Kitchen Confidential

When remodeling the most important room in the house, it’s all about asking the right questions.

By Jessica Campbell July 14, 2010 Published in the August 2010 issue of Seattle Met

Is there something between us? Open up a kitchen by carving a window into a wall or knocking it out and adding an island.

"I’D LOVE TO knock out this wall.”

So my father used to say, standing in the cramped kitchen of my childhood home and scowling at the barrier that isolated the cook from the living room. And every time, my mother replied, “But how could we lose that much cabinet space?” We all knew she was right: up against the offending wall were four cabinets and a broom closet, not to mention the refrigerator.

But Grace Schlitt and Kim Lavacot, founders of Seattle’s new Flapjack Kitchen Design (, have never let a wall get in their way. Relocating cabinets is no problem for the two experienced architects and avid cooks. In fact, “What if you opened this wall?” is a question they frequently ask stymied clients. If only we’d known.

Whenever you’re considering a kitchen remodel, begin by talking to designers and contractors. They can get you asking the right questions to make your remodel efficient, economical, and eco-friendly. Here are three to get you started.

Do you have chemistry with the contractor? Joe Ratto of J. A. Ratto Builder ( stresses that when you hire a contractor you enter into a personal relationship. Get to know each other before construction begins. “Interview several contractors to find someone you get along with,” says Ratto. “Ask friends and coworkers about contractors they’ve used: What are they like to work with when a problem arises? Do they keep the job site clean? Are they good communicators? Do they understand that this is somebody’s home and not just a job site?” Ratto says most of a remodel should occur in the planning stage, so be sure to hire someone you trust to iron out all the details well before the demo deadline.

What do you need to have? Seattle’s Jackson Remodeling ( has earned accolades for its no-nonsense sustainable approach. “The lens of reduce, reuse, recycle applies to remodeling as well,” Erik Jackson explains. If you want to go green, he says, “Think small. Think what do I need instead of what do I want.” Often, green remodeling saves money, too. With a professional’s help, you can plan efficiently and use quality materials—and avoid having to do it all again in a few years.

How do you live? For Schlitt and Lavacot, it’s crucial to look at the kitchen in relation to the whole house and the family’s lifestyle. Remodeling a kitchen can take weeks or months, and it’s not cheap—so-called “simpler” projects (like cabinet replacements) can cost $30,000, and more extensive work (like tearing out a wall) might run upwards of $80,000 to $100,000.

But as Lavacot points out, “you’re not just spending, you’re investing.” It’s not uncommon for kitchen remodels to boost home values enough that they ultimately pay for themselves. Whomever you’re working with, make sure they are helping you spend as efficiently as possible during the remodel—that’s the expertise you’re paying for, after all.

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