Thursday, February 2, 2012
Flashy kitchens seldom make economic sense
Remember the indoor barbecue? The disappearing mixer? The built-in blender? The retractable range top?
If you're not old enough to recall those, how about all those wine racks, pot fillers and appliance garages seen in kitchens of the past 20 years? Or the dual dishwashers, six-burner ranges and colossal refrigerators that were considered so indispensable at the height of the "Great Big Ol' Housing Bubble"?
Kitchen fads aren't limited to fancy equipment. Finishes also make the inevitable journey from chic to dreck. For instance, countertop fashions have successively cycled from ceramic tile during the interwar years to plastic laminate ("Formica") in the postwar era, then back to tile in the 1970s before moseying through various solid plastics such as Corian.
In the '90s, countertop fads among the super-hip took a side trip to polished concrete, while mainstream kitchen design settled into today's ubiquitous and long-running infatuation with granite slabs.
To judge by most kitchens these days, in fact, you'd think granite was the only countertop material left on the planet. Granted, it's durable stuff, but for my money, putting stone with a 200-year lifespan on top of cabinets that'll wear out in 30 years, if that, seldom makes economic sense.
Moreover, while it's one thing to commit to a momentarily trendy color or pattern -- as people often did with inexpensive plastic laminates tops -- it's quite another to get stuck with a kitchen full of pink granite for all eternity.
Invariably, these and many other formerly red-hot kitchen fads are eventually revealed to be ingenious strategies for selling kitchen products, but not necessarily practical ideas for the way most people actually cook.
Chances are, if the absence of the latest kitchen gimmick hasn't cramped your normal cooking style up to now, you probably don't need it anyway.
Naturally, people in the business of selling expensive kitchen goodies aren't terribly anxious for people to get back to basics. They've worked long and hard since the postwar era to convince consumers that the kitchen should be as glitzy as any other room in the house -- hence all those furniture-grade cabinets with lustrous coats of lacquer, acres of shining granite, and yards of glittering stainless steel that are so emblematic of today's kitchen design.
But as anyone who actually cooks will attest, the quality of a kitchen isn't judged by the depth of lacquer on the cabinets. And especially in this dismal economy, no remodeler should measure a kitchen's worth against the absurdly inflated standards of recent years.
What matters most is that your kitchen is meticulously tailored to your own style of cooking. Where will you keep the silverware, the coffee, the Cheerios? Will the stock pot, the colander, the cheese grater be at hand when you need them?
When you get right down to it, it's not the chest-beating gimmicks, but rather the little details like these, that make for a great kitchen. How it cooks is still more important than how it looks.