The Hunt for Redesign Bargains Starts With Setting Priorities

CAN you design a dream kitchen on a budget?

``Yes, you can,'' answers Jim Krengel, a nationally recognized kitchen designer. ``There's an assumption that one has to spend lots of money to have a really good-looking kitchen. That's not so.''

What often pushes a kitchen into the pricey range are top-of-the-line materials and fancy appliances. A built-in refrigerator may cost $3,000 versus a free-standing refrigerator for $1,000 or less. Cabinets, which the National Kitchen and Bath Association estimates cost about 43 percent of a total kitchen project, can have a big impact on price. Ready-made or stock cabinets are much less expensive than custom cabinets, for example. A sink can cost from $100 to $1,600.

``The customer is going to have to choose priorities,'' says Cameron Snyder, a certified kitchen designer in Norwell, Mass. ``They may like granite countertops. If that's the case, they may not be able to get the best cabinet they can. I would take the customer's wish list and prioritize what is most important all the way down to what is least important. It's up to the designer to work with the customer to offer them the best materials and best value they can get within that budget range.''

Mr. Krengel lists several tips for whittling down the cost:

* Comparison shop.

* Don't buy more frills on appliances than you need. ``A 16-cycle dishwasher sounds great when you're looking at it in the showroom, but most people never use but one or two cycles,'' he says.

* Consider doing some of the labor, such as tearing things out of the kitchen, trash removal, and decorating.

* Get a good installer. ``Making sure you have the right tradespeople is critical to having the project come out right,'' he says.

* Find a good designer who can help you create an expensive-looking kitchen on a tight budget. For example, he or she may show you how a free-standing refrigerator can look built-in, saving approximately $2,000.

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