Renovate, don't obliterate

Decide what's worth keeping before you destroy the room you're making over

August 19, 2006|By CLAIRE WHITCOMB | CLAIRE WHITCOMB,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

If you've been thinking about letting the sawdust fly and renovating your house, decorator Lyn Peterson has a few things you ought to know.

First, don't automatically toss your cabinets, light fixtures or tub, even if contractors tell you that it's easier to gut a room and start from scratch.

"Easier for them, but not necessarily cheaper for you," insists Peterson, co-founder of Motif Designs and author of the information-packed book Real Life Renovating (Clarkson Potter, $37.50).

Look around your house and see what's worth saving.

"Can you keep the windows and add screens? Can you keep the old bath fittings and replace the tiles?" she asks. "You don't have to take an all-or-nothing approach to renovating."

A great believer in simple changes - new hardware instead of new cabinets, for example - Peterson offers these money-saving solutions for kitchens:

Give your cabinets a fresh start by spray-painting them white. Add architectural presence by topping your cupboard with crown molding and dressing up doors with trim that creates a paneled look.

Consider open shelving. Think about taking the doors off your cabinets and edging the shelves with trim.

Assess how much storage you really need. Today's kitchens tend to be overloaded with cabinets. Eliminate one or two over the counter and you'll gain light and space to display art and collectibles.

"It's nice to have walls that breathe in a kitchen," Peterson says.

If you're tired of those granite counters that are on the verge of being so yesterday, consider having them site-sanded. Once they're honed and sealed, they'll have a softer, matte look.

And if that isn't enough of a change, apply a color enhancer that brings out the natural colors of the stone and adds a wet - but not high-gloss - finish.

"With a color enhancer, you can create effects that range from glitzy to organic," Peterson says.

If you're lucky enough to have Corian in your kitchen, keep it. Peterson calls it the "new stainless steel" and values it because it's heatproof, stainproof and repairable. It can be sanded if marred or damaged.

Don't be afraid to mix your countertop materials, particularly in a large kitchen. Choose Corian for work areas, stone or marble for islands, and a dollop of stainless steel for a scullery effect.

Beware of the trendy. When you're in the thick of a project, visiting showrooms and creating files with samples and swatches, it's hard not to start dreaming of teak counters, the cutting edge of kitchen design, and longing for lever faucet handles, which are edging out the wagon-wheel-style handles as the accessory du jour. But keep in mind that what's hot today won't be in three years.

"When I do my lectures, I show slides of a series of sinks," Peterson says. "There's the vessel sink and the falling-water sink and the lab sink. Every sink has its day."

Her advice: Do your research and know what you love. Brushed nickel vs. rubbed bronze? Bead board vs. wide V-groove?

"In the end it comes down to you and your taste," Peterson says.

But the more you know, the more you'll be able to achieve a timeless look where new and old blend seamlessly. Not only that, you'll be able to deal with what Peterson calls the boys' club of contractors, plumbers, framers and other members of a renovation team.

"You need to be able to hold your ground and toss around terms like flow restrictors and waste lines," Peterson says. "You don't want all the guys ganging up and saying the reason the project is six months late is that you didn't pick out the doorbell."

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