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Kitchen make over needn't bust budget


Q: Our 30-year-old kitchen is in need of a make over -- new cabinets, flooring, stove and fridge. I've been looking forward to this project, cutting out magazine photos of kitchens and imagining how great our own remodeling will look. But just as we're about to start work, we realize that the plan we've devised is likely to be a budget-buster. Can you suggest some cost-saving possibilities, such as an inexpensive line of cabinetry?

A: While I don't know exactly what sort of redesign you have in mind, the notion that you might save money on the cabinetry is certainly a sound one. Precision-type cabinetry is usually the single most costly feature in a modern kitchen.

Beyond that, however, it might be wise for you to rethink your entire plan. The dream kitchens featured in magazines are beautifully finished technological wonders, complete with slick surfaces, roller-bearing drawers and gleaming new appliances. The cold fact is that few of us can actually afford these fantasies.

I advise you to start over. Carefully consider your needs, separating the essential from the desirable, and then undertake a serious survey of your options. As part of this process, it's a very good idea to consult a reputable kitchen designer who will assess your situation.

And once you've decided what you want, compare the cost of prefab cabinetry to what a skilled carpenter could custom create for you.

The kitchen shown in the photo was largely the work of a carpenter, who completed the job at a reasonable price. Inexpensive knotty-pine cabinets were covered with a diagonally striped vinyl wall-covering. Note that the corners and frames were treated with only a natural wood finish as both a practical and a decorative touch. A pantry closet could easily be built on the opposite wall to house some cooking utensils as well as grocery staples. The pantry's door could then be covered with patterned vinyl inserts, while its wooden frame is treated with a finish similar to that used on the cabinets.

The clean and uncluttered lines you see here can be dressed up or down in order to produce either a country or a contemporary look. In this particular case, a braided rug with antique pine chairs and table gives the room a rustic feel.

No matter what design direction you favor, there's really no need to spend a fortune on cabinetry. Many professional cooks -- as well as weekend gourmet chefs -- store everything on open, accessible shelving. Besides being a utilitarian solution, this kind of arrangement allows the display of decorative platters, wall molds and service pieces.

While I admit that this look is not going to suit every taste, the orderly clutter of open shelving does provide a degree of warmth and interest that's often lacking in the dream kitchens shown in glossy magazines.

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