In the Kitchen, Luxury Rules

The creative potential that exists when architectural talent is combined with individual taste is a refreshing element of residential architecture. Give 100 homeowners the same budget to design their kitchens, and access to 100 architects, and the results will be 100 unique kitchens.

No two kitchens will look exactly alike, but similar elements are sure to exist. All kitchens need equipment to cool and cook food, storage space for plates, glasses and tools, and other necessities. The shape, size, color and configuration of these elements might differ, but each of them will be included in every kitchen.

To expose these and other realities behind modern residential kitchen design, Residential Design & Build magazine teamed up with Qualified Remodeler and Kitchen & Bath Design News magazines to conduct research of American consumers who recently built or remodeled their kitchens. The research presented in the following pages, conducted by Renovation Experts in Nova Scotia, Canada, enlightens RDB readers on the most popular styles, finishes, designs and other trends in new kitchens today.

Survey results reveal that regardless of region of the country, value of homes or project budgets, consumers want the look of luxury. Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances finished as the top countertop and appliance finish preferred by consumers. Consumers also weighed in on the top features that make their kitchens most distinctive, with enlightening results. The top three were decorative lighting, work-area spotlighting and undercabinet lighting.

Other results of our research include top kitchen styles (contemporary, traditional and classic), top faucet finishes (stainless steel, chrome and brushed nickel) and top cabinet finishes (maple, oak and cherry). To conduct the research, RDB magazine surveyed more than 400 homeowners. Of those surveyed, 82 percent own single-family homes, 9 percent own condominiums or apartments and 9 percent own townhomes or rowhomes.

More than half of survey respondents own homes with a value of more than $250,000, and more than 20 percent own homes of more than $500,000 in value. Those surveyed spent anywhere from under $5,000 to more than $100,000 on their new kitchens, with 40 percent of them investing more than $15,000 in their kitchen projects. The research results regarding product and style preferences are presented in the charts and graphs on the following pages.

The survey also addressed topics such as satisfaction with builders and designers, and with the overall project, the results of which are presented in the following paragraphs. The good news is that 70 percent of respondents believe the overall cost of their kitchens was in line with what they expected, and 15 percent said their cost was lower than what they expected; both are the results of good estimating.

And in the “glass is half full or half empty” category, our research reveals that 50 percent of respondents experienced unanticipated problems during the course of their project. These problems, in order, were unanticipated delays, additional costs, conflicts with designer, installer or dealer, disruption of home life, and product shortcomings. So is 50 percent good or bad?

Consumers also were asked to rate their builders and designers on a scale of 1 to 10 relating to several aspects of their performance. On fairness of price charged, builders and designers scored 7.5. Consumers gave an average rating of 7.3 on quality of workmanship, and a 7.5 on overall satisfaction with the end result. And on average, consumers gathered estimates and/or design ideas from 3.6 firms before beginning their projects.

In other areas of builder and designer performance, on average, consumers were overwhelmingly pleased. The majority of those surveyed assigned ranks of excellent or good on questions of providing product information, observing time schedules, quality and supervision of installation, price and financing arrangements, responsiveness to questions orconcerns and coming in on budget. Where ratings of fair and poor were given more often was on the question of post-job follow-through.

One of the final questions we asked was if those surveyed would recommend the designer or builder to friends or relatives. A whopping 69 percent said they would recommend their designer or builder, with 31 percent saying they wouldn’t. The 69 percent contributes to the 28 percent of respondents who listed referrals or word-of-mouth as their top reason for choosing the designer or builder. Their performance on the job seems to have won over homeowners.

Consumers Said It

Charts and graphs are effective ways to present research results, but sometimes it’s more effective to learn by reading comments directly from those surveyed. Many respondents provided positive and negative comments on the performance of their builder or designer. Inevitably, some comments are more revealing — and interesting — than others, so we share a sample below. First the good:

  • “He knows how to work with your budget.”
  • “His whole crew listens and made this experience very livable.”
  • “Reliable service and agreeable project managers able to answer all questions.”
  • “Contractor seemed to know what he was doing and had no issue when explaining the project to us.”

Reading between the lines of the negative comments reveals useful insight as well:

  • “Undue stress, lack of communication, rushed job, horrible finish.” (Lack of communication was a common complaint.)
  • “Poor communication, many add-on expenses not clarified until late in project.” (Again, here is a complaint about the lack of communication.)
  • “Almost immediately I had spam, within hours of submitting my request for bids.” (Here the lesson is to respect the privacy of clients.)
  • “Lack of communication. Contractor says what he thinks I want to hear instead of the truth.” (Customers want to be treated as intelligent adults.)

More lessons can be learned from the luke-warm comments survey respondents made:

  • “Construction projects breed contempt.” (Construction contractors have a bad reputation in many consumers’ minds.)
  • “Good builder, not a communicator.” (A reminder that it’s not good enough to be a good builder or architect. People skills are important as well.)
  • “(Next time) they need to be very specific and get all details in writing.” (Consumers want to know exactly what they’re getting for their money, so don’t be afraid to tell them.)

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