Ron Woodson and Jaime Rummerfield are Los Angeles-based interior designers whose award-winning firm, Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design, is known for an aesthetic that always mixes old with new. They, like all designers, are in the business of helping their clients furnish their homes, but they are not fans of automatic kitchen remodels.
“Too much on-trend is bad design,” Woodson says. “Instead, create a kitchen with soul.”
His partner adds, “We are highly sensitive to old architecture. If you keep your kitchen in line with the architecture and the story of your house, you can’t go wrong. It becomes timeless.”
This is not the accepted wisdom. In 2017, two million kitchens were remodeled; this year, the National Association of Homebuilders said that kitchen remodels accounted for 78% of home improvement projects last year.
These are expensive undertakings. On average, a kitchen remodel costs $25,340, or $150 per square foot. Most homeowners spend between $13,283 and $37,544, or $75 to $250 per square foot. The total expense varies depending on the size of the space, the quality of materials, and whether there are changes to the layout of the room.
A smaller project between $10,000 and $15,000 may include painting walls, refacing cabinets, upgrading the sink, and installing a tile backsplash. A $30,000+ renovation may include installing custom cabinets, hardwood floors, granite counters, and high-end appliances.
The cost to our planet is also considerable: more than 30 percent of the waste in a landfill comes from home renovation, a sobering fact for homeowners high on visions of new counters and cabinets.
Often, the work is done in hopes of making the house more attractive to potential buyers.
“In a transient town like Washington, DC, people likely only live in a house for four years,” says lecturer, writer, and architectural historian Gordon Bock. “The argument for remodeling is that many potential buyers (especially 30-somethings) head right for the kitchen and, if they don’t see a baby Viking range and granite counter, they immediately turn around, never viewing the rest of the house. They want everything turn-key. Plus, they don’t want to have to budget for a later expensive project. They want all the costs of a new kitchen wrapped into a mortgage that will be a known expense going forward.”
This starts up an expensive and wasteful cycle as perfectly functional kitchens are torn out and remodeled each time a house changes hands.
“The constant updating of kitchens is not only wasteful, but also extremely disruptive,” says Patricia Poore, editor of the Old House Journal. “Kitchen renovation is expensive, fraught with decision-making, and messy. The case could be made that the kitchen itself is ephemera, because technology is always changing. Still, there’s a difference between necessary changes and those that are mere matters of taste. The icebox gave way to the refrigerator, the automatic dishwasher became standard. Such evolution is practical and inevitable.
“What’s not inevitable is the all-white kitchen, or navy-blue cabinets, or herringbone backsplashes. Those are trends, and trends soon become dated. The new owner decides that perfectly good materials should be discarded and replaced, based only on their appearance.”
Jaime Rummerfield suggests that, when in doubt, homeowners ask themselves, “What would the architect do now?
“If you need to make changes, do it without destroying what’s good and working. Certain kinds of cabinets, for example, were very well built and can be redesigned. They don’t have to be scrapped.”
“It speaks to a green sensibility and to conservation when you stop and think before launching a kitchen remodel,” says Ron Woodson.
He suggests choosing long-lasting materials that blend with traditional elements when new introductions need to be made.
“More permanent design investments like fixtures, flooring, appliances and surfacing, need to bring function into the dialogue while saluting the past. We often use Dekton, a material with colorways that imitate the look of natural stone. Its durability is unparalleled, so we know it will beautifully endure wear and tear (and changing trends!) for years and years. It’s timeless. And when it comes to appliances, stainless steel is always our go-to, as it can subtly blend into a space.”
“I mention to my clients that are remodeling that they can donate or reuse their old cabinets,” says Cathy Stathopoulos, a certified kitchen designer based in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
“Habitat for Humanity will take old cabinets in good shape. Or they can be used in the basement or garage, rather than being thrown out.”
If you do have to remodel, keep the house’s heritage in mind.
“If you live in a Tudor-style house, why would you put an ultra-modern kitchen in it?” asks Woodson. “Stay close to the period and history of the house.”
“The Old House Journal has always counseled designing the kitchen ‘to go with the house,’ rather than following showroom trends,” says Patricia Poore.
“If the design is classic and the materials are traditional, the room will hold up; it will feel like it belongs in the house. It’s jarring to walk into a house built in 1860 or 1920, and know immediately that the kitchen dates to the late 1980s, or 2010.
“The best scenario is to invest in quality while keeping the design timeless, and relatively simple,” she says. “You—or the next owner—can update accessories or appliances without having to start over.”