Sei sulla pagina 1di 140

®

KITCHEN

PLANNING & BUYING GUIDE

TOP

RATED

BEST FRIDGES

For Every

Budget

BUY THE BEST!

778

Tested

Products

Ranges | Dishwashers | Microwaves Countertops | Wood Floors + More

DESIGN STAR

VERN YIP S

KITCHEN REDO

Winner Kitchens

THE 8 BEST UPGRADES YOU CAN MAKE

SAVE-BIG

REMODELING

GUIDE

QUICKIE

MAKEOVERS

1 Weekend,

3 Fresh New Looks

SEPTEMBER 2016

Display Until September 12, 2016

“ Yay, It Fits!”

GREAT COMPACT APPLIANCES

For Tight Spots

WANT EVEN MORE GREAT INFORMATION FROM CONSUMER REPORTS?

Get immediate access to all our Ratings, tests and CR Best Buy recommendations

JUST $30 FOR AN ANNUAL SUBSCRIPTION AND YOU’LL GET

24/7 ACCESS TO:

Latest product Ratings. Plus reliability info on thousands of products. Consumer Reports Mobile.* Access to ConsumerReports.org on your mobile phone. Build & Buy car-buying service. Experience the easy way to buy a car AND save money. New! Car Repair Pricing. Find out how much that next car repair should cost. Price & Shop. Buy electronics and appliances from reliable online stores. Now includes local shopping, too. Health info. Stay healthy with current drug, insurance, and health equipment Ratings.

Subscribe today at ConsumerReports.org/shopsmart

*Standard data and messaging rates apply. Check your carrier for accessibility.

PE41MNB

COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY ERIC ROTH

30

Instant

Makeover

Contents

Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide

SEPTEMBER 2016

IN THIS ISSUE

5

Update

Our in-house appliance and home experts share the latest and greatest kitchen products, news, and trends.

12

8 Smart Kitchen Upgrades

As you renovate your space, make choices that add long-term value—with help from our exclusive survey of millennial homebuyers, plus advice from the pros.

18

Bold in Black and White

Get an inside look at design star Vern Yip’s own Atlanta kitchen, a study in the chic, timeless combo of black and white.

22

Cozy in Color

Our paint picks will help you add warmth and personality to kitchen walls, cabinets, or furnishings.

26

Double the Pleasure

This clever remodel added tons of space without an addition.

30

Instant Makeover

No need for a total overhaul. Replacing or adding a few key design elements can give your kitchen a fresh new look right now.

36

Open for Entertaining

Create a kitchen with a party-perfect flow with tips from a pair of design experts.

42

Remodeling

Survival Guide

Our survey of contractors nationwide will help your project run smoothly.

Contents

BUYING GUIDE

Cabinetry & Surfaces

48

CABINETS

54

COUNTERTOPS

60

FLOORING

66

INTERIOR PAINT

Appliances

72

REFRIGERATORS

88

RANGES

98

COOKTOPS

106

WALL OVENS

110

RANGE HOODS

112

MICROWAVE OVENS

120

DISHWASHERS

Fixtures & Fittings

128

SINKS

132

FAUCETS

Shopping

134

BEST APPLIANCE STORES

136

RESOURCE GUIDE

114

100

GO TO CONSUMERREPORTS.ORG AND CLICK ON APPLIANCES OR HOME & GARDEN

89

PHOTOS: JOHN WALSH

KITCHEN

PLANNING & BUYING GUIDE

President and CEO Marta L. Tellado

Senior Vice President, Brand & Strategy Leonora Wiener

Vice President, Publishing & Marketing Operations Brent Diamond

Vice President, Integrated Content Creation Liam McCormack

Vice President, Digital Jason Fox

Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer Kim Miller

Executive Director, Content Gwendolyn Bounds

Editor in Chief, Consumer Reports Magazine Diane Salvatore Design Director Matthew Lenning Associate Design Director Mike Smith

Editor, Home Publications Amanda Lecky Art Directors Janice Hogan, Ewelina Mrowiec, Lisa Slater Photo Editor Emilie Harjes Photography John Powers, John Walsh Imaging Francisco Collado, Mark Linder

Senior Director, Product Testing Mark Connelly Director, Content Development Glenn Derene Director, Consumer Safety and Sustainability Urvashi Rangan

Home & Appliance

Editors: Dan DiClerico, Mary Farrell, Kimberly Janeway, Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, Ed Perratore; Product Testers: John Galeotaiore, James Nanni, Testing Leads; Peter Anzalone, John Banta, Susan Booth, Tara Casaregola, Lawrence Ciufo, Enrique de Paz, Bernard Deitrick, Cindy Fisher, Emilio Gonzalez, Edward Kippel, Ginny Lui, John McAloon, Joan Muratore, Joseph Pacella, Christopher Regan, Peter Sawchuk, Pat Slaven, Frank Spinelli, David Trezza, Michael Visconti

Consumer Engagement Testing Charu Ahuja, Director; Linda Greene, Adam Kaplan

Content Systems & Operations Strategy Peter Meirs, Director

Content Operations David Fox, Director; William Breglio; Wayne Lizardi, Anthony Terzo

Production Eric W. Norlander; Terri Kazin, Aileen McCluskey Content Coordination Nancy Crowfoot; Diane Chesler Copy Editing Noreen Browne, Alison France, Wendy Greenield Fact Checking Jane Healey, David Schipper; Kathleen Adams, Tracy Anderman, Sarah Goralski, Sharon Riley

Administration Decarris Bryant, Elizabeth Scotton

Content Impact & Corporate Outreach Jen Shecter, Director

Statistics Michael Saccucci, Director; Andrew Cohen, Keith Newsom-Stewart, Martin Romm

Survey Research Steven Witten, Director; Karen Jafe, Simon Slater; Mei Fong, James David Gopoian, Kendra Johnson, Debra Kalensky, Martin Lachter, Olufemi Olu-Lafe, Adam Troy

Consumer Insight Ed Farrell, Director; Karen Hofman; Chris Holmes, Rachel Lynch, Teneisha Thomas, Andrew Vogel

Newsstand Marketing Patricia McSorley, Associate Director Procurement Operations Steven Schiavone, Associate Director

Copyright © 2016 by Consumer Reports, Yonkers, New York 10703. Published by Consumer Reports, Yonkers, New York 10703. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. ISSN: 2376-0508 Manufactured in the United States of America.

E D I T O R ’ S

N O T E

Dreams, Delivered

Amanda Lecky

Editor,

Home

Publications

CREATING YOUR DREAM KITCHEN can cost a bundle. We know: Consumer Reports spends more than $400,000 each year to buy the appliances we test and rate. Of course, your own project probably won’t cost anywhere near that much, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to save where you can. That’s where the Consumer Reports

Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide comes in. We ofer what no other magazine can: product Ratings and advice from dozens of appliance and home-improvement experts. Our engineers run exhaustive tests on every aspect of the 600-plus products in our Ratings to help you choose the best. Our reader surveys track buyer experience to tell you which brands are likely to last—and which could lead to pricey repairs. And because we buy everything we test and accept no ads, you can always trust Consumer Reports to tell it like it is. Ready to make your dreams a reality? Let our honest, unbiased advice help you plan and shop your way to a smart, stylish kitchen that’s just right for you, and for your budget.

Meet a Few of Our Experts

More than 40 Consumer Reports product testers, secret shoppers, researchers, and editors (including the six pros pictured here) put their years of know- how to work for you.

Celia Kuperszmid

Lehrman

Deputy Editor

Ed Perratore

Senior Editor

Dan DiClerico

Multimedia

Content Specialist

Tara Casaregola

Test Program

Leader

Kimberly Janeway

Senior Associate

Editor

Joe Pacella

Project Leader

FOLLOW US

fb.com/consumerreports

fb.com/crenespanol

@consumerreports

@crenespanol

pinterest.com/consumerreports

@consumerreports

youtube.com/consumerreports

Periscope @consumerreports

Snapchat @consumerreports

Inside Our Test Labs

WE TRY TO TEST models that represent the spectrum of products on the market. Staf shoppers buy them at retail outlets or online, never reveal- ing that they’re for Consumer Reports. (We want to make sure that we test the same products you buy.) Our experts develop tests that re-create the real-world use of each product. If a product malfunctions or performs in an unexpected way, we try to determine whether we’re seeing an isolated case or possibly a bigger problem. We may have an obvious defect repaired. And we usually buy and test additional samples of the same product. We do that to ensure that our Rat- ings for every model relect the experience you may have.

OVENS Baking cookies—2,000 frozen, preformed sugar cookies each year, more or less— and evaluating the color uniformity when they’re done tells CR’s experts how evenly an oven bakes. What happens to all those cookies? The staff gets to eat most of them!

DISHWASHERS Our testers load up the racks with dishes smeared with everything from coffee (shown) to beef chili to see how well each model stands up to typical food messes.

REFRIGERATORS Engineers load each refrigera- tor’s freezer compartment with packages of frozen spinach and cans of frozen juice to determine freezer performance.

Guide to the Ratings

WE RATE PRODUCTS on a 100-point scale. These symbols help you tell at a glance which scored well and which didn’t. Those rated Excellent aced most of our tough tests; Poor indicates the product had serious laws.

5 Excellent

4 Very Good

3 Good

2 Fair

1 Poor

d Recommended

These are high-performing products that stand out.

c CR Best Buy

These products offer the best combination of performance and price. All are recommended.

TIP

When narrowing your choices, weigh perfor- mance, price, and details that matter to you, such as color, size, or style. For the best combination of performance and price, pick a CR Best Buy.

Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent consumer- product-testing organization. Each year we put thousands of products through rigorous tests and survey millions of consumers about their

experiences. We’re based in Yonkers, N.Y., and are a nonprofit organization. For complete Ratings for all products, consider an annual subscription to Consumer Reports magazine ($29) or our website ($30).

What We Do We buy all of the products we rate. And all of our tests and Ratings, in print and online, are unbiased and independent. What We Don’t Do We don’t accept any advertising; we get our money

mainly through subscriptions and from donations. We don’t accept any free test samples of products from manufacturers. And we don’t allow our name or our content to be used for any promotional purposes.

Update

Product News and Expert Advice

Actual size

Big Performance in Small Packages

AMERICAN HOUSES may be growing in size, but so is the number of single households in the U.S. Roughly half of all American women are unattached, and by 2025 there will be as many single-person households in the U.S. as there are homes with families. Manufacturers are taking note of those shifting demographics and responding with a bevy of super-compact countertop appliances, aimed at the single set and their presumably smaller kitchens. One manufac- turer’s representative went so far as to call the mini appliances part of their “single lady

line.” Though of course the products will appeal to bachelors, too, not to mention downsizing empty nesters, urbanites, or anyone eager to save countertop space. Among the promising petite models are KitchenAid’s Artisan Mini Stand Mixer, $400, pictured, 20 percent smaller and 25 percent lighter than its full-sized counterpart—a perennial top-performer in our Ratings—the Mi Aroma Mini Rice Cooker, $30 to $40, which cooks just two or three cups at a time; and the Bella 1.5 Slow Cooker, $15, available this fall.

PHOTOS: CHRISTIAN BRIDGWATER/GETTY IMAGES (TOP LEFT); GETTY IMAGES (TOP RIGHT); ROBERT RADIFERA (BOTTOM RIGHT)

UPDATE

|

news and advice

A New Way to Prep Veggies

ONE OF THE HOTTEST new gadgets at this year’s International Home + Housewares show in Chicago, spiralizers turn vegetables and fruits into fun new shapes, including “noodles” that can take the place of traditional grain-based pasta. That should appeal to people on low-carb diets, or those who entertain at home a lot, and to parents of kids who need a little extra encouragement to get their daily doses of healthful produce. Three models that caught our eye:

CUISINART FOOD

HAMILTON BEACH

KITCHENAID SPIRALIZER

SPIRALIZER, $30

3-IN-1 SPIRALIZER, $40

BLADE, $150

This mechanical model gives the forearm a bit of a workout, though Cuisinart says the adaptation of its exclusive food processor blade technology to the spiralizer makes for easy operation. You can choose from thin or thick julienne, and ribbon slice. The blade-lock- ing design eliminates contact with any sharp edges and the entire unit is dishwasher safe.

This electric 3-in-1 spiralizer from Hamilton Beach lets you produce continuous ribbons or spirals of a variety of veggies, from zucchini noodles to homemade potato chips. The additional grating disk is designed for harder foods like Parmesan cheese and nuts.

An attachment to any KitchenAid stand mixer, this new spiralizer is an upgrade to the brand’s origi- nal. It adds two new blades to the existing five, enabling up to 13 combinations of spiralizing, slicing, peeling, and coring. The zucchini noodle strands are pitched as a healthy alternative to flour- based pasta. Or enjoy garnishes made from paper-thin fruit spirals.

MUSIC TO YOUR EYES

The right soundtrack can make dining (and cook- ing) far more enjoyable. But it’s hard to find speak- ers that don’t stand out from your carefully con- sidered kitchen design like a sore thumb, and installing an integrated sound system is pricey. Sony’s new Glass Sound Speaker aims to match style to sound quality:

With its cylindrical shape and faux leather base, it’s designed to look like part of an everyday table setting. Part of Sony’s New Life Space UX prod- uct line, the speaker uses organic glass surrounding an LED light to create vibrations that produce 360 degrees of high- fidelity sound. The $800 device, which is available through the MoMA store, lights up like a candle when it turns on, power- ing up with a warm, soft glow and dimming when the power goes off.

If Your Favorite Slice is Pizza

Most Americans get their pizza fresh from the pizzeria or from the supermarket, in the form of frozen pies. But there's a growing appetite for pizza made from scratch— or “semi-scratch” using store-bought dough—at home. The DIY trend accounted for nearly 10 percent of pizza sales in 2015. Appliance manufacturers are taking notice, with several introducing pizza ovens this year. The most innovative product we’ve seen is GE’s Monogram Pizza Oven, which came out of FirstBuild, a microfactory in the company’s Louisville headquarters that harnesses the brainpower of the maker movement to develop unique appliances for small batch produc- tion (the Opal Nugget Ice Maker is the most successful creation to date). The Monogram Pizza Oven fits into the small space of

a standard wall oven cavity, yet is spacious enough to fit

a pizza peel and large pie. It can crank up to 750 degrees, the perfect temperature for crisp pizza, in about 30 min- utes. The oven incorporates a compact interior ventilation system,

so no special installation or construction is required. That’s a good thing, since the price tag on the oven is $9,900. Look for it later this year.

Outdoor Options If you’d rather keep your oven on the patio, one to consid- er is the Lynx Napoli Pizza Oven, a gas-fired model that comes on a freestanding cart, or that can be built into an outdoor countertop. The oven reaches 750 degrees in about 20 minutes so it’s a bit faster than GE’s. At $4,000, it costs a lot less, though it’s still a splurge. If you’re looking for the authenticity of wood-fired pizza, the Italian manufacturer Fontana offers stainless steel ov- ens for as little as $1,400. The Fontana Gusto Wood Oven, its original dual-chamber model introduced 40 years ago, is still the best seller, starting at $4,900. Thanks to their thin firebrick inserts, Fontana ovens can reach optimal baking temperatures in 15 to 30 minutes, compared with the 2 to 4 hours of other wood-fired ovens.

GE Monogram Pizza Oven

Lynx Napoli Pizza Oven

AMERICAN AS PIZZA PIE

|

Fontana Gusto Wood Oven

Americans eat 100 acres of pizza each day according to the National Assn. of Pizza Operators

TREND WATCH:

Quartz and Quartzite

WHICH IS IT? Quartzite, shown, not only sounds like quartz but can look similar, as well.

LATELY, IT SEEMS like every designer we interview mentions one of two countertops options: quartz and quartzite, two materials that sound similar and can look similar—but which have some key distinctions. Quartz, the top- rated material in our countertops ratings on page 59, used to be known as engineered stone, because it’s just that—a synthetic material that’s made in a factory out of stone chips, resins, and pigments. Quartzite, by comparison, is a metamorphic rock that originated as sandstone. It’s extracted from a quarry and formed into finished slabs that become kitchen countertops, as well as tiles for floors, walls, and backsplashes. We haven’t tested it in our labs, but quartzite is often compared to granite in terms of hardness and durability. Like all natural stones, quartzite must be sealed periodically to protect it against wine, citrus, coffee, and other would- be stains. Because it’s non-porous, quartz doesn’t have to be sealed, making it much easier to maintain. Quartz and quartzite cost about the same.

PHOTO, LEFT: NATASHA NICHOLSON/GETTY IMAGES

UPDATE

|

news and advice

Cold Coffee Is Hot

Cold-brew coffee fans claim it’s smoother than the traditional stuff. Judge for yourself with our tested brewers.

O ONCE FOUND ONLY in boutique coffee-

houses, cold-brew coffee has grown up,

with sales rising 115 percent between

2014 and 2015. Starbucks and Peet’s

now sell it by the cup in their shops,

and you can buy ready-to-drink bottled

versions from companies such as

Stumptown and Slingshot at Whole

Foods, specialty grocers, and even

some Target stores. Not surprisingly, several appliance makers eager to cash

in on the trend sell low-tech systems that take the mess out of mixing up a batch of cold brew at home.

COLD BREW 101

Cold brew is a very different beast from either iced coffee or the bottled coffee products sold at the supermarket. All of those start with standard hot coffee that’s then chilled, creating a drink that has all of the bitterness and acidity of regular coffee, just minus the heat. To mask that bitterness, many coffee drinkers (and manufacturers) add heaps of sugar and glugs of milk or cream— and plenty of calories with them. “Some of the bottled coffee products we’ve tested have as much sugar as a

can of soda,” says Maxine Siegel, a reg- istered dietitian and manager of food testing at Consumer Reports.

Cold brew, on the other hand, begins with the same beans you’d use for regular coffee, but they’re ground more coarsely, then mixed with cold or room-temperature water and left to sit for a very long time: Coaxing flavor out of the grounds with cool water can take 12 to 24 hours or even longer. To avoid

a weak, watery drink, cold-brew coffee

also requires at least twice the grounds needed for traditional hot brewing,

which explains why cold brew can be pricey, whether you buy it at a coffee- house or supermarket or whip up a batch at home. (See “Cool Ways to Make Cold Joe,” on the facing page.) Make no mistake: Do-it-yourself cold- brew coffee makers aren’t a necessity; they’re essentially steeping chambers for the water and grounds. But they make preparing and filtering the coffee neater and less cumbersome. The machines also make it easier to experi- ment with the ratio of water to coffee

until you find the one that produces the cup best-suited to your tastes. What comes out of most cold-brew coffee makers isn’t ready to enjoy. It’s

a thick concentrate that you dilute with water or milk before drinking.

THE BITTER TRUTH

Why bother with all of the added time and expense of cold brew? Because of how it goes down. Fans say that cold brewing makes for a far smoother drink, without much of the bitterness and acidity of traditional coffee. Another selling point of cold-brew coffee is its extended shelf life: It will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Regularly brewed coffee doesn’t store well in the fridge and starts to go stale shortly after it’s made because of an aromatic compound that degrades as it cools—something to keep in mind when you want a cool pick-me-up.

PRICE OF A PICK-ME-UP

|

DIY Home Brew $0.75 to $2.50

Price depends on cost per pound of coffee

Cool Ways to Make Cold Joe

The lavor of cold-brew cofee is determined by the quality of the beans and the water, the amount and grind of cofee used, and the length of time the grounds steep. These machines make the process convenient, but unlike with hot brewing, they do not inluence the cofee’s taste.

BRUER COLD

BRUER $80

How it works The Bruer stands out from the others we looked at because its process is flow-through. You place ice and water in the upper chamber, and a drop of water per second drips to the grounds. The extract, ready to drink, collects below, yielding about 20 ounces. (Instructions for concen- trate are included.) Pros The fastest per ounce, with no waiting for coffee to drain once it’s brewed. Permanent filter. Cons Makes among the least amount of drinkable coffee per use.

OXO COLD BREW 1272880 $50

How it works Place the container on its stand, and add grounds and water. After 12 to 24 hours, place a glass carafe beneath the stand and flip the “brew-release switch,” on the bottom, which lets the concentrated brew drip into the carafe. Pros The brewing cham- ber can be separated from the stand, and at 7 inches tall, it fits easily into the fridge. The release switch keeps hands clear of the brew. Cons The lid doesn’t seal, and the filter clogged badly during our tests.

BODYBREW THE BOD $80

How it works Add grounds to the stainless filter basket (in the lower half), then add water. Once you attach the upper half, flip the product upside down, then back, to wet the grounds thor- oughly. An optional hour timer will help you keep track of steeping time. Pros At 12½ inches, it fits easily into the fridge; the top chamber can also be replaced with a cover to reduce the height by 3 inches. It comes in black and five colors. Cons It can be tricky to assemble.

TODDY COLD BREW SYSTEM $40

How it works The upper chamber’s lower recess holds a filter and a stop- per. After coffee has steeped, you remove the stopper and the filtered extract fills the glass lower container. Pros It makes about 48 ounces, which yields twice that much drinkable coffee. The brew chamber is unbreakable plastic. Cons The handle, which wraps around the upper chamber, is flimsy. Removing the stopper can be messy; the filter needs replacing ($3.75 per pair) after about 10 uses.

FELLOW DUO

COFFEE STEEPER

$100

How it works A stain- less steel chamber atop

a glass carafe, it lets you

make cold-brew or hot coffee. To release coffee

through the filter into the carafe, you twist the two parts of the top chamber. Pros At 15 inches high,

it fits into the fridge, and

its permanent fine filter ensures no gunk at the bottom of your cup. Cons If you’d like to fill two 16-ounce travel cups,

sorry: This unit and the Bruer make the least cold brew of the five—roughly 20 ounces at a time.

Standard Hot Coffee

THE SCIENCE OF SMOOTH Cold-Brew Coffee

As any caffeine addict knows, a regular cup of joe starts with hot water (between 195° F and 205° F) and coffee grounds. The water dissolves oils, acids, and other compounds out of the grounds, giving coffee its familiar acidity and eye-opening aroma. The hot water also degrades acids, creating coffee’s bitter notes.

VS.

The absence of hot water means that the oils, acids, and other compounds dissolve much more slowly. The acids also aren’t degraded, making for a much smoother beverage, free of bitterness. One downside: This coffee’s aroma is barely noticeable because heat is what releases it from the grounds.

Stumptown Cold-Brew Coffee $8

|

Starbucks Cold Brew $3.25 to $3.95 National range

UPDATE | news and advice

Save Water in the Kitchen

California isn’t the only place facing a dry spell. Water managers in

40 states say that even if water conditions remain normal, they expect

shortages in some part of their state over the next decade. That’s according to WaterSense, the water conservation partner of the Environmental Protection Agency. That means we all could benefit from California’s efforts to get “more pop per drop,” as a state water authority put it. When it comes to wasting water in the kitchen, the dishwasher isn’t the culprit; it’s probably you. Too many people rinse their dishes before putting them in a dishwasher designed to do that very job—and do it

better than you can. Five ways to save:

Replace your old dishwasher. Energy Star dishwashers are about

15 percent more water efficient

than standard models. The most miserly use only 4 to 6 gallons during a normal cycle. Bonus:

They’re quieter, too.

Give pots and pans a soak instead of scrubbing them under running water to loosen caked-on food.

Wash only full loads of dishes. For maximum efficiency, load your dishwasher according to the instructions in your owner’s manual,

which will make the most of the sprays in your machine.

Keep your drinking water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap until it’s cool. Designate one water bottle per person per day so that you only have to wash it once.

Install a WaterSense aerator on the kitchen faucet to reduce flow to less than 1 gallon per minute. It’s a cheap fix for only pennies. Avoid running the garbage dis- posal, and the water that entails, by composting your food scraps.

SAVE WATER

|

An Energy Star dishwasher will save about 1,600 gallons over its lifetime according to the EPA

After hearing about lead in the water in Flint, Mich., I’m worried about mine. Should I buy a lter?

Reports of unsafe water pouring from taps in Flint and other cities can be alarming. But before you panic, you should check your municipal water report and also have your water tested, says Chris Hendel, Consumer Reports’ medi- cal researcher. The Environmental Protection Agency posts municipal water-quality reports every July; find yours at epa.gov/safewater. But if your home was built be- fore lead-free pipes were mandat- ed in 1986 or if you use well water, a test is the best way to assess your home’s water quality. Your state or local health department may offer free test kits. The EPA’s website lists local labs; you can also call its Safe Drinking Water Hotline

Clear2O

carafe, $30

Culligan

FM-15A, $20

at 800-426-4791. If tests find lead but it’s below 150 parts per billion (ppb), a filter can make your water safer to drink. If it’s higher or if tests reveal other concerns, such as arsenic, bacteria, or parasites, contact your local health de- partment for advice. There’s no universally accepted safe level for lead or many other contaminants. In our most recent tests of water filters, our top picks were the Clear2O carafe, $30, and the faucet-mounted Culligan FM-15A, $20. Both were top rated for removing lead and other con- taminants. To fill the Clear2O, you must remove your faucet’s aerator and connect the attached hose directly to your faucet.

PHOTO, TOP RIGHT: YUKI KONDO/GETTY IMAGES

I hate hand- washing dishes. Can I put plasticware in the dish- washer?

Yes. Just avoid selecting cycles such as “sanitize” that use higher washing or drying temperatures. Heat can cause plastic to degrade, says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Con- sumer Reports’ director of safety and sustain- ability. And it can cause worrisome chemicals such BPA (bisphenol A) to leach from some types of plastic contain- ers. Although most food-storage containers are no longer made with BPA, older plasticware may contain it. BPA has been linked to health concerns including cardiovascular disease and an increased risk of breast and prostate can- cers. Containers may also have other chemi- cals such as plasticizers and phthalates that can leach. Use plasticware that says “dishwasher safe,” and wash on the top rack only.

The Dirt on Clean Dishes

If you wonder why dishes come out of your dishwasher with bits of food still stuck to them, it could be because you’re rinsing them first. It seems counterintuitive, but prerins- ing can make your dishes come out dirtier, not cleaner. That goes for glasses, pots, and silverware, too. The reason is that most dish- washers costing $500 or more sold in the past five years or so have a sensor that determines how thorough a wash is needed. At the start

of the cycle, it rinses the dishes, then checks how dirty the water is to determine the proper amount of time and water to get everything clean. If you’ve already rinsed off much of the muck, the sensor misreads the dishes as al- ready fairly clean. So the appliance gives them just a light wash, and items come out less than sparkling. To avoid that lackluster result, don’t rinse; just scrape off loose food. And use one of the detergents that topped our tests.

d

RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS

Cascade Complete ActionPacs 29¢ per load

Finish Powerball Tabs 18¢ per load

Palmolive load eco+ 6¢ per

Member’s Mark Ultimate Clean Dishwasher Pacs (Sam’s Club) 10¢ per load

Finish Quantum Max Powerball 41¢ per load

Cascade Platinum ActionPacs with the Power of Clorox 34¢ per load

Finish Gelpacs 21¢ per load

Cascade Complete Powder 21¢ per load

Seventh Generation Powder 19¢ per load

IDEA FILE

|

8 smart kitchen upgrades

ATTRACTIVE FEATURES An open layout with easy flow from the kitchen to entertaining areas and an island is a highly desirable kitchen attribute, according to our experts. Stainless steel appliances and up- dated surfaces and floorings create a look that says: “brand new.”

8 Smart

Kitchen Upgrades

Making the right remodeling decisions will help you get a kitchen that fits your needs now and boosts your home’s value later

UNLESS YOU’RE PLANNING to move in the next couple of years, you’re probably not factoring resale into your kitchen update plans—but you should. Situations change, and the house you imagined growing old in could suddenly be just one stop on the path of life. Here are eight ways, informed by Consumer Reports’ nationally representative survey of 1,573 millennials, to improve your kitchen and your home’s value.

1

MAKE IT

LOOK NEW

Buyers of all kinds have long focused on the kitchen, but it holds particular sway over the newest wave of irst-time home- owners. A “modern/updated” kitchen topped the list of ideal home features in our survey of millennials, registering as most important to more than one-third of respondents. If you plan to sell, don’t rip your kitchen down to the studs; a smaller investment can have serious impact. For as little as $5,000 you should be able to add a new suite of appliances, as well as a new countertop and looring. Applying a coat of paint to the walls or cabinets, and up- dating the hardware, can work wonders.

VALUABLE ADDITIONS

Stainless steel. Though it has been around for decades, this clean, contemporary finish on appli- ances signals “updated” in the mind of the buyer.

Quartz countertops. Engineered from stone chips, resins, and pigments, quartz has started to chal- lenge granite and marble as the go-to material in higher-end kitchens. It shrugged off heat, scratches, cuts, and stains in our tests, and it requires none of the upkeep of comparably priced natural stones.

PHOTO, PREVIOUS SPREAD: JANE BEILES

IDEA FILE |

8 smart kitchen upgrades

2

OPEN UP

THE PLAN

An “open loor plan with lexible living space” was second only to an updated kitchen on millennials’ list of most desired features. So if you’re consider- ing removing a wall to connect your kitchen to an adjacent living or dining area, you can take the plunge, feeling conident that the additional expense will probably make your home more ap- pealing to future buyers. While you’re at it, add an island, the No. 1 most requested feature, according to the kitchen designers we’ve interviewed.

BOSCH

3 BUILD IN ENERGY SAVINGS

Lowering your home’s energy costs will save you money for as long as you live there and is expected to be a major selling point down the line. Indeed, “energy-eicient” was second only to “safe community” on the list of attributes that would most inluence a purchase decision, according to a 2015 survey by the National Association of Home Builders. Older homeowners who have felt the sting of escalating energy costs tend to be driving the interest. But there are some early adopters among younger buyers, too, especially in regions of the country with more extreme weather. “My millennial buyers usually ask for two years’ worth of utility payments,” says Joe Rivellino, a real estate professional in the Buffalo, N.Y., area. “They want to know the R-Value on the insulation and whether the windows have low-E coatings,” he says, referring to two impor- tant efficiency measures.

VALUABLE ADDITIONS

Multipurpose spaces. Also known as flex rooms or double-duty rooms, you’ll see these advertised as an additional living area that can serve a variety of purposes. If your plans include updating an adjacent family room, consider making sure it can do double duty as a guest room or playroom.

Dedicated laundry room. It’s not part of the kitchen, per se, but younger buyers in particular say they want a dedicated laundry room, perhaps off the kitchen. Man- ufacturers are obliging with washer/ dryer sets with a matching fit and finish that neatly integrates into the living space. We like the Maytag Bravos MVWB85DW HE top-loader and Maytag Bravos MEDB855DW electric dryer, $1,050 each.

VALUABLE ADDITIONS

High-efficiency windows. Energy Star certified windows can lower your home’s energy bills by 7 to 15 percent. That will be a selling point with buyers, though replacing windows is expensive—anywhere from $8,000 to $24,000 for an en- tire house—so you probably won’t recoup the entire investment if you plan to sell right away. A major kitchen renovation is a good time to update the kitchen windows; you can always switch out the units in the rest of the house later on.

LED lights. Some listings empha- size their “green” credentials by mentioning the presence of LED lighting. Choose the Feit Electric 60 Watt Replacement 9.5W LED, a $7 bulb that delivers superb light quality and has a 23-year life expectancy.

PHOTO, TOP RIGHT: JANE BEILES

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS Choosing easy-care materials like quartz countertops and wood or porcelain tile floors will make your life easier now, and may appeal to busy prospective buyers. Choosing energy-saving appliances and lighting is another smart decision, whether you plan to stay or move.

4 THINK ‘LOW- MAINTENANCE’

Stain-prone stone countertops, dust-collecting ornate cabi- nets, and grime-catching ceramic tile used to be symbols of luxury, but today’s homebuyers are more likely to equate them with extra work. “We call it stress-free living,” says Miguel Berger, a real estate professional in Albany, N.Y. “The younger generation in particular would much rather spend their time entertaining at home than fussing over it.” It’s safe to assume boomers feel the same way.

VALUABLE ADDITIONS

Hardwood floors. Long-wearing hardwood flooring with a durable factory finish is an easy-care alternative to ceramic tile or linoleum. Engineered wood flooring, which uses a thin veneer of real wood or bamboo over structural plywood, tends not to wear as well as the solid stuff, though it has the same look and tends to cost less, mak- ing it a good choice if you plan to sell soon.

PHOTOS: JANE BEILES (TOP LEFT AND TOP RIGHT); BOB WIGAND (BOTTOM RIGHT)

IDEA FILE |

5

LOOK

FORWARD

By 2040 there are expected to be al- most 80 million seniors, accounting for 21 percent of the population. The existing housing stock isn’t equipped to safely accommodate that many older people—too many steep staircases, nar- row walker-unfriendly doorways, and slippery surfaces. Proactive homeown- ers are making necessary improve- ments now—and those changes will beneit people of all ages. According to a 2015 survey by HomeAdvisor, 56 percent of homeowners who hired a pro for aging-related projects were younger than 65, and 10 percent were younger than 50.

VALUABLE ADDITIONS

Wall oven and cooktop combo. You can place

a wall oven wherever you want it, eliminating the need to bend down to move heavy dishes in and out of a range.

Lower microwave. It eliminates the need to lift

a pan into an over-the-range model.

Counters at varied heights. Installing some counters that a user can sit at to work allows cooks of all abilities and ages to take part in meal prep.

BRIGHTEN UP Whether you have a windowed nook or not, brighten your space with paint, choosing one of our top-rated brands on page 71 to give walls a fresh, clean new look.

6 USE THE POWER OF PAINT

Paint keeps your home looking its best while also defending its surfaces from wear, tear, and the elements. If you’re getting ready to sell, high-traic spaces like the kitchen should be the irst places you paint. Do the job yourself for about $100 in material costs or pay a professional $1,000 or so, which should cover multiple rooms.

VALUABLE ADDITIONS

Neutral color scheme. Whites and off-whites remain the top-selling interior colors and will appeal to most homebuy- ers, allowing them to envision the space as their own. Neutrals appeal to all generations of buyers, according to Jule Eller, trend and style director at Lowe’s.

7 BE SMART ABOUT SMART TECHNOLOGY

High-tech features ofer notoriously bad returns on investment because technologies tend to evolve quickly. But certain smart devices add value and interest, including programmable thermostats, a wise add-on while you’re in renovation-mode. “I’ll often install a Nest thermostat because it creates the impression that this is a high-tech home,” Berger says.

We’re seeing the same benefit with lights, door locks, and security systems. Those smart features have broad appeal with millennials, “who grew up on smartphones, so they’re used to being able to control things at their fingertips,” says JP Endres, a real estate professional based in Westchester County, north of New York City. “And they’ll pay 3 to 5 percent more for a home with the right amenities.”

VALUABLE ADDITIONS

Programmable thermostat. The Honey- well RTH9590WF, $300, at right, proved easier to use than the Nest in our tests. Both can be controlled from a phone or computer.

Whole-house generator. Power failures are an increasing reality, and a generator can save all of the food in that huge new fridge (not to mention keeping the lights on). Stationary generators can usually power the entire property. A professionally installed unit can range from $7,000 to $15,000, according to Porch, a website connecting users with home service pros. We like the Generac 6241, $3,500, excluding installation.

8 CONNECT TO THE OUTDOORS

Your home’s property is another opportunity to expand its living space. Adding a deck or patio, with room for seating and a built-in or

freestanding grill, is a way to create

a deined space for outdoor living

on a large or small scale, and con-

necting that space to the kitchen or open family room via glass doors is

a smart decision. (For more on creat-

ing an indoor-outdoor kitchen, see “Open for Entertaining,” on page 36.)

GO OUTSIDE Well-equipped outdoor living areas help expand your home’s usable living space and are less expensive than an addition.

VALUABLE ADDITIONS

Easy upkeep. “[Millennial buyers] love outdoor spaces, but whereas prior genera- tions might have gone for the pool, Gen Yers recognize the maintenance costs associated with it,” Berger says. “They’d much rather see an outdoor fire pit surrounded by a simple seating arrangement.”

Water-savvy planting. Don’t go for overly lush landscapes, especially in drought- stricken regions with high water costs.

IDEA FILE

|

bold in black & white

Bold

In Black & White

Vern Yip’s own kitchen pairs high-contrast design with plenty of family-friendly practicality

D DESIGNER VERN YIP is a study in

contrasts. Although instantly recogniz-

able from his years as a high-profile

designer and host on HGTV, Yip’s a

down-to-earth dad. He’s as passionate

about his home life with partner Craig

Koch and their children, Gavin and

Vera, as he is about his busy design

business. That commitment to balanc-

ing fab with family-friendly shows in

every inch of his remodeled Atlanta

kitchen, which started, as so many do,

as a small space cut off from the rest of

the house. “We wanted to bring it up to

date with the way we live today, which

is

very different from the way people

used their kitchens when the house was built in 1926,” Yip says. The renovation

effectively doubled the space, creating

a large work area open to an adjacent

breakfast room, with cabinets galore and an island with seating for four.

CABINET DECISIONS

Layout in place, Yip turned to the cabi- netry, choosing a simple paneled de- sign and a rich black finish from Omega Cabinetry, a company he takes care to note he has no business relationship with. “It was really important to me to have well-made wood cabinets. They

FAMILY AFFAIR Vern Yip designed his kitchen with his family in mind, choosing durable materials with classic looks that would stand up to years of “kids and dogs.” A graphic black-and- white scheme lends a little designer attitude.

PHOTOS: DAVID A. LAND (PREVIOUS SPREAD, MIDDLE LEFT, AND MIDDLE RIGHT)

IDEA FILE

|

bold in black & white

get a lot of wear and tear—kids aren’t particularly careful when they open or close a door—and I wanted something that would really last,” he says. When specifying the cabinet design, he most- ly avoided the standard arrangement of upper and lower units separated by a strip of backsplash. “Where we needed upper cabinets, I tried to extend the cabinetry from floor to ceiling—it’s a much more streamlined look,” he says.

MATERIAL MATTERS

To create a space with equal parts beauty and brains, Yip chose a mix of hard-working materials with timeless style. “We’re busy, we have dogs and kids, so we didn’t want anything to be fussy,” he says. His pretty and practical choices include espresso-stained wood flooring and white Cambria quartz countertops with subtle veining that of- fers the classic look of marble but with- out the upkeep. “I love Carrara marble, but I know myself—stains would drive me crazy, and I didn’t want to have to reseal the stone all the time. Quartz looks great, and it’s nonporous. It’s a no-brainer.” Beveled subway tile extends all the way to the ceiling on the back wall. “It’s tempting to have fun with tile,” he says. “but you have to think about all the things that will sit on your counter. Keeping the tile simple creates a less cluttered look.”

DESIGNER STYLE

Of course, Yip was intent on giving the new space a fresh new look. He stuck with a simple black-and-white pal- ette but went big on pattern, painting the walls with broad stripes and using his own line of fabrics throughout. The crystal pendants above the island, from the London collection he created for Stonegate Designs, add sparkle and feature energy-efficient LED bulbs. Like most people post-remodel, Yip, who has overseen more projects than he can count, is relieved it’s over—and pleased with the results. “The kitchen fits us perfectly now,” he says.

Get the Look

Copy Vern Yip’s timeless style with these look-alike products

STRIPED SHADE

Turn a simple hanging bulb into

a focal point with the addition of

a graphic striped shade. Black Horizontal Stripe Giclee Shade, $60. lampsplus.com

PRO-STYLE RANGE

If

a hefty pro-style range like this one

is

beyond your budget, consider one

of our well-priced picks on page 95.

Wolf 36” Gas Range, $6,345. subzero-wolf.com

HINT OF COLOR

A few aqua accents pick up the

pretty blue of the painted ceiling. Aqua

Center-Striped Tea Towel, $5 for two. athome.com

STREAMLINED STOOL

Designed for a 2001 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, this sleek seat suits any style space. Emeco Counter Stool, $460. dwr.com

That New Black Magic

When Vern Yip remodeled his kitchen, he knew one thing for sure: He wanted black cabinets. As it happened, Yip was ahead of the curve. Black-and-white kitchens are a full-fledged design trend, getting lots of love in the blogo- sphere. Stephanie Pierce, director of design and trends at MasterBrand Cabinets, weighs in: “At least 50 percent of the designers we work with are using two or more finishes in their kitchens,” she says. “Black’s a natural choice because it’s timeless and works with every other color.” But black isn’t for every space. “If you want a bright look in a kitchen with black cabinets, you need to have plenty of natural light coming in,” she says.

SHERWIN-WILLIAMS

ALABASTER M530-7

SHERWIN-WILLIAMS BLACK MAGIC M530-7

SHERWIN-WILLIAMS OPEN AIR M530-7

MOD CHAIR

Inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s famous Brno chair, this modern classic makes a comfortably casual dining chair. Mies Executive Arm Chair, $750. modernclassics.com

FUN FABRICS

Limit the palette and even the boldest mix of patterns, like these fabrics from Yip’s own collection, won’t overwhelm. From left: 03365 Black, $41 per yard; 03356 Black, $51 per yard; and 03364 Black, $41 per yard. To the trade. trend-fabrics.com

SLEEK FAUCET

This single-handled pull-out faucet has a sleek silhouette and a spot-resistant brushed stainless-steel finish. 90 Degree High Arc Pullout Faucet, $818. moen.com

IDEA FILE | cozy in color

Cozy in Color

These pretty paint shades from our top tested brands create a warm and inviting effect

LEMON

Try Behr Marquee (Home Depot), in Spirited Yellow, P290-4, $43

Sunny yellow is a cheerful choice for a kitchen. It makes even a dark room look brighter and mixes well with a range of other colors, including lime green, as shown here.

SEA GLASS

Try Valspar Reserve (Lowe’s) in Homestead Resort Spa Aqua, 5004-5A, $44 Soft, watery blues add a touch of tranquility to kitchens in coastal settings—or anyplace you’d like to tap a vacation-house vibe.

IDEA FILE

|

cozy in color

SCARLET

Try: Clark + Kensington Enamel in Bold and Beauti- ful, 06D-5, $32 There’s nothing subtle about bright red, but it’s a surprisingly versatile shade that pairs well with a range of colors from warm neutrals, to navy blue, black, or crisp white.

PHOTOS, PREVIOUS SPREAD, FROM LEFT: MARK LOHMAN; CASEY DUNN. THIS SPREAD, FROM LEFT: CLEARY O’FARRELL; KARYN R. MILLET

COCOA

Try Benjamin Moore Aura in Chocolate Mousse, 1025, $54

A subtle neutral with a warm base is a foolproof starting point for your kitchen’s color scheme. Adding bright accessories cre- ates a colorful look without risk- ing a paint shade you may tire of.

IDEA FILE

|

double the pleasure

Pleasure Double the

A clever update expanded this kitchen’s square footage within the existing footprint, no expensive addition required

W WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN? Shannon

Harris chose to do just that, buying her childhood

home from her parents and moving in with her

husband, Bradley, and their two daughters. But

though the suburban Atlanta home was long on

memories, the kitchen was short on the kinds of

modern amenities a busy young family needs.

The Harrises had been considering an update

for several years when life forced their hand: A

slow leak from the old refrigerator buckled the

wood floors. And then things got worse. “When

they pulled up the wood to replace it, they found

old asphalt tiles underneath,” Shannon says. “Re-

moving all the asphalt meant taking everything

out of the kitchen—basically a gut job—so while we

were at it we decided to remodel.”

Working with architect Kristen Ware of Ware

& Associates and general contractor Jack Mattern of the local design-build firm Modify Atlanta, the couple opted not to add on but to reconfigure the existing space to create a family hub with better flow and a brighter, more modern look. “Like a lot of 1960s houses, this one was very segmented

AFTER

A reconfigured layout eliminated the once-choppy layout and inaccessible cabinets, creating a more efficient workspace and a comfortable family hangout zone.

IDEA FILE

BEFORE

|

double the pleasure

inside,” Mattern says. “And it’s on a wooded lot, so getting light inside was a challenge.” The solution was threefold: To enlarge the kitchen itself, the de- sign team extended it into the former breakfast nook, creating a long, open space. They removed a half wall that cut the kitchen off from the adjoining family room, replacing it with a breakfast bar with seating for two. And they enlarged the existing bay window to help usher sunlight into the once-dingy space. Because they’d been dreaming about a remodel for so long, the Harrises had a pretty good idea of the look they wanted in the kitchen: “Traditional but clean and simple,” Shannon says. They used websites such as Houzz to find pictures to share with their designers, and they worked carefully with the cabi- net contractor to choose storage that would fit their needs, eliminating the old kitchen’s “unusable” cor- ner cabinets and incorporating more drawers than doors. Before they signed off on the cabinet plan, the couple got to see it in virtual reality. “That gave us so much confidence,” Shannon says. Bradley, the family’s main cook, was in charge of picking the appliances, replacing the old electric range with a gas cooktop and a pair of wall ovens. “He’s a great baker, so the wall ovens were important,” Shan- non says. A larger fridge comes in handy when the fam- ily entertains—as they do just about every weekend. The efficient new layout, improved storage, and sleek appliances get a boost from the updated look. Warm wood floors, durable honed granite counters in a light-reflecting gray, and a mix of geometric backsplash tiles create a space that’s as easy on the eyes as it is to cook—and live—in. Of course, it’s still the same kitchen Shannon grew up in. “But now it feels like it’s really ours,” she says.

A sleek gray-and-white palette gives the kitchen a sophisticated look that flows seamlessly into the adjoining family room.

BEFORE

The old kitchen occupied a small rectangle bound by a peninsula and cut off from the family room by an awkward half wall. The existing storage was minimal and relied heavily on difficult-to-access corner cabinets. A breakfast table took up a large portion of the floor plan.

PHOTOS, THIS SPREAD AND PREVIOUS: LAUREN RUBINSTEIN (AFTER)

AFTER

Moving the breakfast table to a nearby sunroom allowed for a longer run

of counters on one side of the kitchen and seating for two. Reconfiguring

a doorway on the opposite wall created more space for appliances.

A freestanding island adds prep space but can move aside if not needed.

The contractor suggested a highly textured local wood for the bay window to help add richness and call attention to the detail.

PHOTO, LEFT: JEFF HERR

IDEA FILE

|

instant makeover

Makeover Instant

You don’t have to renovate to get a new look. A few easy pieces will do the trick.

ECLECTIC MIX With equal parts rustic and modern, this space has a fun, personal style that’s easy to copy— even on a budget.

Ideas to Steal

POP OF COLOR

A

few bright accessories add energy

to

open shelving displays—without

adding clutter.

Linework vase, Maze,

BOLD FIXTURE

$44; westelm.com

A

show-stopping pendant, like this one

LOW-PROFILE SHELVES

Open shelving instead of upper cabinets provides inexpensive storage in a space- challenged kitchen.

DeanPenn reclaimed 36” wood shelving, $40 each; etsy.com

Rich Base

A coat of high-gloss navy blue paint on the base cabinets has a grounding efect in a bright space.

BEHR ELEGANT NAVY M530-7

BEHR SIMPLY WHITE BWC-01

based on a well-known Mid-Century Modern design, creates a focal point in an otherwise simple space.

Arteriors Zanadoo 12-light chandelier, $2,160; lumens.com

RUSTIC TOUCH

A handcarved wood bowl lends

natural texture to balance smooth and shiny kitchen surfaces.

Root Wood bowl, medium, $58; bambeco.com

GLAM HARDWARE

Go for the gold: It mixes beautifully with stainless steel.

Lewis Dolin 5-inch bar pull in brushed brass, $11.61 each; thehardwarehut.com

COUNTRY CONTRAST

Variety is the spice of life—and of kitchen design. Classic country-French chairs in a

mix of metal and wood are an unexpected

match to a modern breakfast table.

Cadence dining side chair in aged elm, $199; arhaus.com

SLEEK APPLIANCES

You can get the look of pro-style appliances

without the high price. Our top-rated ranges on page 95 mix performance with great style.

Samsung NX58H5600SS 30-inch gas range, $800; samsung.com

PHOTO, LEFT: JEFF HERR

IDEA FILE

|

MODERN LOVE Clean lines, warm wood, and plenty of gleaming stone and steel create a look that’s current and inviting.

instant makeover

Ideas to Steal

HANDSOME HOOD

Turn a function into a design feature by choosing a range hood that holds its own,

like this one with a strong, angular profile

in shining stainless steel.

Broan convertible wall-mounted range hood, $479; lowes.com

BACK SPLASH

An allover geometric pattern in a neutral color scheme draws the eye to the back- splash, helping a small space look larger.

Kiln chevron milk-white ceramic tile, $47 per square foot; modwalls.com

THRICE AS NICE

Pendant lights don’t have to cost a fortune:

Hanging multiples of bargain-priced fixtures will make a big impact (and brighten your space).

Home Decorators Collection 1-light pendant, $66; homedepot.com

FUNCTIONAL FUN

Add a splash of color on the cooktop by

picking bright cookware that’s pretty enough

to leave out all of the time.

Le Creuset Signature 7.25-quart round Caribbean French oven with lid, $360; crateandbarrel.com

BRIGHT IDEA

A colorful lacquered tray is both

decorative and useful.

Convenience Concepts Palm Beach serving tray, $29; walmart.com

TIMELY TOUCH

A few minimalist elements add style, subtly.

Clemens clock,

$87; franceandson.com

SLEEK SEATING

Sculptural chrome bar stools are as cool as they are comfy. Bonus: The backless design doesn’t block the view of the kitchen from ad- joining areas when the stools are unoccupied.

Freddy adjustable bar stool, $361; sleekmodernfurniture.com

Cool Attitude

Pale gray walls and white trim provide crisp, clean contrast with the warmth of natural wood inishes.

VALSPAR NOTRE DAME 5006-1B

VALSPAR PARAMOUNT WHITE 7006-22

PHOTOS: ANDREA RUGG/COLLINSTOCK (LEFT); HEATHER KNIGHT (TOP)

IDEA FILE | instant makeover

COUNTRY CHIC French country accents help create an elegant but comfortable look that’s easily adaptable.

TOUCHABLE TEXTURE

A pale color scheme gains character from

plenty of rich natural texture.

Medium scallop bowl, $70; elementclaystudio.com

Bright Backdrop

Work an all-white palette by choosing two contrast- ing shades: one slightly gray, the other pure white.

CLARK+KENSINGTON STORMY WEATHER CW-C7

CLARK+KENSINGTON SILENT WHITE CW-C1

CAFE CLASSIC

Designed in France in 1934, this timeless style lends an appealing French accent

to a casual dining area.

Tolix Marais A chair, $275; dwr.com

Ideas to Steal

ATTENTION GETTER

Create a bold transition from workspace to entertaining area by hanging a dramatic chandelier above the dining table.

Napa East Collection wine barrel chandelier, $1,799; wayfairsupply.com

TIMELESS TILE

You can’t go wrong with subway tile. It creates a clean, pulled-together effect in almost any style space—and it won’t break the bank.

Cobble subway tile, $18 per square foot; homedepot.com

FRESH GREENS

Edible plants, like a windowsill herb garden or a miniature citrus tree, lend an appealing living element to your kitchen.

Similar: Nagami kumquat tree, $80 for a 2- to 3-foot tree; brighterblooms.com

TAILORED TOUCHES

For a sophisticated look, pick hardware with simple shapes and subtle shine. Brushed nickel fits well with a French-inspired look.

From left: Amerock 3-inch centers cup pull in satin nickel, $2.59; Amerock Rochdale 1¼-inch knob in satin nickel, $4.50; Schlage F10 Series Passage Andover doorknob with Addison rose in satin nickel, $56; myknobs.com

IDEA FILE

|

open for entertaining

Open for Entertaining

See how a pair of design pros gave their kitchen an easy indoor-outdoor flow. Then get tips for creating your own party-perfect living spaces.

A AFTER A FUN FAMILY BEACH VACATION, Blake Farrow, a builder

in Ontario, Canada, and his wife, Marina Farrow, an interior

designer, decided to renovate their lives. They sold their city

home and bought a dilapidated 1970s ranch on three acres

outside of town with the goal of creating a place for their family

to come together in nature. The setting was perfect. The house,

not so much. "It was very Brady Bunch," Blake says. A gut reno-

vation and a large addition solved that problem. Now the couple

and their three children enjoy a spread designed with flexibility

and a connection to the great outdoors in mind.

Blake describes the kitchen, a grand space outfitted for seri-

ous cooking and large-scale entertaining, as the "heartbeat"

of the house. So the couple took particular care to build in a

warm, casual style. "We wanted it to feel comfortable whether

it's just the family or a party for 100," Blake says. The latter is a

fairly common occurrence chez Farrow, and they planned ac-

cordingly. When the weather cooperates, a wall of sliding glass

doors can be opened to create a seamless flow to the outdoor living areas. And "all the furniture is on wheels, so we can push

the table outside or move everything to create a dance floor," Marina says. "When entertaining is easy, it's more fun."

SMOOTH TRANSITION

The wall of sliding glass doors links inside and out year-round. "Even when it's too cold to be outside, you still feel sur- rounded by nature," Blake Farrow notes. To ensure that the connection was truly seamless, the Farrows built the cedar deck to the same level as the polished concrete kitchen floor. "We wanted kids and everyone else to be able to run in and out without tripping," Marina Farrow says.

PHOTO, PREVIOUS SPREAD: ROBIN STUBBERT/GAP INTERIORS

IDEA FILE

|

open for entertaining

INDOOR KITCHEN

Marina's stylish kitchen design is long on practicality. "We didn't want to add any maintenance to our life," she says. So she chose easy-care materials like tough quartz for the countertops and grainy oak for the cabinets. And she included features to suit her cooking tastes: a built-in pizza oven (not shown), a lower counter for comfortable dough rolling, and a huge refrigerator for party-food storage.

OUTDOOR KITCHEN

Blake loves to barbecue, and he took care to design an outdoor cooking area that's accessible for year-round use. "We created an overhang so the grills are sheltered, and installed galvanized metal behind them because it's fireproof and easy to clean," he explains. Fire-resistant horse-stall rubber matting lines the deck under the grills, protecting the cedar and pro- viding a cushy standing surface.

PHOTOS, CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM LEFT: ROBIN STUBBERT/GAP INTERIORS (2); DARLENE HALABY; CASEY DUNN (2)

Connect Indoors and Out

A close link to outdoor spaces can make your kitchen feel bigger. Here, three ways to create low:

ADD A PASS-THROUGH

The simple addition of an exterior countertop turns a window into a functional feature. This configura- tion allows the cook to interact with guests as they enjoy outdoor areas, makes it easy to transfer food and dishes, and creates a handy bar or buffet space.

USE WOOD AND STONE

Natural materials create a visual link between an indoor kitchen and the house's natural surroundings. Granite is a wise choice for outdoor countertops because it stands up well to the elements.

GO FOR A GLASS WALL

Sliding glass walls—wide expanses of doors that stack at one end or slip into a channel in the wall, appearing to "disappear"—are a newly popular design feature. NanaWall, the maker of the system used by the Farrows and shown below, was one of the first to introduce the look, but a number of companies offer similar products.

IDEA FILE

|

Take It Outside

Expand your kitchen with a space that's great for grilling

Outdoor kitchens and entertaining areas are popular for good reason. "They let you extend your home's living space without making a big investment in an addition," says Leslie Wheeler, communications director for the Hearth, Patio, & Barbecue Association.

It's easy to create an appealing outdoor space on a budget. You can start simply by lighting up the night with long-lasting LEDs and a

portable fire pit to gather around. Underfoot, gravel walkways and patios are a lower-cost alternative to stone and concrete. Overhead,

a ceiling fan keeps the breeze

moving. Outdoor fireplaces, and especially fire pits, have become popular hot spots as homeowners look to make the most of the space. You don’t have to do everything at once. Take a

multiyear approach, if necessary, because poor planning or working with inferior materials to save money are the biggest mistakes people make. And last, choose

a great grill. Our top three are pictured on the next page.

PHOTO, LEFT: TOM MARKS/MCKINNEY GROUP

MONEY MATTERS

SCREEN STAR

Most gas grills sell for less than $300 and are used for three years, on average. Spending $400 to $600 can get you a top-performing midsized grill; $600 to $900 can get you a large one.

on average. Spending $400 to $600 can get you a top-performing midsized grill; $600 to $900

Keep the mosquitos from feasting on you by tucking your outdoor kitchen inside a screened porch. Tip:

Factor ventilation into your plans or risk get- ting smoked out.

GREAT GAS GRILLS

Consumer Reports puts gas grills through a battery of tests for evenness, indirect cooking, temperature range, convenience, and more. Here, our top picks at every size.

c CR

c CR

Best Buy

Best Buy

MIDSIZED

NEXGRILL 720-0830H (HOME DEPOT)

$270

Superb preheating and even cooking put this grill at the top of our list. It has four burners, electronic ignition, and a side burner. homedepot.com

LARGE

NAPOLEON PRESTIGE PRO 665RSIB

$2,600

This pricey pick performed very well overall. Perks include 600 sq. in. of grill surface, an infrared rotisserie and side burner, and lighted controls. napoleongrills.com

SMALL

HUNTINGTON

630124

$140

This nicely priced model preheated quickly and showed impressive temperature range and indirect cooking perfor- mance. It has three burners and a push-button ignition.

huntingtonbbq.com

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ZELA LOBB

IDEA FILE

|

remodeling survival guide

Remodeling

Survival Guide

Consumer Reports’ latest survey of 300 general contractors revealed some shady pro practices and costly mistakes homeowners make. Here’s how to avoid the common pitfalls on the road to a beautiful new kitchen.

P PLANNING TO TACKLE that big kitchen renovation

this year? Welcome to the club. Home improvement

spending is projected to reach $155 billion in 2016,

according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for

Housing Studies. And the construction industry has

shed more than 2 million jobs since 2007.

Though the number of remodeling pros has

declined, there are still less experienced—and less

scrupulous—ones out there, according to a recent

survey of 300 general contractors from around the

country conducted by the Consumer Reports

National Research Center. Among the shady prac-

tices general contractors reported are contractors

using unskilled laborers, and winning jobs with

lowball bids and then jacking up the cost later with

“unforeseen problems.”

Our survey asked crucial questions such as:

How much wiggle room is in the estimate? What are the biggest homeowner mistakes? How long do projects really take? The answers inform this guide. Follow our advice and you could save thousands without compromising quality—or losing your cool.

The Planning Phase

Proper planning is the best predictor of satisfaction and will minimize the number of costly changes you make once the work is underway. So before you even think of looking for a contractor, you’ll need to spend time gathering ideas and taking a hard look at your own budget. A 2015 report from Houzz, a home-design website, found that half of homeowners who renovated their kitchen gathered ideas for six months or longer. Orga- nize your inspirational photos by using Houzz’s ideabook feature or starting a Pinterest page; an old-fashioned scrap- book will also work well.

PHOTO, RIGHT: CHRIS TURNER/GETTY IMAGES

As excited as you might be to get started, avoid the temptation to rush: Chances are you’ll be living with the results of the project for a long time, so you’ll want to get it right. Consider factoring major life changes into your plan, which could include low-profile transitions between rooms or an open-plan layout to accommodate your future teenage kids and their friends. Once you have a clear idea of what you’d like to do and how much you can spend, it’s time to bring in the pros. For major projects like a gut kitchen renovation you should gather your entire team as early as possible. See “Assembling a Winning Team,” at right, for details. “It’s always best to have the ar- chitect and the general contractor working together right from the start,” says Dawn Zuber, an architect based in Canton, Mich. If you’re not knocking down walls or making other structural changes, an inte- rior designer or a certified kitchen and bath designer can probably draw up the plans;

most charge fees between 4 and 7 percent of the total budget—vs. the 10 to 20 percent most architects charge. Whether you opt for an architect or a designer, insist on 3D draw- ings: They’ll help you visualize the remod- eled space better than flat elevations will. Establish a system of checks and balances between your designer and your contractor from the start. “It’s those big decisions made in the first 10 to 15 percent of the design process that have the most impact on cost,” says Marc Truant, president of a design- build firm based in Boston. “An experienced GC will help you head off things you can’t af- ford before you pay for finished drawings.” Though word-of-mouth referrals are best, real estate agents can also provide leads to reputable GCs. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry offers a direc- tory of certified contractors on its website, at nari.org. (Its members must go through extensive screening and testing, and adhere to a strict code of ethics.) Online home services, such as Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, and Porch, can also help you find pros. Remember these rules as you go through the vetting process:

CHECK CREDENTIALS.

Even if they come with a glowing review from your sister-in-law, you still need to check the bona fides of every profes- sional on your short list. In our survey, almost one-fifth of GCs lacked either a state license or the proper insurance, and 9 percent lacked both. Though proper credentials aren’t a guarantee of quality, they’re a good sign that the GC runs a repu- table business. What’s more, our survey found that fully accredited GCs are better at holding down costs when unexpected problems arise. The Contractor’s License Reference Site (at contractors-license.org) has information on licensing requirements by state and a list of licensed pros.

LISTEN TO YOUR GUT.

Trust and a good rapport between you and your contractor are essential. Any negative feelings you have during the initial inter- view (Too bossy? Condescending? Rushed?) will only intensify as the project heats up. It’s also important to understand how a

ASSEMBLING A WINNING TEAM

Know which key players you need—and when you’ll need them

ARCHITECT

What They Do

Listen to your ideas, help you think through the design, and translate all of it into detailed architectural drawings for the general contractor to follow.

When You Need One

You’re knocking down walls or changing your home’s struc- tural or mechanical systems.

What They Charge

10 to 20 percent of overall

project cost.

GENERAL

CONTRACTOR

What They Do

These MVPs take charge of the project from start to finish, managing the schedule and hiring plumbers, electricians, and all other subcontractors. GCs also secure all necessary local building permits.

When You Need One

A job is too big to do on your own.

What They Charge

25 percent.

(continued on page 44)

IDEA FILE

|

remodeling survival guide

ASSEMBLING A

WINNING TEAM

(continued from page 43)

INTERIOR OR KITCHEN DESIGNER

What They Do

Help with design choices, such as selecting a kitchen counter- top or the tile and tub for the bathroom. Budget permitting, it’s worth considering a de- signer for the unique knowledge he or she brings. Find certified designers through the National Kitchen & Bath Association (nkba.org) or the American Society of Interior Designers (asid.org).

When You Need One

Trying to decide among granite, quartz, and laminate counter- tops is driving you insane.

What They Charge

4 to 7 percent.

INTERIOR DECORATOR

What They Do

These tastemakers offer guid- ance on decorative style, color, furnishings, and other aesthetic concerns.

When You Need One

Never, really, but their advice can be the difference between a room that’s so-so and one that’s sensational. And they can help you avoid expensive mis- takes and know which corners you can safely cut—and which will cost you over the long term.

What They Charge

5 to 20 percent.

RENOVATION

CONSULTANT

What They Do

Help you plan, determine your budget—they’ll even be the liaison between you and the GC during the entire renovation.

When You Need One

You’re working on a large, expensive, multiroom project and you don’t have time to manage it yourself—or you want a lot of hand-holding.

What They Charge

Up to 5 percent.

GC communicates during a project and to be comfortable with that method. Ask whether you’ll be dealing with him directly, or whether he’ll be delegating the job to one of his project managers (if the latter, make sure to vet the manager, too). Some GCs rely on email or handwritten notes, and others use construction management software, which lets a homeowner track scheduling, payments, shipments, and more.

BE FLEXIBLE ON THE BUDGET.

The number you start out with during the planning phase is likely to change when you begin to see what materials cost. GCs have to make similar calculations, factoring what they think the job will cost against their own profit margins and unforeseen expenses.

ALWAYS NEGOTIATE.

Only 4 percent of the GCs in our survey

said they are never willing to negotiate the price of a job (66 percent are somewhat willing, and 30 percent are very willing). Getting bids from at least three GCs will give you a sense of the market rate and provide bargaining power. Conventional wisdom holds that you should throw out the highest bid, but if you think that the GC offering it is the best for the job, it’s worth trying to get a lower price. Keeping the business of a repeat cus- tomer was the biggest reason to haggle, cited by 75 percent of GCs, who reported offering a median discount of 10 percent. So if more work is coming down the line,

be sure to mention that. Combining proj- ects could also save you in the long run:

Two-thirds of GCs said they offer discounts on multiroom jobs.

BE PREPARED FOR SURPRISES.

When we asked GCs about job-related (as opposed to people-related) problems that lead to delays or cost overruns, they said that many of the culprits are hidden behind walls—electrical wiring that isn’t up to code, for example. Even though most contractors plan for those contingencies, we recommend adding at least a 10 percent cushion to cover such surprises. On major projects it’s worth paying a few hundred dollars for a pre-inspection by a

certified home inspector. Larger contract- ing companies might offer a pre-inspection as part of their overall service. You’ll still have to deal with any problems found, but not in the last-minute manner that can quickly blow the budget.

GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING.

No matter how much faith you have in your GC, a written contract is an essential protection for both of you. It should specify the full scope of the work, including a detailed breakdown of labor and mate- rial costs for each part of the project. For example, the electrical costs shouldn’t be a single dollar amount. The contract should list the number of outlets, switches, and fixtures, including all model numbers. It should also state a start and completion date (ask for a penalty fee of, say, $50 to $100 for every day past the deadline) and include a payment schedule, such as a 5 percent initial deposit with the remain- der paid at defined milestones. Be sure the contract also spells out exclu- sions, or what’s not included. Want to save money by handling the debris removal? That must be stipulated. For major projects, include an arbitration clause. Should a major dispute arise that can’t be settled in good faith, the clause provides language for reso- lution outside the court system, often with a state-appointed mediator. As for the fine print, watch out for allowances, which give the GC a lot of leeway in the prices of materi- als, and can end up busting the budget.

COVER YOUR ASSETS.

Nine out of 10 GCs in our survey say they provide a written guarantee for their work, so insist on one in the contract. The median time period was 15½ months, with 14 percent of respondents promising more than three years of coverage. Even if your contract doesn’t include a guarantee, you’ll enjoy some protection if the contractor is licensed. For example, California’s Con- tractors State License Board will rule on complaints involving patent defects (such as a cabinet that’s coming off the wall) for up to four years and on latent structural defects (like a buckling foundation) for up to 10 years.

The Work Phase

Remodeling is always full of uncertainty. “I always tell my clients to bump up their estimates of time and money by 20 per-

cent,” says Bruce Irving, a renovation con- sultant based in Cambridge, Mass. Accord- ing to our survey, kitchen projects require

a median of three weeks to complete, but

a third of them take longer. The work is messy, too. If there’s any way for you to move out, at least during the dusty demolition phase, you’ll mini- mize stress—along with possible exposure to hazardous materials. If your home was built before 1978, your GC will need to follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule, which includes containing lead dust with plastic sheeting and dispos- ing of debris in heavy-duty bags. Store valuable items far from the

worksite. If you have to stay in the house,

a good contractor will help you find ways

to keep disruptions to a minimum, by setting up a food-prep space and relocat- ing the refrigerator, for instance, during a kitchen renovation. These other tips will save you trouble once the work begins:

STAY INVOLVED.

You can’t just write the contractor a check—then check out. Even if you’ve moved out of the house, plan on a couple of in-person meetings every week and more frequent meetings at crucial points, such as during the demolition phase or before tile is installed (changing the layout or grout color can be difficult and costly once work has started).

STICK TO THE PLAN.

Changing your mind after the work is underway is the biggest mistake home- owners make, and it can be the costliest, too, according to our survey. So-called change orders, or work that arises after the contract has been signed, inflate the budget by an average of 10 percent.

It might be as simple as adding another

couple of light fixtures in the hall, but that means the GC has to get the electrician back in, and probably the painter, too. The domino effect quickly adds up, and the homeowner foots the bill.

COMMUNICATE WITH THE GC.

Engaging the subcontractors directly of- ten creates conflict. If you have a question about their work—or their behavior—tell the GC and let him or her handle it. Though you shouldn’t engage the subcontractors, you do need to be sure they’re being paid. If they’re not, you could be held liable. Stipulate in the contract that the GC will provide you with lien releases (basically proofs of pay- ment) signed by the GC and subcontractor throughout the project.

DON’T DEMO YOUR MARRIAGE.

Client-contractor relations aren’t the only ones that get tested on a remodel. Couples often feel the strain as well. Consider a January 2016 survey from Houzz, which found that 41 percent of people who remodeled with their partner found the experience frustrating; 7 percent felt they needed couples counseling,and 5 percent even considered a breakup.

The Post-Project Phase

There’s no such thing as perfection on a remodeling job. That said, don’t make the final payment until you’re 100 percent satisfied with the project.

SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE.

Word-of-mouth still rules, but the power of online reviews on sites such as HomeAdvisor and Porch is getting stron- ger. Whether you had a great experience or not, you’ll be providing a valuable ser- vice to other homeowners (and threaten- ing to share a negative experience might bring a wayward contractor back in line).

CONTRACT

PLAYERS

Most kitchen renovations are covered by one of these two types of contracts. Choose wisely.

FIXED-PRICE

CONTRACTS

With a fixed-price contract, the general contractor provides an estimate covering labor, materials, profit margin, and a cushion for contingencies. If the contractor exceeds the budget for a foresee- able reason—underestimating the cost of the drywall installation, for example—he or she is on the hook. That can be advantageous for the homeowner, but it can also affect the quality of the work if the contractor cuts corners to stay on budget—by ordering cheaper drywall, perhaps. Also, if the project comes in under budget, the contractor pockets the profit, which again could encourage subpar work.

COST-PLUS

CONTRACTS

A cost-plus contract covers

labor, materials, and profit but does not include an amount for

contingencies. Instead, additional charges are passed along to the homeowner. That could put you at

a disadvantage if you’re embark-

ing on a complicated project that might reveal expensive unknowns.

If the project comes in under

budget, however, you keep the

savings. What’s more, the contrac- tor has no incentive to scrimp.

“If you trust your contractor,

cost-plus will almost always save you money and give you the best quality product,” says Frank Montgomery, a contractor based

in Franklin, N.C. Most cost-plus

contracts come with a guaranteed maximum price, or a ceiling on additional charges. One downside:

You’ll need to stay on top of the paperwork unless you have unquestioning faith in your contractor.

Buying Guide

CABINETRY

& SURFACES

48

cabinets

54

countertops

60

flooring

66

interior paint

APPLIANCES

72

refrigerators

88

ranges

98

cooktops

106

wall ovens

110

range hoods

112

microwaves

120

dishwashers

FIXTURES & FITTINGS

128

sinks

132

faucets

BUYING

APPLIANCES

134 best appliance stores

NOTES FROM THE TEST LABS

$400,000

That’s how much Consumer Reports spent last year buying appliances to test and rate.

23,053

That’s how many items— including plates smeared with a sticky mess of egg yolks, peanut butter, and raspberry jam—we washed to see which dishwashers performed best.

7,000

That’s the number of boxes of frozen spinach we stuffed into refrigerators we tested (about 125 per year).

17

That’s the number of substances we applied to dishes (baked-on brownie mix, chili, creamed corn, eggs, peanut butter, and more) to sit overnight in the dishwashers we tested.

BUYING GUIDE

|

cabinets

MIX FINISHES Combining two or more cabinet finishes gives your space a more personal, less cookie-cutter look.

PHOTOS: JANE BEILES

Cabinets

HIGH-QUALITY STORAGE ON YOUR BUDGET: HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO SHOP SMARTER

C abinets can be your biggest expense when remodeling; it may account for up to 40 per- cent of your budget. Not only

that, they set the stage for your kitchen, and you'll have them for years. That's why choosing cabinets is so daunting.

White cabinets are popular again and so are cabinet styles that are less fussy and more streamlined, such as the clean lines and square corners of Shaker

cabinetry. Use this buying guide to help you choose. (Note that Consumer Re- ports doesn't test cabinets at this time.) It used to be that dovetail joints inside the drawers were practically all you needed to distinguish high-end cabinets. That has blurred as more manufacturers offer premium features even on low-end lines. Indeed, tests have found that you can have once-exclusive features and still wind up with shoddy construction.

You'll find that a little research beforehand can often save you time at the store and money. Check manu- facturer and retail websites as well as catalogs, then take a good look at store displays. You'll be able to tell the quality cabinets from the polished pre- tenders once you know where to look. And trust your taste. A kitchen should complement the rest of your home, so choose what you love.

WHAT’S

NEW

Gray matters. White cabinets will never go out of style, but the recent enthu- siasm for all shades of gray has made its mark on cabinets as well. Whether you paint every- thing in this cool neutral (left) or choose a two-tone effect with gray only on the base cabinets or island, it's a very livable color that's not likely to lose luster anytime soon. Integrated lighting. Undercabinet lighting is an es- sential and relatively inexpen- sive upgrade. But now cabinet designers are installing lighting in more places, including fix- tures that turn on automatically when you open drawers and cabinet doors. Easy accessibility. Touch-to-open drawer and door releases are catching on, though they're still not a widely available feature. Easier-to-find:

Pull-out storage that cuts down on uncomfortable bending.

BUYING GUIDE

|

cabinets

Steps to Success

1 SET THE BUDGET

Cabinets fall into three categories: stock, semi-custom, and custom. Stock cabinets start around $70 per linear foot. (A typical kitchen has 25 to 30 linear feet

of cabinets.) Home centers sell them fully assembled.

Stores like Ikea offer flat-pack versions that need to be put together on site; styles and sizes tend to be fairly limited. Semi-custom cabinets, which range from $150 to $250 per linear foot, come in more configura- tions, so they’ll fit your kitchen more precisely, if not perfectly. Custom cabinets can cost $500 or more per linear foot. They’re crafted to your specs and can include many personalized features.

CHOOSE A STYLE

2 The big decision is between framed and frameless. Framed cabinets consist of a box and face frame to which doors and drawers are attached. Frameless cabinets, often referred two as European-style, elimi- nate the face frame; doors and drawers are attached directly the cabinet box. That provides great accessi- bility and a more contemporary look. On the downside, the absence of a face frame can compromise rigidity. Some manufacturers compensate by using a thicker box—say, ¾-inch plywood instead of ½-inch particle- board. For the European look in a framed cabinet, opt for a full-overlay door, which covers the face frame.

PICK THE FEATURES

3 they’ll also increase the cost by 20 percent or more.

Accessories can improve cabinet functionality, but

A pull-out trash can is a worthwhile addition. Built-in

charging stations are helpful, too. But appliance garages, those countertop compartments designed to conceal small appliances, don’t always offer the best organization. Instead, consider a lift cabinet with a spring-loaded shelf that swings up and out, provid- ing easy access to a mixer, a food processor, or other hefty devices. You’ll save money by keeping features to the es- sential. But it doesn’t pay in the long run to skimp on the construction. A well-built cabinet has solid wood drawers with dovetail joinery, not stapled particleboard; full-extension drawer guides rather than an integrated rail; and doors with solid wood frames surrounding a solid wood or plywood panel instead of veneered par- ticleboard or a medium-density fiberboard (MDF) panel.

DETAILS COUNT Give basic cabinet units a high-end look by adding extras like glass doors and chunky, high-impact hardware.

On the Market

Cabinets can vary greatly in price. Here’s an overview of the three main types of cabinets that you’ll ind at stores.

BASIC

Often called stock, they're are inexpensive, off-the-shelf cabinets. Some are fully assembled; others will need to be assembled on site. Many are frameless, meaning the door has no lip or "reveal" around it. PROS: They're a money-saving choice if you aren't too picky about style op- tions or don't demand a perfect fit. More of them have better drawers, solid wood doors, and other once-pricey features. And we found basic models that held up better in our tests than some more-expensive models. CONS: Many basic boxes are thinly veneered particleboard rather than higher- quality plywood. Style and trim options, sizes, and accessories are still limited. Figure on an hour or more of assembly time for each set of cabinets.

RIGHT); CHIPPER HATTER (TOP RIGHT);

HAYDEN (BOTTOM

RIGHT)

ALEX (BOTTOM

RIEGLER

PHOTOS:

GREG

GREAT LEGS Furniture-style elements like turned legs on an island add individuality.

MIDLEVEL

These semi-custom models are a sound choice for most kitchens. Many are made with face-frame construction, where a solid wood frame is visible around the door and drawers. PROS: Midlevel models offer many made-to-order custom options regarding size, materials, finish, crown moldings and other trim, and accessories such as range-hood covers. That can make them the best value overall because you'll get the look you want without a custom price. CONS: As with basic cabinets, features and quality can vary considerably. Boxes may be veneered particleboard rather than higher-quality plywood.

PREMIUM

Short of custom made-to-order cabinets, these semi-custom models offer the most style and storage options. PROS: They generally come with plywood boxes and other premium materials and hardware options. Widths may come in 1/4-inch increments, rather than the typical 3 inches, so they can fit your space perfectly. CONS: While generally less expensive than fully made-to-order custom units, models with the most features and of highest quality can cost as much as some full-custom units. So get a price from a local cabinetmaker before you place an order.

Organized Inside and Out

Working in a clutter-free kitchen is easier and more enjoyable. Before you order your cabinets, start by making a list of all of the items you plan to store, including pots and pans, utensils, dinnerware, dry goods, and dish towels. Make sure you’ll have easy-to-access spots for everything, plus a bit of room to grow. Here are some popular storage options to consider as you plan your cabinet layout:

Drawer dividers for corralling small items such as cooking utensils and flatware. Pantry cabinets that feature roll-out trays and adjustable door racks. Slide-out wastebaskets to keep trash easily accessible but neatly out of sight. Message-center cabinets that include shallow storage for small items as well as integrated dry-erase message boards or bulletin boards. Toe-kick cabinets that are installed between the floor and the base of a cabinet,

perfect for holding shallow items such as cookie sheets, trays, and place mats. Lift cabinets with spring- loaded shelves that swing up and out to provide easy access to mixers and food processors, then tuck away when they’re not in use. Cubby units that are installed underneath wall cabinets to hold wine or water bottles. Vertical dividers that neatly shelve cookie sheets and trays on their sides. They can be a good way to fill gaps between stock cabinets.

BUYING GUIDE

|

cabinets

Details That Count

What separates a well-made cabinet from a cheap imitation? Here are the features to look for—and what to avoid.

Get the Installation Right

A good, safe installation can prevent boxes from warping, ensure that doors sit flush, and even keep wall cabinets from falling. When the installer comes to give an estimate, have a plan handy. That way, he can account for the height and type of the new wall cabinets, the sofits, the location of electrical outlets and plumbing, and other variables. Make sure the estimate includes the removal and disposal of your existing cabinets and any other demolition. Before hiring an

installer, talk with suppliers and, if possible, at least three former customers to find out how the work has held up. Ask for copies of the installer’s insurance certificates as well. Certification in kitchen and bath remodeling from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry is a plus; it indicates a high level of professionalism. For safety’s sake, shore up the wall mountings. And be certain the installer reinforces the mounting strips well if they’re made of thin particleboard.

PARTICLEBOARD

DRAWERS

Well-built drawers are critical because drawers get the most use. The best ones have solid- wood sides, dovetail joinery, and a plywood bottom that fits grooves on four sides. Avoid stapled particleboard.

HARDWARE

Full-extension drawer guides are better than integrated side rails or undermounted double- roller designs. Some premium models have a “soft close” feature that stops drawers from slamming shut. Many cabinet models allow you to upgrade the drawer guides. As for door hinges, in past tests we didn’t find any significant diferences among the diferent types.

PLYWOOD

SHELVES

Look for ¾-inch plywood. Lesser-quality ⅝- or ½-inch particleboard shelves may sag.

MOUNTING STRIPS

Ask the contractor to use ¾-inch hardwood strips or metal strips with bolt holes. Thinner wood, medium-density fiberboard, or particleboard can be a concern with heavily loaded wall cabinets.

DOORS

Most manufacturers ofer a similar range of options for all of their price levels. Look for a solid wood frame surrounding solid wood or plywood panels.

PHOTO, TOP RIGHT: PLAIN & FANCY CUSTOM CABINETRY

MAKE A LIST Inventory all the things you want to store, so you’re sure to plan a place for everything.

Pick a Winning Finish

The finish you choose for your cabinets can set the tone for your entire kitchen. Options in- clude clean and modern looks for contemporary kitchens and deep, rich woods for traditional elegance and distressed fin- ishes for a vintage effect. The right choice for your kitchen depends on your per- sonal style—and your lifestyle. “The white kitchen is a true classic,” says Susan Serra, a certified kitchen designer, cer- tified aging-in-place specialist,

and author of The Kitchen Designer blog. “And it’s popu- lar today as an easy look that can be used to interpret any kitchen-design theme.” If you prefer a more natural look, consider a finish that reveals the wood grain of the cabinet rather than obscuring it. Glazed finishes, for example, add soft, translucent color on top of the wood but also allow the beauty of the grain to show through. But that finish often comes at a premium price.

For those in the market for something a bit more modern, matte and high-gloss finishes are available in almost every color (not to mention trendy metallics, black, and white). If you can’t choose just one finish, create a layered look by combining two or more. To complement a natural wood finish, for example, add an accent cabinet in an opaque color, such as pale yellow or blue, or in a neutral. Or go bold in one area, such as the island.

Fake a Custom Look

If you’re buying budget-friendly stock or semi-custom cabinets, you don’t have to settle for the ordinary. Decorative design elements can give even basic stock cabinets a more personalized look in an array of styles, including country, modern, and traditional.

Accent doors, available in a variety of styles—textured or colored, frosted glass, and stainless steel—can enhance visual interest or create an industrial look, suggests Janet Vanderlugt, kitch- ens manager for Ikea.

Moldings, which range in style from simple and classic to elegant and ornate, can be added to the top, bottom, or edge of cabinets as a finishing touch, or along the bottom of wall cabinets to conceal undercabinet lighting. Just be sure that the style you choose suits the look of your cabinets.

“Legs” (or feet) added to the base of built-in cabinets create the effect of freestanding furniture. You can find decorative trim pieces such as corbels, corner details, onlays, and turnings for a great price in local lumber stores and home centers.

TIP

Glass doors add a light, stylish look, but use them judiciously. If your cabinet interiors are less- than-pristine, choose frosted panes or only use glass for display cabinets, as shown here.

BUYING GUIDE

|

countertops

Countertops

BEAUTY, DURABILITY, AND EASY MAINTENANCE ARE JUST A FEW OF THE ATTRACTIONS OUR TOP-RATED SURFACING MATERIALS OFFER

A s chameleons go, quartz is im- pressive. The man-made stone offers an increasingly realistic look mimicking materials such

as marble, granite, concrete, and more. But quartz offers easier maintenance than those materials. Combine those

qualities with granite fatigue and you

MAINTENANCE MATTERS Tough quartz surfacing stands up to most stains without yearly sealing.

can see why quartz is gaining in popu- larity. Quartz is also top-rated in our tests, narrowly edging out granite. To test durability we stained, sliced, scratched, scorched, and nicked 14 materials, including the ultracompact surface called Dekton. We found big differences among materials but little

variation among brands, except for recycled glass, so we’ve rated materials. In some instances, the finish can also affect a material’s performance. So you’ll see some materials listed more than once in our Ratings, on page 59. To choose the countertop that’s right for your budget and space, read on.

WHAT’S

NEW

The trend for neutral hues in the kitchen continues, as evidenced by the products that manufacturers rolled out at the year’s biggest design shows. If you’re embarking on a remodel or just looking to give the space a gentle face-lift, here are a handful of options that combine good looks with the promise of solid performance:

Quartz lookalike. Wilsonart unveiled 19 new solid surfacing designs early in 2016, including Dusk Ice, the soft gray quartz-inspired pattern shown above with medium particulates and mirror chips. Solid surfacing is a good choice for kitchens, but we especially love it in the bathroom, where the sink and vanity top can be molded out of a single piece of material; plus the material is waterproof and small scratches can be buffed out.

Mid-century appeal. If you want your countertop to be a focal point, or if the counter is located in another part of the house—say, an adjacent laundry room or office—this new laminate pattern from Formica, created by designer Jonathan Adler, will certainly turn heads. Inspired by

Josef Albers, the German-born American artist, Gray Josef Linen has a distinctly Mid-Century Modern feel, with its geometric shapes in shades of charcoal, smoke gray, and white, beneath a fine gray linen. Laminate holds up well in our tests, except for knife cuts, so you’ll want to use a cutting board.

Gray matters. Gray continues its reign as the current “it” color for kitchens and quartz is the toughest material in our countertop tests, so this counter- top could start to show up in more Pinterest boards and Houzz photos. The diagonal lines and veining of Caesarstone’s Symphony Gray pro- vide an interesting geometry.

Steps to

Success

1

2

GET A SIZABLE SAMPLE

Tiny swatches or pictures can’t give you an adequate sense of how the material will look on your counters. So ask for as large a sample as the retailer can get. For natural stone like granite or marble, be sure to see the actual slab that would top your counters; natural stone can vary significantly from store samples.

MIX AND MATCH

Varying countertop materials looks dynamic and could save you money. For example, you could choose a more durable or less expensive material for heavily used areas and something less durable as an accent.

3 KEEP AN OPEN MIND

Laminate looks better than you may remember, and it’s durable and budget-friendly.

4 REMEMBER RESALE VALUE

Tile’s easily stained grout lines, for example, can raise a red flag for buyers. Stone counters impress potential buyers and could raise the selling price.

5 HAVE THE INSTALLER MEASURE

And make sure the contract includes everything from the finish to the edges.

PHOTOS, FROM LEFT: ANDREA RUGG; DOMINIQUE VORILLON

BUYING GUIDE | countertops

TRUE OR FAUX If you love classic white marble, consider look-alike quartz, which is more durable.

Details That Count

Small decisions can make the diference in looks and performance

Eased profile

Bevel profile

Bullnose profile

Short ogee profile

EDGE

The edge treatment you choose will affect the look of your counters. Trimming laminate counters with wood can create a higher-end look and prevent chipping. For stone counters, rounded edges are less likely to chip. Straight and beveled edges give a more modern look, and an S-shaped curve called an ogee offers stone or solid surfacing a more traditional feel. Some add to the cost, so check first.

FINISH

Quartz and granite are sold with polished (glossy) or honed (matte) finishes. In our tests, both were about the same at fighting stains that were allowed to dry overnight. Less common are “leather” or “pebbled” finishes. Granites with proprietary sealers, such as Stonemark, performed no better than regular granite. Matte and grain finishes help conceal scratches in stainless steel better than in polished finishes, but expect fingerprints. Quartz performed sim- ilarly regardless of the finish, but butcher

block and concrete counters performed differently in our tests depending on the sealer used.

SEAMS

The joints between two slabs of stone or pieces of material can make or break the look. They should be almost invisible in solid- surfacing and stainless steel countertops. For other countertop materials, seems that are 1 / 16 inch or less is standard. Wide joints are a telltale sign of sloppy installation.

SINK

Top-mounted sinks, also called drop-ins, sit on top of the counter. Undermount sinks are installed under the countertop and require a waterproof countertop material, such as quartz, stainless steel, solid surfacing, or concrete. (Water will damage wood or laminate countertops.) Stainless steel and solid surfacing can be used for the counter and sink.

TIP

Most “white” stone and quartz countertops are actually somewhat gray. Before you order your counters, be sure to hold up a sample of your cabinet finish against the surfacing you’re considering to make sure the colors work well together.

MIX MASTERY Mixing materials? Be sure to use the more durable material in the area that takes the most abuse.

THE WORST STAINS FOR EVERY SURFACE

You might expect mustard and grape juice to be in a lineup of worst countertop stain offenders. But of the 20 household products in our stain tests, food coloring and permanent marker proved to be the toughest to wash away. Many things stained bamboo, which is no surprise given its dismal overall score. And almost as many items stained limestone and butcher block with an oil- rubbed finish. Here’s what left a visible mark on the other counter- top materials.

Bamboo (beeswax/ mineral oil finish)

Beet juice, coffee, crayon, drain cleaner, food coloring, pencil, permanent marker, rust, and tea.

Concrete (with

penetrating sealer)

Food coloring, hot oil, permanent marker, and shoe polish.

Marble

Food coloring and shoe polish.

Recycled glass

Food coloring.

Stainless steel

Drain cleaner and tarnish remover.

Tile

Food coloring, crayon, ink, permanent marker, and rust.

BUYING GUIDE | countertops

QUARTZ

Price $40 TO $100 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros It mimics the look of stone yet needs less maintenance. A combination of mineral, color, and resin, quartz stands up well to cuts, abrasion, and heat. It comes in vibrant colors and patterns that look like granite and marble. Cons Edges and corners can chip, and you’ll need a pro to repair them.

LAMINATE

Price $10 TO $40 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros Inexpensive, easy to install, and so much better-looking than you probably remember, thanks to new printing technol- ogy and decorative edges. Stains and heat didn’t damage the laminates we tested. Cons Cutting directly on laminate easily and permanently damages it, so use a cutting board.

SOLID SURFACING

Price $35 TO $100 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros Available in a range of colors and pat- terns, it can be used for counters, sink, and backsplash. Color won’t vary much from sample to slab. It resists most stains. Small nicks and scratches can be repaired. Cons It scratches and cuts easily, so a cutting board is a must.

GRANITE

Price $40 TO $100 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros Each slab of this natural material is unique; rare colors and veining cost more. Heat, cuts, and scratches didn’t harm gran- ite in our tests. Polished and matte finishes resisted most stains when properly sealed, so pick the look you prefer. Cons Needs periodic resealing. Chips must be professionally repaired.

TILE (CERAMIC OR PORCELAIN)

Price $5 TO $30 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros Heat-resistant, tile is ideal for use near stoves. It comes in many colors, sizes, and patterns. Cons It chips. The grout between tiles can stain even when it’s sealed, and it can mildew. Thinner grout lines and darker grout might help somewhat.

SOAPSTONE

Price $50 TO $100 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros Best for adding the beauty of stone to a low-traffic kitchen. It withstands heat very well; small scratches can be repaired. Slabs vary, so buy from a stone yard. Cons It is easily sliced, nicked, and scratched. Stain resistance is so-so. It must be rubbed with mineral oil periodically.

RECYCLED GLASS

Price $60 TO $120 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros Available in a range of looks, with large or fine glass pieces. Most we tested resisted stains, cuts, scratches, and heat. Cons It’s the only material for which we found a difference among brands. Cosentino’s Eco counters were the only ones that developed a thin crack during our heat tests.

ULTRACOMPACT (DEKTON)

Price $60 TO $100 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros Resisted damage from heat, stains, chopping and cutting, and abrasion. Cons In our impact tests, pieces of the edges chipped off, and Dekton, the only ultracompact we tested, cracked into two pieces on samples that were 2 cen- timeters thick, the manufacturer-recom- mended thickness.

CONCRETE

Price $60 TO $120 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros It can be custom-dyed or textured. Cons It may crack. Durability depends on the fabricator’s skill and the sealers used. Topical sealers, which resist stains but not heat, aren’t ideal for kitchens. Penetrating sealers resist heat but not stains, and they must be reapplied regularly.

Impact

Heat

Stains

Per Sq. Ft.

Abrasion

Cutting

STAINLESS STEEL

Price $50 TO $150 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros It repels stains and heat, and doesn’t rust or discolor. Counters can include an integral sink for a seamless appearance. Cons It shows fingerprints, and it dents and scratches easily. Matte and grain finishes hide damage better. Stainless steel can look cold and clinical.

BUTCHER BLOCK

Price $40 TO $100 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros It creates a warm, natural look in any kitchen. It’s useful for food preparation and is easy to install and repair. Cons It might need periodic sealing or refinishing to remove cuts, dings, and scratches. Its finish affects performance. Varnish improves stain resistance, and penetrating oils decrease it.

LIMESTONE

Price $50 TO $100 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros It offers a stone look without heavy veining and resists heat well. Cons Scratches and dings from our dropped 5-pound weight marred the surface of this soft, porous stone, and even a high-quality sealer didn’t protect against stains. Eleven of the 20 substances we applied left stains.

*Includes installation.

Ratings

Scores in context: Our tests found big variations in the durability of 14 materials but little di erence among brands, except for recycled glass. That’s why we rate materials, not brands.

MARBLE

Price $50 TO $150 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros Marble is best for a classic stone look in low-traffic areas, such as a baking zone. Choose from many natural colors. Cons It’s more porous than granite, so it’s not as stain-resistant. It also scratches eas- ily, can chip, isn’t very heat-resistant, and needs to be resealed periodically to help ward off stains.

BAMBOO

Price $40 TO $100 PER SQUARE FOOT*

Pros Available in several styles, including a parquet pattern. Cons Bamboo is easily stained, scorched, sliced, and nicked. The maker might warn against using it around a sink because moisture can warp the material. And it might darken over time.

 

Excellent

Very Good

Good

Fair

Poor

MATERIAL

PRICE

SCORE

RESISTS

Quartz (engineered stone)

$40-$100

84

Granite

$40-$100

81

Recycled Glass(penetrating sealer)

$60-$120

69

Laminate

$10-$40

68

Tile (ceramic and porcelain)

$5-$30

67

Ultracompact (Dekton)

$60-$100

63

Solid Surfacing

$35-$100

53

Soapstone (mineral oil finish)

$50-$100

46

Concrete (penetrating sealer)

$60-$120

40

Concrete (topical sealer)

$60-$120

39

Stainless Steel

$50-$150

39

Butcher Block (varnished)

$40-$100

37

Limestone

$50-$100

27

Butcher Block (oil finish)

$40-$100

24

Marble

$50-$150

14

Bamboo (beeswax/mineral oil finish)

$40-$100

10

XZZZ

V

XZZZ

V

C

ZZZ

B

Z

V

Z

C

X

V

ZZX

C

ZZZX

V

X

V

X

V

X

C

B

Z

V

B

B

C

Z

V

B

Z

BVCB

C

B

Z

V

B

Z

BBBB

B

B

Z

V

B

B

B

X

V

B

VBVBB

BBBCB

Unlike other brands, Cosentino’s Eco line of recycled-glass counters developed a thin crack during our heat tests and was excluded from the Ratings. Cosentino’s Dekton was tested. In our impact tests, chunks of the edges chipped of, and the Dekton cracked into two pieces on samples that were the manufacturer-recommended thickness of 2 centimeters.

How We Test: We applied 20 common foods and household products and let them stand overnight before cleaning to test staining. Not everybody uses a cutting board, so we sliced and chopped using weighted knives to check resistance to cutting. We put a pot illed with oil heated to 400° F to see how the material resisted heat damage and discoloration. Running a weighted sanding block back and forth 25 times over each material tested its resistance to abrasion. And because pots drop and other accidents happen, we dropped blunt and pointed weights from up to 3½ feet to test resistance to impact. Scoring is based on the drop height at which damage is irst seen. Price is the typical range per square foot, including installation.

BUYING GUIDE

|

TIP

Prefinished wood and bamboo floors cost more than unfinished products, but you’re likely to save overall because factory finishes tend to last longer—and they’re warranted by the manufacturer.

flooring

Flooring

KIDS, DOGS, PARTIES—THE BEST MATERIALS KEEP THEIR GOOD LOOKS THROUGH YEARS OF TOUGH LOVE

A ll flooring looks great out of the box, but the true test is what happens once real life takes over. Good news: Our

latest tests revealed a variety of options that pair stain resistance with long- lasting good looks.

For many shoppers, there’s no substitute for the warmth of wood. But in an active kitchen, both solid- and

engineered-wood floors are especially prone to denting from dropped items. A great upside to solid hardwood and bamboo, however, is that many can be refinished multiple times to get rid of the scratches and dings of normal use. Want to pay less for a wood look? The better laminates we tested performed about as well as solid wood. And they can be floated: installed right over your

old floor with no need for glues or fas- teners. Like wood, laminate floors fall short at resisting foot traffic and dents but are an excellent choice for holding up to the effects of sunlight. All tested models scored Excellent for resistance to sunlight and moisture. Vinyl flooring, like laminate, is im- mune to the effects of moisture and sunlight, is moderately priced, comes

PHOTO: SEAN DAGEN

WHAT’S

NEW

Phthalate-free vinyl flooring. You may have heard that Lumber Liquidators suspended sales of laminate flooring sourced from China pending its investiga- tion after a “60 Minutes” report accused the retailer of selling floors that emitted high levels of formaldehyde. But another con- cern, phthalates in vinyl flooring,

has also garnered attention since Home Depot and Lowe’s an- nounced that flooring products they sell will be phthalate-free by 2016. We support what those home centers are doing. Consumers Union, the advo- cacy arm of Consumer Reports, has long raised concerns about phthalates. Used to make plas- tics more pliant, those chemical compounds are also endocrine

disruptors—and some are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as possible or probable carcinogens. We recently ran our own in-house tests for 13 types of phthalates. Our results? Phthal- ates are used, but levels in the flooring varied. In terms of con- sumer exposure, we found only very low levels in the air and on wipes we ran across the 17 vinyl

samples and one sample of wood flooring we tested. Although we found phthalate levels to be very low in our wipe test of new and artificially aged floor tiles, we still recommend caution. Parents of toddlers especially should take care to wet-mop the floor often and wash children’s hands after the little ones have been crawling or playing on a vinyl floor.

in a wide variety of designs, and with “luxury vinyl” tiles and planks, is easier to install than sheets and can be in- stalled over existing flooring. However, resistance to wear, scratches, and dents was inconsistent. Porcelain tile flooring, or more accu- rately, planks, has emerged as a terrific choice as a subcategory, though some models with textured surfaces showed wear on the ridges or higher points In addition to resisting dents, which in the case of porcelain and other ceramic products is really resistance to cracking and chipping, porcelain prod- ucts are great at resisting scratches, stains, sunlight, and moisture.

Steps to Success

Use these strategies to pick a loor you’ll love today and tomorrow

BRING SAMPLES HOME

1 Before you buy, pick up samples of your top flooring choices. Compare them side-by-side where they’re go- ing to be installed.

COMPARE FOR

2 Manufacturers try to match solid- and engineered-wood flooring for color and grain. But variations can occur from one batch to the next, so buy all of the flooring you’ll need at one time. On the flip side, laminate floorboards within a given package often have a similar pattern. To reduce repetition, pull boards from multiple packages when installing.

CONSISTENCY

MEASURE CAREFULLY

3 To determine how much flooring you’ll need, calculate the room’s square footage by multiplying its length times its width. (Divide an irregularly shaped room into smaller rectangles, calculate the square footage of each rectangle, then add them together.) Then buy 7 to 10 percent extra to allow for mis- takes, bad samples, and waste. Con- sider buying an extra box of flooring for future repairs or additions.

KNOW YOUR TRAFFIC PATTERNS

4 Our top products performed best in simulated foot-traffic tests. For less busy areas, consider one of the top engineered-wood or bamboo floors for their natural veneer and easy installation.

PREPARE FOR

5 Before installing wood or laminate flooring, unpack it and let it sit for one to three days in the space where it will be installed so that its tempera- ture and moisture become acclimated to the levels in the room.

INSTALLATION

CHECK FOR

6 Vinyl floors with the industry’s FloorScore certification emit rela- tively low levels of volatile organic compounds—substances linked to health problems and pollution. For wood flooring, certification by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative offers some assurance that the flooring comes from responsibly managed forests. Check packaging for prod- uct and manufacturer certification.

CERTIFICATION

BUYING GUIDE

On the

|

flooring

SOLID WOOD

ENGINEERED

LAMINATE

AND BAMBOO

WOOD AND BAMBOO

Best for toughness, lots of styles,

Best for natural warmth. Solid flooring can usually be sanded and refinished several times if necessary. But both tend to dent easily, a problem for busy kitchens. Several changed color under ultraviolet light, and some can be damaged by flood- ing. Both are challenging to install. Price $5 to $10 per square foot*

Best for easy installation and natural warmth. This veneer over substrate can be nailed, stapled, or glued in place, or “floated” without fasteners or glue. Many can be refinished once. But they can be damaged by flood- ing, and show wear and dent easily. Price $4 to $9 per square foot*

and easy installation. It can mimic a variety of natural materials and can usually be floated. The best prod- ucts wear well, and all resist stains and sunlight. But most dent relatively easily, and laminate can’t be refinished. Price $3 to $7 per square foot*

Market

Consider the pros and cons of your top options for kitchen looring

d

RECOMMENDED

MODELS

Top performers usually resisted wear, scratches, and color change better than others of their type. But dents were a challenge for most. Here, we focus on top picks with specific strengths, value, or both.

PREFINISHED SOLID WOOD AND BAMBOO

A1 LUMBER LIQUIDATORS CASA DE COLOUR SELECT PEWTER MAPLE 10032461

$4.20 PER SQUARE FOOT

This top-scoring solid wood showed excellent resistance to foot traffic and stains, and held up very well against scratches. But it dented easily. lumberliquidators.com

A2 ECOTIMBER WOVEN HONEY WBH061

$6 PER SQUARE FOOT

This top-scoring stranded bam- boo resisted foot traffic better than most other solid floors. Other pluses include superb resistance to scratches and stains. But it faded in sunlight. ecotimber.com

A3 TERAGREN PORTFOLIO NATURALS WHEAT TPF-PORTTG-WHT

$7.50 PER SQUARE FOOT

Exceptional resistance to scratching and staining, along with a finish that withstood most foot traffic, are chief strengths of this solid bamboo flooring. teragren.com

ENGINEERED WOOD

FROM

OUR

EXPERTS

B2 HARRIS WOOD TRADITIONS SPRINGLOC RED OAK BRIDLE

$5.50 PER SQUARE FOOT

Toughness against scratching and staining with resistance to color change from sunlight made this oak product a top pick. It did dent easily. harriswoodfloors.com

B1 TERAGREN SYNERGY WIDE PLANK JAVA

HE2505OK48

$7 PER SQUARE FOOT

teragren.com

“Teragren’s Synergy bamboo ofers the best chance of avoiding dents and traic wear, usually the shortcomings of engineered products.”

—JOHN MCALOON, TEST PROJECT LEADER