Are you looking to update your kitchen and/or bathroom in the days ahead? I know this is on my list of home improvements before we plan on selling, hopefully in the near future.
Just recently, I received the awesome privilege of interviewing kitchen and bathroom designer, Sarah Babbitt.
Sarah Babbitt Kitchen and Bathroom Designer
Sarah is based in the Midwest where she exercises her kitchen and bathroom designing talents. She earned a Bachelors degree in sociology from Northwestern University and has a BFA in Interior Design from Harrington College of Design.
Babbitt’s designs are contemporary lines, but she also loves traditional elements as they can bring much warmth to a kitchen and bathroom space. Clients of Sarah love that she offers them the chance to include some sort of souvenir, photograph, or family heirloom in each of her projects. Her desire to connect her work to the client allows each design to be unique and personal.
Retro Kitchen Before
Retro Kitchen After
In Sarah’s spare time, she enjoys working in the kitchen. She collects cooking literature and exotic spices. She loves canning fresh fruits and vegetables for future dishes.
“My own love for the kitchen and its functionality is a big plus for kitchen clients.” ~Sarah Babbitt
Babbitt has helped design over 750 bathrooms and 150 kitchens in her five years at Mid-West based Community Home Supply.
Interview Notes with Sarah Babbitt
1. What are some design ideas to get kids more involved in the kitchen?
Sarah:You don’t want to make the countertop in the kitchen too low since then it won’t be functional for the homeowner to use (although it would make it easier for a child to use). But maybe you could integrate a desk area into the kitchen. This area would have a lower countertop where kids can sit and do homework but could also do some prep work/help in the kitchen. The lower countertop then serves a couple functions of a desk area and of a prep area that’s more accessible for kids.
Definitely keep a step stool in the kitchen, but maybe dedicate a skinny base cabinet to house it. So when they’re not using this step stool, it can be folded and stored in this skinny cabinet.
2. What are the biggest renovation mistakes homeowners make?
Sarah:I think one of the biggest is sacrificing function over cost. Bathrooms and kitchens can be very expensive, it is true, and often times, people find themselves having to cut back in certain areas. But I think the key is not to compromise too much. If, say, in a guest bath where a lot of kids (of varying heights) shower, it might make more sense to get a handshower on a bar than just a fixed wall showerhead. In the end, it might be $150 to $200 more, but over the course of the life of the bathroom, it’s really pennies. And the practical advantages are huge: now the shower can be raised at different heights for people and you can take the handshower off to clean the tub or shower. This is just one example, but I think the key is to think about how you use the bathroom or kitchen and what things are the most important to you. Don’t sacrifice those things that will make your life easier.
Another mistake: the Internet. While the Internet can be a great source for inspiration, it can also be a mousetrap. Since there’s no design professional, a homeowner doesn’t necessarily know everything that they need when it comes to a renovation. Whereas, someone from the showroom, will be able to advise them with all the parts they need. I have heard this story multiple times from people: they buy a shower system on the Internet and they’re missing the necessary rough in valve(s) or wall outlet. Plus, there’s warranty issues of all kinds. Many brands will only warranty their products if they are bought through a showroom and will not warranty their products if bought on the Internet. For all the money, time, and effort you’re going to put into the bathroom or kitchen, I think it just makes sense to buy through a showroom and get the expertise of a bathroom or kitchen designer.
3. What kitchen and bathroom accessories should I invest in?
Sarah:I think it’s okay to splurge on accessories, fixtures, appliances, etc… when it makes sense and fits in to your daily life. For example, if you are a huge cook then you should get the nicer appliances or the more expensive, higher quality kitchen sink or faucet since you use it so much. If you have health considerations like asthma or aches and pains, then maybe you want to consider splurging on a steam shower. There are a ton of products out there for the kitchen and bathroom that can greatly improve our lives. So think of how you live your life and what items would be worth splurging on that would help you in your day to day life.
Specifically, I would say that there are some items that you definitely should NOT go the cheap route on. The toilet is a big one. Spend the extra money and get a taller height toilet, maybe a one piece toilet (so there’s no seam between the tank and the bowl, making it easier to clean), maybe a skirted toilet (where you cannot see the snake of the drain; again, making that easier to clean), and definitely a good performer. I often hear people tell me that they don’t want to spend much money on a toilet, but it’s one of the main fixtures in your house that you want to always work and never break. It’s truly the workhorse of the bathroom.
In the kitchen, I would say that the sink and faucet are always the things that you don’t want to go too cheap with. There are middle price points, but make sure your sink is at least 18 gauge stainless steel, if that’s the material you’re doing. Get a kitchen faucet that’s reliable from a quality manufacturer. Many people will do the kitchen faucets with an integrated spray. I think this makes a lot of sense. Also, I’ve done more and more filters that hook up to the kitchen faucet. One product in particular is by a company called Everpure. They do a filter that hooks up to the main kitchen faucet without slowing the flow of the water but filters out all the impurities. So all your cooking water and drinking water is clean and filtered. And the replacement is pretty minimal (maybe once a year, if that) but the benefits are astounding and will be much more effective than a water pitcher with a filter.
4. Is there any kitchen or bathroom accessory that it’s easy to save money on?
Sarah:Some areas you can cut back on: the kitchen cabinet construction does not have to be all plywood construction. Most of the kitchen cabinets I sell are the MDF construction and the quality is still a great, reliable one. You still have the slow close drawers and doors (for most cabinet lines, this is becoming a standard feature) and the construction of the non-plywood cabinets is still a great construction.
Think about your finishes: if you do polished chrome faucets instead of brushed nickel, you’ll be cutting costs about 35% on the faucets. That is a huge number and really adds up.
In the other bathrooms like the kids bath, guest bath, or a basement bath, maybe you go more simple (polished chrome, simple single hole lav faucets that tend to cost less money than widespread lav faucets) and you can spend the other money on the more “flashy” rooms like the powder room or the more indulgent rooms like the master bath.
5. How do I design a kitchen that doesn’t become dated?
Sarah:Go with clean, simple finishes, and no wild colors. You can always play with colors when it comes to paint, dish towels, etc… as opposed to getting a bright red countertop. Go with more neutral colors for the flooring, backsplash, etc… and classic colors for the cabinets (white paint continues to be a very popular color, as are medium to dark tones). Forego the appliance panels; if down the road your refrigerator breaks and you have to get a new one, you’ll have to get new door panels that probably won’t match the rest of the kitchen cabinets.
6. What’s the one bathroom essential you should invest in?
Sarah:I think one of the most essential things to invest in a bathroom is a really good toilet. And if I had to pick a second one, I would probably do a handshower in the shower or tub. It makes life easier in terms of cleaning and other tasks like rinsing off after you shave your legs, or put it on a hard setting and you can take it off the bar and put it close to a sore muscle.
These are excellent tips! I want to personally thank Sarah Babbitt for answering these questions for us today. Hopefully these will help you with any decisions you have in the future when it comes to kitchen and bathroom design.
If you would like to be featured here on Michigan Home Mommy Works so that you may share your expertise with our readers, please contact me at Lindsey@michiganhomemommyworks.com.