No longer your average kitchenette

The kitchen has come along way since solid oak was the preferred cabinet dressing.

Cookeries are shedding their plastic laminate countertops in favor of more sustainable materials and evolving into glorified entertainment hubs, say local remodeling specialists.

"We're just spending so much time in the kitchen these days, as a family," said Denny Connor, owner of Connor Remodeling & Design on Stone Way in Wallingford. "It's the heart of the house and has become the desired gathering place for families."

While major kitchen remodels can be prolonged and costly, homeowners are choosing to revamp their kitchens over any other room in their house. Owners are now looking to customize their kitchens to complement their lifestyle more than ever before.

"Back in the 1980s and before, designers weren't too smart about kitchens," joked Connor, who admitted that even he had to modernize his home kitchen in the past few years. "We've gotten a lot wiser in the last 15 years by using space more efficiently and using more eco-friendly materials."

Though granite countertops have been the trend of late, remodeling experts like Connor say that there are other materials being used, which are perhaps more sustainable. Richlite - a Tacoma-based manufacturer - currently produces a paper-based countertop combined with a phenolic resin, making for a durable and solid surface. CaesarStone offers an engineered quartz countertop, comprised of 93 percent natural quartz, in a number of different colors. Both companies offer products, which are completely safe for food preparation and very resilient.

"Though granite is still the most popular because of its natural beauty, a lot of the material is wasted in the process," said Connor.

In Connor's showroom kitchen, glass tiling lines portions of each wall, with under cabinet lighting illuminating each inch of workspace. A countertop peninsula jets out from stove. The cabinets are formaldehyde free, and the appliances are hidden from plain sight by the stained cherry doors. Just behind the stove hides an iCEBOX FlipScreen Entertainment Center, affixed under the cabinet, equipped with a DVD/CD player, the internet, a LCD touch screen and enough hard drive space to store generations worth of recipes.

"We don't see too many clients who are looking for super high-tech amenities, though this guy is kind of fun," Connor said.

Meanwhile, the experts at Case Design/Remodeling are working to fit a flat panel HDTV into a Mercer Island home. Another home in Magnolia is looking to fit in two dishwashers and two full size kitchen sinks. They are also converting an existing kitchen island, relocating the existing stove and oven to make room for a gathering space.

"We're starting to see a kitchen as an extension of an entertainment center," said Saeed Kaley, owner of Case Design/Remodel in Redmond. "Formal dining rooms are becoming everyday gathering places. The kitchen is really the hub of the entire house."

Kaley said that Case takes on two or three full remodels each month, with an average timeline of four to eight weeks per remodel. Case, one of the nation's largest full-service remodeling companies, earns more than $100 million each year in remodeling jobs, with nearly 60 franchise stores nationwide.

"People are looking to open things up and bring in more natural lighting in their kitchens," he said. "Most often, our remodel jobs include removing walls to make the space seem larger."

Both Connor and Kaley say that most jobs now include the addition of peninsulas or islands as well.

According to the 2007 "Cost vs. Value" report for the Pacific region, at the midrange level, major kitchen remodels recoup almost 97 percent of the job cost, while minor remodels recoup more than 103 per cent.

Meanwhile, major kitchen remodels at the upscale level recoup just 88.9 percent of its job costs. Compared to the national averages, Pacific region remodels are at least 10 per cent less for each job.

At Case, the cost of a major kitchen remodel costs anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000, with most falling somewhere between $80,000 and $120,000.

With warming trays, wine chillers and stainless steel finding more and more kitchens via major kitchen remodel jobs, the kitchen now transcends a mere destination for food storage and preparation. Customization is the name of the game, said Connor.

"It's really the social epicenter of the home these days."

Connor Remodeling & Design is at 3929 Stone Way N. Case Design/Remodeling is at 15239 NE 90th St. in Redmond.

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