Kitchen Remodeling Tips: 5 Things to Do Before Work Begins on Your New Kitchen

Kitchen Remodeling Tips: 5 Things to Do Before Work Begins on Your New Kitchen

Renovating a kitchen is a huge project that requires proper planning. When it comes to making magic happen, there are a lot of variables to consider. 

So, before you take a sledgehammer and start breaking down walls, it’s important to take a good look at your plan. Is it realistic? Do you have enough leeway in your budget to achieve both your needs and wants?

To help you jumpstart the process, here are five things we recommend you accomplish before starting your kitchen renovation.

1. Decide how you want to conduct the project

Not surprisingly, we believe you should hire a design-build firm. In fact, we can even offer recommendations along that line. Regardless of your approach to your project, we believe it’s imperative that you involve other people to get a broader, more informed perspective.

But remember; even if you’re using professional help, you must still provide your own input. Your kitchen must work for you, which means you have to be involved. 

2. Figure out how much time you need for the project.

Kitchen Remodeling Tips 5 Things to Do Before Work Begins on Your New Kitchen1There are really only two projects: design and construction. It’s important to allow enough time for both but, unfortunately, most homeowners end up underestimating the duration of each phase.

We recommend allowing leeway for incubation time during the design phase.  Set your design aside for a few days and try not to think about it too hard. Chances are, you’ll get hit with a bolt of fresh inspiration after a while—an idea that’ll transform your design from good to great. 

Once you have a full design—including selections—then you can move on to creating a construction schedule. Include everything that needs to be done and come up with a rough time estimate for each. And then add at least 25% of that timeframe to that timeframe.

Is there a deadline—some sort of event that the remodel needs to be completed by? If so, you’ll want to work backwards, starting with your end date, to see when your actual start date should ideally be. If there is no deadline, then you can simply work forward with your schedule. For anything that you’re trying to do yourself, we recommend that you at least double the time you think it’ll take. Speaking from experience, it is not uncommon for us—as a design-build company—to be asked to pick up projects that had previously been abandoned for years.


3. Leave some leeway for the unexpected.

Regarding your timeline, don’t forget to give you and your contractor a bit of wiggle room. No matter how meticulously you plan you’re remodeling, there are variables in a renovation that will always be beyond our control. It isn’t uncommon to come across something that couldn’t have been anticipated. This includes things like rot or unexpected piping in the walls.

Remember to leave room for the unexpected and scheduling adjustments when designing your kitchen remodeling schedule. The smallest adjustment in the project schedule can trigger disruption for the entire thing. For instance, if you add something to the plumber’s schedule that will keep them on the job for an extra day, everyone gets affected. Let’s say that addition should ideally only throw the electrician’s schedule off by a day. However, that one-day delay has also forced the entire crew to postpone by their schedule by another day or two because the plumber and electrician aren’t done. By that time, the AC guy is going to have to push his HSVR back a week just to accommodate the extra days of the whole team.

You can see why construction schedules are so difficult to maintain.

4. Check your priorities.

If your budget does not allow you to make your dream kitchen a reality in one shot, there’s no need to compromise. Instead, do it in phases. Start with the areas you absolutely need to complete immediately. For instance, you’ll usually need your countertops, cabinets, infrastructure, layout, and wiring right away. The little add-ons, however, like appliance upgrades, new tiles, expensive faucets, and fancy light fixtures can afford to be pushed to a later date.

Choose The Right Sink For Your Kitchen Upgrade

5. Create a temporary kitchen.

While your main kitchen is under renovation, make sure to set up a temporary kitchen in another part of your home. This is where you’ll wash dishes and prepare meals for the time being. Having a kitchen remodel doesn’t have to be an excuse to start eating out or ordering in all the time, and you’ll be happy for this temporary space when you need your 7AM morning coffee.

You don’t need a fancy set-up. You just need a countertop or two, a small cooking surface (electric or camping will work fine), a refrigerator or even an ice chest, and a few essential utensils for cooking and eating.

Kitchen remodeling is both exciting and potentially nerve-wracking. You need to invest time, effort, and commitment to get it done, so be sure to cover all the bases before diving in. If you take your time, seek help from professionals, and consider the above tips, you should have little to no trouble getting the results you want.

Kitchen Remodeling Tips: Choosing the Right Sink

Kitchen Remodeling Tips: Choosing the Right Sink

Most kitchen work involves the use of sinks; from prepping to the last washed pot. Sinks add to the aesthetic appeal of your kitchen and, of course, are functional. So, for your kitchen remodeling plans make sure to find a sink that fulfills both practical and aesthetic needs. 

What Kind of Sink Should I Install?

Kitchen sinks can be made from several different materials, including; stainless steel, cast iron, solid surface, composite, and acrylic. The material is usually an aesthetic choice but can also affect the function.

High-quality stainless-steel sinks are very sturdy. They are easy to clean and, compared to other sink options, are affordable. On the other hand, they are also one of the noisier ones—especially if you drop your silverware or plastic Tupperware—they easily display dried water spots, and scratches show up almost instantly on their surface. Sound deadening material placed under stainless steel sinks help reduce noise and improve strength. Stainless steel sinks come in varying metal thicknesses and gauges. Keep in mind that a smaller gauge means thicker metal.

Meanwhile, cast iron sinks are easy to clean and maintain. Just like stainless steel, they’re also durable. Cast iron also happens to be incompatible with abrasive cleaners as they can scratch and dull the finish. Enameled cast iron sinks are prone to chipping and scratching.

Solid surface sinks provide seamless joints with counter-tops of the same material. They are also durable, better handle dropped objects, and are easily reparable.

Using composite or artificial stone sinks will give you reasonably scratch-resistant and heat-tolerant option. However, scuffs and scrapes harder to remove.

Acrylic is an economical option. However, it is not heat-tolerant, and can be vulnerable to staining from petroleum-based products.

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What Size Should I Choose?

According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), small kitchens should consider single-bowl sinks. Larger kitchens can afford to have double- or even triple- bowls.

While large sinks like farm house sinks can be appealing in and of themselves, and functional when washing pans or filling large pots, they also decrease counter space—which is also usually a premium in the kitchen. A large sink that looks great in a close-up picture may look out of place in the full context of the kitchen.

What are the Best Configurations?

  • Depth. If you plan to go heavy on the dishwashing, you may want to use deeper bowls with straight side walls to accommodate washing and soaking large pans and pots. The flat bottom should also add sufficient space for stacking dishes while washing.
  • Sink Divider. When choosing a double-bowl sink, choose the one with a lower-leveled divider. This will prevent overflow while you’re doing dishes as it will allow the water to flow to the other bowl.
  • Offset Drains. Choosing a sink with offset drains will allow for smooth, even draining regardless of what’s soaking in the sink. With the drain to one side, there’s also more space for stacking washables.

What is the Best Mounting Style?

There are three basic mounting styles for kitchen sinks: drop-in, flush, and undermount.

The drop-in style is done by mounting the sink on the countertop. It’s the easiest way to install new sinks into existing countertops. You are, however, left with a rim above the countertop that is more difficult to clean.

In a flush style, the mounting is similar with that of a drop-in. However, it is even with the countertop. More commonly done in the past when laminate counter tops were prevalent, this mounting style employs a metal mounting strip that tends to collect grime.

The undermount sink has become the most popular sink in modern kitchens due to the ease of cleaning. Debris and water can be wiped right into the sink with no obstruction. However, this mounting style does not work well for laminate or tile countertops.



Countertops may serve as the aesthetic centerpiece or functional workhorse of the kitchen. With the dizzying array of countertops to choose from, deciding if form or function is your first priority can help narrow your options. If a great place to cook is your priority, you may start by considering qualities such as scratch resistance and maintenance requirements. If your kitchen acts as a visual focal point for your home, you may want to start by considering colors and textures.

The selection process often starts with an exploration of countertop materials. A few common countertop choices are natural stones, metals, and engineered materials.

Natural Stones

Natural stone is a time-honored countertop material. Every countertop is a unique slice of the earth. If you are lucky enough to live in an area that has native stone available, it can be a natural harmonization of the home and its environment. Natural stone has a wide price range. Often it is a little less expensive than engineered stone but it requires a little more maintenance. Few materials hold their value over time as well as natural stone countertops.

Granite – Granite is a classic choice that offers a wide variety of colors and patterns. No two countertops are alike. Prices also range widely. Low-cost granite is generally less distinctive. The most distinctive granites—with vivid colors and dramatic swirls—can get pricey. Granite is a fairly durable material, although it requires annual sealing to protect against staining and scratching.

Marble – Marble is softer than granite and scratches more easily. It also is more porous and therefore easier to stain. Marble can be less expensive than granite but, like all natural stones, it has a wide price range. Marble is preferred by bakers and candy makers because of its ability to keep dough from sticking. In most cases, our recommendation is to only use marble in an isolated countertop section. That said, a well-placed section of marble countertop can add a touch of elegance and functionality for the cook in your home.

Soapstone – Soapstone is a beautiful and interesting metamorphic stone. Soapstone is nonporous and therefore not prone to staining but it is soft so it scratches and dents very easily. These can be appreciated as part of a countertop’s natural look or be buffed out. Soapstone offers a narrow range of colors but staining or oiling bring out its beauty and luster. Soapstone requires more maintenance than other natural stones and tends to be a little pricier.

Quartzite – Quartzite is a natural stone with durability similar to granite. It is hard but requires annual sealing to preserve the surface. Quartzite is a good option if you’re looking for a natural stone countertop that is lighter in color. Quartzite mimics the elegant appearance of marble but, because it is harder and less porous, it requires less maintenance. Like granite, the price of quartzite is variable but tends to be 10% to 50% more expensive than granite.


Metal countertops have become more popular recently, propelled by a broader trend toward industrial interior designs. But metal countertops have plenty of function to go along with their sleek, modern look. Metal—especially stainless steel—countertops are ubiquitous in restaurants and commercial kitchens due to their durability and value over time. They also are favored by the professionals because they are nonporous and easy to clean. Metal countertops do sell at the upper end of the pricing scale. They also scratch easily, so if you are after a high-polish gleam on your stainless steel, copper or bronze countertops you will want to keep cutting boards handy. Or you may just enjoy the character that is reflected in the scratches of a working metal countertop.

Stainless Steel – Stainless steel is by far the most popular metal for countertops. It has an industrial look that is valued for its simplicity and sleekness. Its reflective surface can reduce the amount of light needed in a kitchen and it can make a small kitchen appear larger. It does not tarnish like copper or bronze so will retain its color long term whether you buff it frequently or not.

Copper – Copper countertops are less common than stainless steel yet they provide all of the functional benefits and a unique look. Polished copper is bright and shiny with a salmon glow. To maintain that appearance, you have to buff it frequently. It is more common to embrace the patina that develops as copper is exposed to a kitchen’s humid air. This very natural look is exceptionally interesting, as each countertop will produce its own patina patterns in colors ranging from turquoise to deep green.

Bronze – Like copper, bronze will develop a patina if not buffed regularly. Bronze is harder than copper and is more golden in hue when polished. The patina does not develop into copper’s deep greens yet it still creates a very distinctive countertop you won’t see replicated in your friends’ homes.

Engineered Materials

The marvel of human-made geology, engineered stone is a mixture of resin and fiber or aggregate. It tends to be pricier than natural stone but requires less maintenance and is often more durable. Engineered materials have a wide range of looks from natural to space age. They are quickly becoming the countertop of choice.

Quartz – Like its namesake, quartz contains metamorphic crystals. Unlike natural quartzite, man-made quartz combines the genius of Mother Nature with the ingenuity of engineers. Quartz has become the most popular choice for American countertops because it is almost maintenance free. Most brands of quartz incorporate approximately 93% natural material and 7% resins to create a surface that resists scratches, dents, heat and stains. Quartz fabrication methods have improved dramatically over the last few years, resulting in a more natural look with dramatic swirls and textures.

Solid Surface – Corian, the original solid surface countertop, was developed in the 1960s by chemical company DuPont in conjunction with NASA. Corian is still a great countertop material with an elegance all its own. Corian’s low proportion of natural stone makes it look more artificial than quartz but it has the advantage of appearing seamless. Though it is more prone to stains and scratches than quartz, it is more resistant than many other materials. Most blemishes are easily buffed out. Because Corian reached its peak popularity in the 90s, it can seem dated but we suspect that it will become accepted as a classic style.

Recycled Glass – A favorite of the environmentally-minded or “green” crowd, recycled glass does not live up to its hype. This countertop material is a mix of recycled glass and resins. The size and color of glass coupled with countless resin colors make for a fun, creative selection process and a very customizable look. But the fun stops there. The installed surface is subject to cracking, chipping and other blemishes and none of those imperfections can be repaired.

PaperStone – Although “PaperStone” is a brand name, it is synonymous with a class of material and the company that commands the lion’s share of the market. This is by far the greenest countertop material. It is made with paper fiber and water-based resin. That means it contains no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that release solvents into the air. PaperStone only comes in dark colors and will fade a bit with direct sunlight. Its surface is nonporous, making it safe for food preparation. Although it is recommended that you seal PaperStone against scratching, you can easily buff out blemishes.

Other Materials

There are a number of other countertop materials that don’t fit into a specific category and have widely varying qualities related to countertop form and functionality.

Tile – Those into retro style houses may consider tile countertops. Tile offers a wide range of options in size, color, and layout including choices for grout color and texture. Tile also poses a wide range of problems. Over the years, we have torn out a lot of tile countertops while installing very few. Modern grouts have come a long way from the porous products of the 40s and 50s that crumbled, cracked and discolored. Nevertheless, tile countertops are hard to keep clean and develop more maintenance issues than most other options.

Butcher Block – Many cooks love having a section of butcher block countertop to chop away on at will. Butcher block stain easily but lightly sanding and treating with tongue or another food-safe oil periodically will minimize damage. For most homeowners, the stains and cut marks on butcher block countertops become the priceless mementos of past meals. In addition to the character of an exposed working surface, wood adds warmth to a kitchen. If you prefer a very polished look, however, this is probably not a good choice.

Concrete – Concrete can be stunning. It can be formed into almost any shape and can take on many colors and textures. When done well, concrete can be formed into a striking and unique surface. Take the time to find a gifted craftsman. Concrete is very porous, which can cause concerns about food safety. Concrete also develops stains, scratches, cracks and chips. These countertops need to be treated with care and maintained well.

Laminate – Laminate became the countertop of choice in the 1960s and 1970s. Laminate is a relatively green and definitely frugal choice. Even though it is not as popular as it once was, laminate options have continued to improve and expand. There are two basic types of laminate: Post-form laminate tops are the counters that you can buy in a big box. These are not a good option for anything. This laminate is low quality and the sub-surface swells at the hint of moisture and emits toxic gasses. Laminate cut and placed on site is a much better product and can be a good choice. Most of the laminate countertops we install are in laundry rooms and seldom-used bathrooms. Infrequently used areas of a kitchen can also be good candidates for laminate countertops. Laminate saves money and can provide color choices that are not available in other countertop materials. It also consumes fewer natural resources and can be updated with little disruption to home life.

Installing new kitchen countertops is one of the remodeling projects that brings homeowners a lot of satisfaction. A new kitchen with a one-of-a-kind countertop or a new little section to roll out your favorite cookies can multiply your appreciation for what some call “the heart of the home.” Start your countertop material selection process by considering whether you favor form or function, low maintenance or high finish, and affordability or distinctiveness. A little careful planning can ensure you make your heart sing!

Pruning Bushes and Trees

                      Here are some limbs to look for when pruning your trees or bushes.

                     Here are some limbs to look for when pruning your trees or bushes.

As a general practice, we do not include yard work in our maintenance list but this is one that impacts the health and durability of your house.  Tree branches rubbing or falling on the house can do a tree-mendous amount of damage. Vines growing on the house can also do damage.  It is a good idea to do this chore early in February before spring starts to set in but once the worst of winter has passed.  Prune branches far enough back so that wind does not blow them against the roof or walls.  It is a good idea to go outside when there is a high wind and watch.  You will probably be surprised how far the branches will bend in a high wind.  And don’t forget that they will grow before you prune them again, so cut them back a little further.  Plant material built up on the house provides a good means for insects and rodents to get in.  Also, if you have an overhead power, telephone or cable line coming to your house, keep it clear of blowing branches. Be especially careful with ladders and other tools around power lines.


I recently returned from the Greenbuild 2014 conference in New Orleans.  This is an annual conference put on by the United States Green Building Committee (USGBC.)  It is three days of intensive learning about a wide range of design and construction concepts that relate to creating a smarter and healthier built environment.

My favorite sessions this year had to do with Biophilia, which is the study of the positive effects of nature in our lives and ways to increase our exposure to nature in the built environment.  The term and general concept has been around for many  years, introduced by E. O. Wilson in his book by the same name.  But it has only relatively recently been picked up by the design community.

This is a thrilling development for us at Stearns Design Build, as it is so similar to our own theory of design that we call Transitions.  Transitions is built on the knowledge that connection to nature and natural rhythms creates happiness.  We know, for example, that people who know what time the sun rises and sets, or what phase the moon is in, consistently report a higher level of happiness and contentment.  So the question becomes: in the modern world of rather insular homes, how do we create these connections for people?

The most predominant feature on the modern American home is the cavernous garage, with doors that open mechanically, swallowing cars, saving drivers and passengers from interaction with neighbors that they do not know.  The backyards of most homes are no less isolating. Surrounded by a tall privacy fence, maintaining protection form neighbors and natural surroundings.  Most of the trees that the yard may have once had were taken down during construction and replaced with turf that requires weekly maintenance and large amounts of pesticides and herbicides.

At one time American homes had large front porches that provide a fresh air room with access to neighbors who were frequently out for a walk.  Those porches have shrunk and, if they exist at all, are a façade feature too narrow to accommodate a chair.

Modern residential design creates homes that isolate us from both community and nature.

The Ancient Greek word for community was koinonia.  But it was more often used as a verb rather than a noun.  It also translated as share, participate jointly and intimacy.  This is the word that got translated to “fellowship” in the New Testament of the Bible.  For us, community has become a place or a group of people: a passive noun, not an active verb describing how we are in community.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger, in his book What Is Called Thinking, spoke about the separation of the self from nature in language and in thought.  This separation is the source of modern angst.  This angst belongs to us and to all of nature. When we do not view ourselves as a part of nature, it becomes easy to view nature only as expendable resource.  Heidegger said, “Nature becomes a gigantic gasoline station, an energy source for modern technology and industry.”  Angst manifest in nature as climate change, habitat destruction, smog and extinction.

Our Transitions theory of design seeks to assuage modern angst through the phenomenology of design.  By placing us in the context of our surroundings, both natural and community, we can impact who we are and provide a sense of connection and transcendence in the world.  This bold undertaking is the essence of humbling, as we must recognize that we are a part of, and not apart from, larger systems.

To the extent that we seek “green” or sustainable solutions, it is not enough to consider the resources that we use in building, we must consider our relationship to all resources. We must design homes that put us into relationship with life’s resources so that we can become aware of our part of a process of dynamic balance.