We’re all spending a lot of time stuck inside these days, and you’re likely becoming intensely familiar with everything in your home: the paint colors that no longer excite you, the appliances you’ve been longing to update, the aggravating lack of storage space.

Now may be the ideal time to start planning — or even just daydreaming — about your next home-improvement project. And there’s no better place to start than one of the rooms in which you spend the most time: the kitchen.

Tom and Virginia Dziekonski, who live in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood, are in the last stages of remodeling their kitchen (along with the rest of their house, originally built in 1950), after having embarked on that daydream a few years ago. To make their dream a reality, they’ve been working with Rich Melchior, owner of Kent-based Rich Design Group, whom they met while attending the Northwest Remodeling Expo in January.

The Dziekonskis chose Melchior because they felt comfortable with him: He was “the first one that was open to our ideas and was really supportive of what we wanted to do,” says Virginia Dziekonski, 62. Tom Dziekonski, 64, adds, “I just sort of liked his laid-back style.”

A kitchen remodel is an opportunity to shop around for just the right products, from cabinet doors to sinks and faucets. (Getty Images)
A kitchen remodel is an opportunity to shop around for just the right products, from cabinet doors to sinks and faucets. (Getty Images)

Melchior, who runs Rich Design Group with his wife and son, says he believes in helping his clients achieve a renewed space that works with their unique needs and wishes.

“I encourage people to dare to dream beyond their imagination,” he says. “That’s the way we come up with really creative ideas, looking at things that don’t make any sense.”

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For the Dziekonskis’ kitchen, that means features such as high-end appliances, including a gas stove; terrazzo flooring; a checkerboard-pattern backsplash; and accent tiles from Uzbekistan, which the Dziekonskis purchased during a trip to Central Asia in 2016.

Perhaps the aspect with the biggest “dare to dream” factor is the lighting. Inspired by the lamps at the Salare restaurant in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood, the Dziekonskis are having drum-shaped chandeliers custom-made to hang over the kitchen island (which, like the floor, is topped with terrazzo).

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Design is key

For Melchior, getting the design right — in whatever way “right” means for you — is all-important. 

“You have to have a design before you can have it built, so a designer is always the first step,” says Melchior, who has been designing kitchens for 40 years. He encourages clients to make an investment upfront on the design process: “They never look back and say, ‘That was a waste.’ ”

When he’s designing an entire home, Melchior designs the kitchen first.

Many homeowners see a kitchen remodel as an opportunity to declutter their space and reorganize the storage. (Getty Images)
Many homeowners see a kitchen remodel as an opportunity to declutter their space and reorganize the storage. (Getty Images)

“The kitchen is the heart of the home,” he says. “The family functions better in a well-designed kitchen.”

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Susan Wittenbrink, who owns Woodinville’s Keystone Kitchens Inc. with her husband, Chris, agrees. “I always call kitchens the new living space,” Wittenbrink says.

Kitchens are a gathering space, she says. People will spend much of their time in the kitchen, whether they’re cooking or doing something as simple as sitting with their laptops.

For such a vital area of the home, Wittenbrink says, creating a place where we feel comfortable and happy takes on a special importance. Having proper storage, lighting and counter space is huge, she says, but she adds: “It’s not only functionality. … It’s colors, and the science behind colors.”

White, gray and blue are all good colors in the kitchen, she notes, and neutrals for cabinets are popular.

“The trendy things are the changeable things,” Wittenbrink says: the pop of color, the accessories. “Changing up the space can change the way we feel,” she says.

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Make the right hire

Taking on a big project like a kitchen remodel necessitates hiring the right team to carry it out. And that means doing your homework. 

To start, you need to find them, of course. Check with anyone you know who has had remodeling done; ask them for recommendations on whom to hire — or avoid. Shows like the Northwest Remodeling Expo offer a chance to meet contractors in person. The National Kitchen + Bath Association maintains a searchable directory of industry professionals. You can also look for online reviews on sites such as Angie’s List, Yelp or Houzz.

Rich Melchior, owner of Kent-based Rich Design Group, encourages his clients to “dare to dream” when remodeling their kitchens. That can include adding an elegant tile backsplash below the cabinets. (Getty Images)
Rich Melchior, owner of Kent-based Rich Design Group, encourages his clients to “dare to dream” when remodeling their kitchens. That can include adding an elegant tile backsplash below the cabinets. (Getty Images)

Once you have an idea of whom you might like to contact, you’ll need to vet them.

“Making sure they’re fully legit” is crucial, says Beau Pictor, owner of Creative Kitchens & Baths Seattle.

“Talk to at least the last three customers,” he advises. Ask them: Was the crew clean? Polite? How did they deal with unforeseen problems? If you have pets or kids, how was the crew with them?

Since a contractor’s crew may not consist of the same team members over time, checking out a prospective contractor’s recent work is a must, Pictor says. If possible, visit one of their recent projects in person; if you can’t, at least ask for pictures.

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You should also make sure prospective contractors have a current license, which you can verify with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (go to secure.lni.wa.gov/verify). Melchior, of Rich Design Group, advises checking with L&I as well as the Washington State Department of Revenue to make sure your preferred company has no labor claims or revenue claims against it.

No matter whom you hire, take the time to make sure you’re comfortable communicating with them, especially about ensuring your needs are met. After all, when the project is done, the contractor will be gone — and you’ll still be living in your kitchen. It’s worth taking the time and effort to ensure your home’s heart matches your dreams.

Questions to ask

Before you hire a contractor, be sure to ask any questions that are important to you — and don’t hire them if you don’t like the answers. Drew Bauer, owner of Eastside Kitchen & Bath, suggests asking prospective contractors:

• Will you be able to maintain the budget and be on time?

• Who will be coming into my home? Are they going to respect my home and keep it clean?

• Will you show up on time?

• How will you handle communication with me?