Kitchen Appliances: Where to Spend, Where to Save
Ideas and Advice

Kitchen Appliances: Where to Spend, Where to Save

From replacing a single appliance to a full-on kitchen remodel, every homeowner has a budget — and a dream. Identifying the absolute “must-haves” while figuring out how to fulfill the project wish list is the recipe for success, so Appliances Connection sought designers’ advice about where to splurge and where budgets can be trimmed, especially when it comes to appliances.

Toni Sabatino, AKBD, principal of Toni Sabatino Style in Northport, N.Y., says one of her most critical roles is to help her clients make the most of their long-term investments. “Every client has a different value set. For instance, some don’t need expensive flooring because they’re going to cover them with rugs. For some, lighting isn’t such a big deal, but for others, it’s essential for setting the mood,” said Sabatino. “The bottom line is determining what’s important for your client’s lifestyle. We splurge on what they’re passionate about.”

Where to Cut?

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Designers agree that home appliances are an investment, and while buying the best quality you can afford may seem like a splurge now, it is more economical in the long-term. “A higher-quality appliance is generally more reliable, eliminating the need for a replacement a few years down the road,” says Kerrie Kelly, FASID, CAPS, creative director of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in Sacramento, Calif.

However, there are limits to budgets, and opportunities to save. “We have seen clients save money by purchasing a range hood insert and building cabinets out around it, as opposed to a full-blown appliance-style hood,” says Kelly. “If you need to trim the budget, do it on the appliances that you may not use every day, or those with the fewest moving parts.” For instance, a refrigerator with dual icemakers, water and ice dispensing, and temperature-adjustable compartments has a lot of active components, so an appliance like this might warrant a greater investment.

Molly Switzer, AKBD, principal designer and owner of Molly N Switzer Designs in Portland, Ore., advises that it's a good idea to start with the “must-haves” and work from there. “One of my clients is a professional chef who wants a 36-inch gas range, while his partner simply wants the best ventilation to deal with that range. This becomes the basis of a budget and indicates where the clients’ priorities lie — what they’re willing to sacrifice, and what can be added or modified later,” Switzer says.

“I love accessories that provide true value for clients, but they can be very expensive and come in dead last for budgetary needs.” For example, rail racks can be added later for trash, recycling, pots and pans, and rollout shelves, which all maximize a cabinet’s storage potential.

Sabatino says she often starts with appliance selection, as this determines specs for other parts of the design, avoiding costly reorders or redoing construction. To save money, she looks for appliance company promotions that make it cost-effective to buy in multi-piece packages or suites. Albert Fouerti, founder and CEO of Appliances Connection, believes that companies with strong manufacturer relationships, trend foresight, and anticipation of customer needs are crucial to delivering the best value for clients. Detailed customer profiles allow Appliances Connection to forecast styles that will be most in demand. “We can anticipate what our demographic wants, and we understand their pain points,” Fouerti says. “We’ve built inventory and expanded customer services to cater to those needs.”

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The “status buy” is becoming less important, Sabatino observes. Some people need a certain color knob on the stove, while others don’t. Design matters, but so does exceptional functionality. Millennials buy differently, she notes.Big names are less important to that demographic, which tends to be much less brand-conscious. “This is a good opportunity for lesser-known brands to showcase what they do best.”

Suite buying, where the appliances match, creates a statement look, Fouerti explains. “But if a particular appliance isn’t right for a client, we can offer options and create the right mix of brands where the handles and finishes work together for a ‘wow’ statement in the kitchen.” Because the company deals with so many manufacturers and lines, the team knows which handles can be swapped, or which brands have similar construction to create a desired look: tubular pro styles, rectangular modern looks, recessed styles, and others.

Pull Quote

“To me, it's about the overall quality and longevity of the product, which in appliances, really comes down to the manufacturer, rather than the specific model,” notes Kelly. “For example, some luxury brands manufacture their products here in California, with the highest degree of quality inspection regarding every individual part, and even provide hand-polishing finishing touches. That's a level of quality that's more than just a name, and it's pretty tough to beat.” The aesthetic can also come into play when considering brands — handles, knobs, color offerings, and interiors can make or break an appliance decision, she adds. Several appliances can cross over, notes Switzer. “They have a handle or style that pairs well with others. With this in mind, you can mix-and-match based on budgetary needs.”

Some other strategies to achieve a high-end look on a mid-range budget include putting special doors and drawer fronts on stock or semi-custom cabinet boxes — provided, of course, that the boxes are durable and will hold up to years of use. Then, you can combine those with great organizing inserts and the best hardware they can get for a personalized look, Switzer adds.

Another potential place to save in kitchen design is the countertop. “There’s a quality countertop for any budget,” Switzer points out. “If you think laminate isn't quality, think of how long those old laminate countertops have lasted — and the technology just keeps getting better. Today’s laminates and engineered products have come a long way in quality and design options.”

The “No-Skimping” Zone

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Certain areas are more off-limits than others when it comes to cutting back. “Refrigeration, ranges, and cooktops are not only visual centerpieces of the kitchen, but also need to be absolutely reliable, or it will be a huge headache for the client,” says Kelly.

Switzer adds that adherence to Life & Safety Codes, and modifications that are needed for a disability or overall comfort, are not negotiable. “Quality plumbing products are also key — nothing causes damage like water.”

Customer service is another area of critical importance, the designers concur. “Part of the research I do on products is with customer service,” Switzer says. “It’s why I take the time to get to know my reps. I need an inside track on how easy or difficult it is to get replacement parts, pieces, or services provided. What’s covered and for how long? Open communication about issues that can arise is key for me.”

Sabatino echoes the importance of transparency in customer service and the ease of reaching sales associates. On working with Appliances Connection, she says, “It’s great to be able to speak to a real person. They are very knowledgeable, and they’re great at managing expectations.”

Designers and sales professionals sharing their knowledge and experience about product quality will help clients have a much smoother remodeling path and supplement the research they do online. “Educating clients on all aspects of their projects is the best way to save them money, making informed decisions about what’s available to them,” Switzer explains. “This is so much of what being a designer is — being a client advocate to help them feel empowered.”

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Ultimately, a kitchen should effectively support the family’s home life and make day-to-day activities easier, Kelly says. “The process should be fun and gratifying,” she concludes, “so working with a designer and doing your own homework is highly encouraged in the appliance purchasing process.”

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