Kitchen Countertops as Architectural Features

Can you imagine a kitchen without counter tops? It wasn’t that long ago that the kitchen table was used as the main prep space- with minimal counter clean up space reserved for the sink. Once the marvelous concept of preparation and clean-up space was introduced, there wasn’t much call for improvement. The kitchen counter has evolved based on a few very important reasons: 1. Times change and so have the materials available – (stainless, laminate, solid surface, natural stone and glass, concrete and wood) so we can change the look as well as mix things up. 2. Times change and so have our lifestyles- Mom is not cooking alone in the kitchen anymore – the duties have been split and the children are more involved. Because of our busy lives it is one of the activities families do together now so the layouts of the counter tops have changed (islands, peninsulas, L and U-shaped kitchens as well as the most current use of multiple triangles of task-connecting stations for prep, clean-up and cooking… and the all-important homework while being in the same room with each other) 3. Times change and the kitchen is not just the nucleus of the home, it is the center of our life at home. This creates a need to blend the best practices of what the kitchen needs to do while making the kitchen a beautiful part of our family area… “wait, I think this is how the pioneers did it” In the following examples are a couple of counters that have more than one purpose:

Butcher block countertop

Butcher block countertop

The chopping block above faces the family room and dinette and provides relief by not being on the same plane as the main counter.  The warm color of the wood offers a casual change of definition, and the lower height is actually more conducive to cutting and chopping.  The butcher block also means no more bringing out a cutting board at prep time.
Large kitchen island

Large kitchen island

The length of the counter above allows two accomplished foodies to work side by side.  There’s more! The extended casual dining is scalable and was designed to help manage the client’s invited guests and create more “gathering space” to keep the work zone free of unwanted participation. The extension is also scalable in that it can be used to bring little cooks in on some cookie making, be used for casual dining, or allow homework or other projects to be done while a meal is being prepared. One more benefit of this design is that the extended dinette is an architectural bridge helping transition the adjacent family room into the kitchen. The moral of the story? When you are designing your next kitchen, imagine all the things you want to accomplish in the space and use that as a creative start to your counter space.

Apron Front Sinks- Not just for the Farm

Also known as farm house sinks, the apron front sink has changed in many ways, and it is no longer just for old-world or country style kitchens. Today’s farm house sinks are made with more durable finishes such as stainless steel, and fireclay. Both Stainless and fireclay do not have the staining or weight problems associated with porcelain glazed and enameled cast iron sinks. There are many advantages to using this style of sink- so let’s start with the obvious, they look great! In the kitchen, there are few tried and true focal points; one is the combination of sink and window. The look of an apron front sink can give you a great wow factor, so if you aren’t sure your cook top or range are giving you enough pop, this would be a great solution! Another less considered benefit is that the front of a sink cabinet is often the first place water damage will appear after wear and tear on the cabinets. Even the best finishes are subject to problems when you add wood and water, thus an apron front sink can be a great barrier. Are you doing a modern or transitional style? Not to worry, this large and deep basined sink also works well in contemporary style kitchens as you can see in the photos below. The last big advantage to this style of sink is that it’s ergonomic, putting you closer to the sink as you use it which will reduce the reach and bending. This is a big benefit for cooks with back problems, and an improvement for everyone. Apron sinks won’t have anyone fighting for cleanup duty in the kitchen, but they can add grace, charm and a few other benefits.

Better Cooking and Eating with Steam Convection Ovens

With many things in the world of food, wouldn’t it be nice to have more things that taste better while being healthier, and with alternatives to pre-heating the oven in order to shorten the cooking time (especially on evenings filled with extracurricular commutes)? Take that wish list, add in the necessity of multi-purpose and you have an appliance that is made for the modern kitchen… the steam convection oven (aka combi-steamer). These ovens typically offer three main modes of cooking; first, the standard convection will cook food quickly- the cooking temperatures may be as much as 25 degrees less, and be up 25% faster than a typical oven (depending on the make and model). Next, there is the steam setting. The cooking process of a steam oven provides healthier cooking options as no oil or fat is necessary and since steam is a natural, gentle cooking method, it preserves nutrients and taste, creating fresh and flavorful food without sacrificing taste. This is also a great way to reheat leftovers without the rubber like issues that a microwave can create. Then there is the steam and convection setting- this duel setting can be great for foods like turkey because it browns like the standard oven and then keeps the food from drying out by using the steam. This setting can really cut back the cook time for your next holiday meal. It takes to about 90 minutes for a 14-lb turkey! Lastly, some companies like Vikingeven offer a fourth cooking mode, that of a microwave. Talk about having convenience all in one place! Depending on the setting you are using, steam convection ovens typically do not need time to preheat, so already you are 30 minutes closer to eating your meal. While most ovens do require you to fill the unit with water, the machine will remind you before you start cooking and there are a few models that can be hooked up directly to your water supply. All of the ovens offer easy to use settings depending on what you are cooking, now once you press a button you can enjoy time with your family without jumping up in fear because you didn’t hear the timer go off. Most models use the steam to clean; this means no nasty oven cleaners- all you need to do is wipe it down. Wolf offers a convection steam oven with technology that can actually sense the amount, size, and shape of the food in the oven! Just select an automatic mode and place the food in the oven, and it will monitor the time, temperature, and environment. These different settings and options are the reason why combi-steamers are making their way to the top of the kitchen wish list according to our contact person at Clarke Distribution (the local Wolf and Sub Zero distributor). Thanks to the features of the steam convection oven you can brown any meat while keeping it moist; breads and baguettes come out with that nice crackly crust just like from a bakery and you can get some more time back in your day. According to Wolf, you can cook what used to seem impossible- “Company for breakfast? Place a dozen eggs in the oven, carton and all. Press a button. In minutes, you have hard-boiled eggs for table or refrigerator.”

Wellesley Kitchen with Wolf Convection Steam Oven and Induction cooktop

Wellesley Kitchen with Wolf Convection Steam Oven and Induction cooktop

Induction Cooktops are HOT in Kitchen Remodeling!

If you talk to anyone who hasn’t seen a demonstration with induction cooking, they’ll probably tell you that “gas is the best, and any self-respecting culinary specialist wouldn’t use anything else”. However, the times are changing; and induction cooking is giving gas stove tops a run for their money. There are several great reasons you should consider adding an induction top to your next kitchen. You might be surprised but induction cooking is not that new, it was introduced to Americans during the 1933 World’s Fair, but it has only recently started making headway in the U.S. due to improved and efficient manufacturing methods. Induction has been used in Europe for decades by professionals and homeowners; and it is just now starting to really catch on over here because the technology is more available and through strong educational pushes to the kitchen and bath industry. Induction cooktops use a process of alternating electric currents that create a magnetic field, this directly heats a pot/pan without heating the cook-top surface.

The first benefit to induction cooktops is their efficiency. The average induction cook top is about 84% efficient (Wolf Induction ranges come in at an impressive 90-95% efficiency), and traditional electric cook tops run at about 74% efficiency… and even more interesting, gas runs from 55-60% efficient. Second, unlike a regular electric unit, induction cooktops provide a constant temperature and precise control- similar to gas units. Third, you can boil water in more than twice the speed as a high output gas appliance- and when the pasta is holding up dinner, and that will be a benefit that pays dividends.

Last but not least, induction cookers are the safest cooktops around. Not only is there no flame to worry about, but the nature of induction cooking renders the cooktop cool to the touch-it’s only the pot that gets hot. That is a far cry from the hot surface left behind on an electric top. Items made from aluminum, copper, glass, ceramics or plastics will not heat up through induction cooking; only cookware that is magnetic will work. Of course, for some people this may mean that they would need to purchase new pot and pans, but for kitchens where the very young or the elderly live it’s a great safety value, and this outweighs the price of a new cookware.

A kitchen with an induction cooktop and steam convection ovens

Wellesy kitchen with an induction cooktop and steam convection ovens

See an induction cooktop in action- click here to watch Chef Rachelle Boucher give a video demonstration! If this article peaked your interest for what’s new in kitchen appliances then be sure to look for next week’s newsletter where we’ll talk about steam convection ovens.

The True Cost of Kitchen Remodeling

The first thing people want to get their arms around with any remodeling project is “what is this going to cost?” For better or worse, you need to understand the cost in order to start to budget for what it is you really want. I often talk to people who are just starting to get information and unless they have a friend or relative willing to share the numbers, they are often surprised when they hear the news. In the over 20 years I have owned a remodeling company, I have even had a couple of clients end the initial meeting abruptly because they couldn’t believe what I was saying. These nice folks even offered me some advice to seek therapy- because I was clearly not of sound mind! Not to worry, 2 out of the 3 times this happened, I received a call back to start some design work on the project because I was honest from the beginning. I am going to give you the rough breakdown and help shed some light on the cost, just keep in mind that we are talking local numbers in blue chip communities and the only way to get to the exact cost of your Kitchen Renovation is to prepare a budget based on your home and selections.

Cost of remodeling a kitchen 2

Every year Remodeling Magazine publishes a cost vs. value report. The most disappointing thing as a remodeler is that the figures come from a survey of realtors… and I have argued more than once with the editorial staff that hearing what something cost is not as accurate as knowing what something cost; so take this report with a couple of grains of salt. Namely the average cost of a major kitchen remodel in eastern Massachusetts is just north of $55k according to the magazine and that number is understated by adding the average cost of a kitchen in Framingham with the average cost of a kitchen in Back Bay. Also, it is based on what people say their project cost, and many people are not always ready to divulge that if they feel they have “indulged”. The table below shows why there can be a large swing in pricing, between $55k and $180k. Of course these are representative of average ranges, and there are kitchen remodels that surely exceed $180k if you are so inclined. This table indicates that there are things you do not have control of (or really should address while the walls are open), such as the age or dis-repair of the existing conditions, and things you have all the control of such as the $3,000 refrigerator or the $15,000 refrigerator. Also of note, more expensive appliances often require additional installation time and expertise. A 48 inch built-in refrigerator takes about 6 hours to install and requires two staff because of the weight, while a slide-in refrigerator takes about a half hour to install. The last caveat of the chart is this: Our budget spreadsheet has about 120 lines in it to ensure we consider every detail and the chart used below only has 9 lines. If you want a predictable outcome and the kitchen of your dreams without a nightmare construction phase, you will be glad to have a thorough budget together before you embark on your next home renovation.  If you live in the area, and are planning a kitchen remodel, please feel free to contact us!  Happy Remodeling!Cost of remodeling a kitchen.xlsx