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New and improved
Bath and kitchen improvements boost room appeal


An updated kitchen or bathroom can provide a big payoff when you sell your house ó not to mention the benefits while youíre still living there. Thereís a wide range of possible improvements, from simple to extravagant, but it makes sense to spend your money on items that work best for your lifestyle and your budget. "We ask the customer to start out by developing a wish list of must-haves and nice-to-haves," says Molly Madsen, owner of Affordable Bath and Kitchen in Mequon and Greenfield. "You can achieve what you want in a number of ways."

Get professional advice early in your project, says Dave Heigl, director of CabinetWerks in the Third Ward. "A professional can help you determine the scope of your project and give you advice concerning what will and wonít work in your home," he says. "If you just want to update your kitchen, bring a design expert over to your house to make some suggestions. On the other hand, if you are planning to enlarge the room, get an architect involved. These people will help you get the most bang for your buck," he says.

If you are working on a limited budget, there are things you can do to make your project more affordable. "Do some of the work yourself, perhaps the demolition or the painting," says Steve Sobieski, owner of Weisflogís in Pewaukee. On the other hand, if you want to do a bigger project, but you donít want to do it all right away, work with someone who will help you plan to do it over a period of time, in stages. Put together a master plan, then figure out what can be done at what point, he advises.

"Maybe you canít get everything on your wish list, but do your research before so you can get some of the things that are really important to you," Madsen adds.

1. Cabinets and countertops

The first thing most people think about when updating a kitchen is new cabinets. "A good quality cabinet is really important. If you get something that is strong and well-built, it will last you 20 years," Madsen says. While you can get cabinets with a plethora of features, if you put something inside every cabinet, you can increase your price very quickly, she says.

If you donít want entirely new cabinets, you can reface or paint them for a striking new look. "Youíd be surprised at what new cabinet hardware can do, too," Madsen says.

Decorative crown moldings can add a classic look to cabinets. "I have gone into kitchens where the cabinets did not have crown molding on top. Adding that molding and some lighting really finishes it off nicely," Heigl says.

New countertops also make a big impact in a kitchen. "Upgrade your countertops from laminate to granite and you will see a dramatic improvement," says Sobieski. "The cost of granite has come down significantly in recent years to almost the same price as Corian. We do a lot of this kind of work." If you have room, consider installing a kitchen island for the extra cooking and storage space.

While youíre at it, contemplate a new sink and faucets. "If you upgrade the sinks in either the kitchen or bathroom, you are not necessarily talking huge dollars, but it is a big improvement," Sobieski says. One suggestion: "Use name brand products so if a problem arises, the manufacturer will stand behind it," he says.

A splash of color in the form of a tile backsplash creates a great focal point, Madsen says. Custom ceramic tiles can be quite expensive, but you can get the look of custom tile by mixing it with stock tile. "Create a pattern and include some custom tiles throughout the space," she says.

2. Appliances and flooring

Sparkling new appliances will give your kitchen a showroom look. A new stove and refrigerator can make all the difference. "We are still getting a lot of requests for stainless steel," Sobieski says.

Be realistic about what your room can accommodate, Heigl advises. "Sometimes people want to put too much into a kitchen. Theyíll give me a full-page list of appliances that would require an addition to the room. Create a wish list with some guidelines. If you think youíre going to use a commercial oven or a warming drawer, for example, we might be able to work it in," he says.

If what is underfoot is in sad shape, it will deflect attention away from your improvements. "We are installing a lot of tile flooring. It can be expensive, but you can find very nice stock tile, too," Sobieski notes. Of course, hardwood floors are still extremely popular.

3. Showers and tubs

A growing number of people are deciding that they donít need a bathtub in their bathroom. "One thing we are seeing is people are taking bathtubs or whirlpool tubs out. They arenít using the tubs, but they do use their showers. Personal showers are one of the fastest growth areas and it is where you are going to see more value in the future. If you have one bathroom in the house with a tub, that is sufficient," says Sobieski.

Adding a master bedroom suite that includes a master bathroom is very popular as well, says Sobieski. "There are so many three-bedroom ranches everywhere in this area, some owners who arenít using all three of the bedrooms any longer are combining two of those bedrooms and converting it into a master bedroom suite, including a new master bath," he says. "Everything is on one level and you arenít tearing up the rest of the house," he says.

Madsen advises you to give some thought to how youíre using your house. "Spend your money where you are going to spend the most time. Most people find they donít use a whirlpool bath. It would be wiser to spend money on a great new shower with body sprays and multiple shower heads," she says.