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Home & Real Estate

Kitchen Face-Lifts

You can cook up a new look without spending a fortune.

Remodeling your kitchen isn't cheap. But you can expect to recoup much of the cost when you sell your house. Even if you don't get all your money back, a face-lift should make your home easier to sell in a competitive market. Plus, a spiffed-up kitchen with new appliances is bound to enhance your enjoyment of your home.

According to Remodeling magazine's "2006 Cost vs. Value Report," a "minor," midrange kitchen remodel averaged $17,928, and 85% of the money was recouped at sale. A "major," midrange remodel averaged $54,241 and returned 80% of the cost. Both projects include replacing the sink, faucet, countertop, flooring, oven and cooktop.

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A minor redo includes refacing the cabinetry. A major redo features semi-custom wood cabinets (which are fancier than stock units but not built from scratch), an island, custom lighting and more new appliances -- a built-in microwave with ventilation, a dishwasher and a garbage disposal. The budget buster in any kitchen redo is the cabinets. Skipping the custom or semi-custom cabinetry can halve the cost of a remodel.

To let you know how far your remodeling dollars could go, Kiplinger's teamed up with designer Jessica Cannon, of Expo Design Center in Fairfax, Va., to plan a minor and a major remodel of a typical kitchen. Although Remodeling's report is based on redoing a 200-square-foot kitchen, we chose to renovate a 125-square-foot space to reflect the size of most older, ready-to-remodel kitchens. Both the major redo and the less-expensive job include installation and appliances.

For a major remodel

Cabinets are the building blocks of your kitchen. They take up the most space and have the greatest visual impact. But they can be among the most expensive parts of a remodel. Even semi-custom cabinetry can run $20,000 or more. Our goal was to stay under $40,000 for the major remodel, so we chose a less costly alternative: refacing the existing cabinets by putting new doors and drawer fronts on the frames and re-covering the frames with plywood stained or painted to match the new finish.

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"Refacing your cabinets is like a makeover for your whole kitchen," says Michael Stiles, who owns Kitchen Solvers, of Tallahassee, Fla., with his wife, Rachel. Expo's estimate for refacing our cabinets with custom, champagne-maple doors was $13,000.

An easier -- but by no means inexpensive -- project is replacing the counters. Stone is the most popular material right now by far, says Darius Baker, a certified kitchen-and-bath remodeling specialist from Sacramento, Cal. Silestone (an engineered stone made from quartz and resin) and granite surfaces lead the pack, with prices ranging from $55 to $95 per square foot (including installation). Cannon chose Imperial Splendor Stonemark granite because the company's material comes presealed and includes a 15-year warranty against staining.

Under-mount inks (which have no lip to meet the counter) are pricier than drop-in models, but spills wipe right into the basin. Cannon chose an undermount stainless-steel sink and a Grohe pullout faucet to complete the counter makeover. The German faucet costs almost three times more than the low-end project's faucet, but it is all stainless steel and engineered to last.

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One of Cannon's favorite ways to give a kitchen a new look is to add a backsplash. "So many people don't even think about it, but it can really dress up a kitchen," she says. She chose 4-by-4-inch unpolished marble tiles, and added under-cabinet lighting to show off the marble's warm gold and red tones.

Accents include new cabinet hardware (knobs and pulls) for the refaced cabinets and porcelain-tile flooring (in a honey color) because it's more durable than natural stone and requires less maintenance.

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To complete the project, Cannon chose stainless-steel GE Monogram appliances. The gas range, hood, refrigerator, dishwasher and stand-alone microwave run twice the cost of those in the less-expensive kitchen redo, but they are professional-quality appliances, similar to Viking and Thermador units.

High-End Redo Cost breakdown:

Granite countertop = $3,950Marble-tile backsplash = $478Stainless-steel sink = $885 Pullout faucet = $550 Under-cabinet lighting = $1,360 Knobs and pulls = $950 Porcelian-tile floor = $2,125 Cabinet refacing = $13,000 Monogram appliances = $10,962 TOTAL = $34,360

For a minor remodel

Thing big impact, low cost. For our less-pricey job, we left the old cabinets in place and focused on the work area -- countertop, backsplash and sink -- and in some cases spent more on these elements than in the higher-end kitchen. For example, most backsplashes end 4 to 6 inches above the countertop. But to create a dramatic look, we planned to run tile all the way to the bottom of the cabinets. Cannon chose a decorative glass tile in a mosaic pattern with wine, black and gold tones.

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A new countertop was a must for the work-area makeover. Because the backsplash has a bold pattern, Cannon picked a neutral, sand-colored Silestone for the counter. (Silestone offers a more uniform look than granite because it's man-made.)

Completing the new work area is a Kohler double-bowl, enamel-coated, cast-iron under-mount sink -- which features a low divide that lets you fill up the whole sink when you wash dishes -- and a chrome-finish Kohler pullout faucet.

We did add some high-quality hardware to the cabinets to spruce them up a bit. Under-cabinet lighting, unpolished porcelain-tile flooring and stainless-steel KitchenAid appliances (an electric range, a microwave with ventilation, a dishwasher and a refrigerator) finish off the room.

Minor Redo Cost breakdown:

Silestone countertop = $2,850Glass-tile backsplash = $1,285Cast-iron sink = $1,160 Pullout faucet = $200 Under-cabinet lighting = $1,360 Knobs and pulls = $1,050 Porcelian-tile floor = $2,125 KitchenAid appliances = $5,996 TOTAL = $16,026

NEXT: See our slide show of six kitchen make-overs.

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