Are you ready for your dream kitchen?

If you can no longer stand your old, outdated kitchen and are ready for an upgrade, you're not alone. Each year, roughly 10 million U.S. households (a whopping one-in-ten American households) renovate their kitchen to one degree or another. But embarking on a full kitchen remodel isn't a step to be taken lightly. There's simply no getting around it: major kitchen renovations require a big investment of your time, money, and patience. But the reward can be huge. For most families, the kitchen is the hub of their home, around which all activity centers. It's where meals are prepared, where friends and families gather, and where memories are made. A custom-designed, hand-crafted kitchen is a joy to use and can add immeasurably to your quality of life. It can also substantially increase the value of your home.

Who is this guide for?

Kitchen renovations range from the simplest of cosmetic updates to gut renovations. Before you dive into this guide, you probably want to know if this information will be relevant to you. We have tailored this guide for people who want to tackle a major kitchen remodel rather than just a cosmetic kitchen face-lift. If your goal is just to install new countertops and appliances or reface your kitchen cabinets, the process is simpler and has fewer potential pitfalls (although quality is still important). Rather, we designed this resource to guide you through a major remodel, meaning replacing and redesigning everything down to the studs and potentially moving or removing walls, or even relocating your kitchen altogether. Pulling off a kitchen remodel at this level takes coordination and the right professionals. As a homeowner, the choices you make can potentially mean the difference between a relatively smooth path to your dream kitchen or a total nightmare.

Get started

We've been remodeling here in Seattle for more than 40 years. In that time, we've remodeled hundreds of kitchens, and we've had the chance to talk to thousands of homeowners about their remodeling goals. As the decades have passed, times and tastes have changed, but the same questions come up again and again. We've shared our ideas and advice one-on-one, on our blog, and in media outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal and the Seattle Times. We thought it would be helpful to gather everything we know about the kitchen remodeling experience into one place, so we created this resource. It's organized as the ultimate step-by-step guide through the entire remodeling process, from finding the right team to design and build your remodel, making design choices that fit your lifestyle and personality, getting through the construction period without losing your mind, and then getting to enjoy your beautifully remodeled space.

So let's get started. Just follow these steps one by one, and be sure to click on the additional resources at the end of each section to dive deeper into the topics covered. (Each one will open in a new tab so you don't lose your place.)

Best of luck with your kitchen remodel. You can do this!

Section 1

Estimate Your Kitchen Remodel Costs

We frequently talk to people like you who are considering a kitchen remodel. One of the questions that comes up most often during initial conversations is, “How much will this remodel cost?” It’s a great question!

How to get an accurate price estimate for your kitchen remodel

Most people have shopped for a car before, and even a house, but not everyone has recent experience purchasing remodeling services, so there is an air of mystery about it.


A full-service remodel can be shockingly expensive

Seamlessly integrating old and new is a complex task that requires more skill than building out a new space.

You can't always trust what you hear

The ballpark estimates you hear from contractors, from architects, from friends who have recently remodeled, and even from reality shows on HGTV, can vary wildly.

Many factors are at play in a kitchen remodel

Countless variables affect the price of a particular project. It can be hard to get a good read on how much your kitchen remodel will cost. 

Getting an accurate estimate is possible

Does that mean it’s impossible to get an accurate estimate and that you have to start your remodel blind to what the final cost will be? Absolutely not!

Our Kitchen Remodel Pricing Guide

We created our kitchen pricing guide to give you ballpark estimates of various levels of kitchen renovations. The guide is updated regularly and is based on recent real-world cost estimates for kitchen remodel projects in Seattle.

Download Our Kitchen Remodel Pricing Guide

Honing in on a final price

Getting a ballpark estimate for your kitchen remodel from our pricing guide or other sources is just the first step. Because your project is unique, you'll need to start discussions with a design-build company or architect to begin arriving at an estimate that is specific to your home.

Remodeling companies handle pricing estimates in many different ways, but most follow a series of steps to gradually arrive at a final number.

Rough estimate or fixed bid

We'll cover this more in the next section, but some remodelers just offer an initial estimate, and you end up finding out the actual cost when the project is complete. Others, like our company, offer fixed pricing, so you know exactly how much your remodel will cost before construction begins.


Going from estimate to fixed price

Every company does their estimating and bidding a little differently, but, as an example, here is how we do it here at CRD.

  1. Rough estimate: With basic information, we are usually able to give ballpark price ranges over the phone. We base these on our experience with recently completed projects.
  2. Home visit: We visit your home, look at your space, and can offer a more accurate price range.
  3. Design: If you choose to work with us, our design team will ask lots of questions and share several design options, each with its own estimated cost.
  4. Fixed price: After you choose a layout and materials, you will get a fixed-price contract for your entire project, including all the labor, materials, and permits.

Can unexpected costs come up during construction?

If you have chosen to work with a remodeling company that offers fixed pricing, the price you pay will be exactly what is in the contract you signed before construction began. However, if something about your project changes during construction, that could trigger a change order, which could potentially change the price. We'll cover change orders in more detail in Section 7, but here's a quick rundown:

Change orders resulting from unforeseen conditions

This is very rare, but it's possible your remodeler will discover something after opening up the walls, such as extensive dry rot or mold. This may require a change order to cover the unexpected extra work.

Change orders you initiate

It's also possible that you could change your mind or want to add something during construction. In this case, there would be a change order to cover any additional cost.


Section 2

Finance Your New Kitchen

Owners finance home remodeling projects in many different ways, from using savings to borrowing from a 401k to bank loans. Here are some of the most common avenues to pay for your dream kitchen remodel.


Use the equity in your home

As home prices have continued to soar in Seattle, many homeowners have found themselves in the fortunate position to be sitting on quite a bit of equity in their home. Others have simply been paying down their mortgage for years and are in the same situation. If this describes you, you have several options to use the equity in your home to finance your kitchen remodel.

Cash-out refinance

A cash-out refi makes sense if you have quite a bit of equity in your home and if your new interest rate is roughly the same or lower as your existing rate. While you will incur costs for an appraisal and closing, you may actually save on interest payments in the long term if you can lock in a lower rate. Expect to be able to borrow about 80% of your home's appraised value, minus the principle you still owe.

Home equity line of credit

A HELOC can be a great option if your mortgage interest rate is already low, and you want the flexibility to borrow only what you need. With a HELOC, you keep your original mortgage and take out a new loan with your home as collateral. You are borrowing against the equity you have built up in your home. Typically, a HELOC carries a variable rate. During the draw period (usually ten years) you are required to make only interest payments. After that, during the repayment period, you must make payments against the principal as well. Speak with your CPA or tax professional about deducting the interest you pay on a HELOC.

Home equity loan

A home equity loan, or second mortgage, is similar to a HELOC in that it is secured against your home, but instead of a line of credit that you can draw from over time, you will receive a lump-sum amount at closing. The main benefit of a home equity loan over a cash-out refi is that you can keep your original mortgage, assuming it has a low interest rate.

Financing without equity in your home

Not everyone has enough equity in their home to cover the full cost of a major kitchen remodel. If that's your situation, you still have options.

Remodeling construction loan

These are short-term loans (usually a year) that cover the cost of a major renovation. You will have to submit your drawings, specifications, and construction budget to the bank, which will appraise your home based on its future value after the renovations are complete. Some banks offer construction-to-permanent loans that become regular long-term mortgages after construction ends and do not require a second closing. If you are pursuing this type of financing, it's important to work with a lender who has experience with it. Also, be sure to check with your CPA to see if you can deduct the interest you pay. It's not as common as some other approaches.

FHA 203k loan

These are a lot like a renovation loan, but they are backed by the FHA. These loans require a lot of paperwork, but they offer low down payments and relatively low interest rates if you meet the criteria. They can be useful if you are purchasing a home that will need major renovations right away. You will want to find both a lender and a contractor who have experience with these types of loans.

FHA Title 1 loans

If you need to make repairs or add on to your home, you can borrow up to $25,000 through this FHA-backed loan program. The main benefit is that you don't have to have that much equity in your home, but the drawback is that the relatively low loan amount may not be enough for the renovation you have planned.

Other financing approaches


Some homeowners have the financial means to simply pay cash for their remodel. If that's you, congratulations! You'll pay no extra fees or closing costs, and you won't have to fill out any paperwork or pay any interest.

Borrowing from your 401(k)

With this option, you are "borrowing" money from yourself and then paying it back over five years. There is a limit of $50,000, but the "interest" you pay to yourself is only around 4%. This is meant to cover the gains you might have made had you kept the money invested in the market during that time. It's a good option for some because the rate is low and paperwork is minimal.

Reverse mortgage

If you are over the age of 62, are on a fixed income, and have significant equity in your home, this could be a viable option. This type of loan lets you borrow against that equity, like a HELOC, but all the interest is rolled into the loan, so you don't have to make any payments during your lifetime. The loan is repaid when you die, and the remaining equity in your home is left for your heirs.

Personal loan

This is a short-term, unsecured loan issued by your bank that will probably carry a higher interest rate than most of the other options. It's usually used as a bridge loan until you can secure longer-term, lower-interest funding.

Section 3

Choose a Remodeler

If you're starting the process of choosing a remodeler, you know you have to do your due dilligence. But where do you begin? Do you hire an architect or a design-build firm? What kind of contract is best? This section walks you through the steps of asking the right questions, checking references, and keeping your information organized. Searching for the right remodeler takes work, but by following this guide, you can be confident in your choice and avoid problems down the road.

Do you hire a pro for your kitchen remodel or DIY?

A typical kitchen project requires everything from demolition to drywall to electrical to plumbing to flooring, finishes, and cabinet installation. Permits are needed for most projects, and somebody needs to be on site to meet with inspectors and coordinate and oversee all the trades contractors who will be involved with your job. Even the handiest homeowners with a long track record of successful home-improvement projects often turn to the pros when handling a major kitchen remodel.

Who do you hire?

If you want your project to be completed in a timely manner, it’s best to bring in professionals. But who do you hire?

Architect + contractor

Some homeowners considering a redesign of their kitchen start by hiring an architect. Under this scenario, you would work with the architect to come up with a plan set, which you could then shop around to building contractors. In some cases, your architect may be able to provide very rough building cost estimates during the design phase, but it’s not until you get bids from contractors that you will find out what the actual cost to build your design will be. In many cases, your architect will continue to work for you throughout the construction phase. Traditionally, the architect keeps tabs on the contractor to ensure that the project is built to the specifications and that corners are not cut.

Design build

A different approach, called design build, has been gaining momentum in recent years. Choosing design build for a home remodel means hiring a single company to design and complete the construction of your project rather than signing multiple contracts with an architect and a general contractor. By its nature, the design-build approach is more collaborative. You trade the potentially adversarial relationship of an architect checking the work of the contractor for one in which the designers and builders on your team work together from the start. People choose to hire a design-build firm for many reasons, including efficiency, convenience, speed, and accountability.


Choosing between the two models

Deciding between the design-build and architect + contractor models represents a major fork in the road of your remodeling planning. For this reason, you should take the time to research the two options and weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Where high design is paramount, hiring an architect to check the work of the contractor can be effective

If working with a renowned architect is a top priority and if construction budget is a secondary consideration, then taking the traditional architect + contractor approach might be the better fit. This adversarial relationship between the architect and contractor can provide some checks and balances so that your project is built to the specifications, but it often requires the homeowner to step in and mediate between the two parties when disputes arise. If, on the other hand, project cost and convenience are paramount, design build might be a better choice.

One of the main benefits of hiring an experienced design-build firm is transparency in pricing

An architect often designs to an ideal vision, and the homeowner doesn’t find out what it will cost to build until the design is complete. Often, building costs come as a shock, and the homeowner can find that the building plans he or she paid for and pored over are a design that is too expensive to build. Experienced design build firms provide construction cost estimates throughout the design process, which leads to a design that is within budget. In short, a main benefit of the design-build process is to help minimize surprises and keep projects on a tight schedule and on budget.


Are the designers on staff?

If you decide to pursue the design-build approach, one question you can ask is whether the designer who would be assigned to your project works in house or is a subcontractor. Some design-build firms have their own designers on staff, while others hire designers on contract when they need them. Both approaches can work well, but designers who are on staff will be more integrated into the design-build team, which can often lead to greater collaboration during construction.

Avoid the unlicensed contractor trap

Because the cost of remodeling can be high, you might be tempted to hire a handyman or unlicensed contractor. Hiring a handyman may carry some risks. If you’re just doing a little cosmetic face lift, a handyman might be a fine choice, although the work might look like it was done by a handyman rather than a professional carpenter and qualified subcontractors. The real risk is when a handyman acts as a general contractor but offers to save you money by doing the work on the sly, without permits. It’s very unlikely (and certainly not desirable) that you could remodel without upgrading at least some of the wiring in your home, for instance. And if a handyman offers to put in new outlets or open up the walls without the proper permits, it’s illegal and potentially dangerous. If you proceed with un-permitted work, you will be opening yourself up to risks.

Fixed bid versus time and materials

As a homeowner wishing to remodel your kitchen, you’ll be presented with two main types of contracts to choose from: fixed bid and time-and-materials (sometimes called a cost-plus contract). A fixed bid is (or should be) exactly as it sounds, a guaranteed all-in price for the complete project. Under a time-and-materials contract, on the other hand, the contractor will usually provide an estimate, but there is no guarantee the final bill will come out to that amount. The contractor will simply bill you for all the materials that go into your job, plus an hourly rate for the labor, and the contractor’s markup.

Each type of contract has its own unique advantages and disadvantages

A time-and-materials arrangement, for instance, shifts the risk of cost over-runs to the homeowner, so, in theory, the contractor could complete the job for less. Cost-plus contractors will point out that they would have to add a certain amount of contingency to their bid to cover potential unforeseen complications. This is true in theory, but the reality is that time-and-materials contracts tend to encourage less precise estimating. Calculating accurate estimates is time consuming and requires experience; there is little incentive for the cost-plus contractor to put in this extra effort. There is also no incentive for efficiency. To the contrary, if your project takes longer and costs more, the time-and-materials contractor will benefit.


It can be hard to find a contractor willing to give you a fixed bid

It can often be more difficult to find a contractor willing to give you a fixed bid. If you have your architect-designed building plans in hand, you can send them out to several general contractors and ask them to calculate a fixed bid to complete the work. In theory, you will receive well-organized bids back that you can compare apples-to-apples. In reality, many general contractors refuse to take part in a competitive bidding process, especially when demand is high. Properly checking prices on materials and getting bids from plumbers, electricians, and other busy subcontractors can take dozens of hours, and this is wasted time for the contractors who do not win the project.

The design-build approach lends itself well to fixed pricing

That is because the building team is involved right from the start of the process, providing accurate estimates, which in turn help guide the design to remain within the homeowners’ budget.

A word about allowances

There are very few truly bad contractors out there, but there quite a few who aren’t very good at estimating. Some contractors will say they are giving you a fixed bid, but then they will fill it with allowances for major line items, like plumbing and electrical work. If the work ends up costing more than the allowance, the homeowner is on the hook for the overrun. When examining a bid, it’s
okay to have allowances for small items, like light fixtures, but make sure that the price for all the labor is fixed.

Start your search

Once you have chosen between design build and the traditional architect + contractor approach, it’s time to begin your initial search for local companies. If you’re still on the fence between the two approaches, that’s okay. You can start noting names of architects and design-build firms.

Go online

Cast a wide net and start noting names of  companies that catch your eye.

  • Google is a great place to start.
  • Houzz makes it easy to read reviews and check out the portfolios of local building and design professionals.
  • Review websites like Angie’s List, Yelp, and other online review portals can be useful.

Get recommendations

  • Ask friends and family who have recently remodeled.
  • Ask for recommendations from your network on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
  • If you belong to any online bulletin boards through your work, neighborhood, or other social or community groups, consider posting a call for recommendations.
  • Contact your local trade association for home builders, architects, or interior designers.

Review each contractor's website

Do the remodelers on your list have an established online presence? Is the company’s website up to date? Is their company profile completed on Houzz, Google, and on online review sites? Well-established companies will have complete listings and plenty of reviews.

Pay special attention to the portfolio of work

While style is often influenced by each client’s tastes, you can start to get a feel for a designer’s style and level of finish. Look for projects in each remodeler’s portfolio that share some elements with the project you have in mind. If you live in a historic home, has the remodeler done work on similar homes?

Check online reviews

  • A few places you can look are on the remodeler’s website, on Houzz, and, to a lesser extent, on Facebook and other social media.
  • Check with your local Better Business Bureau and consumer protection agency.

Reach out to your shortlist of remodelers

Once you have narrowed down your list, you’re ready to start contacting remodeling professionals via phone or online.

Make contact

  • Ask friends and family who have recently remodeled.
  • Start by contacting at least three companies from your shortlist.
  • Pay close attention to how long it takes for each remodeler to get back to you.
  • Do they have the staff to respond quickly to inquiries?
  • If any of the remodelers you reach out to don’t get back to you promptly, consider going down your list and contacting others.
  • Most remodelers will schedule an initial appointment with you, either a phone or in-person meeting. They will likely want to learn about you and your project, including the scope of your project, your schedule, and your budget.


It's time to get organized

  • At this point, create a document on your computer or a section in a notebook to keep notes on each
    remodeler you talk to. If you speak with more than two or three, it will become difficult to remember who said and did what, and good notes will help you tremendously as you make your final choice.
  • After your initial rounds of meetings, you will start to get a sense of your comfort level with each company. Make notes about how well the professionals you speak with communicate, if you have a good rapport, and what your level of confidence is in their technical expertise.
  • If you start with a phone conversation and have a positive experience, be sure to schedule an in-person meeting. Face-to-face conversations can tell you a lot.
  • Be sure to download our Guide to Hiring a Remodeler, which includes helpful worksheets with questions to ask and a remodeler scorecard.

What to ask

In most cases, remodelers and architects you meet with will be able to tell you about their
approach and guide you through the questions that will help them understand your project. However, these meetings are also your chance to learn about the companies you are interviewing. Don’t hesitate to ask pointed questions, and try your best to ask the same questions of all the professionals you speak with. 



After meeting with a few remodeling professionals, taking careful notes, and checking reviews, you are almost ready to decide. By this stage, you should have a good sense of the strengths and weaknesses of each remodeler on your shortlist. If you are lucky, a clear winner will have emerged. Before you jump in and sign a contract, it’s a good idea to make sure you have verified a few things.

Is the company licensed, bonded, and insured?

Check with your local licensing authority. In Washington State, the Department of Labor & Industries has a free “Verify a Contractor” tool. You will be able to search by company name or license number.

Verify an architect’s license by checking your local licensing department

For non-architect designers, licensing requirements vary by region, but in most cases they will not need a license.

Washington State Department of Licensing

Ask to see a contractor’s insurance certificate

You can call the insurance provider to make sure it is still active. Make sure it covers the type of work you are hiring the contractor to perform. In rare cases, you may want to ask to be named as an insured on the contractor’s policy.

Ask for references

Contact these past clients to find out what their experience was with the remodeler. Ask how the remodeler handled problems that arose, how courteous the team was, and how accurate the remodeler’s estimates were. Ask if the past client refers others to the remodeler.

Request a tour

Ask to tour a project similar to yours that is under construction.


You’ve taken the time to do your due diligence, and you’ve chosen the right team to
complete your remodel.

It's time to sign

You’ve asked lots of questions, checked references, and kept your information organized. You can be confident in your choice and schedule a meeting to sign a contract and begin the process of working with your architect or design-build firm to create your dream kitchen.


If you have chosen an architect

You will likely first sign a letter of engagement to get started and then a more comprehensive owner-architect contract later.

If you choose a design-build firm

You will likely start by signing a design agreement, followed by a construction agreement when you approve the design.

Write a retainer check

In both cases, you will likely be asked to put down a small retainer or deposit before work begins, and then you will make regular payments when certain milestones are reached, according to the terms of your contract.

You may need to sign a second contract

If you go the architect + contractor route, you will need to sign a separate contract with the general contractor you choose, and this will have its own terms and payment schedule. Make sure you read these contracts over carefully and ask questions about any sections that are not clear.

Section 4

Design Your New Kitchen

Creating the kitchen of your dreams begins with a close look at how you use your space. Aesthetics are important, but your new kitchen must as functional as it is beautiful. Learn how to approach kitchen design like a professional.

How do you know it's time to remodel your kitchen?

A major kitchen remodel requires a major investment and is a big project to tackle. But the results can completely transform your enjoyment of your home. 

Generally, we find that most clients start a kitchen remodel for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Lack of storage space
  2. Not enough counter or prep space
  3. The addition of kids or an empty nest
  4. Worn-out or energy-inefficient appliances
  5. Poor lighting
  6. Worn surfaces that are hard to clean
  7. Poorly designed layout
  8. Unattractive aesthetics

We generally try to steer our clients away from surface-level upgrades that only improve the looks of the kitchen. Because kitchens are such a functional space, it's far better to spend your limited budget to improve the functionality at the same time. That's why working with an experienced interior designer can have such a big impact on your enjoyment of your kitchen.

Function reigns supreme

Before you start thinking about paint colors, tile patterns, or other materials, think carefully about how you will use your kitchen. How your kitchen functions should be your primary design concern. Aesthetics are the icing on the cake, but how your kitchen functions determines whether it will meet your needs and be enjoyable to use.

Lost in space

The first step is determining exactly what type of space you're working with. What can be added? What can be changed? Can you add on, move stairs, relocate the kitchen to a different part of your home? Or do your budget and the constraints of your existing layout mean you're going to have to think within the basic footprint of your existing kitchen?

How will you use your kitchen?

After you figure out what space you have to work with, it's time to move on to how you plan to use it. Do you love to cook, or do you consider your kitchen more of a hang-out space? How connected would you like your kitchen to be with the rest of the house, with the outdoors? Do you plan to eat in the kitchen or save that for a separate dining area?

Storage is a necessity

When it comes to kitchen storage, there is no one-size-fits-all. To truly create a kitchen that is tailored to your needs, consider how often you grocery shop. How much refrigerator and freezer space do you need? Would you buy in bulk if you had dedicated pantry storage? Do you need dedicated storage space for dishes, flatware, pet food, glassware, etc.?

Let your light shine

Without adequate lighting, your kitchen won't be completely functional. In a kitchen, simple overhead lighting is not usually enough. Think about adding task lighting (like under-cabinet lights that illuminate your work surfaces) and even mood lighting, like some decorative pendants above the island. Be sure to choose bulbs with good color rendering.

Kitchen layout

When you're laying out your dream kitchen, the positioning of work spaces is important for the smooth flow of traffic and ease of use.

The work triangle

The work triangle concept, first proposed in 1929, tells us where to position the sink, cooktop, and refrigerator. The theory goes that when these three items are close (but not too close) the cook won't have to waste steps, and efficiency improves.

Many popular kitchen designs adhere to this concept, but is it still relevant today?

The work triangle still works for many people, but there are certain outdated assumptions that are baked in. For instance, the concept assumes only one cook will be in the kitchen, whereas many modern couples like to cook together.

Kitchen work zones

A contemporary approach to kitchen layout is the concept of work zones. These can include a food storage zone, a food prep zone, pots and pans, a cleaning zone, and plates and cutlery storage.

Dividing your kitchen into functional zones can be a great approach, and it can usually be layered onto the work triangle concept. You just need to make sure that in larger kitchens, your three main kitchen elements (sink, stove, and refrigerator) don't get placed too far apart for convenient cooking.

Creating a timeless kitchen design

If you're just starting to design your new kitchen, you may be wondering how trendy you should go. After all, the internet is full of images of trendy kitchens, and you want your new space to feel fresh. But before you jump on board with a super-trendy look, consider this.

Your kitchen is perhaps the most expensive room in your home to remodel. Very few homeowners are in the position to be able to remodel their kitchen regularly. For most of us, a kitchen remodel is going to have to last many years, if not decades. If your design decisions are too tied to today's most current trends, how long will it be until your kitchen looks dated?

That's why we encourage our clients to focus on good, functional design and durable materials that will last for years. Go for clean lines. Choose a minimalist design over something that is too busy. You can add trendy accents, as long as they are durable and will blend in with any changes you make in the future.

Preserve your home's original character

If you own an older home that you would like to remodel, you face some difficult trade-offs. On the one hand, you probably want to preserve as much of the home's original charm as possible. On the other hand, you probably want to update it with some more modern conveniences and design elements. Underlying all of these decisions will be budgetary concerns: It often costs more to reproduce and repair period details using the original methods.

List what you love

Start by taking a blank sheet of paper and write down all the features you love about your home, such as original woodwork, crown molding, built-ins, etc. Identify the items that you absolutely do not want to change.

Next, write down the things that you don't love about your house: the compartmentalized design, the lack of a second bathroom, etc.

Work with your designer to come up with a new design that keeps everything on your must-save list and solves the major problems on your don't-love list, all while sticking to your budget. It's a tall order, but it can be done with some creative thinking and the help of a good design professional.

Common updates to older homes

Every home is different, but here are some of the updates we make most frequently to older homes:

  • Fix foundation issues and do seismic retrofitting
  • Replace old windows with energy-efficient ones
  • Redesign the interior layout, usually opening it up
  • Add storage, like closets and mudrooms
  • Update the electrical system to today's safety standards
  • Install new HVAC systems for comfort and efficiency
  • Update the plumbing
  • Replace worn cabinetry and trim, while preserving original period details

Adding on to an older home

If your plans call for an addition, you will have to decide how closely the newly built spaces should match the original style of the original home. You have three basic choices, which are a matter of personal preference.

  1. Match the original style as closely as possible
  2. Match some of the original details and use transitional-style furnishings to bridge the divide between old and new
  3. Embrace the contrast, making the new space fully contemporary, an approach that works best if the new addition is visually separated from the existing home

The kitchen has become the heart of the home

We've warned against going too trendy with your kitchen design, but there is one overarching trend that can't be ignored and is here to stay.

The kitchen has become the main gathering place in the home. No longer is it just a utilitarian space tucked out of site, used only to prepare meals. It's now where family and guests gather.

For this reason, the kitchen has become a place for creative expression. If kitchens of the last couple of decades tended toward the bland, the new trend is toward designs that are a bit more dramatic and eye-catching, while maintaining a crisp, clean design.

Here are a few design trends we like to incorporate that we believe are here to stay:

  • Hidden cabinet handles
  • Advanced appliances, like steam ovens
  • New choices in appliance finishes, other than just stainless steel
  • Painted cabinetry, including in dark colors
  • Under-counter drawer-style appliances
  • Face-frame cabinetry
  • Quartz countertops
  • Open-concept storage

Choose the kitchen style that's right for you

We always urge clients not to get boxed into a particular design style for their kitchen. That said, it can be useful to use the most popular overarching styles of kitchen as a place to start. Here are a few of the most popular kitchen design styles, some variation of which we see in almost every home in Seattle.

  • Traditional: Neutral color palette, possible Victorian influence, timeless finishes
  • Contemporary: Evolving style that encompasses the latest trends, creative, colorful, pushes boundaries
  • Transitional: Most popular style, combines traditional elements with nods to contemporary trends
  • Modern: Minimalist, sleek, geometric, rejects fussiness and fanciness
  • Modern farmhouse: Tastefully pairs clean lines with traditional and rough-hewn touches
  • Craftsman: Lots of solid wood, geometric lines, exudes integrity and permanence
  • Cottage: Emphasis is on casual comfort with a touch of nostalgia, a cozy package


Section 5

Choose Kitchen Materials

When choosing materials for your kitchen remodel, aesthetics are important, but also consider durability and function.

Choose durable materials

Here at CRD, we're big proponents of choosing durable materials for a remodel. No where is this more important than in the kitchen. Your kitchen takes more than its fair share of wear and tear.

The process of cooking is hard on surfaces. But consider this: your kitchen is probably the biggest hangout spot in your home. It's where everyone tends to gather.

The materials you choose need to be able to stand up to all this and look great year after year. Quality kitchen materials may cost a bit more, but it's totally worth the extra expense. As mentioned above, the biggest expense of a remodel is the labor, so it makes sense to maximize your investment with a kitchen that is as durable as possible.

Here are a few materials you should pay closest attention to.


Your countertops are likely going to be one of the most noticeable elements of your new kitchen design. And they are also the most prone to damage from routine use (and occasional abuse). Choosing a countertop material is a very personal decision, but we find that the majority of our clients go with quartz. This man-made material is edging out natural stone because it requires no regular maintenance, and it's available in patterns to fit any look. 

Natural stone slabs can also be incredibly durable, if taken care of, but most of them require a bit more care than quartz. Finally, there are other less common materials, like butcher-block, that can add warmth or other unique characteristics to the design, but if you go with one of these, make sure you know the trade-offs and are okay with the extra care that these materials may require.

Kitchen cabinets

Kitchen cabinets get a tremendous amount of use and wear. Doors get opened and closed, heavy pots and pans are slid around inside, and surfaces may be wiped with harsh cleaners. It's no wonder that the cabinetry can be the first item in a kitchen to need eventual replacement.

We highly recommend investing in quality cabinets during your remodel. How can you tell if a cabinet is of high quality? Here are a few things to look for:

  • Wood: Cabinet bodies and doors should not be made of low-quality particleboard. Solid wood is almost never used anymore because of its tendency to warp, but the engineered material should feel very solid and heavy and be resistant to moisture. Plywood is usually used for cabinet bodies. Doors are often solid hardwood, paint-ready high-quality MDF, or thick wood veneer.
  • Hinges: Should be heavy and durable. Doors should close smoothly and stay closed. There shouldn't be any wobble or play.
  • Drawers: Look for heavy drawer bodies, hardwood with dovetail joints is good. Drawers should slide smoothly and extend far enough so you can reach items in the back. Most high-quality slides have a soft-close feature.
  • Finish: The thickness of the finish is important. Cheap cabinets will often have a thin, thermally applied foil finish. Like a sticker, it can peel away and even lift particles of wood from the surface beneath. High-quality cabinets will have several coats of paint in a rich color or clear finish.
  • Full-height backs: The backs of the cabinets should extend the entire height of the cabinet and be made of the same thick plywood as the sides.

Kitchen flooring

There are many types of durable flooring materials to choose from in the kitchen. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Marmoleum: This super-durable, eco-friendly flooring is made from natural materials and comes in sheets or tiles.
  • Hardwoods: Traditional or engineered hardwood flooring is a good choice for kitchens. Just be sure to wipe up any liquid spills immediately.
  • LVT: Luxury vinyl tile is gaining in popularity because it is so incredibly durable and can match the look of natural hardwood flooring.
  • Tile: Tile flooring can be very long lasting and easy to clean. The only drawback is that it can be fatiguing to stand on for long periods of time and can feel cold to the touch.

Kitchen flooring materials to avoid

The above are some of our favorite durable flooring materials to install during kitchen remodels. Here are a few we avoid:

  • Wall-to-wall carpet: Even the best carpet is prone to staining, and we advise against using it in the kitchen or bath. If you like the look and the soft feel underfoot, consider using an area rug,
  • Sheet vinyl: This can be a durable product, but it just isn't that great to look at. If you're going to go to the expense of remodeling your kitchen, choose a better-looking flooring product.
  • Laminate flooring: This click-together floating flooring was popular a decade ago, but it usually doesn't look as good as real wood or even LVT. It can also be prone to swelling at the seams if water is allowed to sit on it, and it can feel hollow underfoot.

Plumbing fixtures

Do not choose your kitchen faucet(s) on looks alone. Insist on high-quality fixtures that have the following features:

  • Solid brass body (lasts longer than other materials, like zinc alloy or plastic)
  • Ceramic disc valve (instead of a cartridge valve)
  • Satin finish (usually looks good longer than a polished finished)


When it comes to sinks, usually you get what you pay for. Avoid cheap stainless sinks, which are often made of thin metal that doesn't feel solid. Porcelain and enameled cast-iron sinks can look great, but they tend to take a fair amount of regular cleaning to look good.

Our favorite kitchen sink material is granite composite. It's nonporous, resists scratching and staining, and hides dirt and bits of food (if you choose a darker color). What's more, they have a pleasingly solid feel to them and are virtually indestructible. 


Tile is a popular material for kitchen backsplashes. You can choose either ceramic or porcelain tile, as long as you choose a glazed version. This durable material is great because it can be arranged in cool patterns, which can elevate even the most mundane, low-cost tile into a brilliant design statement. 

Natural stone tile can also be a beautiful look, but keep in mind it is not naturally impervious to liquid stains and a glazed tile is. If you opt for natural stone, apply several coats of sealer to keep it safe, and then plan on reapplying it periodically.


Section 6

Select Kitchen Appliances

Compared to the hard work of planning your kitchen layout and storage options, choosing your appliances can seem relatively simple. But there are a few things you should keep in mind before heading to the appliance showroom.

Communicate with your designer

If you are going to keep any of your existing appliances, be sure to let your designer know early in the process. The appliances you choose can have wide-ranging effects on the rest of the design. In general, if you have any strong preferences for a particular size or style of appliance, it's best to make that clear upfront rather than trying to adapt your design to your choices later on.

Ovens and stoves

One major decision you will have to make is if you prefer an all-in-one range or a standalone cooktop with separate oven(s). It's all a matter of personal preference and the space you have to work with. Separate ovens are usually mounted higher, so the ergonomics of baking are improved, but they may take up more space.

Electric or gas

Professional chefs and home chefs have long preferred gas cooktops to electric because they tend to heat up faster, put out more BTUs, and stop putting out heat as soon as they're turned off. However, there has been a shift toward induction ranges in recent years. These have most of the benefits of gas cooktops without some of the drawbacks, like dangerous fumes, risk of fire or explosion, and the high expense of installing gas service.

Speaking of that last point, don't forget to factor in the cost of installation of any gas appliance you choose. If your home isn't already connected to gas service, the cost to connect and plumb a new line can be as high as $10,000.


Refrigerators can range widely in price and in features. Quality models can be had for under $1,000, but higher-end domestic and European specialty models can be $10,000+. If you like the look or features of these top-of-the-line models, be sure to factor in the cost when budgeting for your remodel.

Energy efficiency

The cost of ownership for a refrigerator isn't just the initial price tag. Various models can have widely varying energy needs. Choosing an efficient fridge can save you money in the long run. Look for the yellow Energy Guide stickers and compare models by their cost to operate per year. Generally, you'll be able to spot more efficient models by their thicker doors, which indicates extra insulation.

Refrigerator tech

In addition to the style of refrigerator (french-door, sliding freezer drawer, etc.), you can now choose from a dizzying array of technology add-ons, everything from built-in smart screens to seltzer-water dispensers. Unless you think you'll get lots of value out of these bells and whistles, it's probably wise to steer clear. Today's technology can become quickly outdated, especially if you hope to keep your refrigerator for many years.


The main thing you should think of when shopping for a microwave is where you plan to put it. Remodeling your kitchen provides a great opportunity to design dedicated spots for small appliances like microwaves and clear up your counter space. Consider a microwave drawer, appliance garage, or built-in nook in your cabinets. We recommend against an over-the-range design.

Otherwise, make sure you pick a model with sufficient wattage. Also consider one with a convection feature. Or you could even forgo the microwave in favor of a steam oven, toaster oven, or speed oven (which combines a high-wattage microwave with a convection oven).


Most of the dishwashers you will be considering will be the standard size. You can choose between a single compartment or a double-drawer-style model.

When shopping for a dishwasher, the main differences (other than looks) are the noise level, rack style, specialized cycles, and water/energy usage. The hidden factor is how well a given model cleans. It's a good idea to read reviews to get the lowdown on all these factors.

Customize your kitchen appliances

For a truly unique look or feature set, consider ordering customized appliances. At a basic level, you can order a dishwasher or refrigerator that accepts a front-panel that matches your cabinetry so that the appliance virtually disappears into the background.

An opposite approach is to order an appliance in a statement finish. Ranges and refrigerators can be ordered in bright colors (or cool dark matte shades) with bespoke metal dials and handles. You can even tailor your cooktop arrangement to perfectly meet your needs, with a griddle, induction wok base, gas or electric burners.

Section 7

Stay Sane During Your Kitchen Remodel

There's no question that a construction project in your home is disruptive. Here's how to make it as painless as possible.

Planning is everything

So you've followed the steps above and have created the perfect kitchen design and have found a great contractor to build it. You're poised for remodeling success.

But, wait! Before you dive in, make sure you have a good plan. Truly professional remodelers do not leave the building plan to chance. It take more than a promise of a completion date to keep a project on track. You need a daily or weekly schedule. 

For instance, at CRD we create gantt charts detailing when each phase of a project begins and ends. Even the most modest kitchen remodel is full of complicated dependencies. The work must be completed in a certain order, and one phase cannot begin until the previous one is completed. Furthermore, materials must be ordered so they show up at the correct time. Subcontractors must be scheduled to arrive during the proper window of time, and building inspectors must sign off on the work before the next phase can begin.

That's why it's important to work with a builder who is not only a great craftsperson but who is a highly skilled project manager. Many of the remodeling horror stories you hear—projects taking way longer than expected or going way over budget—are not the result of a dishonest contractor but rather one who is not great at managing a complicated project.

Permitting and inspections

With the exception of certain very small projects, most kitchen remodeling work requires permits and often inspections.

Plumbing permit

Anytime you touch the plumbing behind the walls, you are going to need a permit. Before you close the new plumbing in behind new drywall, you will need to have the work inspected.

Electrical permit

You should only let a licensed electrician perform work on your home's electrical system, and it should always be done under permit. This is for obvious safety reasons. Unpermitted plumbing work can cause property damage, but unlicensed electrical work could electrocute you or cause a major fire. Unscrupulous contractors and handymen sometimes offer to do a little electrical work without a permit. Do not let them! Not only are you putting your family at risk, but it may come back to haunt you when you go to sell your home one day.

Building permit

If you need an electrical or plumbing permit, chances are you will also need to apply for a building permit. A good rule of thumb is that you'll need one for any project that requires opening up the walls. Luckily, many kitchen remodels do not require complicated structural changes, so permitting authorities will sometimes issue a permit that doesn't require a full design review. In Seattle, these are called Subject to Field Inspection (STFI) permits, and the building inspector will be in charge of making sure your contractor is building everything to code.

Does the builder pull the permits?

In most cases, yes, the contractor you hire will be the one to apply for the required permits. As the homeowner, you may write a check directly to the city for the permit fees, or your contractor will invoice you for them, along with some compensation their time.

If you're doing a DIY kitchen remodel, you still need the same permits. (And you should still work with licensed plumbers and electricians). The only difference is that you will be going downtown to request the permits yourself.


The cost of your permits, which varies widely by city, usually includes inspections by city officials. When your contractor finishes a stage of your project, he or she will call for an inspection. The city's inspector will come out (usually that day) and make sure all work was performed to code.

Don't think of this as onerous or unnecessary oversight. It's more like a quality-control service that the city performs to make sure you don't end up correcting dangerous or shoddy work later on.

Bottom line: Hire a reputable contractor and get permits.

Life in a construction site

There's no way around the fact that construction produces noise, dust, and lots of people traipsing around. Living through a remodel is disruptive. The key is to bring the disruption down to a tolerable level so you don't lose your mind. After all, you are remodeling to improve your life, not to make it unbearable.

Should you stay or should you go?

One of the biggest questions you'll face when planning a major remodel, like a kitchen, is whether you should move out of your home for the duration of construction. While relocating to a space that's far away from the noise and disruption may sound preferable, moving comes with its own hassles and expenses. 

The fact is, most homeowners opt to stay put during their remodel. There are advantages to being able to keep an eye on progress and be in regular communication with your building team. It's easier to answer questions and to clarify requests and change orders if you are right there, discussing it with your lead carpenter and looking at the area in question with your own eyes. Your home is also more secure with you living there.

Dust control and tidiness

One of the things that sets the best contractors apart from the rest is their ability to keep a clean jobsite. The real pros will leave your home swept up at spotlessly tidy every night. It's also important to insist on a contractor who takes active steps to control dust, such as plastic barriers and powered HEPA filtration systems. Construction dust can get into everything if your contractor isn't careful.

Set a schedule

Before construction begins, get on the same page with your contractor about when work will begin and end each day. If you have personal requirements, like needing to have relative quiet until 8:00 am so you can get the kids ready for school, communicate that. Understand what time your contractor will finish work and have the house cleaned up each evening.

Build a temporary kitchen

If your kitchen is going to be out of commission during your remodel, you will need to make arrangements for cooking and eating. While it may sound okay to eat out or order takeout every night, that can get old.

Many homeowners opt to build a temporary kitchen for the duration of their remodel. Some contractors will provide one and set it up. We divide our temporary kitchens into stations:

  • Cooking station: Set aside some of your cooking utensils and pick a few small appliances to cook with, such as a hot plate, microwave, slow cooker, coffee maker, etc.
  • Washing station: You'll need plastic tubs for washing and rinsing dishes, as well as supplies such as dish soap, sponges, and drying towels.
  • Pantry station: Set up some temporary shelving and fill it with staples, such as breakfast cereal, soups, rice, etc.
  • Prep station: Stock it up with garbage and recycling bins, storage containers, and make yourself a stable surface on which to work.

Progress meetings

During construction, your contractor will likely schedule regular meetings to go over progress. If not, be sure to schedule them yourself. You'll want to walk through and look at the newly completed work before making your progress payment. 

These meetings are also your chance to ask questions and get updates. Your contractor may also have questions for you or share reminders that he or she needs something from you in the coming days, such as your final materials selections or that plumbing fixture you plan to purchase on your own.

Change orders

If you planned your remodel carefully, you chose a builder who gave you a fixed-price contract, and you worked with a designer who finalized all design decisions with you, then the construction phase should present few surprises. At this point, there are only two types of changes possible.

1. Changes due to unforeseen conditions

Very occasionally, a builder will open up the walls once construction begins and find some condition that couldn't have been spotted before. Structural rot, termites, or an unstable foundation are some examples. Although this rarely happens, they will trigger a change order. Construction cannot continue until these issues are addressed. Even though this type of change order is rare and doesn't usually add very much to the cost of the project, it's still a good idea to allow a small contingency in your budget just in case.

2. Change orders due to design changes

The second type of change order is the more common kind: when the homeowner decides to add to or deviate from the original design. Sometimes, if the change order only involves swapping out similarly priced finishes (like changing from one paint color to another), there is no added cost. However, if you want to make changes to the design that will require extra work or materials, or upgrade materials, then your contractor will ask you to sign a change order for the additional cost.

As a rule of thumb, it's more efficient and better to try to finalize your design before construction begins. Midstream changes can add unexpected cost and cause delays.

Punch list and final payment

Your contractor won't (or at least shouldn't) send you your final bill until all the work is complete. In most cases, your contractor will schedule a final walk-through meeting after your project is built. You will be invited to make note of any issues you spot, such as scuff marks, misaligned cabinet doors, and things of that sort. Some homeowners mark these things with blue tape.

If you have been meeting regularly with your contractor, then hopefully you will have addressed these things as they came up. But no matter how meticulous your builder, there are usually at least one or two items on your "punch list." When these issues are addressed, your remodel will be perfect, and you will be sent your final invoice.

Congratulations, the remodeling process is complete. It's time to enjoy your new kitchen!

Warranty period

Most builders provide some sort of warranty on their work. The industry standard is about 12 months, but terms can vary. (At CRD, we offer a 24-month warranty from the date the construction agreement was signed.) During this period, keep track of minor issues and send them to your builder to correct before the warranty ends. A common issue is painter's caulk that has pulled away due to routine shifting and settling of the home. For more major issues, your builder will want to be alerted right away.

Routine maintenance

To keep your newly remodeled kitchen functioning perfectly and looking its best for many years to come, it's important to remember to do routine maintenance. Consult a full maintenance checklist and make yourself a note to carry these items out every year or at the recommended intervals. Here are a few items you might want to include:

  • Check for dripping faucets and repair
  • Test your GFCI outlets by pressing the "test" button
  • Check hoses connected to your sink, dishwasher, and refrigerator and repair any leaky or worn hoses immediately
  • Replace any caulk that is peeling away or discolored, especially around your sink
  • Replace any damaged caulk around windows and trim
  • Fill any holes or dents in your walls and touch up with matching paint
  • Vacuum out dust from your refrigerator's fan and heat exchanger
  • Degrease the fan and grease trap in your range hood
  • Remove mineral deposits from your faucet aerator using vinegar and a brush
  • Lightly lubricate hinges, drawer slides, and doorknobs
  • Tighten loose doorknobs, cabinet pulls, and other handles
  • Replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Deep clean the inside of your oven using a safe oven cleaner or steam function

Ready to remodel?

We hope this step-by-step guide to kitchen remodeling has been helpful. If you live in the Seattle area and are interested in discussing a kitchen remodeling project, we'd love to help.

At CRD, we have remodeled hundreds of kitchens in our 40 years of servicing the Seattle community. A kitchen remodel can be one of the most satisfying transformations in the home and can add the most value. We take pride in making the whole process as easy as possible for our clients. If you are thinking about remodeling your Seattle kitchen, please don't hesitate to get in touch. We would love to learn more about your goals.


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