Tips for a high-impact, budget-friendly remodel

By Erin Chan Ding, on Daily Herald

The kitchen was eye-popping for all the wrong reasons, remodeler Dan Kradzinski recalls. Dark brown oak cabinets with medieval-style handles. Birch-colored counter. White appliances. The backsplash was rust-colored brick, the walls the color of an overripe nectarine.

The room had a jumbled 1980s-era vibe. The kitchen’s Richboro, Pennsylvania, homeowners asked whether his company, Kradzinski Remodeling, could bring it into this century?

After about four weeks of work, the kitchen looked Pinterest-ready.

Before and after: An award-winning, under-$40,000 makeover took a Pennsylvania kitchen from also-ran to Pinterest-ready.

Cabinets gleaming with a cherry finish, backed up against soothing, mint green walls. A stainless hood, sink and refrigerator nestled near granite countertops. The gaudy brick backsplash was gone, replaced with sleek, earth-colored glass tile.

Total tab: Less than $40,000.

Kradzinski’s work won plaudits as national and regional contractor of the year for kitchen remodels in that price range from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Kradzinski credits the homeowners for his success. “They asked lots of questions, listened to all of my suggestions. They were extremely easy to work with.”

Phil Simon, owner of Michael F. Simon Builders Inc. in Waunakee, Wisconsin, also won a NARI award for kitchen remodeling this year. He says the first step for homeowners looking for value is to “first and foremost, decide what it is exactly you are willing to invest dollar-wise into the project. Then, make a list of what you desire to change.”

Rely on your remodeler to help balance the features you most desire with the money you budget for the job. A choice that involves moving appliances or bathroom fixtures, for example, often costs more, since it can require moving locations for venting, plumbing, power and waste.

Not being excessively picky can be key to controlling cost for a high-impact kitchen remodel.

“Homeowners have to realize they will have to make concessions,” Kradzinski says. “You’re not going to get solid cherry kitchen cabinets when you’re on a tight budget.”

The largest cost in a kitchen remodel is often the cabinets, Kradzinski says. For example, custom cherry cabinets can run $60,000, he says. One way to save a bit on cabinets is to choose basic-grade wood for the middle cabinets and save the high-end wood for the ends. For his award-winning remodel, Kradzinski used maple with a cherry finish, a tactic that saved thousands of dollars compared with the price tag for solid cherry cabinets. If existing cabinets are worn but structurally sound, they could just need new self-closing features on the doors and a fresh finish, Simon says.

One of Kradzinski’s top tips for homeowners is to scope out local sales before the actual remodeling starts. Local granite fabricators often have remnant slabs of stone at reduced prices. He says he spotted a 50-square-foot piece for $1,700, including installation, not long ago. Sometimes, he says, fabricators may be willing to literally throw in the kitchen sink for free. Quality, under-mount versions are made with 18-gauge stainless steel, so “when things start rattling around in the sink, it doesn’t sound like a tin can,” he says.

To save on floor coverings, Simon suggests using a luxury vinyl tile, which has the look and feel of ceramic but is less costly. In some cases, his company forgoes removing the current floor and just installs the vinyl tiles over the existing floor.

As for backsplashes, deals can be had. The competition for backsplash tiles has risen, Kradzinski says; with more styles on the market, prices have dropped. Glass and ceramic mosaic tiles, he says, can be bought for $5 to $10 a square foot.

The investment in a kitchen upgrade, big or small, reaps immediate returns.

“The kitchen is where everybody goes,” Kradzinski says. “When people come home from work or school, you don’t walk into the living room or family room.

“Families spends more time in the kitchen than anywhere else.”

Are you in need of a Chicago kitchen counter refinishing expert?