South Park Magazine

Transform your kitchen

The Schrums' walk-in pantry holds the refrigerator and additional storage space.
The Schrums' walk-in pantry holds the refrigerator and additional storage space.

When you're remodeling a kitchen, the secret to getting the most for your money – and preserving the important wow factor – is making the right spending choices. Knowing where each part of your budget goes, specifically, can lead to a remodel worth your while.

Here's one suggestion for stretching your budget: Choose fewer cabinets.

That sounds counterintuitive – like heresy, even – but designer Emily Bourgeois and contractor Eddie DeRhodes say more and more cabinets aren't always the best way to spend remodeling money. And they speak with some authority. A kitchen they created in the Myers Park townhouse of Ramsay and Courtney Schrum earned top honors in a remodeling contest hosted by the Charlotte chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

The Schrums' sleek, stylish kitchen won the top prize in the Kitchens Under $40,000 category in NARI's 2011 Contractor of the Year Contest. The kitchen also won in NARI's Southeast regional competition and will move on to the national contest.More importantly, the Schrums love it.

“I still can't believe it's my house,” Ramsay Schrum says. “My friends come over and they're like, 'I can't believe this.'”

Remodeling Magazine says midrange kitchen makeovers in Charlotte return more than 70 percent of their cost upon resale. That ranks among the top renovation projects. The project described in the magazine's Cost vs. Value survey cost a bit more than the Schrums' kitchen, but the couple's decisions offer lessons for any family considering a similar project.

The Schrums made some pretty creative budget choices, and ended up with a kitchen that turns heads. “You do need something about your kitchen that feels sexy,” Bourgeois says. The Schrums clearly accomplished that. How did they do it? Cabinets are often the most expensive component, so let's start there. “Some people way overspend on cabinets,” Bourgois says. “They just chock a room full of cabinets.”

DeRhodes agrees.

The two say it can be a better investment – and more visually appealing – to install fewer but higher-quality cabinets. Plan carefully and store less. For instance, Bourgeois says, it makes no sense to store inexpensive items like plastic containers in very expensive cabinets. Find a place for the Tupperware on less costly pantry shelves.

There's a huge island in the Schrum kitchen. It's nearly 8 feet long.

But base cabinets are limited to one 14-foot wall in the kitchen – and there are no conventional upper cabinets. Instead, two tall cabinet towers stand on the countertop, flanking the stainless-steel stove hood.

At the end of the kitchen, behind two sliding “barn” doors painted vivid blue, is a large walk-in pantry. There's even room in the 12-foot-long pantry for the refrigerator. Items are just as handy, but they don't have to be accommodated in expensive cabinetry.

There are other ways you can save on cabinets.

Instead of drawers, choose doors. The Schrums' lower cabinets feature deep drawers with inset cabinet fronts. They're sleek, stylish and reflect attention to detail – but doors are less expensive.

If cabinets with drawers cost, say, $400 per linear foot, you can reduce that to $350 by choosing doors.

Here's another cabinet tweak that can save money. The Schrums' cabinets were custom built by a company called Bourgeoisie3D, owned by Emily Bourgeois' son. They were painted on site in a soft dove gray, in keeping with the neutral decor of the townhouse.

The base cabinets don't extend all the way to the walls at the ends of the kitchen. Instead, they stop just inches short of each wall. It's a furniture-like, high-end look, but subtly changes the construction process and schedule.

For cabinets that reach the walls, DeRhodes says, the cabinetmaker will want to wait until drywall is installed to make final measurements. With “unfitted” cabinets, the shop can go ahead and start work. “He can work off a center line,” he says. “It's much easier.”

So, if you don't start by maximizing cabinet space, where do you begin your kitchen remodeling plan?

If you're a serious cook, start with the stove. “Let's start with heat,” Bourgeois says. "Cooks need heat." Don't scrimp, or the stove and cooktop will never perform as well as you want. The Schrums chose a 48-inch Viking cooktop for their kitchen.

On the other hand, you can save on refrigeration. If the refrigerator is roomy enough, and keeps everything cool enough, that's all you require. You want it to be dependable, but 38 degrees is 38 degrees.

The Schrums bought a refrigerator by Viking, but Ramsay Schrum shopped carefully and found a bargain. In fact, DeRhodes and Bourgeois say, he found bargains on many of the components in the kitchen.

As long as you communicate clearly with contractor, designer and craftsmen, and items arrive on time, don't overlook online vendors and floor samples. The contractor should be willing to work with you, DeRhodes says.

The Schrums splurged on the countertops. “Courtney really wanted those,” Ramsay says. The countertops are jewel-like onyx, and they're stunning.

Ramsay Schrum didn't want to give up decorative iron scrollwork, created by Chris Kudra of The Beauty of Iron, so the couple found money in their budget for that touch.

The elaborate faucet, though, is a bargain that Ramsay found online. It's a sculptural, single-lever pullout design by Kraus. “I went to one place and found this faucet, but it was like $2,000,” he says. “I went to and it was $200.”

The backsplash of quilted stainless steel was another of his finds. Quotes for the backsplash ranged up to $5,000. But Ramsay bought a sheet of the quilted stainless and paid a machine shop to cut the decorative scroll edge design created by Bourgeois.

The kitchen floor is covered in Peacock Pavers, handmade concrete tiles that provide a sleek, urbane look that complements the townhome's contemporary furnishings. They cost $6 per square foot for materials instead of the $25 per square foot the Schrums could have paid for some stone options.

DeRhodes remodeled the entire townhouse, which included removing a kitchen wall, adding a dramatic coffered ceiling that Courtney wanted and expansive windows that were on Ramsay's wish list. He calculates that the kitchen's portion of the construction budget, and the kitchen components, cost about $36,000.

Here's an estimate of costs for some of the key kitchen components: cabinets, $10,000; countertops, $8,000; cooktop and refrigerator, $6,500; hood and insert, $1,700; floor, $3,500.

That's what a budget for a prize-winning kitchen looks like.

Get the most for your moneyKitchen makeovers remain among the most popular remodeling projects and, it turns out, can be relatively good investments.

In its most recent Cost vs. Value survey, Remodeling Magazine said a major kitchen remodel in a middle-priced house in Charlotte cost $52,326 and returned 71.2 percent of that investment at resale. Only a handful of projects rank higher.

The magazine described the project this way: "Update an outmoded 200-square-foot kitchen with a functional layout of 30 linear feet of semi-custom wood cabinets, including a 3-by-5-foot island, laminate countertops and standard double-tub stainless-steel sink with standard single-lever faucet. Include energy-efficient wall oven, cooktop, ventilation system, built-in microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal and custom lighting. Add new resilient flooring. Finish with painted walls, trim and ceiling."

For a look at the full survey, including other project descriptions and Charlotte averages, visit