Consumers who haven't updated their kitchens in a while may be in for more than just sticker shock: According to the editors of ShopSmart, the shopping magazine published by Consumer Reports, a lot has changed. Kitchens have morphed into open living areas, and workhorse appliances have hidden controls and flush surfaces that make them look less, well, kitcheny.
The editors of ShopSmart scoured the market for everything people need to make their kitchen look and work great and tested it all in their laboratories.
To help homeowners avoid wiping out their savings to pay for all this cool stuff, ShopSmart's experts came up with some clever ways to cut corners -- without sacrificing quality, performance or looks. Yes, it's possible to get a dreamy new kitchen without going broke!
WHAT'S NEW IN COOKING
Why they're hot: Designers are building as many as three or four in kitchens today, typically two conventional ovens, a warming drawer and a microwave.
The drawbacks: Multiple ovens take up lots of space and are pricey.
Price: At least $2,500 for two wall ovens, microwave and warming drawer.
Save! For a wall-oven look, ShopSmart recommends getting the microwave off the counter. Frame it to look like a second oven by modifying an existing cabinet. Any microwave in stainless looks high-end, so go for the best buy.
Why they're hot: Cooktops and wall ovens look seamless and clean.
They also offer the flexibility of creating two separate cooking areas, which people may want to do if they are remodeling. Wall ovens are easier on the back if installed at eye level.
The drawbacks: The two appliances usually cost more than a single range.
Price: $1,000 and up each for a 30-inch electric cooktop and electric oven.
Save! A slide-in range that tucks neatly between base cabinets has a classy built-in look but is less expensive. For those people who don't have space for a cooktop/wall-oven combo, an option would be to check out two new double-oven ranges tested by ShopSmart -- the JennAir JGR8890AD, $2,150, and the GE PB970SM, $1,750. Both can cook separate items at two different temperatures.
WHAT'S NEW IN COOLING
Why they're hot: French-door fridges, which team a bottom freezer with split refrigerator doors on top, are the fastest-growing style. And now that more of them have handy in-door ice and water dispensers inside the fridge, ShopSmart's experts predict they might muscle out side-by-sides, because French-door models look great and keep food at eye level.
The drawbacks: People have to stoop for items in the freezer. Not all have in-door ice and water dispensers, and in those that do, dispensers steal fridge space.
Price: $1,600 to $2,200.
Save! While most are 36 inches wide and cost $2,000 and up, two of ShopSmart's top scorers, the LG LFD22860ST and the GE Profile PFS22SBSS, are 33 inches and cost a few hundred dollars less.
WHAT'S NEW IN SURFACES
Why it's hot: The veneer-on-plywood look-alike offers some of the warmth of real oak, exotic Brazilian cherry and other wood varieties with better scratch resistance and easier installation.
The drawbacks: Engineered wood wears relatively quickly, dents easily and can be damaged by small spills.
Price: $5 to $10 per square foot.
Why it's hot: For consumers looking for a natural-wood alternative that doesn't kill trees, ShopSmart recommends trying cork, which is taken from bark, and bamboo planking, which is manufactured from a fast-growing, renewable grass.
The drawbacks: Green doesn't always guarantee good performance. Cork and bamboo floors were the most susceptible to color change in ShopSmart's sun-exposure tests.
Price: $4 to $10 per square foot.
On the Net: www.consumerreports.org.
NEWSPAPER ENTERPRISE ASSOCIATION