The Art and Science of Style

The Kitchen

It is to update the style of the space, achieve better efficiency and create a comfortable, livable environment which exudes a new ambience. Evaluate each of the components that make up your kitchen remodel, the common denominator is function. As a professional remodeler, I help homeowners think through the scientific aspects of achieving style, efficiency and ambience. A focus on form creates style, a focus on function creates efficiency and a focus on beautification creates ambience.

The kitchen is the heart or ‘energy center' of a home. We literally refuel ourselves in our kitchens. From appliances and plumbing, to cabinetry and work surfaces, function for efficient operation is key. An equally weighted focus on each aspect of the project will positively impact the overall quality of the job. The kitchen sink is one of the most used elements and should be given more consideration than one would think. According to Julie Brekke of Bath and Kitchen Showplace, "When it comes to the kitchen sink, function should precede form. With today's options on size, the divide of the sink, the materials it is made of; it is easier than ever to meet both needs of form and function in a kitchen sink."

One of the most critical elements in your kitchen remodel is the design and function of your cabinetry. With cabinetry representing 30% to 40% of your kitchen remodel costs, you will want to consider the value of site built versus factory built. Which is the right way to go? Site built has been the old traditional method which does not offer the high end finishes nor the furniture quality look you will get with factory-made cabinetry. Re-facing your cabinets can cost as much as replacing, so give this careful thought. Re-facing does not improve functionality. The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), which is the gold standard of the kitchen and bath industry, has developed a set of guidelines for good kitchen design. The 31 guidelines, along with compliance to state and local building codes, provide your kitchen designer with the necessary tools to ensure your new kitchen is an efficient and safe environment in which to function. Rick Beckham, CMKBD (a certified master kitchen and bath designer with John Moore Renovation, LLC) says, "A well thought out kitchen space will not only be safe and efficient, but aesthetically pleasing as a result. In my 15 plus years as a builder/designer, a recurring negative aspect of the kitchen remodel is having to execute on plans and ideas from inexperienced sources, while still striving to meet the customer's expectations for the project." Avoid disastrous outcomes with your kitchen remodel by hiring qualified, experienced firms. A firm that can provide the design service along with the execution of that design will ensure the continuity and integrity has been maintained throughout the project, from design to completion. Beware of having a local big box store prepare your design and expect your contractor to execute construction of that plan. Their focus is only on selling you cabinetry. Upfront detailed planning with a professional is essential to a successful kitchen remodel.

What should you expect from a competent contractor? One that is a member of the national and local homebuilders association, and is a member of the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Some of the credentials a reputable remodeling company should possess: accredited designers on staff with certifications from NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association), NAHB (National Association of Home Builders), or ASID (American Society of Interior Designers).

Getting Started

The first task in planning your remodel project is to establish your budget. How much are you willing to spend? Your budget breakdown for all of the components of the project might resemble this model: Cabinetry=40%; Appliances=20%; Countertops= 10%; Paint, flooring, backsplash, plumbing, lighting is the balance, or 30%. Realize that your particular project could be much different so the percentage breakdown would be allocated differently. Ask your contractor to give you the category breakdowns so you know where you are spending your money.


Designing and building kitchens is truly a specialty. As we mentioned earlier you are investing 40% of your kitchen remodel budget on cabinets. So it makes sense that you would be spending 40% of your time in the design process of your cabinetry. A smooth functioning kitchen is achieved by careful selection and placement of cabinetry components. Reputable factory-made cabinetry will offer superior component construction and finishes. Kraftmaid is one of the best known brands in the industry. There are also other lesser advertised manufacturers of custom factory-made cabinets that offer unique wood species and finishes such as Custom Cupboards, Medallion Cabinetry and Midcontinent. Ultra Craft Cabinetry offers a frameless line and is geared for the more contemporary application. All of these major manufacturers will offer basic features of soft close doors and drawers as standard features. Other features that take a designer to point out will include: soft closing pull out trays, drawer organizers, cutlery dividers and stacked designs to create that custom furniture look that will set your kitchen apart from the average. Common wood species in the Houston area for kitchen cabinets from least expensive to most expensive are: Oak, Birch, Maple, Alder, Cherry, Rustic Alder and Rustic Cherry. Some manufacturers offer exotic woods and also offer custom paint colors. Upgrades to stained finishes will include: glazing over stain, painted finishes, painted with glaze, distressing options, and other custom treatments. Glass options and mullioned door options will also add cost to the job but also provide you with a distinct design element. Katheryn Houk, General Manager of John Moore Renovation says, "As a kitchen designer I help my clients prioritize or scale the upgrades to achieve both design and budget expectations". Again, investing 40% of your budget should dictate that you devote 40% of your time in technical design of the cabinetry; so hire a professional to assist you.


Lighting in the kitchen comes in several common forms. General lighting of the space is typically done with recessed lighting spaced throughout the ceiling of the kitchen. A single or set of decorative fixtures may be added over an island or bar area for style enhancement with under cabinet fixtures for specific task lighting. Consider using compact fluorescent and or LEDs for both recessed and under cabinet options. They are energy efficient, provide better light and have longer life than other incandescent options.

Faucet and Sink

There are a plethora of choices for faucets and sinks for your kitchen today. Think about how you use your sink and make your choice on function prior to finish and style. Open bowl sinks are a great choice for those who need more space for large pots and pans. The open bowl will allow you to wash the larger item in the sink instead of half in and half out. You can then decide on a finish and style. The choices can be mind boggling. So consult a professional, such as Houston's Bath and Kitchen Showplace or Unique Additions, to help you decide.


Every kitchen must have a refrigerator, dishwasher, stove and oven. Little extras like wine storage and large cooking appliances can be added later and don't necessarily affect the design, so stick to the essentials at first.

The basic types of refrigerators to choose from are the traditional top-mount, the bottom-mount, which puts food at eye level, and side-by-side. The latter puts food at eye level as well, but the interior is often more narrow. It is important to remember that the size and type of your refrigerator should suit not just your design, but your lifestyle as well. In other words, don't buy a huge fridge if you eat out six nights a week.

Modern kitchens have become sleek multi-taskers. They are less bulky and more streamlined and utilize new technologies. Many combine traditional cooking methods with convection, which circulates air to speed up cooking time. Induction cooktops, which are an alternative to gas and electric, use a method of flowing electricity through a coil to produce a magnetic field under a ceramic cooktop. When a stainless or iron pan is placed on the surface, the pan, rather than cooktop, gets hot.

Be sure to buy Energy Star when possible, they will save you and the earth a considerable amount. One important consideration, according to Belinda Postman-Kaylani of RoomMarkable Redo is product lifespan. As she puts it, "most appliances, excluding SubZero and high, high end, have an average life of five to seven years, so do not invest major money in them."


We talked to Rob Hellyer of Premier Remodeling about what his clients have been asking for lately. Here's what he had to say: "Now that baby boomers are reaching retirement age, a couple of design features gaining emphasis are ergonomics (aka universal design) and lighting. Consolidating activity is a common desire. That is, combining the kitchen with laundry, dining or home office features. Keep in mind, though, that doing so does require a greater design expertise to make it all work."


Natural stone is the still the winner in Houston for all around durability and style. Wood flooring is being used much more, but caution applies when considering wood flooring in the kitchen that gets a lot of wear. Solid woods are great for this application. Also consider the earthfriendly alternatives such as reclaimed wood from old buildings, salvage yards and estate sales. Laminates, cork, vinyl, concrete and even rubber flooring are other options to consider.

Countertops and Backsplash

Granite still leads the pack on choice for countertops in Houston. Mixing the use of quartz products such as Silestone and natural products are also popular. An exotic granite on an island can make a wonderful design statement, while applying the quartz or some other durable material on the remaining countertops. Other popular materials are marbles, travertine and limestone. These products will require a bit more maintenance, just expect the character to patina over time. Materials to consider for a more contemporary look include stainless steel, concrete and exotic woods.

Mix and match applies to the backsplash. This is your opportunity to make a very unique design statement that pulls the cabinets and countertops together. As Rob Hellyer of Premier remodeling told us, "every kitchen should have at least one special design feature. If you are trying to be economical with your deign, something as simple as the backsplash is a good place to put a bit more emphasis and expense without breaking the bank."

Plan for the Future

Many people wait as long as they possibly can to begin a renovation project. That is not the way to go. Belinda Postman-Kaylani of RoomMarkable Redo told us, "don't wait to fix up til you move. According to your life plan, do what is needed and consult a professional. Design plans that work for 20 years and only ‘accent' with fad colors and the like save you from having to spend lots of money to make your home attractive to buyers when the time comes."