Nearly half of new homeowners undertaking a home improvement project within three months of buying a residence set their sights on a kitchen overhaul, according to a recent report from the National Association of Realtors.
The array of choices for big-ticket appliances to even a simple backsplash can be daunting. But people should consider what will appeal to a broad range of future homebuyers. Even a minor remodel can recoup most of the cost when the owners resell, according to a 2013 Cost vs. Value report by Remodeling magazine.
"You may have a hard time selling your house if (the kitchen) is really 'out there,' " said Debbie Nassetta, co-owner of Roomscapes, a home design firm in Newport Beach, Calif.
So what's trendy but has some staying power?
A professional-grade range — a stove with options such as a flat griddle or a cooktop to accommodate a searing pan or a wok — topped kitchen wish lists in the Houzz survey; 32 percent of respondents selected them as their dream appliance.
"What a consumer looks at, even if they don't cook, is it looks cool," Nassetta said.
Double ovens garnered 18 percent. Other high-end features such as induction cooktops, wine refrigerators and convection ovens seemed to matter far less. Only 4 percent of respondents considered warming drawers a priority.
A majority of respondents — 65 percent — favor stainless steel appliances. Some homeowners are combining appliance finishes or integrating stainless steel into cabinetry, and 12 percent are choosing white or color appliances.
This look — a blend of traditional and contemporary — has grown in popularity, up to 69 percent from 59 percent by the end of 2012, according to the kitchen and bath association.
Nearly half of those surveyed — 49 percent — said using eco-friendly appliances and materials in their kitchens is important.
Though a variety of Energy Star-recommended appliances and green-certified building products are on the market, eco-friendly changes also can be as simple as using cloth rather than paper towels, replacing plastic containers with glass, or using nontoxic cleaners, Houzz survey contributors note.
Granite and quartz countertops
Nearly all respondents — 94 percent — said they're changing their countertops. Granite still rocks, topping the list at 50 percent, but quartz is a rising star, coming in at 36 percent. Marble only drew 10 percent. Tile got a paltry 2 percent.
Quartz countertops are resistant to stains and scratches and are easy to take care of, kitchen designers say. "They're pretty bulletproof," said Mike Close, president of Spinnaker Development in Newport Beach, which designs, builds and remodels custom homes.
Tile, however, was the top choice for backsplash accents. Half of respondents preferred it, with marble, stone slab and other materials trailing far behind. "A lot of people are using the backsplash as sort of the jewelry of the kitchen," said Sheila Schmitz, Houzz.com editor. "That's where they'll put that splash of color, because it won't be overwhelming."
Hardwood floors led the list of choices, but here's another area where tile made a strong showing, coming in second. Remember good old linoleum? It garnered only 3 percent. Concrete did worse — 2 percent.
They're popular but not a must. Though 61 percent said they're incorporating an island, for some others, it would be the wrong choice, either because the room is too small or the configuration wouldn't work.
"A kitchen has to be large enough for an island," Nassetta said. "If you squeeze one in and it's not the right width or too tight, the client won't be happy in the end. If you're constantly walking around an island just to have one, it will feel bad."
Whites and off-whites are the top choice for color schemes, at 73 percent, an increase of 6 percent over the previous year. The popularity of white cabinetry jumped to 67 percent this year from 59 percent in 2012.
"They (clients) say, 'I want my kitchen to be light and bright,'" Close said.
Gray color schemes
Grays are coming on strong, according to the survey. "In kitchens, shades of gray have noticeably jumped in use over the past three years," the association said in its summary, noting an increase from just 9 percent in 2010 to "a remarkable" 55 percent in the last three months of 2012.
"If you put in a classic white kitchen, very few people don't like that," Nassetta said. But, she confirmed, "Gray is really hot. It has been for the past couple of years and it's still trending that way."