5 Things to Consider Before Starting a Kitchen Reno

Barbara Sallick’s favorite detail in her kitchen isn’t the custom island or her views of Long Island Sound. It’s a little drawer that holds trash bags. It sits right above her built-in garbage container, making the most basic task a whole lot more effortless. “It sounds mundane, but it’s such a nice luxury,” she says. “No excuses for the lining not being in the bin!” 

The fact that she thought of such a small convenience isn’t surprising. Since cofounding Waterworks, a high-end hardware company, in 1978, she’s gathered more than 40 years of experience in the reno world. Next week she launches her second book, The Perfect Kitchen, a guide to help anyone dream up their perfect workspace. “It’s about so much more than cabinetry and appliances,” explains Sallick. “It’s the most communal room, and it has a unique kind of gravitational pull.” We asked her to share the five things to consider before starting a remodel of your own.

Design Based on Memories

High gloss charcoal kitchen cabinets
Photography by Adrian Gaut; Design by Roman + Williams

Before you even hire a contractor, Sallick suggests remembering your best memories in a kitchen and using them to decide on the kind of experience you want to create. “Take time to comb through your past and envision the spaces where you felt happiest,” she says. That should help you find the right inspiration to firm up your vision. “People don’t spend enough time thinking about what they really want to achieve,” she adds. So instead of making a mad dash to the nearest hardware store, let your imagination run wild first.

Vet Your Pros

Green kitchen with white marble countertops
Photography by William Abranowicz; Design by Gachot Studios in collaboration with Paul Fortune

One of the most common mistakes Sallick notices is failing to talk to a designer before you dive in. “They bring so much value to a project,” she says. “They’re wonderful at suggesting things you would never have considered.” If you can’t afford one, she urges hiring a pro who can help you manage your budget and wish list—and to have an ironclad contract. “Plan in advance down to the very last item. I can’t stress this enough,” she says. Change fees and delays add up quickly, so putting things in writing can save you from a ton of headaches down the road.

Plan Based on What’s Around

Large off-white kitchen with vaulted ceiling
Photography by Eric Piasecki; Design by Gil P. Schafer

Sallick also recommends taking time to think about how the kitchen will align with the rest of the house. “You want a natural progression from room to room,” she says. If your home was built in the 1920s, an ultra-minimalist design may not be the best option. She also advises seeing if you can borrow space from closets or other adjacent areas to create a larger footprint without having to build an addition. While drawing the layout, pay attention to the flow: Make sure your dishes, glassware, and silverware are within arm’s reach of the dishwasher. “It saves time, and the smallest convenience can be life changing,” she says. 

Think: Practicality First, Looks Second

Blue kitchen with marble counters
Photography by Eric Piasecki; Design by Steven Gambrel

Think of your fixtures not just in terms of what they look like, but also how they feel: “A large and deep sink is most useful,” says Sallick. “The faucet is touched hundreds of times a day, so it should feel good to the touch and work flawlessly.” She also swears by pot fillers, which hover over the stove, allowing you to leave your favorite pot on the burner and add water without ever carrying it to the tap. These little details go a long way.

“Dress Up” Your Cupboards

White kitchen with blue breakfast banquette
Photography by Annie Schlecter; Design by Philip Mitchell Design

“Think of your cabinets as a little black dress,” says Sallick. “The right jewelry takes it from ordinary to extraordinary.” Hardware plays that same role. It’s also a component you’ll use every day for years (or decades), so it pays off to pick the best quality you can afford. “Everything you touch should feel great in or beneath your hands,” she adds. With so much to think about in a reno, it’s easy to overlook these tiny features, but they’ll serve you well in the long run.

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