The heart of the home stopped beating for many Long Islanders on the day superstorm Sandy blew into town. When the storm severely damaged an estimated 100,000 Long Island homes, kitchens were an all too common casualty of the flooding, leaving homeowners with little choice but to rip out and replace them. It's a devastating loss, and a daunting task -- but it can also be an opportunity.
That's how Christine DePetris is trying to look at it. Her Lindenhurst kitchen was destroyed by flooding, along with her recently redecorated living room. She couldn't bear to watch the demolition of the work she and her husband had done together -- but she says tearing out the old kitchen has helped her to see this cloud's silver lining.
After the damage, "We actually wound up taking out a wall -- well, what was left of the wall -- between the living room and the kitchen," she says. It was a heart-wrenching experience, but opening up the space allowed them to visualize some improvements that wouldn't have been possible before, she says. "Certain things don't work, but you stick with them because that's what you have. So we're trying to correct those things now."
But like many Long Islanders, DePetris is still waiting to find out what the insurance will cover. "I don't want to make out on the deal, I just want to have what we had to begin with," says DePetris, an elementary schoolteacher.
That's a big if: Many homeowners are dismayed to find they won't receive nearly enough money to replace everything, cautions kitchen designer Debbie Schamberger of Elite Kitchen & Bath in Manhasset. But if you're fortunate enough to have the means, "you can make a much better design if you're starting with a clean slate," she says.
Experts suggest the following steps for making the most of your newly gutted kitchen space.
Step 1: Breathe
The strain of living without a kitchen, and, in many cases, living outside the home, can create a sense of urgency. But don't let impatience cloud your judgment, cautions Tom Magoulas, The Home Depot's regional services sales manager for the New York area. There are options for getting the job done quickly, but they may not be the best choices for the long term. The decisions you have to make are costly -- and fairly permanent -- so don't rush, he says.
"How many kitchens do you do in your home in a lifetime? The reality is, for most people, maybe two, or less," Magoulas says. "I would recommend they take the time to understand what they want out of their finalized project'' because you live with it for a long time."
Step 2: Assess
Before you can start planning your new kitchen, it's important to re-evaluate your old one. To do that, visualize a day in the life of your kitchen -- then ask yourself some key questions, says Michael Graziano, a certified kitchen designer at Aladdin Remodelers Inc. in Massapequa Park. "First, were they happy with the way the kitchen worked for them before? If not, why not?"
At this stage, you shouldn't be trying to guess what a better layout might look like -- just focus on what worked and what didn't. "The right approach is to say, 'I've never been happy with the way the kitchen was laid out. People were always under my feet while I was trying to work,' " or whatever your complaints may be. Once you've pinpointed any problems with the function or flow of your old kitchen, you'll be in a better position to find solutions.
Step 3: Prepare
Even if you're still awaiting word from your insurance company or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, you'll want a basic plan so you can be ready to act if and when the check comes in. There are a number of free or inexpensive ways to play around with ideas. For instance, the Lowe's website offers a free downloadable room-planning tool that allows you to design from a template or from scratch. You can try out different colors and finishes, then save and print your designs to take into the store when you're ready. Graziano says an initial walk-through by a certified kitchen designer to determine the scope of a project and the ballpark cost estimate may be free as well.
An in-store consultation with a kitchen designer at The Home Depot is free, but Magoulas suggests having an in-home site analysis to get measurements and an understanding of options. The Home Depot usually charges about $100 for this service; it's reduced to $49 through Jan. 16. If you hire The Home Depot for the whole project, that fee will go toward the total.
Step 4: Plan
When it's time to sit down with a designer and map out your new floor plan, that's typically when kitchen and bath design firms start to charge a retainer. "In most cases, certified designers do charge to generate a plan, and they do credit that toward the cost of the job once it's contracted," Graziano says. That's what his firm does; the retainer is 2 percent of the project total, he says.
Come with a sense of what you like, but leave your preconceived notions at the door, says Graziano. He recommends using a kitchen professional with a CKD designation -- Certified Kitchen Designer. That means the designer has at least seven years of experience, has completed 60 hours of coursework and passed an exam. A certified kitchen designer has the expertise to come up with creative solutions that a layman might never have envisioned. "If I've heard it once, I've heard a thousand times, 'I never knew I could do that!' " Graziano says. Once the layout is finished, you'll work together to choose and order your materials and appliances.
Step 5: Install
When the goods start to arrive, you're in the home stretch -- but it will be a long stretch. A kitchen installation is a messy and somewhat unpredictable process that can take weeks to months to complete. "The more trades that are involved -- the cabinetry craftsman, the electrician, the plumber -- all those things add time to the project," says Magoulas.
Consider using a licensed and insured general contractor to coordinate the various trades. To find one, visit the National Association of Home Builders website (nahb.org) for definitions of the various building certifications and to search for remodelers by ZIP code and professional designation.
The least painful way to get through it is to be prepared and patient. The National Kitchen & Bath Association recommends planning a substitute kitchen space. For instance, consider setting up small appliances such as a microwave and toaster oven in another room and doing the dishes in a bathroom sink.
THE BUDGET PUZZLE
It's hard to design your space when you don't know what your budget will be. The trick is knowing where you need to make the proper investment now and where you can build some flexibility into your floor plan in case your insurance payment is lower than you'd hoped. Here are three things to consider:
1. Permanent fixtures
Don't skimp on things you can't easily change later -- budget for them. "The first thing is to get the cabinets right," says Tom Magoulas of The Home Depot. Make sure you're happy with the color, quality and style, because the cabinetry will set the whole tone for the project, he says. "The second thing would be the countertop. Ripping out a countertop is cumbersome." Add the backsplash to the list as well, he says.
2. Future upgrades
You'll find the most wiggle room in your appliance budget, because the price ranges are very broad, and your decisions aren't quite so permanent. "From the standpoint of a quick fix later on, changing out the appliances is a little easier. You can get something more entry-level and add the high-end ones later on," Magoulas says.
3. Quick fixes
Popular bells and whistles, such as rollout shelves and recycling centers, are nonessentials that add up quickly. These can easily be trimmed from the project. And when it comes to finding a few dollars in savings, eliminating the smaller items is a no-brainer. "You can upgrade the sink, the faucet, the lighting at a later time," Magoulas says.
THE CABINET CONUNDRUM
For many homeowners, there's good news and bad news: The good news is that they'll receive some compensation for the damage. The bad news is that it won't cover anything that wasn't damaged, such as upper cabinets -- even if that means the kitchen won't match. It's disappointing, but workable. Here are three approaches for making the best of it:
Try to match it The manufacturer may be able to match the cabinets for you; the name of the manufacturer can usually be found on the hinge or the inside of a drawer. If not, your kitchen designer may be able to help. "We can match a cabinet color, maybe a door style as well, close enough to be passable," through a cabinet designer such as Wood-Mode, says Michael Graziano of Aladdin Remodelers in Massapequa Park.
Embrace it Fortuitously, two-colored kitchen cabinetry happens to be a hot new home interior trend -- but you have to do it right. "Usually it's two totally, distinctly different colors," says Graziano. "If you had white upper cabinets, you'd do the base in a darker color." The opposite wouldn't work, though: Dark cabinets with a light base would look top-heavy, he says.
Replace it anyway "My advice is, since the bottoms are probably the more expensive part, wall cabinets are a relatively inexpensive item. It's well worth the investment to replace them anyway," says Debbie Schamberger of Elite Kitchen & Bath in Manhasset. If you want to do that but need help bridging the budget gap, look to big box stores for affordable financing options. For instance, Tom Magoulas of The Home Depot says the store offers a project loan that will allow you to make a fixed payment every month -- similar to a car loan.