick history lesson on Wallace Frost (1892-1962) : The renowned designer, who grew up in Pennsylvania, was an architect for the Air Force in World War I. During his military service, he met architect Albert Kahn, who asked Frost to come work for him in Michigan. The men worked together on large projects such as the Detroit Public Library, the General Motors Building in Detroit and the William L. Clements Library in Ann Arbor.

Frost built his first house in 1921, for himself, in Birmingham and also left a legacy of at least 44 uniquely designed homes dating from the 1920s through the 1950s in Birmingham.

Meads and the Lucianis drew up many kitchen renovation schemes (about five years’ worth, Meads said with a smile) to eventually end up with a clean solution that was dependant upon creativity and precise use of every available feature within the cabinetry.  

“Leslie (Luciani) has great taste,” Meads said. That taste stems from a natural flair for decorating as well has her years as the former owner of the French-flavored shop, La Belle Provence in Birmingham. 

“We love our home but we were faced with the constraints of living with a galley kitchen,” Luciani said, adding that it was formerly about 10 feet wide.

Meads drew up a plan that would move a powder room a few feet, move one butler’s pantry and create a second one, remove a mudroom wall to obtain extra depth and add a seating area/dining nook. Adornments include Ann Sachs’ majolica-style tile, historic sconces that flank the range (Luciani decided to move these original fixtures from another area of the home), painted plates from France that grace the wall above the range (each features the names and birth weights of her sons) and historic windows (“We went on a mission to find these,” Luciani said).

The homeowners opted for a transom so they could continue the windows all the way up to the ceiling.

Luciani gives rave reviews to her kitchen designer, Barb Wallace of Bloomfield Village, and cabinetmaker Mike Lang of Pontiac.

“The transom was a great idea, as Barb (Wallace) wanted us to be able to see all the trees outside, especially the catalpa,” Luciani said. “The window really allows a lot of light to come in, too, and it made a huge difference on how you feel in here.”

The space’s pale-blue ceiling paint is reminiscent of a hot, summer-day sky and similar to what Luciani adores when she’s on Mackinac Island. The Lucianis own the Chippewa Hotel and Murdick’s Fudge, located on the island, so they live there pretty much throughout the summer. Luciani, an attorney by trade, also is a counselor who helps teens apply for colleges.

“The old, historic porches on the island have this gorgeous light blue paint on their ceilings and I tried to capture that here in the kitchen,” Luciani said.

The kitchen island, a found piece of teak butcher-block with lovely end-cuts that was once in a Grosse Pointe home, incorporates a rustic appeal and provides a perfectly cozy spot for the kids to do homework or watch Mom cook. The butcher block was originally made in Michigan near Petoskey at the Michigan Maple Block Co.

Many of the home’s lamp fixtures are from Michael’s Lamp Shop in Lathrup Village. “They have great old fixtures and we like the ones that were from old Wallace Frost homes,” Luciani said. “Lighting is a little bit of an addiction for me,” she added with a laugh. Another “compulsion” is tile, especially Pewabic. “We have that everywhere,” she noted, including the floor of the back entryway to the kitchen.

Luciani’s favorite attributes are the over-the-sink window, the deep sink, the stove and its griddle, and the microwave and warming drawer that are concealed in the island. Also built in to the island are power strips so the kids can plug in their tech gadgets for homework.

“And I really love the marble countertops, which are honed, not polished. I didn’t want slick-and-new. I love that you can see patterns and spots in it,” she said.

“For a small kitchen it really has everything,” including two dishwashers and two refrigerators. “We didn’t’ want it to look like a brand-new kitchen and I think we’ve achieved that. Glenda (Meads) and Barb (Wallace) did a great job making it fit with the rest of the house.”

Added Meads: “I think it now works better for a family. We’ve created enough space/width for an island, while also maintaining the flow to the adjacent dining room, back stairs and family room, in addition to providing a mudroom space.”

They also managed to eek out a special spot for their dog’s food dish, which slides out from beneath some cabinetry off the kitchen.

The kids enjoy the magnetic-paint blackboard perfect for photos, notes, reminders that greets them as they enter the home through the back door. 

Sunny side up

Iris and Richard Schloss’ kitchen renovation goal was to turn a 1980s, white cabinet-filled space into a warm, inviting gathering and cooking spot for their growing family that now includes several grandchildren. 

“We blew out the back of the house,” explained interior designer Barbi Krass of Colorworks Studio in Birmingham. Their plan called for an 11-foot expansion for the kitchen and adjoining dining area. 

The family opted for oak floors, custom-stained cabinetry (two different tones to play off each other), an eye-catching cook-top feature complemented with gorgeous, handcrafted Jeffrey Court tile and an island with a rich coffee-hued stain.

“Iris wanted sunny yellows and reds,” Krass explained.

Carbott said adding an ultra-personal stamp to your kitchen can truly set it apart. “We’re seeing personal style on display more and more, with open shelving and pops of color,” Carbott said. Schloss added her signature to her kitchen by highlighting a favorite collection. “As a fan of antique cookie jars, Iris (Schloss) wanted us to design a spot for her treasured collection,” Krass said, “so we built a special shelf to highlight them.”

Evoking a kitchen in the French countryside, the space charms all who enter. In fact, during get-togethers, the family can’t wait to gather around the inviting red table (made by Lorts), which features a wax-distressed finish. 

“I absolutely love it,” said Iris, who is a math tutor.

Window treatments and roller shades with trim, all handmade by Color Works’ studio, boast cheerful hues as well that complement chair fabric.

Currey & Co. lighting with seeded glass also helps to set a rustic mood. “We opted for seeded glass in the cabinets (by WorldWide) as well,” Krass explained. Seeded glass was a popular material used during the 1700s for lanterns and other types of glassware.  Modern-day seeded glass is made to look like the original pieces, complete with a slightly wavy pattern and small, rounded pieces that look like imperfections.

The Schloss' affinity for a good cup of Joe was also taken into consideration. Beyond a huge, walk-in pantry awaits the family’s “coffee station,” complete with a convenient faucet for filling the coffee pot and a special alcove that houses their coffeepots.

A DIY in Clawson

“Our kitchen has been a work-in-progress for 25 years and is finally where we envisioned it,” said Bill Tite of Clawson. He and his wife, Therese, and their two grown sons love their home, street and town, so rather than move to a new house with an updated kitchen, Tite, a graphic-designer and design teacher, decided to take the do-it-yourself plunge.

When the Tites bought the house, the kitchen had a low, drop ceiling, dark brown carpet, dark brown cabinets, one window and a narrow doorway into the living room.

“We immediately removed the ceiling and carpet (replacing it with inexpensive sheet linoleum), and then replaced the cabinets, moved the stove (and its gas line) and refrigerator, and opened the wall between the kitchen and living room (which involved installing a structural header to support the larger opening),” Tite recalled. “Most of the drywall was also replaced at that time and we installed new lighting.”

The small dining area adjoining the kitchen was part of an addition in the 1960s, but the floor was not installed level to the existing floor so “tables and chairs tended to rock a bit in that area,” Tite said.

The last stage of the remodel took place this past winter. “I do not recommend remodeling your kitchen if you do not have a strong marriage,” he said with a laugh.

Tite first removed all of the cabinets and appliances. Then he removed the floor down to the subfloor and built up the dining area floor to make it level with the rest of the space.

Challenges included discovering that the main cast iron sewer line in the wall between the kitchen and bath had rotted and was leaking, and so had to be repaired, which meant removing the drywall and repairing some of the floor. The Tites also installed two additional electrical outlets and rewired two others to accommodate the dishwasher, disposal and new over-the-range microwave.

“Tiling was actually enjoyable,” he said with a sigh, adding that he rented an electric tile cutter that made the job easier. With a fresh coat of paint, new floor and window moldings, a colorful painting and a trendy window treatment, the space is "a joy to spend time in,” Tite said.

From slide-out pet bowls to colorful art to a chic coffee cafe, these updated attributes define kitchens that suit their residents perfectly.

As homeowner Luciani said about her renovation, "There's no dead space here. And all of the changes now meet the needs of our busy lifestyle.”

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