Friday, August 10, 2012

Government to Limit Size of Kitchens!

If you’ve been following the news in The City you’re probably aware that the mayor has proposed a ban on jumbo-sized sodas and sugary drinks. Officials from his Board of Health are now talking about banning large servings of popcorn, all in an effort to end obesity. I’m all for ending corpulence, but does anyone think that this will really work? The legislation allows for refills on the sodas and does not prohibit anyone from buying a second bag of popcorn. (And, the only reason I go to the movies is to buy the wonderfully disgusting, artificial butter-type substance that I try to get on every single kernel of my extra-large popcorn).
If the authorities are allowed to regulate the size of our sodas and popcorns, what’s next in their bag of tricks to reduce the girth of size-challenged people? I can only image that the appropriate committee will decide that large refrigerators must be made illegal because they can be used to store large amounts of sugary drinks. A ban on large pantry cabinets would logically follow next, because, God forbid, you could put large boxes of sugary cereal in them. Clearly, large kitchens themselves would be on the agenda, because if you only have a small kitchen it would encourage people to be smaller so they would have more room to move around.
Of course, this is all nonsense because people should be allowed to purchase food in the quantities that they want and certainly, they should be allowed to have any size kitchens. However, if you don’t have a large kitchen, you can make your size-challenged one look and feel larger by following a couple of design tricks.
If you’re working with a small space the first impulse is to use wall cabinets that extend to the ceiling. While this will add an extra shelf in each cabinet it will also close in the room, making it appear smaller. If you have 96” ceilings, stick with standard 30” or 36” high wall cabinets, but order an extra shelf for each one. In most kitchens, cabinets are not used to their maximum potential due to a lack of shelving. Frequently an extra shelf in a standard height cabinet can increase its useful capacity by about 20% and by leaving a little space open at the top of the cabinets it makes an “airier” look. You can store some decorative cookware there.
Consider adding open shelving between some of the wall cabinets. Although this will not actually increase your storage capacity, this technique will help to make the kitchen look larger.Keep all the cabinets level with each other rather than jogging them up and down. By keeping the cabinets level, including open shelving and leaving the soffit open, it draws your eye horizontally instead of vertically, making the space appear larger.
The best way to maximize storage space in any size kitchen is with accessories like lazy-Susans, roll-out trays and tilt drawers. Corners are almost impossible to avoid in some kitchen designs and if you have a corner the best way to deal with it is to install lazy-Susans in the corner cabinets. Although they are not 100% efficient, (you loose some space on the sides), it makes everything much easier to reach. And you can also add an additional shelf to a lazy-Susan or adjust the bottom shelf up several inches to allow you to use the base of the cabinet as an additional shelf. Avoid blind-corner cabinets at all costs! Those are those horrible cabinets, which are jammed into corners to fill up space. If there is no way to avoid having a blind-corner base cabinet insist on ½ moon shelves, which make it the space more accessible.
Roll-out trays enable you to pull out all the items in a base cabinet so that they are easily reachable without having to dig around in the back for something you lost several years ago! It’s also a lot easier on your back because you don’t have to bend down so far to retrieve pots and pans.           If you presently have a small kitchen, or the government regulates that you cannot have a large one, by manipulating some design elements and maximizing the internal space, your undersized kitchen can feel and act much bigger than you ever thought possible. And you can hide the Frosted Flakes in your bedroom.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nothing Will Come of Nothing

The warmest winter on record is over, and now many people’s thoughts are turning towards the traditional, yearly ritual of home improvement. And, of those contemplating this seasonal compulsion, many are focusing on their kitchen or bathroom. Like the swallows returning from wherever they went, this need is not something to be ashamed of, our species simply has no control over it.
If you are facing this uncontrollable urge to remodel, you’ll probably need some help. But don’t despair, you don’t have to do it alone. There are many qualified designers available to create a functional, as well as aesthetically pleasing, kitchen/bath to satisfy your desires. Look for a firm that is associated with the National Kitchen and Bath Association. This is the largest organization in the industry and it sets the standards for kitchen/bath design. But don’t expect to get something for nothing because, (if I remember my Shakespeare), “nothing will come of nothing”.
Most successful kitchen designers charge for their initial work, however their charges and pricing structures vary greatly. I know of companies that charge anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or more, for this service. Usually, this sum can be applied towards the purchase of cabinets and I wouldn’t recommend contracting with a firm that did not adhere to that policy. After all, a good design takes a great deal of time, effort and creativity, so why should they give this away for free?
An argument could be made that if you don’t like the design and/or estimate you’ve wasted your money. I don’t entirely disagree with this, and that’s why I recommend finding a firm with a minimum initial design fee. This smaller expense certainly does not compensate the designer for all the time he must spend creating your dream kitchen, but it shows a commitment on your part, indicating that you are serious about the project.
Some firms have a staged design fee, which includes a minimum initial design charge. If after reviewing the design, you wish to pursue the project, they have a secondary fee (sometimes called a retainer) for additional work on the design or releasing the drawings to you. This seems to be an equitable compromise. The designer charges a minimal fee, confident that they will create an exciting design, within the budget that you specify. You get a chance to review the design and see how much the renovation will cost, before laying out a lot of money.
At that point, assuming the design fits your budget, you have to ask yourself three questions. The first is, do you like the design? It doesn’t have to be perfect yet, but it must show promise, and you have to be convinced that it can be modified to your satisfaction. The second question is, do you like the company’s products? This includes the cabinets, countertops and accessories. The final question is, do you trust the designer and his support staff? If the design or designer is not to your liking, or the cost is out of line, you have the option of ending the relationship without incurring additional costs.
If you answer “yes” to the three questions, you’re ready to move to the next step in a “staged design fee” program. If any of your answers were “no”; look for another firm.
Once you find the right company to work with, and a design you love, at a price you’re comfortable with, you’re ready to proceed to the next step, which I’ll cover in an upcoming article.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Who Wants to Get Ripped-Off?

Even when times are good, no one likes paying more than they have to, but during a recession, when our limited means are being stretched to the limit, no one REALLY likes to be taken advantage of. At least if “the powers that be” admitted we were in a depression, we could be depressed, but no, we’re only in a recession, so we can only be recessed.1 It makes it sound like you’re going out to the school yard to play instead of struggling to find the funds to fix up your home. Even that’s a rip-off!
So, how do you avoid being taken advantage of when remodeling your home? Is it really necessary for you to become an expert in every facet of the project you’re undertaking? Who has time for that? What you really need to do is find someone that you can trust to handle your project, and the best way to do that is to use a little common sense.
Prior to calling prospective contractors, ask friends who have done similar work for referrals. If they have had a good experience, chances are you will as well. But if they had problems with their contractor, like hidden fees and missed deadlines, keep looking. Check with professional organizations (like the National Kitchen & Bath Association) for members in your area. Call the local department of consumer affairs to find out what type of licenses are required for the work that you’re considering and make sure that the company you hire is properly licensed. Also, check to see that they have liability insurance and that their workers are covered by Worker’s Compensation and disability insurance.
            When you have compiled a “short-list” of contractors to call, leave yourself enough time so that you don’t have to rush into a decision. Set up a meeting with the contractors to get estimates and, more importantly, see if you feel comfortable with them. The relationship between you and your contractor is the key to a successful job. If you start with someone who doesn’t return calls, shows up late and has no patience for your questions before you hire them, don’t expect much more after you’ve given them a check.
            When you’ve narrowed it down to a couple of choices, its time to check references. Ask the contractor to supply you with the names of people that they have worked for. Of course, just getting the names won’t help you much if you don’t call them. And, since you’re on the phone anyway, call the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any legitimate complaints lodged against the contractors.
            Once you have selected a firm, insist on a written contract that specifies exactly what’s going to be done at your home. If you have any doubts…put it in writing. The more explicit the contract and work orders are, the less chance of misunderstandings after the work commences. Reputable firms also use “Change Orders” for any deviations to the original contract which require both you and the contractor to sign. Don’t be afraid of the paperwork, its purpose is to protect both you and the legitimate contractor.
            If you do your homework, and select a reputable contractor, your project will be a successful one, and chances are you won’t be ripped-off. However, even with a great contractor, don’t expect that any job will go without some glitches. Anyone who promises a major renovation with no problems at all is not being entirely honest, there are just too many variables. But, when you’re dealing with a legitimate contractor any problems that do arise will be dealt with quickly and efficiently, and in the end you will be thankful that you put a little extra effort in selecting them.
1 In researching the material for this month’s column I discussed the current economic conditions with my mom, who will be 98 in June. She commented, “you have no right to complain, I lived through the real depression, and yes, it was pretty depressing.”

Friday, January 6, 2012

There's Arsenic in My Apple Juice!

     There’s lead in our kid’s toys. And, there’s sulfur in our sheetrock. God only knows what’s in the cabinets. And yet we keep importing products and produce from that big country in the east (name withheld to protect our economy). So really, what’s the big deal? Where’s the harm in a little arsenic, or lead, or hydrogen sulfide gas, when you can save a couple of bucks? Haven’t you heard? We’re in a recession. Health is a small price to pay when you’re talking about saving money.
     But if you are concerned about avoiding the perils of hazardous material exposure when eating, buying toys, homes or remodeling you must use your common sense (see K&B Insider #123, Common Sense, Priceless!). The best way to begin is by reading labels, assuming you still can read after exposure to all those noxious fumes. If not, have your BFF (Best Friend Forever) read the label for you. If the product does not have a label, ask the proprietor for a Material Data Safety Sheet, which lists the properties (both harmful and inert) of the product.
     And, don’t be fooled by the bar code number. “Urban Legend” has it that the first two or three digits of a product’s bar code number indicate which country it was made in. For example, labels beginning with 690, 691, 692 or 695 originate in China. However, additional research seems to indicate that these digits only refer to where a product was shipped from. So clever manufacturers are able to manipulate the system and ship from a country other than where the product was made.
     In the remodeling industry, most cabinet and countertop manufacturers have been making a concerted effort to clean up their act. Now you can purchase American made cabinets that have little or no harmful ingredients, such as volatile organic compounds, at very competitive prices; although they will never be as inexpensive as cabinets made in countries where the average hourly wage is less than a (US) dollar.
     Some of these same countries sell granite counters with high levels of radon, a cancer causing, radioactive gas. Just shut off the lights and see them glow! But hey, they’re cheap! Consider instead quartz composite countertops which are certified by various environmental organizations as to their lack of harmful emissions or buy granite that has acceptable radon emissions.
     Now, I’m not saying that everything made in America is great, in fact some of our stuff could stand a little room for improvement, but at least there are some government standards to adhere to. And I’m not saying that exposure to some chemicals is all that bad. When I was an Industrial Arts teacher, for many years I taught both woodworking and printing. In print shop we handled type that was made primarily of lead and washed our hands with kerosene. Having dinner with a friend (product liability attorney) the other day, I mentioned this and said it didn’t seem to adversely affect me! Her reply was, “think of what you could have been”!
     So sit back, take a deep, formaldehyde filled breath, and watch the kids sip arsenic laced apple juice while putting their lead painted toys in their mouths. It really doesn’t matter much because the hydrogen sulfide gas coming from the sheet rock will eventually kill you anyway. Unless, of course, you decide to spend a couple of extra bucks and buy safe products from a country you can trust.

     (For more info, visit us at