The Guide to Kitchen Renovations

Kitchens are undoubtedly the heart of the home. They are a place of gathering, of prepping, of entertaining. So what happens when your kitchen doesn’t meet your functional requirements? Over time, you might decide that it’s time for a kitchen renovation.

But with so many decisions to make and design elements to choose — cabinetry, appliances, backsplash tile, countertops, flooring, lighting and hardware — where do you even begin? How do you set a budget? How long will it take from start to finish? What criteria should you look for when hiring your builder or subcontractors? With countless considerations that go into a kitchen renovation project, our Director of Interior Design, Tricia Fortin, addresses some of our clients’ most frequently asked questions. Let’s dive in.

Preparing for a Kitchen Renovation

Farmhouse kitchen
Kitchen from Acampora Interiors’ Collected Concord Farmhouse project. Photo by Read McKendree.
Kitchen with custom hood and range
Custom hood and range for Acampora Interiors’ Wellesley New Traditional project. Photo by Joyelle West.

1. Understanding a Renovation vs Remodel 

You may be wondering what to do before your kitchen renovation even begins. Before you begin ripping out old cabinetry, there are several steps you can take to prepare for the disruption that inevitably comes with a kitchen renovation. The first step is deciding whether your home needs a full-scale renovation or simply a remodel. Fortin clarifies the difference between the two types of work. “In a kitchen renovation, you are taking a room down to the studs. You are removing everything — perhaps you’re moving some walls, perhaps you’re adding windows, or you could be enlarging the space. A remodel is ‘renovation-light,’ so to speak. A kitchen remodel is more of a facelift.”

2. Mentally Preparing for Disruption

A kitchen renovation after demolition
A recent kitchen renovation by Acampora Interiors, post-demolition.

A remodel is something you can undertake while living in the home, but surviving a kitchen renovation can be more challenging. If you decide to live in your home throughout a kitchen renovation, all household members should pack their patience. “You very well could be doing your dishes in the bathtub, your stove could be in the garage, your refrigerator could be in the dining room,” Fortin says. “Your daily life will not be the same for whatever period of time the renovation lasts.”

Because of the level of disruption, we often encourage clients to move out if they can, even if only for a portion of the project. A week-long break at a vacation home in the middle of a renovation can do wonders for your sanity.

3. Pre-Demolition Logistics

Beyond getting into the proper mindset, there are logistical steps to take before beginning the work if you wish to shorten the overall timeline. It starts with an honest conversation with your contractor, kitchen designer, or architect. “The preparatory design phase is so important,” Fortin says. “You go in with your wish list of everything that needs to be picked out: appliances, countertops, backsplash, plumbing. You want to have everything selected and ordered before that sledgehammer hits a single cabinet.”

4. Minimizing Delays 

While it’s fine for items to arrive early — they can simply sit in another room and wait — delayed decisions and deliveries set in motion a chain reaction of slowing the renovation process. For example, if your faucet hasn’t been selected yet, you can’t begin templating your kitchen countertops.

Shipping or supply chain-related delays are out of your control, but you can minimize lag times by placing your orders early. If your timeline is tight, ask about the lead time on the items you like. If your dream pendant lamps are back-ordered, but similar ones can ship tomorrow, you may be willing to alter your wish list slightly to keep the project moving.

Kitchen Renovation Costs

White hex tile sample for a kitchen renovation
Kitchen plumbing

One of the biggest questions homeowners have is around kitchen renovation costs. So how much does it cost to renovate a kitchen, exactly? According to Forbes, the average cost of a kitchen remodel is approximately $25,000. (Note: this is the average cost of a remodel, not a renovation, where layout might change). Fortin shares that with kitchen renovations, there is no one-size-fits-all formula, but the square footage of your kitchen will certainly have an impact on overall costs. A small galley kitchen, for example, will be less costly to renovate than a sprawling country kitchen with a generous seating area.

1. Know Your Budget

You likely already have a budget in mind before you begin, and Fortin encourages homeowners to share that with their kitchen renovation team. “Be upfront about your budget,” she says. “If you’re working with a great team of professionals, they’re going to tell you if you’re realistic or not. If you have a budget of x, and your wish list is a mile long with luxurious finishes and appliances, there will be areas where you’re going to have to compromise.”

In terms of areas where you can dial up or scale back on costs, Fortin says these are the places where you have the greatest control:

A breakdown of kitchen renovation costs

2. Account for the Cost of Labor

Of course, these elements only come together with the help of a skilled team, and labor is the other significant cost in any kitchen renovation project. One way to manage the labor cost is to minimize changes to your floor plan. Fortin shares, “The minute you start to move walls, plumbing, or electrical, your price goes up.” Skilled contractors must come in to manage these various renovation elements, and their time and expertise come at a cost.

3. Plan for the Unexpected

Regardless of your choices on appliances and finishes, Fortin recommends that you always leave a little wiggle room in the budget. Typically, she advises clients to plan for a contingency of approximately 15% of your total budget. Even the best-laid plans sometimes encounter surprises, and it’s best to set aside funds for that possibility.

Kitchen Renovation Timeline

Kitchen island and cabinetry for displaying kitchen items
Kitchen island and storage from Acampora Interiors’ Wellesley New Traditional project. Photo by Joyelle West.

So how long does a kitchen renovation take? As with budgets, kitchen renovation timelines run the gamut and are influenced by the size of the space and scope of the project. As you might expect, the remodel of a small kitchen will take less time than a renovation of a large one. Fortin notes that your contractor drives much of the project’s momentum, so they must be realistic and proactive.

1. Ask the Right Questions

When you work with a professional interior design team, we help manage the timeline and know what questions to ask of a contractor. Is this timeline realistic? What contingency plan do you have for a given scenario? More importantly, interior designers know when they hear an unsatisfactory answer — and can ask their colleagues to revisit their approach.

2. Create a Kitchen Renovation Checklist

Kitchen faucet
Kitchen with open shelving for displaying items

There are countless ways a homeowner can approach a kitchen renovation project. Instead of focusing on a list of items, Fortin encourages you to frame your kitchen renovation checklist by examining your personal needs for the space.

How do you and your family plan to use the room?

  1. How many individuals will use the kitchen regularly?
  2. Will you cook often?
  3. Do you often entertain guests?
  4. Do you need a dedicated space to accommodate a work-from-home setup?

What’s currently lacking in your current space?

  1. Lack of storage
  2. Not enough prep space
  3. Missing a place to sit
  4. Uncomfortable layout for entertaining

How do you envision the look and feel of your new space?

  1. Do you picture open shelves to display heirloom china, or do you prefer cabinets with doors?
  2. Could you see friends and family casually gathering around a new kitchen island?
  3. Will you and your children make dozens of cupcakes in a double oven?

Once you’ve developed your list of requirements and desires for the space, you can begin to source specific items. Perusing Pinterest or Instagram can help you hone in on the right look and feel.

From there, it’s time to meet with your contractor and kitchen designer. They will help you refine your ideas, settle on a layout, establish your work triangle, and more. Your project team will bring your vision to life through an iterative process of presenting layouts, cabinet designs, and elevations and floor plans. After you’ve approved the plans, you will progress onto the pre-construction steps of ordering materials.

Small Kitchen Renovations

Small kitchen with shelving to the ceiling

If you are a city-dweller with a small kitchen, you can still undertake a beautiful renovation project. Fortin notes that small kitchens are true workhorses, and they need to be designed with an extra eye toward functionality. “It’s all about maximizing the space that you have, so that you can fit what you need,” she says.

Storage is always a concern in small kitchen renovations, so stretching cabinets all the way to the ceiling is one way to make the most of the limited space. Fortunately, more recent innovations help homeowners incorporate little luxuries into today’s small kitchens that would have been unimaginable decades ago. For example, dishwasher drawers have a much smaller footprint than traditional dishwashers, and are perfect for a one or two-family household.

Designing any new space often requires a bit of compromise. We generally encourage clients to think about ways to utilize storage in other areas of the home for non-essential items. “For example, a stand mixer is not an item I use every day,” Fortin shares, “so in my home, it doesn’t live in the kitchen. It’s okay for me to have to go and get it when I need it. But I needed my dry goods and spices readily accessible.”

A kitchen renovation can be an exciting project that truly transforms the functionality of your home. If you go into the process with the right mindset and proper planning, you can create a space that will bring you joy for years to come.