Homeowners rethink cooking spaces during pandemic

ROOM TO GROW: A kitchen remodel in Arden by Judd Builders knocked down walls and added a large island with a secondary prep space to accommodate multiple cooks. Photo by Ryan Theede

More storage. Walk-in pantries. Beverage centers replacing built-in desks, which are transitioning to dedicated home offices. Secondary prep areas and more room between counters to accommodate multiple cooks. With less dining out and more cooking in, local contractors say these are the primary upgrades clients are requesting as they undertake kitchen remodels, which have seen a significant uptick since stay-at-home orders went into effect this spring.

“People have been spending a lot of time at home,” says John Judd Jr. co-owner with his father of Judd Builders in Arden. “They’re seeing things that need to be done to accommodate not just how they’re living now but anticipating that things may stay this way for a while.”

Brian Ponder, owner of Ponder Renovations, agrees. “With people spending more time at home and more time in the kitchen, it became clear to people what needed fixing and what needed improving. In many cases that’s all the way to a complete overhaul,” he says. “The money they are not spending to go out to eat, on entertainment or to travel, they’re putting into their house.”

An additional driver, Judd adds, is low housing inventory. “People are purchasing homes that don’t have everything that was on their wish list with the intent of remodeling to get the things they want.”

Paying the price

Achieving kitchen nirvana is neither cheap nor easy. Judd says the two most frequently asked questions his company receives from potential clients are how much will it cost and how long will it take. Judd Builders’ website offers a fiscal reality check as determined by a 2019 report by Remodeling Magazine. In Asheville, the average cost of a minor kitchen renovation is $21,491, which does not include layout changes or moving plumbing or electrical. The average for a major midrange renovation climbs to $63,608; for a major upscale kitchen remodel, expect to shell out just shy of $127,000.

“Pretty much every trade involved in building a home is involved in remodeling a kitchen,” Judd explains. “Plumbing, electrical, mechanical and in some cases, framing.”

Which is why, he says, kitchen remodels are not advised for DIYers, no matter your skill level or how intensely you’ve scrutinized YouTube tutorials. “Trying to remodel your own kitchen is a good way to get into a lot of trouble,” Ponder warns. “It’s a lot to take on, and you may end up spending more money in the long run. Better to have an expert come in who knows what they’re doing and where to start.”

Judd recommends starting with an assessment of the project to include experienced estimates of cost and time involved. “People watch too much HGTV,” he says with a laugh. “What Chip and Joanna are doing in Waco, Texas, is not realistic for timeline or pricing in Asheville.”

He follows what he calls the Six P mantra: Prior, proper planning prevents poor performance. This is especially important when it comes to demoing the existing space, a dramatic stage people are always eager to start. “Before demo, you’ll need to select and order everything. With COVID, delivery times are really stretching,” Judd says. “You don’t want a two-week time lapse while we’re waiting on cabinets to come in. and the client is wondering why nothing is happening and they still don’t have a kitchen.”

No kitchen, no problem?

Another big decision homeowners need to make before sledgehammering those hideous counters and ripping down the outdated cabinets is how they will manage without their kitchen.

“When we’re doing extensive remodels, we highly recommend that if they are able, residents relocate,” says Judd. “When they don’t, what we see is, the first week, they’re meeting you at the door with coffee for the crew. Week two, they want to know when you’re leaving and what’s taking so long.”

If moving out of your own home is not an option, adjustments can be made to accommodate the construction zone.  Melissa DeLong, manager designer at PLATT, a full-service architecture, construction and interior design firm in Brevard, has a fully informed view of the exciting and challenging process, as a designer who is currently in the midst of a remodel at her own home.

“I’ve worked in kitchen and bath design since 2011, and it’s fun to see all the changes since I started,” she says. “Even before this big event of 2020, people were becoming more aware and invested in how they like to eat and how they source their food. With that comes conversations about cooking and food storage, which has become even more relevant and important now.”

An avid cook, DeLong and her husband moved into their 1960s home in December and realized pretty quickly that as much as she loved the original design elements, the kitchen wasn’t working for her.  Though the plumbing did not move, everything else has been demolished and removed, including the vintage range, site-built cabinetry and four layers of flooring.

She says she is making do with plenty of fresh produce from the garden, an Instant Pot and an induction hob, which, she explains, is basically a free-standing burner and the gateway to the induction stove they have opted for to settle the great gas versus electric divide.

“Gas or electric is always a challenging conversation,” she says. “We encourage people to think outside their comfort zone and consider induction. It is an extremely easy cleanup, you can choose the heat level with a finger touch, it is immediate and more energy efficient. They have been around since the ’80s but never caught on here. People fell in love with them in Europe and Asia, and they’re making a bit of a comeback here as they become more affordable. Personally, as well as in our firm, we are big fans.”

The biggest challenge for homeowners who have decided to remodel may be fitting into contractors’ schedules. “We have been very busy through this,” says Ponder. “As long as people are staying at home, we’re happy to help them create the environment that works best for them.”


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About Kay West
Kay West was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, StyleBlueprint Nashville, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. To kick off 2019 she put Tennessee in her rear view mirror, drove into the mountains of WNC, settled in West Asheville and appreciates that writing offers the opportunity to explore and learn her new home. She looks forward to hiking trails, biking greenways, canoeing rivers, sampling local beer and cheering the Asheville Tourists.

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5 thoughts on “Homeowners rethink cooking spaces during pandemic

  1. hvmunculus

    More dumb american trends for fake-cool people in really not cool asheville to ponder over their egos about in the nation where the citizens never give up on being dumb in their reconsiderations of materialism.

  2. Harold

    Thank goodness. Some USEFUL information for a change. There is too much being published about how to keep a roof over your head, food in your stomach, gas in your car, and surviving in general. How to put the $100,000.00 burning a hole in EVERYONE’S pocket to productive use is great! Keep up the good work!

  3. Peter Robbins

    I’m getting a new refrigerator. Do they send out a reporter or am I supposed to do the write-up myself?

    • Virginia Daffron

      I think you can handle this one. You may even be overqualified!

      When may we expect your submission?

      • Peter Robbins

        I’ll let you know. But be forewarned: The fridge comes equipped with an automatic ice-cube maker, so you can expect to see some class resentment in the comments section.

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