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Home Cooking

Going Inside the Kitchens of Local Chefs and a Cookbook Author: Why They Renovated (or Didn't), Favorite Appliances, Storage Solutions, Tools They Wouldn't Do Without--and Ones They Never Use

Teresa Velazquez: A Baker's Kitchen

Teresa Velazquez is chef/owner of the Georgetown bakery Baked & Wired, where her homestyle pies, cookies, and cakes receive praise. Velazquez, her architect husband, Tony, and their two teenagers live in DC's Foxhall neighborhood.

Something smells good: "When people see my kitchen, they can tell I bake," Velazquez says. "It's a working kitchen." Though lately the family eats leftovers from the store, Velazquez likes to bake pies at home. Blueberry-peach cream is a favorite.

Keeping it real: The house was built in 1903, and they've retained the moldings, wainscoting, and wood floors. The countertops are maple and "rock hard." Velazquez loves the heart-of-pine floor, which adds a warmth and contrasts nicely with the stainless appliances. Plus, it's resilient and soft–good for someone who stands a lot.

Small machines, big work: The kitchen came with a 32-inch-deep space for a refrigerator, and Velazquez didn't want the fridge to jut out. Foremost Appliances in Chantilly found her a Liebherr stainless model from Switzerland. It fits perfectly. Six freezer drawers can be programmed to different temperatures. The Miele dishwasher is very quiet and has lots of space.

Function over form: The family hasn't replaced the 1950s Sears particleboard cabinets–they just keep painting them. Now they're Chinese green. Says Velazquez: "As long as you have an organized kitchen, it doesn't matter if you have cherry cabinets."

Work for those carbs: Velazquez loves her grandmother's spaetzle press from 1950. "The ones you see now aren't really heavy-duty," she says. When the family makes spaetzle–a German flour-butter-and-egg pasta–her husband or son does the pressing. "Those German women really worked for their noodles," she says.

Storage story: Velazquez keeps dry goods in the basement and some ingredients on steel Metro shelving in the kitchen. In summer, she relies on her garden–four kinds of tomatoes, three varieties of basil, plus lavender, thyme, parsley, and cucumbers.

Geoff Tracy: Lots of Light, Lots of Wine

Geoff Tracy is chef/owner of Modern American restaurant Chef Geoff's in downtown DC and near American University. He lives in Georgetown with his wife, NBC correspondent Norah O'Donnell.

Just the right size: Their three-bedroom townhouse is, Tracy says, "not too big, not too small." But they've never renovated: "In my world and Norah's world, we had to buy a house that was ready to live in." The kitchen countertops are dark granite, the cabinetry cherry. Everything else is "black and modern." They have a sisal rug on the Italianate tile floor.

Keeping the flow: A window looks into the dining room–"good when I'm in the kitchen and my friends are drinking wine in the dining room," Tracy says.

Seeing straight: "My kitchen is extraordinarily well lit," he says. Natural light streams through a large window, and pointer lights are under the cabinets.

Home on the range: Though gas is standard in restaurants, at home Tracy uses a KitchenAid flat-top electric range with four burners–"fantastic for a home environment." He likes that it heats up fast.

A place for everything: Shelving and storage are key for Tracy. His large collection of tools and appliances–bowls, Boos cutting boards, KitchenAid mixer, Cuisinart–is out of sight in organized cabinets. Under the range are three big shelves holding more tools, pots, and pans. Next to the range is a wine cooler that holds 50 bottles: "It was a big selling point on the house." He also recommends lots of electrical strip outlets.

Tools of the trade: O'Donnell bought Tracy a "fancy" Bamix immersion blender, which he uses to whip egg whites and make vinaigrettes. His most indispensible tool? A Wüsthof Grand Prix ten-inch chef's knife. "I do everything with a knife," he says. "I don't have a garlic press. I don't keep a lemon zester."

Brenda Rhodes Miller: Around the Kitchen Table

Brenda Rhodes Miller wrote The Church Ladies' Divine Desserts and The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook. Coming in November is The Church Ladies' Celestial Suppers & Sensible Advice. She sees her kitchen as the heart of her home in DC's Petworth area. Atmosphere and companionship, not gadgetry, lend flavor.

Cookbooks for life: A remodeler almost found himself out of a job when he suggested Miller could get more cabinet space if she got rid of some of her cookbooks. "That's heresy," she says. She's given a few away to her children, but the rest are essentials.

Nothing beats a table: Her husband's suggestion to add an island got vetoed. Miller says she needs her big butcher-block table to read, think, and chat with guests and family. A table means she can be social but not have too many assistants getting in the way.

Old meets new: Tearing up old flooring revealed heart of pine, which Miller had restored. Although she likes her KitchenAid five-burner ceramic cooktop and stacked double oven, she misses the charm and large size of the original 1960s-vintage stove.

Hands on: Miller rarely pulls out the food processor, preferring to use cutting boards to chop herbs and a mortar and pestle to grind spices. In the next renovation, she wants to replace the laminate counters with hardier granite. Under-the-cabinet fluorescent lights, she says, are a good idea if you do a lot of close tasks such as deboning fowl.

Southern style: A ceiling fan and two big windows are important to the Alabama native. She grows herbs and vegetables, and she grills outside whenever she can–even on Thanksgiving, when she prepares two turkeys stuffed with rosemary and apple.

François and Patrice Dionot: Down-to-Earth Pros

François Dionot is founder and director of L'Academie de Cuisine cooking school in Bethesda and Gaithersburg. When he and his wife, Patrice, renovated their North Potomac kitchen, he ceded most decisions to her. Patrice is the school's administrative director and a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier, the organization of female culinary professionals.

A shock to purists: The Dionots use an Amana electric–yes, electric–ceramic cooktop. (At the time of the renovation, the house wasn't equipped for gas.) And no granite counters–not even professional stainless. They chose Fountainhead, a professional-grade, high-density laminate by Nevamar, for its looks and lower cost as well as to get an easy-to-clean sink that was integrated with the counter material. The KitchenAid refrigerator is fitted into the wall flush with the cabinets for a high-end look. The double oven and dishwasher are also KitchenAid.

Professional requirements: If you go with professional-level appliances, François says, you'll have to get professional cookware: "That heavy-duty BTU flame will melt a home sauté pan." Professional cookware will probably require custom or the highest-grade semicustom cabinets–lesser cabinetry can buckle under the weight. Patrice keeps heavy Le Creuset pots in drawers.

Fire it up: François grills outdoors on a stainless Weber gas grill. He gets a new one about every two years–"the biggest they have."

Ups and downs: The six-foot-one François recommends varied counter heights to keep all cooks comfortable. Before the renovation, he used to stack cutting boards on the counter to get a work surface at the right height. The flooring is the same oak as in the rest of the house, sanded to a light tone.

One small regret: When they were installing propane tanks for a gas fireplace, the contractor asked if they wanted to run a pipe to the kitchen so they could change to a gas range. Patrice said no, but now she wishes she had done it. "I wouldn't change anything else," she says.

Robert Brown: Everything Within Reach

Robert Brown, executive chef at Ristorante Terrazza in Chevy Chase, has done stints at Georgia Brown, Galileo, Citronelle, and Ristorante Tosca. Heand his wife live in a loft in DC's Adams Morgan.

Almost-custom kitchen: The couple bought their loft before construction, so Brown got to specify preferences and appliances. The work area has an island with a two-bowl sink, granite countertops, and cherry cabinets. The floor is bamboo–comfortable underfoot and modern. Everything in the kitchen is within reach.

Wide-open spaces: With the loft's design–20-foot ceilings, large windows, few interior walls–the island is a stage for the chef as well as a prep area. "It's good to have a kitchen that's both functional and entertaining," Brown says. "People can watch me prepare dinner. My wife will sit and do work or talk while I'm cooking."

Getting the job done: The kitchen has GE Profile appliances, and the cooktop is gas. But with only one oven, Brown has to pay special attention to timing in menu planning.

East and West: Away from his Modern Italian restaurant, Brown likes to experiment with Asian cooking. Vegetable stir-fries are a favorite of his wife's.

Back to basics: He uses a hand-cranked pasta machine that clamps to the island. While he'd like to invest in professional pots at home, for now he's happy with consumer-grade. But heuses Wüsthof knives–"one thing I don't skimp on."

Kaz Okochi: "It's Fun to Make a Mess"

Kaz Okochi was raised in Nagoya, Japan, and went to cooking school in Osaka. For ten years he manned the sushi counter at DC's Sushi-Ko. In 1999 he opened Kaz Sushi Bistro in the city's Foggy Bottom neighborhood, specializing in sushi and other creative Japanese cuisine. He lives in Vienna with his wife, Dukki, and their two children.

Day to day: Okochi spends most days and nights at the restaurant, so his wife is the main cook at home. "Cook at the restaurant every day and at home every day?" he laughs. "That sounds like a dream husband." On his days off, he'll do a Korean barbecue or make homemade pasta with the kids. "It's fun to make a mess," he says.

Simple is better: The small but well-appointed kitchen has mahogany cabinets, granite countertops, and stainless-steel appliances. "I know a lot of people like a fancy kitchen," he says, "but it's not like this is the restaurant."

Never enough space: The family has a stainless GE Profile refrigerator and another full-size fridge close by. "My wife keeps them organized," he says. "Milk in one, vegetables and kimchee in the other." They store appliances that don't get used regularly–like the ice-cream maker–in the basement.

Extra smooth: "I have a Vita-Mix blender–it's $400 at least." He says it's worth the money–it's fast and makes things like juices and sauces extra-smooth. Dukki makes homemade juice every morning. "She made a really weird one this morning out of black sesame and kiwi," Okochi says, "but strawberry and banana are standard."

Cast aside: Among the tools Okochi never uses is his knife sharpener. He relies on a stone, which keeps his Japanese knives razor sharp. He also never uses his copper pans: "They look cool, but they're a pain to clean."

Where's the party? The only guest who is ever entertained in the kitchen is the family's pet Yorkie. "If I want to entertain," Okochi says, "I tell people to come to the restaurant."

Wide-Open Spaces

Today's Kitchens Are Roomy, Sleek, and Modern–With Fewer Fussy Details but More Color

Wildberger, Sara

Many homeowners no longer want to close the door to the kitchen. It's a room for entertaining and enjoying family. Open floor plans integrate the kitchen into family room, dining room, sunroom. In some houses, you can see into the kitchen when you open the front door.

"People are removing walls to get a more expansive feeling," says Dennis Day, owner of Arlington's Voell Custom Kitchens.

"Kitchens are more social," says Judy Bracht of Stuart Kitchens inMcLean. "It's the room everyonelives in."

Says Jennifer Gilmer of Chevy Chase's Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath: "Now the kitchen is so open to the living area, it needs to blend with it. Cabinets and appliances become like furniture."

Clean and Lean

A good-looking Washington kitchen used to mean traditional, but designers are seeing a growing interest in contemporary styles. As with other rooms, design elements are growing simpler.

"What used to be cutting edge is now the norm," says Chandler Fox of Foxcraft, an Arlington design/build company. "Even the lowest-end appliance lines are showing stainless." If people aren't getting stainless steel, Fox says, they're getting cabinet facing for appliances.

"We're seeing a clean element, not the big ornate things," says Paul Lobkovich of Lobkovich Kitchen Designs in Vienna. "It's still traditional but with a pared-down edge. We saw such a trend for country and Tuscan looks, but the bottom line is people want a classic look they'll be happy with in a few years–that won't just be trendy."

In the movie Something's Gotta Give, Diane Keaton's character has a kitchen that Martha Stewart might envy–and that many Washingtonians ask for. One even brought the DVD into Gilmer's showroom.

The kitchen's simply paneled cabinetry, off-white tones, iron hardware, and clean lines exemplify the look some designers are calling New or Modern American. The style features flat cabinet panels, streamlined or contemporary hardware, a variety of natural surfaces, some color, and lots of light and space.

Storage is key to that spacious feeling–and essential to keeping the lines clean. Furniture-quality cabinets still mean using good wood and hardware, but leg details and panels are less fussy.

"It's like our lives are so busy that our eyes need to rest," says Joni Zimmerman of Design Solutions in Annapolis. "But you still have to create interest."

Larger, flat cabinet panels need larger framing–about three inches is standard now, Zimmerman says: "It looks wimpy to have large center panels and thin frames. When you streamline, it increases the proportions."

Color, Color Everywhere

Cherry is coming back for cabinets, says Larry Dobbs, owner of Creative Kitchens in Rockville. Painted cabinets are also big, especially in furniture-quality glazes and hand-rubbed finishes.

"The high-end market is not afraid of color," says Lobkovich, who has done kitchens in apple green and bold red.

AGA stoves, a high-end British brand, come in a variety of colors from pistachio to Wedgwood blue. Linoleum and vinyl floors are back because they're soft and easy to clean and come in a rainbowof shades. Walls are also being glazed in color.

White and light colors can make a small kitchen look larger and a large one overwhelming, Gilmer says. "Spa" tones of cool greens and blues and butter yellows are popular. Joni Zimmerman of Design Solutions in Annapolis notes that almost any color, even reds and yellows, can be soothing with the right proportions and good design.

Cultured Counters

Granite's popularity means designers are looking farther afield–to quarries in South America, Africa, and Asia–to get unusual countertop surfaces.

At the same time, technical advances in fabricating granite have led to prices' dropping over the past few years.

The typical granite counter of the past five years–gray or brown with a glossy shine–is being supplanted by slab selections with almost jewel-like colors, bright metallic veins, and bold designs created by nature.

"I've seen some granite that looks like it has amoebas in it," Fox says. A honed surface–a matte finish–is the choice now over polished stone, which is seen as too harsh and reflective. Rough edges are prized.

More granite-counter businesses are opening to deal directly with consumers. That's fine, Fox says, "but when I do a granite counter, I need to have a project manager there. There's so much involved with the plumbing, the electrical outlets, the backsplashes."

Most kitchen designers deal with fabricators that don't deal direct to customers. "Inspecting the slab" has become a ritual with remodelers in the past few years. Because granite can have imperfections that run through several slabs, good designers often ask homeowners to come along not only to choose the slab but to check it when the counter template is laid out.

A good designer will have access to a granite fabricator with a big selection–and the choices can be dizzying. The average kitchen takes two to three slabs.

"We're all looking for something new," Bracht says, adding that many customers are looking into limestone and anticated marble–that is, marble that's been treated with heat to bring color variations to the surface and then honed for a natural stone look and smooth surface. Others are exploring sandstone, says Larry Dobbs. The important trend is the softened, sandblasted, or distressed finish.

Engineered stone such as Silestone and solid surfaces such as Corian are also giving granite competition because of their color range. Concrete–versatile and sturdy but sometimes stark-looking–is still a specialized taste and requires careful, skilled fabrication.

Two kinds of laminates have gained popularity, especially for contemporary kitchens. Richlite, a counter laminate with the same soft, dense look of Corian or similar solid surfaces, is available in subtle colors with matte finishes. Neff, a Canadian company (, offers laminate cabinets in a rainbow of colors and in wood look-alikes–some with "carved" details–at less than the price of wood.

A Room That Works

What you don't see is important too: A kitchen has to function well.

"If people are happy with their appliances, they're basically happy with their kitchen," says designer Harriet Finder of Stuart Kitchens.

"Great room" plans call for quiet appliances and good ventilation so kitchen noise, heat, and aromas don't get overwhelming. Quiet dishwashers and fridges and soundproofing on sinks are easy to find even in midrange lines, but noiseless features on cabinetry can be costly. Gilmer says that if a range hood is doing its job, it'll be noisy.

Audio-video companies and kitchen designers note how popular flat-screen TV screens mounted to the bottom of cabinets have become. With the right wiring, the LED screen can also be used as a computer monitor, meaning you can check e-mail as you fix dinner.

"I'm getting one," says Deborah Wiener of Designing Solutions in Silver Spring, adding that it takes up less space than a bulletin board or desk.

Appliances have to multitask as much as cooks do. Steam/convection ovens, dual electric/gas ranges, and double ovens are popular; people want anything that cuts cooking time.

The open-space trend comes full circle in a setup Zimmerman plans for her new showroom–the walk-in cabinet. A European trend, it works like this: The messy parts of a kitchen are grouped behind large doors. When you're done with prep or cleanup, you shut them. It's like having a Pullman kitchen within the larger room–because there are still some things you want to keep behind closed doors.

Small Is Beautiful

Not Every Kitchen Can Be Opened Up and Expanded. Here Are Tips for Doing a Lot in a Little Space.

Wildberger, Sara

A "great room" layout isn't feasiblein every home. If you have a small kitchen, here are ways to maximize space:

Focus on storage. Pullout spice and condiment racks and pullouts for cutting boards, baking sheets, and trash cans are basics. Use backsplash areas to mount drawers and hang pots and utensils. Some layouts leave corner spaces unused. One solution: a corner cabinet with an elbow-hinge door–one that's hinged in the middle to fold when open–along with lazy-Susan shelves inside.

Build up and down, not out. Remove soffits–portions of lowered ceiling that often conceal ducts–and run cabinets all the way up.

Hide a table, roll in an island. A pullout table can serve as a prep surface or breakfast bar. A small piece of furniture on wheels, topped with granite or marble, can be the island you never thought you'd have space for.

Go European. Cabinetry lines featuring streamlined fronts and everything-in-its-place accessories are designed for Europe's often-smaller kitchens. They can cost as much as traditional cabinetry–or even more–but they score high on efficiency. Sources include Bulthaup, Studio Snaidero, SieMatic, Poliform, and Poggenpohl.

Or go Ikea. A less-expensive version of the European look, Ikea's kitchens get high marks for quality and stability from Consumer Reports and customers. Drawbacks: The chain's success means in-store kitchen-design appointments can be scarce, and you may not get the personal service you want. Many contractors, accustomed to installing prefabricated cabinets, balk at Ikea's more involved assembly and odd measurements. Choose contractors experienced with Ikea; the store provides lists.

Narrow your options. Professional-quality lines such as Sub-Zero are making narrower products; refrigerators, freezers, and dishwashers come in drawer styles; and small dishwashers can be installed on counters or even in one of the bowls of the sink.

Hell's Kitchen

A Sink Held Up by a Two-by-Four, Dented Appliances, a Thinly Veiled Threat–Sometimes a Kitchen Renovation Can Make You Want to Scream

Limpert, Ann

"People should know that renovating your kitchen takes a toll," Patricia Hulme says. "It puts a strain on your health, your relationships, and your patience."

Hulme has reason to be skeptical. Nearly a year after her kitchen renovation started, it's still going on.

A renovation of any size–from full-scale remodeling to minor facelift–has the potential for trouble. An untrustworthy contractor, new appliances that arrive beaten-up, orders that aren't fulfilled–all can cause delays and budget increases.

We talked with four families who went through kitchen-renovation nightmares and lived to tell the tale.

Kitchen by Larry, Moe, and Curly

Patricia Hulme and her partner, Berthie Ramos, wanted to convert a small office, dining room, and kitchen into a large kitchen and breakfast bar, with new cabinets and countertops.

In October 2003, Hulme enlisted a private contractor, who agreed to do the project solo. She bought the materials and stored them in her house. After a few weeks of work, Hulme–who has done some home renovations herself–noticed that the contractor had applied the drywall horizontally instead of vertically, as it should have been done. He forgot to cover the kitchen doors with plastic sheeting when he sanded the walls, so dust settled all over the house. Every piece of clothing they owned had to be dry-cleaned. When she called, he avoided the phone and never came back.

Hulme hired a new contractor, this one with a group of workers. They said the original drywall and wiring needed to be redone. Hulme bought new materials, and the new contractors charged $8,500 for the added work.

By December, the second contractor was ready to install cabinets and counters, which Hulme had ordered from the Silver Spring branch of a home-improvement chain. The self-assembly cabinets weren't a problem. The counters were a disaster.

First, the store ordered countertops–which should have taken about ten days to come in–with the wrong measurements; Hulme's contractor noticed the error. She went back to the store, where the manager promised to correct the mistake; the new countertops would be ready in about a month.

Those arrived and were still wrong. It took four deliveries and four months to get most of the right countertops (she's still waiting for one). By then, it was April, and Hulme's contractors had moved on to other jobs.

More headaches came when the store sent its own workers to install the counters. They claimed that the electrical work the previous contractors had done was wrong. They'd repair it for $1,200. They also told her that her stove would melt the countertops' edges, something the store's salesman hadn't mentioned. She ordered yet another set of countertops.

Most of that time, Hulme and Ramos lived on McDonald's and Taco Bell, eaten on their bed. Over the year, the kitchen's budget jumped from $5,000 to nearly $20,000. There was so much equipment in the house that all they could do was watch TV in the bedroom.

In June, they started to cook again, though they've been using temporary countertops. They're still waiting for their order.

Dents! Wrong Color!

When Patricia Hardee and her husband moved into their Fairfax townhouse, the kitchen was crying for a facelift.

"The laminate countertops looked like they came over with Marco Polo," Hardee says. "The edges of the vinyl floor wer curling up. The handle had fallen off the microwave so you had to pry it with your fingers."

In November 2002 they decided to replace everything except the cabinets–new floors, counters, appliances, lighting, and paint. The floors, counters, and lighting were installed without incident. Not the appliances.

Hardee and her husband bought their stove, refrigerator, microwave, and range from the Fairfax branch of a kitchen-appliance chain that carried all the brands Consumer Reports had recommended. The store promised it would deliver the appliances the day after Christmas and install them.

On December 26, Hardee drove home from her vacation house in Flint Hill, Virginia, and waited for the delivery. It never came. When she called the store, she found out her salesman had canceled the delivery without telling her. Hardee spoke to the manager, who was sympathetic, and they set a new date.

This time, the truck showed up at least an hour beyond the given range. It was dark outside. "You might not want to keep these," the deliveryman said.

In the truck, Hardee saw damaged goods: "The fridge and stove were dented and chipped. They looked like they'd been dropped from the top of a building. The door on the refrigerator had a big dent, like somebody had kicked it. And the stove was the wrong color." She told the deliveryman to take them back.

It took Hardee a week to get in touch with a manager, but he was apologetic and gave her a discount. Even so, the next deliveryman wheeled in a stove that was again the wrong color.

Four deliveries and three missed workdays later–in February 2003–the Hardees had their new appliances.

Looking back, Patricia Hardee says she'd pay more attention to word of mouth. "I'd get references from friends, not stores," she says, "and really follow up on them."

The Case of the Sick Subcontractor

Ten working days. That's how long Maria and Edison Cueva were told the job would take. That was in December 2003, when the Cuevas chose a kitchen-and-bath store in Prince George's County to overhaul their kitchen. The store wasn't far from their Silver Spring home and had quoted cheaper prices than others. The contract stipulated that the store would buy materials and install a travertine floor, granite countertops, gas range, dishwasher, and sink. The store assigned the Cuevas a contractor named Lanny, who started work with a small crew in February.

"Everything was going fine," Maria says. Then, two weeks into the project, Lanny stopped showing up. She didn't know if he'd quit or been fired–nobody from the store told her anything.

She was assigned a subcontractor but says, "When Lanny left, forget it–it was mistake after mistake."

Often the subcontractor and crew made an appointment to do work and didn't show up. "He always called in sick," Maria says. "He always said he was on his way to the hospital." That situation–coupled with waiting for replacement materials–meant one mistake could take weeks to fix.

Early on, a plumber came to hook up the water for the new sink. The next day, the subcontractor told her the plumber's work was wrong and would have to be redone. It took five weeks of washing pots in the bathtub for water to come back on in the kitchen.

In April, the crew prepared to install the new refrigerator. Then they realized the cabinets had been installed too low and needed to be ripped out. (The store paid for the new ones.) A few nights later, Edison was examining work in the kitchen and noticed a two-by-four wedged under the newly installed sink. When he pulled on it, the sink fell down.

Although the store acknowledged some mistakes, it was reluctant to fix them. When Maria and Edison complained to the Better Business Bureau and The Washingtonian, the store didn't move any faster. Only when they sent a letter to the Maryland Home Improvement Commission did the Cuevas get a reaction. The commission fined the store $500 for operating without a valid license, something the Cuevas didn't know about.

Maria says the owner called her husband and threatened, "You are hurting my business. I can hurt you too with all the powers I have." He later apologized, but the Cuevas reported the threat to the Home Improvement Commission.

Over this five-month span, the Cuevas were unable to cook. In July, Maria made her first meal since the renovation began. The kitchen isn't perfect, she says. Lots of things–like the chipped cabinet door, mismatched moldings, and a small hole in the wall tiling–were handled carelessly. But, she says, "I don't have the energy anymore. It's done."

Counters, Cabinets–and Caller ID

Marian Sabety thought her background as a software entrepreneur would serve her well when it came to renovating the kitchen of her new townhouse in DC's Woodley Park neighborhood. She approached the project–which began last August and included new floors, cabinetry, and appliances–with the same business sense she used to run her company.

Sabety interviewed seven independent contractors and asked them to agree to her terms: She'd pay the chosen contractor a down payment, and then a percentage of his fee for labor and materials according to how much work was getting done. If the job was finished late, money would be docked from the final cost. If it was completed early, she'd award a bonus.

She ended up hiring the contractor who promised he'd get the work done fastest–by October. She would move from her old place in January.

Over the next few months, the contractor and his workers showed up erratically. He avoided her calls and always seemed to be out of the country. To reach him, Sabety would have to wait until one of his workers told her he was in South America–where his cell phone's Caller ID didn't work.

Winter came and went. When Sabety moved in in January, her kitchen had an unfinished floor, no working dishwasher or sink, and no cabinets. Over that time, Sabety had gotten to know a few of the subcontractors, who filled her in on their boss's business practices. The reason they showed up so infrequently was because he rarely paid them. He ran three businesses on the side and used home-renovation down payments to fund the businesses.

By March, she was threatening a lawsuit. The job was finally finished in April. "Not perfectly," Sabety says, "and not without protests and more threats."

Sabety considers the project a learning experience. She now works full-time buying and renovating historic homes. She uses the same crew who worked on her home; she hired them away from her contractor. Sabety doesn't hesitate to give the workers advice when they're not working as efficiently as she'd like. The pay-as-you-go scale, which she says most solid contractors will accept, gives her an upper hand.

"Most contractors, even though it's their job, are bad project managers," she says. "Not all projects have to be disasters. But you have to think ahead and keep the project moving along."


How To Avoid Disaster

Designer Jennifer Gilmer, whose firm in Chevy Chase has renovated kitchens for 20 years, offers these tips for a successful project:

1. Take an active role: If your designer gives you only one option, ask for more. Keep on top of the designer to make sure everything is moving according to schedule. When work begins, be there in the mornings. Stay involved from beginning to end.

2. When designing your kitchen, walk through it in your mind's eye as if you're working in it. Think about things like door swings–will they create congestion or block appliances? Make sure you'll have enough prep room between cooktop and sink.

3. Avoid renovating when you have big events or deadlines coming up. The year you're planning your wedding or expecting a baby isn't the time.

4. If a contractor or worker's price is very low, make sure he or she is aware of the quality you expect.

5. Have your appliances picked out before you order your counters and cabinets so the cutouts and appliance panels can be measured and madecorrectly.

6. Get samples of everything–from the granite slabs for a countertop to the wood for a floor or cabinet.

7. Cabinets orders usually take the longest, so choose them first.

8. It's often costly to change your mind once an order has been placed. If you need to change an order, do so as soon as possible.

9. Make sure the contractor seals any interior kitchen doors with heavy plastic. The plastic should have a zipper down the front, which makes it easier to enter and exit.

10. If the contractor says he cancomplete a job in six weeks, he hasn't installed many kitchens. Plan for a year to a year and a half from the time you start interviewing designers to the final deadline.

The Future is Now

A TV Refrigerator? Utensils That Taste? An Internet Microwave? These Innovations Are Here or Just Around the Corner.

Larson, Wendy Ann

In 1967, CBS aired an "At Home 2001" segment of the series The Twenty-First Century. Walter Cronkite predicted what viewers would find in the kitchen of tomorrow: among other things, a cooking unit that stores a meal for years and then cooks it in seconds, a robotic vacuum that cleans the floors by itself, and plastic dishes that get melted at the end of every meal and recast for the next.

Four decades later, these predictions–though still a little ahead of our time–have turned out to be pretty good.

In the Works

Ted Selker isn't old enough to remember Cronkite's predictions, but the director of the MIT Media Lab's Counter Intelligence research group surely would have enjoyed the show.

The Media Lab's research focuses on how digital technology affects the way people think, communicate, and express ideas. The Counter Intelligence project explores how technology can make our homes work smarter–especially the kitchen. You'll often find Selker and his students in their own kitchen of the future. Here's a peek inside:

Soft sink: "Why are so many kitchen surfaces hard?" Selker asks. Good question. Dropped wineglasses bounce back in a sink made of silicone. An LED-equipped faucet uses light to turn hot water red and cold water blue to prevent burns.

Smart spoons: Utensils embedded with sensors for salt, sourness, temperature, and other elements help even novice cooks make a killer vinaigrette.

Clever counters: Work surfaces automatically adjust to the user and task at hand. Short or tall sit or stand at the ideal counter height.

Friendly fridge: Separate zones keep foods fresher longer. Vegetables grow as plants; butter and cheese stay at room temperature; fruits get an extra blast of carbon dioxide.

Pressable plates: Insert acrylic wafers into Selker's prototype contraption before every meal for the type of dishware–plates, bowls, cups–you need. At cleanup time, the dishes get melted back into wafers for the next meal.

Talking trivet: This hot pad alerts you when a casserole is ready to eat, reminds you when it needs rewarming, and hollers "fire!" if left on a surface of more than 600 degrees.

Coming to a Store Near You

A microwave that scans bar codes for cooking times. A refrigerator that announces when the milk has expired. A washing machine that senses a glitch and calls for service. The technology for these appliances exists. If manufacturers build them, will homeowners come?

Most industry observers say consumers aren't quite ready. But give them time–and tangible benefits to rationalize the purchase–and Web-enabled appliances may become the professional ranges of the future.

A handful of manufacturers have moved ahead, whetting American appetites for what's to come.

The Korean company LG Electronics hit the US market last June with its TV Refrigerator (available at Best Buy for $3,000 to $3,200) plus a collection of space-saving, multifunction microwaves. The side-by-side, 26-cubic-foot fridge comes in black or titanium and features a cable-ready 13H-inch screen, FM radio, two speakers, and tuner.

LG's Combination Toaster and Microwave comes in three models and sells for $119 to $149; the Combination Coffeemaker and Microwave retails for $149 in white or black and $179 in stainless; and the Combination Radio and Microwave–which includes a voice recorder with playback options for leaving messages about warming up leftovers–sells for $109. All are available at Best Buy.

LG made a splash two years ago with its $8,000 Internet refrigerator, in what the company says was largely a marketing move to establish itself in the US luxury-appliance market. Only a few hundred sold here. On a more realistic note, LG is poised to launch its Home Network in the States. Already out in Japan, the appliance line includes an Internet air conditioner, Internet washing machine, and Internet microwave–all interconnected and available via mobile handsets inside the home or by remote access.

Keep an eye out for LG's Roboking. The robotic vacuum will put Cronkite's clumsy model to shame. The silent setting is designed to keep you from missing your favorite TV show while cleaning the carpet.

Whirlpool launched its own cool appliance last year–the Polara Refrigerated Range. It's an oven with cooktop–and plenty of high-tech touches like convection capability and even-bake sensors–but the combo can also refrigerate and store food for up to 24 hours.

Slip a casserole in before you leave for work. Program the range to switch from refrigeration to cooking mode at a chosen hour, and arrive home to a ready-to-serve dinner. Polara is available at appliance and home centers, including Bray & Scarff, Sears, and Expo Design Center; $1,399 in black, $1,499 white, and $1,519 stainless.

On the horizon: Call or e-mail to adjust the program if your schedule changes during the day.

The Icebox Flipscreen has nothing to do with a refrigerator. But Salton–the company that brought George Foreman as much fame in the kitchen as in the ring–is betting that consumers will think its kitchen entertainment center is cool enough to live up to the name.

The flip-down, all-in-one system mounts under a cabinet and features a 12-inch pivoting flat-screen TV, FM radio, DVD/CD/MP3 player, broadband-ready Internet access, touchscreen, wireless and washable keyboard and remote, and home-video monitoring capability. Also available in a countertop model, the Flipscreen comes in black or slate and retails for $2,299 (countertop model, $1,799); see for dealers.

Salton also launched its Beyond Connected Home lineup of small appliances late last summer. The Microwave ($149.99) cooks smart with the swipe of a scanning wand that reads directions from 4,000 product bar-code settings programmed into it. The breadmaker comes preprogrammed, too, for scan-and-go baking ($149.99). The coffeemaker ($79.99, coming soon) lets you set it to turn on and off a week out–and for a different time each day of the week.

And that's just when the appliances stand alone. Hook them up–either to a Web-enabled alarm clock/CD player called the Home Hub that's meant asa control center for the bedroom ($499.99, coming soon) or to the Flipscreen–and you and your Beyond appliances are connected to one another and the Internet. Now the microwave can download thousands more bar codes, the breadmaker can go looking for more recipes, and the coffeemaker can tell you if you forgot to add water.

Are We Buying It?

When will Washingtonians buy into the networked kitchen? Builders, designers, and appliance retailers would like to know.

For now, builders can hedge their bets with new homes prewired for networking today or down the road. Designers can keep current on high-tech happenings without huge investments of time or capital. It's retailers who get stuck with the raw end of the scanning stick–deciding whether to devote floor space to the unknown.

"We don't sense any demand for smart appliances yet," says Chris Bové at Foremost Appliances in Chantilly. "Customers don't even mention Internet-ready appliances on their wish lists."

Foremost–a high-end appliance dealer with more than 50 brands including Miele, Thermador, and Bosch–has a Polara on the floor, but ithasn't sold.

What does Bové think about Whirlpool's plans to make the Refrigerated Range Internet-ready? "I doubt people sit at their desks and think they need to start their ovens from theoffice."

Local branches of Best Buy, LG's exclusive US dealer, report considerable interest in the company's TV Refrigerator.

"Customers are loving it," says Lorrie Roland, a sales rep at the Best Buy in DC's Tenleytown neighborhood. "At first, they're a little shocked at the price. But when people look at all the features, they realize what they're paying for."

Kitchen designers' opinions likewise depend on whom you ask.

"People saw the refrigerator with the computer and TV in the door a couple of years ago, and that stirred interest," says Judy Bracht of Stuart Kitchens in McLean. "But with technology changing so quickly, clients worry about having a computerintegrated into an appliance like a fridge." She wonders if a stand-alone computer or scanner wouldn't be more practical.

Her partner, Harriet Finder, has a more cautious attitude. "I may be old-fashioned," she says, "but I get nervous when an appliance thinks it knows more than me. I worry that it will make assumptions that aren't always true."

For now, these designers are making room for more computer stations–and televisions–in clients' kitchens. "People want wireless, and they want portable," Bracht says. "The kitchen has become the home's messagecenter."

Dee David of Dee David & Co. in Falls Church thinks her customersare getting serious about smartappliances.

"Once they see something in print or on TV and it has been around for a couple of years, they're ready to make the leap," she says.

David cites plasma TVs–she now designs almost 70 percent of her kitchens around them. She expects "ovens that think for you" to get a similar reception.

Putting It to the Test

Nothing will prove the networked kitchen a boom or bust better than household use. But the nonprofit Internet Home Alliance came up with the next best thing: test kitchens.

The Mealtime project outfitted 20 two-income Boston families with smart appliances including a Polara Refrigerated Range and a fridge with portable Web tablet (both from Whirlpool and Web-enabled for the project), an Icebox Flipscreen, a printer, a cell phone, and an online grocery service. The test lasted six months.

Results won't be available until later this fall, but anecdotal evidence suggests the time is right–or close to it–for smarter kitchen appliances.

Two big winners: the Polara and the Icebox Flipscreen. "With the Polara, participants felt they didn't have to babysit the cooking process," says Tim Woods, the alliance's head of ecosystem development, "and they felt their families were eating better."

They liked having remote access to the range for peace of mind, he adds, but didn't use it as much as predicted. "They loved the Icebox Flipscreen, too. Everyone in the family used it–for e-mail, recipes, TV, homework."

Woods enjoys talking about Mealtime because it's the kind of research anyone can relate to: "Everybody understands the value of helping parents get a healthy meal on the table when and where they want it."

But there was one uncertain moment at the end. "Participants almost started kicking and screaming when they thought we were taking the Icebox away," Wood recalls.

Everyone Welcome

Making Kitchens Accessible for All Ages and Abilities Is Becoming More the Rule Than the Exception

Wildberger, Sara

Universal design–principles used to make rooms accessible to all sizes and abilities–used to be brought up when people spoke of "aging in place" or when a customer had a disability. Now it's more likely to come up when baby boomers anticipate parents' moving in. Either way, designers say it's simply good design.

"It's just part of being responsible," says Marx Rehder a designer at Harvey's Kitchens & Baths in Sterling, a high-end firm specializing in individualized cabinets. "Universal design is addressing all the needs of the family, both current and forecasted."

Here are tips to make a kitchen more comfortable for all:

* Put light switches at a convenient height for both standers and sitters–usually not as high as builder-grade.

* Choose full-extension drawers instead of cabinets with doors. These are increasingly popular; even refrigerators and dishwashers are available in drawer styles. "The idea of needing only one motion–opening a drawer–to access everything makes sense," Rehder says.

* Try pullout "columns" for cabinetry: Instead of opening a door, you slide out the entire cabinet; narrow versions are popular for spices and condiments. Sliding fronts are also a good idea.

* Use large "loop" pulls–C- or D-shape handles–on cabinets instead of knobs so that a tight grip isn't required. Another option is long handles that run the length of doors and drawers; they're trendy as well as accessible.

* Refrigerators with the freezer on the bottom are another universal-design solution that has hit the mainstream.

* Touchpad controls on ovens, dishwashers, and other appliances are more accessible and easier to clean than knobs or buttons.

Forget trompe l'oeil wall paintings, a master-bath spa, and plasma screens–the biggest hit at a recent design house was a sliding cutting board fitted into the kitchen sink. Nearly all visitors said they wished they had one.

Wishes can come true. When it comes to kitchen fixtures, "you can be like a kid in a candy store," says James J. Lynch of F.A. McGonegal, a design/build firm in Falls Church that is partnered with a plumbing-supplies company.

Sinks are available in dozens of materials, from hammered copper to fire clay, though stainless is still the most popular. If you want to pay for it–about $1,000 for soapstone–you can even get a stone or granite sink.

High-end fixtures, ranging from $300 to $1,500 for a faucet, can complement just about any look. Satin nickel and oil-rubbed bronze are two favorites of Washington customers. Neither shows smudges, and both adapt to contemporary or traditional designs.

Most sinks are now undermount versions, meaning there's no rim to clean and cooks can sweep everything off the counter directly into the basin. Undermounting is available with almost every kind of counter surface except laminates such as Formica.

Farmhouse-style sinks, with their flat, exposed fronts, look great–in magazines. While they work well for some clients, you need a large kitchen to keep such a sink in proportion, and even the best-designed model can allow water to slosh down the front of cabinets below because there's no counter rim.

Another trend is to go back to a single main sink instead of the smaller side-by-side bowls popular in recent years. "Customers are saying that a small bowl doesn't have a lot of use for them," says Barry Goldberg of Union Hardware, a fixture retailer in Bethesda and Falls Church.

Instead, people want the sink functions split up and the bowls placed in different points around the kitchen. A small prep sink can be a good-looking accessory in copper or stone, for instance, and can be useful for a second cook, someone serving drinks, or kids wandering in during meal prep. Just be sure to keep that sink out of cooking traffic.

Pot fillers–taps made to fill pasta and stock pots–are placed at the stove to minimize heavy lifting. "Manufacturers are catching on and making pot fillers in finishes that match the range hoods," Goldberg says.

Other popular features borrowed from commercial kitchens: flatter bottoms and squared-off corners that allow sinks to hold more and make it easier to balance dishes and pots. Gooseneck faucets are great for filling deep and tall containers. Pullouts that spray at the push of a button add flexibility.

But some professional elements don't translate as well. For example, sinks are rated for thickness by a gauge number–the lower the number, the thicker the sink. Professional sinks are 16 gauge or thicker; most high-end sinks are 18 gauge; the standard $100 sink is 20 gauge. A home-kitchen customer who chooses 16 gauge doubles the cost and halves the selection–and gets a kind of toughness most home cooks don't need.

Customers are going to near-professional depths of 12 inches or more to accommodate more and bigger pots and plates. But for a shorter person, that can get uncomfortable, says Sally Criblez, a sales associate at Bethesda's Union Hardware: "Especially if you undermount–depending on the thickness of the counter, that adds one to two inches."

As for the sliding cutting board, cooks can easily get that and more. The greatest variety is available in solid-surface (such as Silestone or Corian) or European stainless styles (such as Bulthaup's wooden cutting boards with stainless detailing). But nearly all counter and sink types can accommodate the extras. Lynch says a hook-on or slide-on colander is the most practical–fill it with ice and your sink turns into an ice bucket, or you can strain steamed vegetables or pasta directly into the sink.

With concern about lead in local water, Goldberg says many customers are asking about filters. A point-of-use filter–one installed within the sink plumbing–is $250 to $500, but Goldberg has a whole-house filter, which runs $2,000 to $5,000. "I wish I did it ten years ago," he says.

Many kitchen-design companies have access to dozens of manufacturers and thousands of styles and will specify product number, styles, surface and sizes as well as handle ordering and installation. Other designers and architects send clients directly to fixture stores. Here are some of the most recommended sources–also good places to find cabinetry hardware.

Atlantic Plumbing Supply, 389 E. Gude Dr., Rockville, 301-762-9696; 939 Florida Ave., NW, 202-667-6525; Showroom for American Standard; other brands include Elkay.

Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, 800 E. Gude Dr., Suite A, Rockvillle, 301-424-1393; 5515 Backlick Rd., Springfield, 703-642-2626; 13890 Lowe St., Chantilly, 703-375-5800; and the Washington Design Center; Good place to browse through upscale brands such as Grohe, Kohler, and Price Pfister. Design advice by appointment.

Noland Co., 6607 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church; 703-241-5000; 5511 Nicholson La., Rockville, 301-881-4225; This builder's Bath & Idea Center showrooms feature Delta, Moen, Swan, and more.

Union Hardware, 7800 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, 301-654-7810; 7505-M Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, 703-893-4444; High-end fixtures and sinks and lots of vignettes in the showrooms make it a consistent designer choice.

Waterworks, 3314 M St., NW; 202-333-7180; This showroom in Georgetown's Cady's Alley district has the trendiest looks in fixtures.

W.T. Weaver & Sons, 1208 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-4200; This institution for decorative hardware and high-end fixtures gets high marks for selection and service, even from competitors.

When the new ceramic floor tiles installed in her kitchen by a home-store chain cracked and buckled, Leslie Pferchy realized that being her own project manager might not work.

Pferchy, who lives in North Potomac, planned on an entire kitchen renovation eventually. For now, though, just the floor needed redoing–and if that turned out well, she hoped to work with the home store on future improvements. After the tile debacle, she wanted to learn more about remodeling, so while waiting for floor repairs, she signed up for a kitchen-design seminar.

"I went in with a list of questions, and I never had to ask a single one," she says of her seminar at Barrons Custom Kitchens. She ended up having Barrons renovate her kitchen, a project that included semicustom cabinetry and a specially designed island that widens into a dining counter.

Pferchy's experience illustrates what to look for in such classes:

Ask about class size (about 10 to 20 people is good), whether there's a question-and-answer time, and whether the class covers many kinds of products or brands, not just the ones the host company sells.

Keep in mind that although the company uses the class as a marketing tool for its services and products, you're under no obligation. Pferchy says Barrons' objectivity in presenting a variety of information made her choose it as her designer.

Most kitchen-remodeling classes are given by larger companies with midrange prices. High-end designers regard spending time educating customers as wrapped into their services, and prices reflect that. As one of them says, "There's a seminar in here every single day."

Another direction is to choose a class not sponsored by a store. Dee David, a Falls Church designer with her own company, gives classes through Fairfax County's continuing-education program. There's usually a waiting list for the three-hour sessions, which she offers four to eight times a year. She hands out lots of literature, such as National Kitchen & Bath Association guidelines. These include what to expect in a renovation, new products she's seen at shows, and pros and cons of different appliances, surfaces, and materials.

David admits she gets leads for her company through the classes–as does Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, the high-end showroom that provides space and teaching tools. "But a lot of what I teach is the same thing I'd do for people coming into a showroom," she says. "Many people take these classes through the county because they'd feel obligated getting this information through a store."

Here are sources for more education on kitchen design. You can also check county extension services, community colleges (Montgomery College's Rockville campus has extensive design classes), and Smithsonian Resident Associates (

Barrons Custom Kitchens, 23 W. Diamond Ave., Gaithersburg; 301-948-6600; Free two-hour seminars focus on comparing options in kitchen design.

Bulthaup, 3324 Cady's Alley, NW (Georgetown); 202-338-2220; Cooking classes are held at this retailer of sleek, stainless German cabinetry and fixtures. Free monthly receptions allow potential clients or the curious to talk to architects and designers in an informal setting.

Center for Real Life Kitchen Design, Wallace Hall, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; 540-231-8881; This center offers a two-day boot camp on kitchen design, including meals and an expert consultation, for about $300. Two sessions are held each May; e-mail to get on the waiting list. Topics demonstrated through working displays include planning, appliances, cabinetry, materials, and universal design. There's lots of conversation led by three PhDs from Virginia Tech's Department of Apparel, Housing and Resource Management.

Corcoran College of Art + Design, 1801 35th St., NW; 202-639-1820; Continuing education at the Georgetown campus offers many interior-design classes for nonprofessionals, including a $155 daylong seminar, "Big Idea, Low-Budget Kitchens."

Fairfax County Adult Education, 703-227-2377; Call for a catalog or check online under "Life Enrichment" to find kitchen-design classes. (Dee David's is $29.) The county also offers courses on interiors, maintenance, ceramic tile, and bathroom design; costs range from about $29 to $359.

The Kitchen Guild, 5027 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-362-7111; This longtime company, under new ownership, offers a series of free seminars on appliances featuring representatives from suppliers and information on basics such as what "commercial" and "professional grade" mean and the advantages of gas, electric, and dual ranges.

Reico Kitchen & Bath, 8123 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 7500-B Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 6790 Commercial Dr., Springfield; 703-256-6400; Free two-hour sessions for do-it-yourselfers are held approximately every other month by this large chain supplying stock and semicustom cabinetry.

With lots of homeowners taking out home-equity loans for remodeling and more people doing build-outs on older properties, most kitchen professionals haven't been able to catch their breath in more than a year.

So if you're planning a renovation, you might be in for a wait. What's more, some of the good firms–especially design/build firms–have begun limiting business to major renovations and additions. If your job is just a kitchen facelift, you might get better results at a home store–though the best contractors and installers there can be booked up as well.

But no company wants to turn away work. Ask about wait times when you call so you'll get a realistic picture of what you're up against.

At Creative Kitchens in Rockville, owner Larry Dobbs says he tries to schedule initial appointments within ten days of a call and to have a proposal within a month. But he points out that the best installers are heavily booked. In June, he was scheduling installations for November and December.

"We lay our cards on the table," he says. "We try to give a projection of what customers can expect for the whole project based on our workloads." A good designer will also schedule to keep your kitchen downtime to a minimum.

Because many companies give priority to previous clients and direct referrals, one way to get to the top of the list is to go to someone you've used before. Or if you see a kitchen you like at a friend's house, get a referral–always the best policy. If the designer you like can't take on your job, he or she might refer you to a peer.

Here are some of the kitchen professionals recommended by customers, designers, real-estate agents, builders, and architects.

Kitchen Designers

Absolute Kitchens, 8353-B Greensboro Dr., McLean; 703-917-0744; Owner and designer Richard Forbes's architectural training means this firm can provide help with major remodeling and additions.

Aidan Design, 4701 Sangamore Rd., Suite L3, Bethesda; 301-320-8735; The design team at this new firm win referrals with their use of unusual and trendy features such as contemporary Italian lighting, French lava stone, counters by California concrete guru Fu Tung Cheng, and a large housewares selection.

Barrons Custom Kitchens, 23 W. Diamond Ave., Gaithersburg; 301-948-6600; In business since 1949, Barrons is a good source for semicustom cabinetry and other homebuildingsupplies.

Bath & Kitchen Creations, 43671 Trade Center Pl., Suite 112, Sterling; 703-996-8600; This family firm has a new showroom and is mostly covering projects in the $40,000-to-$80,000 range, though it still does smaller kitchens. Owner Bob Clements is a certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer.

Bulthaup, 3324 Cady's Alley, NW (Georgetown); 202-338-2220; Sleek, contemporary European cabinetry in stainless steel that has won international design awards.

Cameo Kitchens, 7297-M Lee Hwy., Falls Church; 703-532-4545; A favorite for big and small kitchens, Cameo does jobs only in Northern Virginia.

Coyle & Associates, 7420 Fullerton Rd., Suite 102, Springfield; 703-644-9677; This award-winning kitchen-design firm is part of the team on many of Northern Virginia's custom homes; it also has developed a specialty in doing long-distance kitchen and other remodeling of vacation homes.

Creative Kitchens, 1776 E. Jefferson St., Rockville; 301-984-4477; In business since 1958 and known for classic design, it also does more contemporary styles.

Custom Crafters, 4000 Howard Ave., Kensington, 301-493-4000; and Kitchen Classics, 6023 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-532-7000; both These companies share ownership, and clients have access to resources at both. Many peer recommendations.

Dar International Furniture, 45929 Maries Rd., Sterling; 703-433-9401; This store is one of only two US importers of Italy's Salvarani line, a contemporary European style in laminates and a few woods, comparable in looks and style to Poggenpohl or Snaidero. It can recommend experienced installers.

Dee David & Co., by appointment, Falls Church; 703-560-6601; David, a longtime continuing-education teacher active with the National Kitchen & Bath Association, keeps current on what's new.

Design Solutions, 1598 Whitehall Rd., Annapolis; 410-757-6100; Owner/designer Joni Zimmerman's custom and up-to-date design is popular with clients and peers. The business is opening a large new showroom with all-working displays this month.

F.A. McGonegal, 212 N. West St., Falls Church; 703-532-2284; Options at this longtime (since 1915) design/build/supply firm range from full design/buildto paid consultation. Showroom is packed with demonstration models of sinks and cabinetry.

Foxcraft Design Group, 1422 N. Garfield St., Arlington; 703-524-8128; A design/build firm specializing in whole-house renovations. Although busy with bigger tear-down and build-out projects, owner Chandler Fox says he tries to keep at least one crew, often two, available for kitchens.

Gilday Renovations, 9162 Brookville Rd., Silver Spring; 301-565-4600; This well-regarded, award-winning design/build company is limiting its work to larger renovations and additions but can sometimes offer referrals for smaller jobs.

Harvey's Kitchens & Baths, 22560 Glenn Dr., Suite 115, Sterling; 703-444-0871; Known for high-end, traditional custom cabinetry work, this firm offers lots of design solutions.

Ikea, 10100 Baltimore Ave., College Park, 301-345-6552; Potomac Mills Mall, Woodbridge, 703-494-4532; Good prices and ideal for small kitchens. Stores recommend installers experienced with Ikea cabinets; customers report good results with Baltimore-based Hapsburg, 410-686-2778.

Jack Rosen Custom Kitchens, 12223 Nebel St., Rockville; 301-984-9484; Offering custom cabinetry and the latest in materials and appliances, this company is popular with high-endcustomers on both sides of the Potomac.

Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, 6935 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-657-2500; Highly recommended by peers and known for creativity, innovation, and keeping up with what's current.

Kitchen, Bath and Building Design Center at the Washington Design Center, 300 D St., SW; 202-646-6118; This complex is open to the public for purchases, with a dozen showrooms of high-end and cutting-edge design in cabinetry, flooring, tile, and fixtures as well as an information display on local designers with photos of their work. Interesting showrooms include Studio Snaidero (202-484-8066) and SieMatic (202-479-7220) for contemporary European styles; Rutt (202-554-6190), Clive Christian (202-314-5700), and Wood-Mode Kitchen & Bath Design Studio (202-266-0600) offer beautiful woods.

Kitchen & Bath Factory, 4624 Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-522-7337; Owner/designer Bob Kay, in business 25 years, creates kitchens of all sizes but specializes in smaller ones. Sometimes offers sales or special offers.

Kitchen and Bath Studios, 7001 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-657-1636; Designer Karen Hourigan gets high marks from many peers in theindustry.

Kitchen Guild, 5027 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-362-7111; Under new ownership, the company is now affiliated with a contractor and granite-counter service. The former owner, at 76, still designs kitchens. The company will do only cabinetry, floors, or counters as well as whole-kitchen design.

Kitchen Planners, 12140-B Parklawn Dr., Rockville; 301-231-9068; Design and design/build services for kitchens alone or whole-house renovations and additions.

Lobkovich Kitchen Designs, 8000 Towers Crescent Dr., Suite 150, Vienna; 703-847-0601; Showroom open by appointment. This architect-owned firm specializes in ultra-high-end custom cabinetry for kitchens around the country.

Poggenpohl, 3324 M St., NW; 202-342-9111; Installation of this contemporary European line is done through AAI Kitchens, its partner design/build studio in Chevy Chase. AAI also handles several other cabinetry lines.

Portfolio Kitchens, Vienna; 703-242-0330; by appointment only; Owner Lois Kennedy specializes in ultra-high-end kitchens custom tailored to homeowners.

Reico, 8123 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, 301-654-6000; 7500-B Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, 703-478-0700; If you're an experienced do-it-yourselfer or working with a contractor, you can save money here using stock cabinetry. Carries Miele and Dacor appliances.

Stuart Kitchens, 1359 Beverly Rd., McLean, 703-734-6102; 8230 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; This highly recommended company is opening a new showroom in Bethesda. Its designers are known for versatility and bringing a practical touch to high-end design.

Tunis Kitchens & Baths, 7032 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-652-5513; This firm, in business about 50 years, is a top pick for traditional design. Although its specialty is high-end full-kitchen renovation, it will also do custom cabinets alone.

Voell Custom Kitchens, 4788 Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-528-1776; In business since 1949, Voell is known for traditional styles and high-quality materials. Open to jobs of any size.

Large Appliances

The "alphabets"–ABD, ADU, and ABW–are favorites with designers and builders, especially for harder-to-find imports and high-end lines.

ABD, 7406-A Lockport Pl., Lorton, 800-841-0271; 364 Victory Dr., Herndon, 703-787-8400; and Washington Design Center, 300 D St., Suite C-19, SW, 202-488-1000; This distributor for harder-to-find high-end lines such as AGA, Vulcan, and Five Star works with many custom builders.

ADU (Appliance Distributors Unlimited), 729 Erie Ave., Takoma Park; 301-608-2600; also in Chantilly and Springfield; Showrooms open by appointment; service to builders, designers, and consumers. Large selection of high-end brands such as Viking and Wolf.

Appliance Builders Wholesalers (ABW), 8834 Monard Dr., Silver Spring; 301-589-1445; Brands include Sub-Zero, Wolf, Viking, and Asko.

Bray & Scarff, 7924 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-654-4150; nine other locations in Maryland and Virginia; Though the subject of some customer complaints about service, this local chain offers lots of appliances in stock, and its Laurel "scratch and dent" discount center can offer amazing finds.

DAD's Appliance, 12200 Distribution Pl., Beltsville; 301-937-0222; This company is known for working with builders and designers, but it also serves consumers directly, carrying many high-end brands including Viking. DAD's will schedule an individual live product demonstration of many of its lines.

Foremost Appliances, 14501 Rt. 50, Suite D, Chantilly; 703-968-8079; High-end brands including Sub-Zero and Thermador.

Counters, Floors,Tile, Other Features

Ann Sacks Tile and Stone, 3328 M St., NW; 202-339-0840; This national chain has beautiful high-end tile, stone, and mosaic as well as unusual counter surfaces.

Arc Stone II, 9020 Edgeworth Dr., Capitol Heights; 301-499-2100; Huge showroom with large selection of slabs of granite, limestone, and soapstone in many finishes including polished and honed.

Architectural Ceramics, 800 E. Gude Dr., Suite F, Rockville, 301-762-4140; Washington Design Center, 300 D St., SW, 202-554-8719; Like a candy store for homeowners, the vast tile selection here includes custom and hand-painted.

Arlandria Floors, 1800 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-548-8299; Large selection of laminates along with wood and tile.

Bartley Tile Concepts, 6931 Arlington Rd., Bethesda; 301-913-9113. Wide selection of hand-painted tile, both its own line and European.

Best Tile, 11601 Boiling Brook Pkwy., Rockville, 301-984-3399; 8196 E. Terminal Rd., Lorton, 703-550-2352; Importer specializing in tumbled and antique stone.

Classic Floor Designs, 2120 L St., NW; 202-872-9860. Creates custom vinyl flooring as well as other surfaces.

Concrete Jungle, 4510-J Metropolitan Ct., Frederick; 301-874-1001; This local fabricator gets tricky concrete counters right.

Design Tile, 8455-B Tyco Rd., Vienna; 703-734-8211; A designer favorite for its selection of tile and its professional advice.

Design Within Reach, 4828 St. Elmo Ave., Bethesda, 301-215-7200; 3307 Cady's Alley, NW (Georgetown); 202-339-9480; This source for new and reproduction modern has a big selection of one-of-a-kind barstools for islands as well as interesting accent pendants.

Floor Gallery, 12108 Wilkins Ave., Rockville; 301-770-3366. High-end kitchen designers look here for vinyl and wood.

Haifa, Washington Design Center, 300 D St., Suite C-18, SW; 202-484-5103; Find a world beyond granite here in high-end marble and limestone.

Marblex Design International, 2926 Prosperity Ave., Fairfax; 703-698-5595; In business since 1987, this granite and marble fabricator has a showroom that offers a lot to look at. Its Web site has a feature where you can see how dozens of types of marble and granite might look with your cabinet choices.

Marmara Corp., 1125 Okie St., NE; 202-635-4292; This 15-year-old business is the only granite supplier in the District. It also carries more unusual surfaces becoming popular such as limestone and soapstone.

Renaissance Tile & Bath, 816 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria; 703-549-7806; The well-regarded Ademas tile was acquired this summer by Atlanta's Renaissance, a high-end chain. Designers say that everything they liked about Ademas is still there. Upgrades to the showroom are to include displays of bath products by Toto.

Room & Board, 800-486-6554; This catalog and online retailer with stores in the West and Midwest offers a good low-price source for kitchen and dining tables. You pick the base and top separately, with many materials to choose from–from various colors of granite to woods to stainless. A stainless base with a 48-inch round concrete top, for instance, would run about $800.

Universal Floors, 4625 41st St., NW; 202-537-8900; Installation, restoration, and refinishing of wood floors since 1953.

Ideas and Information

American Institute of Architects, 800-AIA-3837; Searchable database for architects and sample contracts.

Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, 202-872-5955; The Web site's consumer pages have buying advice, consumer bulletins, and contacts for all appliance brands.

Energy Star, 888-782-7937; The hotline and Web site give information on energy and appliances and on rebates and special deals offered through the program.

International Solid Surface Fabricators Association, 702-567-8150; The Web site has information on the composition of all solid-surface countertops, such as Corian.

National Association of the Remodeling Industry, 800-611-6274; Click on "Home Owners Guide" for advice on choosing a contractor, a searchable database of contractors, articles, and tips on saving money and trouble in kitchen remodeling.

National Kitchen & Bath Association, 877-652-2776; This association certifies kitchen designers. Searchable database for designers plus articles and project photos.

Natural Stone Council, This site, cosponsored by the Marble Institute of America, has lots of information on stone and what works for what purposes in counters.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.