8 Must-Have Items for Your Next Kitchen Remodel

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If you're going to upgrade your kitchen, think about more than just the cabinets and countertops. Here are some amazing items that will make your cooking easier – and just might impress a future buyer of your house.

Last summer, my husband and I began designing the kitchen of our dreams for our new home in Pennsylvania. At the time, we didn’t know very much about kitchens – other than MSNBC mentioning that the national average cost to remodel one was $81,552.

Now, more than a year later, our kitchen is finally getting installed. And while we’re not paying $81,552, it’s uncomfortably close to that. I’m now a lot wiser about just what it takes to make a kitchen work. In fact, after spending hours reading Internet forums like Gardenweb.com, checking out kitchen design books from the library, and poring over kitchen pictures on Houzz.com and magazines, I now consider myself ready for my honorary “kitchen designer” badge.

If you’re embarking on your own kitchen remodel and don’t care to spend the countless hours I did becoming one of the world’s foremost experts, here are eight cool things I came across that can help make your kitchen complete. If you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend (we’re mostly about saving money around here rather than spending it), just a couple of these items can improve your spirits and maybe even impress a future buyer of your home…and some are cheap.

1. The Tapmaster

The Tapmaster is an add-on for your kitchen faucet that saves both energy and time. You’ve probably seen a version of this hands-free faucet at your dentist’s or doctor’s office – it’s that pedal that the doctor steps on to turn the water on and off. But the home versions are a lot fancier.

When you buy a Tapmaster for home use, you have the choice between an in-floor activator (you stand on it to control the water), a euro-foot activator (a slim little lever you kick with the side of your foot) or a cabinet-door activator (turn on the water by touching the front of the cabinet with your knee). This is a great feature when your hands are full of veggies you need to wash or when you don’t want to touch the faucet with your yucky chicken hands.

The Tapmaster can be purchased directly through Tapmaster.com or from online retailers like Conserv-a-Store. Prices generally range from $300 to $350 depending on the model.

2. Toe-kick drawers

A toe kick is the recessed area below the bottom of your cabinets that allows you to stand close to the counter without bumping your toes on the cabinet bottom. Toe kicks are usually several inches deep – and they’re wasted space.

If you get custom or semi-custom cabinets, however, you can have a toe-kick drawer put in. These are simply shallow drawers that fit in the toe-kick area and that open when you tap them with your foot. (They look like this.) They’re perfect for storing place mats, tablecloths, bulky platters, or other long and flat items, which is a blessing in small kitchens. Since these are specialty items, you can really only get them from cabinetmakers or cabinet companies. Prices vary but are generally under $200 per drawer.

3. Instant hot

An “instant hot” is one of the least expensive and most useful additions to a new kitchen. It’s a tank that installs underneath your sink and provides you with immediate access to hot water for tea, coffee, and instant oatmeal. Instant hot units typically work by running the water through coils that heat it quickly – and with very little energy.

Instant hots require their own separate faucet for the warmed water to come out of, and the least expensive way to get this is to buy a kit that comes with both tank and faucet. When you use the instant hot faucet, you get…well…instant hot water with temperatures that range up to 200 degrees. Most units will produce as many as 60 cups of hot water per hour, giving you plenty of warmed water for even the largest party.

Prices will vary depending on model and faucet style, but one relatively inexpensive option is the Quick and Hot  dispenser and faucet available through Amazon.com for about $200.

4. A space corner

Corners have long been the bane of the kitchen-design world. But with a space corner, you can recapture the dead space. When you have a space corner unit, your cabinets appear to have opposing sets of drawer faces on each end of the corner cabinet – which, of course, would bump into each other if they were ever to be opened.

In reality, the sets of “drawers” on each side of the triangle created by the corner are all one unit. This gives you one big drawer that opens up and that’s triangle shaped in the back, allowing you to access as much of the corner space as possible. (It looks like this.) Space corners are offered as part of a cabinet package by your cabinetmaker or manufacturer, and prices will vary depending on cabinet style and design. Generally, each corner outfitted as a space corner will be under $200.

5.  A NeverMT

Soap dispensers can make your life a lot easier and can keep clutter off of your counters. They can also be a giant pain when you have to refill them constantly. That’s where the NeverMT comes in. For $9.95 from Custom Inserts, you can convert your built-in soap dispenser so that it connects directly to a giant bulk-size soap or lotion container. The bulk-sized container should last for a long time, giving you ready access to soap without the hassle.

6. Plugmold

As I designed my kitchen, I was dismayed to discover that outlets are required every 2 feet, according to the National Electric Code. Since I was designing a nice backsplash for my kitchen, I didn’t want my marble tiles marred by unsightly outlets.Fortunately, Plugmold came to the rescue.

Plugmold is a thin multi-outlet strip that can fit underneath upper cabinets and be almost completely hidden by the cabinet molding. (It can look like this.)

This solved my outlet problem, and I also put a Plugmold strip under my island so people sitting at bar stools would have plenty of places to plug in laptops or other electronic devices if they were keeping me company while I was in the kitchen.

Plugmold or Wiremold can be purchased inexpensively from a local home improvement store. Home Depot online provides a 10-outlet version for $34.97.

7. An air switch

Our kitchen layout ended up with our main sink in the kitchen island, leaving me with a conundrum: Where do I put the disposal switch? The answer: Use an air switch.

An air switch is an alternative to a standard wall switch. It can mount on the counter because it’s air-pressure-activated. When you press the small button, a burst of air is sent into the air tubes, triggering a power on/off switch and turning the disposal on. Air switches were traditionally used in Jacuzzis, so they could be turned off and on with wet hands. We got our air switch from the plumbing supply store that provided all plumbing for our home, but they can be purchased from almost any plumber. Online outlets including Plumber Surplus offer inexpensive options including this $35.35 model.

8. Vac pan

One of the final additions to our kitchen – and perhaps the coolest of all – was the vac pan. The vac pan is a part of our central vacuum system. It’s a narrow slit in the toe kick of the island that can be opened and closed using a small kick lever. When opened, it provides suction – and items can be swept into it and carried off to the central vac.

It works like an automatic dustpan, sucking in crumbs and other dirt that are swept in. Adding it to our central vac was simple, but if you don’t have a central vac in your new kitchen, a standalone model called the EyeVac can serve the same function, making cleanup a breeze. The EyeVac costs $94.16 at Amazon.com, and central vac versions can generally be obtained for under $30 from your central vac installer.

Maybe I’m just gone kitchen crazy, but I love all of these items. But even if you pick out only one or two, they can provide not only great convenience, but a potentially good return on your investment.

Stacy Johnson

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