In Search of the Perfect Kitchen

Today's hottest designs include cool white, elevated dishwashers, and multi-cook spaces

IT might be too small, too large, have too many windows or be windowless, have awkward spaces or mechanical faults. No matter. To professional kitchen designer Jim Krengel, there's no such thing as an ``impossible'' kitchen.

Mr. Krengel, a nationally recognized expert on kitchen design, and owner of Kitchens by Krengel in St. Paul, Minn., says that what homeowners may view as unworkable kitchens are often transformed into rooms that boast some of the most interesting designs.

Whether you need to completely renovate your ``impossible'' kitchen or just give that important room a '90s facelift, where do you start? What styles and materials are in? And how much should you expect to spend?

``First,'' Krengel says, ``you get with a really good designer who knows his or her stuff.'' He recommends using a kitchen designer who has been certified by the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Certified designers are required to have seven years experience in the area of design, sales, and supervision of residential kitchen installation. ``There are currently only 1,500 around the country and Canada, so they're a bit of a rare commodity, but they don't necessarily charge more,'' he says.

You also need to set a budget, says Cameron Snyder, a certified kitchen designer and president of Kitchen Concepts in Norwell, Mass.

``Decide how much you want to spend, understanding that in the end you're probably going to go 5 to 10 percent higher,'' he says.

According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, the average amount spent renovating a kitchen is $17,360. But, that figure, which includes all products, design, and installation, is just a stepping-off point. Some clients spend more than $100,000; others can get a quality kitchen for less than $17,360 (see story, opposite page).

Here are some of the hottest trends in kitchen design:

* Cabinets. Tight-grained woods such as maple, cherry, and birch in medium-light colors are replacing oak as the woods of choice in many kitchens. White cabinets continue to be popular, though mostly in the softer, off-white tones. More-traditional cabinets are replacing the high-tech European-looking cabinets of the late 1980s.

* Countertops. ``Solid surfacing is probably the biggest news in countertops,'' Krengel says. Solid surfacing, known by brand names such as Corian, is a manmade material that is practically maintenance-free. It has no seams like laminate (also known by the brand name Formica), and scratches or scuffs can be sanded out.

At about $100 to $150 a linear foot, however, it is about three times the price of laminate. Solid surfacing comes in a limited number of colors, whereas the color choices for laminate are almost endless. Another popular countertop material, especially among people who have a lot of money to spend, is granite.

* Floors. Solid vinyl floors, which look like tile but are not as hard and cold, are being used more, Snyder says. Wood continues to be popular.

* Appliances. One new design trend is the raised-up dishwasher. Lifted six inches off the floor, it decreases the amount of bending people do when they're loading or emptying the appliance. Built-in refrigerators that make it difficult to distinguish the unit from the cabinets are also a big trend.

* Superkitchens. Opening the kitchen to other rooms of the house such as the family or dining room is a step designers are taking more often. The idea is that whoever is doing the meal preparation can be interactive with the rest of the family as opposed to being shut off in one room, Krengel says.

* Multi-cook kitchens. ``We're designing a lot more two-cook or multi-cook kitchens with two sinks, and sometimes with two dishwashers and refrigerators so people can work together and ... not get in each other's way,'' Snyder says.

Can a kitchen be designed so that it doesn't go out of style?

``You're never going to be able to design one that is totally timeless,'' Krengel says. ``But using things like square-raised panel door cabinets, neutral colors, perhaps a wood floor - those are items that will keep your basic foundation in place, and then you'll just need to do some updating on the decorating more often.''

* To spark ideas for rehauling your kitchen, Jim Krengel recommends ``Kitchens by Professional Designers,'' a glossy hardback with renovation projects from designers around the country. It is published annually by Kasmar Publications, Inc. in Palm Desert, Calif.

Another helpful guide to kitchen design is ``Kitchens: Information and inspiration for making kitchens the heart of the home,'' by Chris Casson Madden (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 1993, 287 pp.). It includes a directory of manufacturers, suppliers, outlets, catalogs, and craftsmen across the country.

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