white kitchen white oak floors

Kitchen Refresh vs. Kitchen Remodel – How to Decide

I consult with clients every year who are trying to answer the question: do I completely remodel my kitchen or refresh my kitchen without remodeling? It’s a very common dilemma especially when budget and home value are primary considerations.

First, what is the difference between remodeling a kitchen and refreshing it?

I’m sure there are many opinions on the difference between a remodel or renovation and a refresh. A remodel can involve various degrees of invasiveness, but in my mind, even the simplest remodel will start with creating a blank slate by removing everything existing in the kitchen.

A remodel might also include reconfiguring the space, moving walls, shifting openings and possibly adding doors or windows. As part of the remodel, we might move plumbing or gas lines and reconfigure electrical wiring. Everything we put back into the kitchen will be new with few exceptions.

By contrast, a refresh is primarily cosmetic. It leaves the layout and major elements of the kitchen largely intact, specifically the cabinetry. A refresh can be very basic and simple or it can encompass nearly every element in the kitchen resulting in a complete transformation of the kitchen’s aesthetic.

Remodel or Refresh? How to Decide.

white kitchen white oak floors
Kitchen Remodel by Jillian Lare

There are several considerations I take into account when advising a client on whether to remodel or refresh their kitchen. I’ve also used this criteria in my own homes. We refreshed our last kitchen. In this house, we are holding out for a full remodel and bypassing the refresh. I’ll share why we made this decision throughout the post.

#1 - Budget

Budget – the dirty word of kitchen remodeling. If you aren’t sure how to determine your kitchen remodeling budget, check out my post and download my budget worksheet.

Budget will be one of the biggest determiners of whether you choose to remodel or give your kitchen a facelift. As of writing this post, I have a baseline for kitchen remodels that starts at $75,000. A few years ago, it was closer to $50,000 for a small kitchen on a budget, but this number is becoming more challenging to achieve even with DIY labor and IKEA cabinets.

Clients who are going through a full remodel often want all of the bells and whistles of a brand new kitchen, and I don’t blame them. Budget is the main reason we are waiting to update our own kitchen. We want to save the money we would spend on a refresh and keep it for a full scale makeover.

#2 - Layout

If the layout of your kitchen is optimal for your space, home, and lifestyle and does not require major reconfiguration, you might be a good candidate for a refresh.

However, if your layout is awkward, constricting, or inefficient, a remodel might be able to address these issues and improve the functionality.

A designer or contractor should be able to assess your kitchen and advise you as to whether the layout makes sense and can be improved. Sometimes the layout isn’t great and can improved by changing the cabinetry or moving walls, and sometimes there are limited options due to the architecture of the house.

#3 - Cabinetry

If the layout of your kitchen is functional, if not optimal, the next thing to consider is your cabinetry. Is your cabinetry solid? Are the boxes in good condition? Does the cabinetry configuration provide you with ample storage? Is the hardware in good condition?

There are different ways to address cabinetry in a refresh that can improve both the look and the function. But, if the boxes are poorly constructed, the hardware (which can be replaced but adds to the cost) is low quality or failing, and the storage inadequate, you might want to think about replacing them.

In our current kitchen, the layout of the kitchen works (for the most part). The cabinetry is solid oak but 35 years old now. The door style is dated, and the boxes don’t maximize storage for the size of the layout. The uppers are too short, and the base cabinets include only one drawer base yet three mostly unusable corner cabinets. For all of these reasons, I don’t think it’s worth updating their look. I would rather replace them.

#4 - Appliances

Appliances – their size and location in your kitchen – are a major determinant for deciding whether to remodel or refresh. In a remodel, you have the opportunity to relocate appliances.

Depending on the new layout, you might be able to increase the size of your appliances and add different appliances. If you’re working with a decades old kitchen as I am, the options for appliances are much more vast than when the kitchen was designed.

In our current kitchen, we have a 30″ slide-in electric range, a microwave over the range, a dishwasher, and a 36″ counter-depth refrigerator. When we remodel, we will upgrade to a 36″ induction range, a 42-48″ refrigerator, replace the microwave with an Advantium oven and actual hood that vents to the exterior. These improvements aren’t possible if we keep our existing cabinetry.

#5 - Flooring & Countertops

Flooring is a lesser decision in deciding whether to refresh or remodel but it still bears some weight. Flooring can be updated without changing your cabinet layout; however, this is a decision that should be weighed carefully.

Once your new flooring butts up to your existing cabinetry, it can be challenging to patch in and repair that brand new flooring should you decide to update your cabinetry in the future. 

If you refinish your wood flooring, a future layout change may mean you need to refinish all of your wood floors again. This is happening to a client of mine right now.

Replacing a major element like flooring or countertops while keeping existing cabinetry can leave a client feeling like they made a mistake. One client installed brand new granite on 40 year old oak cabinets (before calling me). The new stone emphasized how tired and dated the cabinetry was. They ended up doing a full remodel and couldn’t reuse the granite, which had cost them thousands of dollars.

Kitchen Refresh with Zenith Design Build

Zenith Design Build Kitchen Refresh Des Moines Iowa
Zenith Design Build Kitchen Refresh Des Moines Iowa
Zenith Design Build Kitchen Refresh Des Moines Iowa

We recently consulted on a Zenith Design Build project that included a kitchen refresh. The family had just purchased a new home and loved the layout of the kitchen but not the dark cabinetry, countertops, and hood. They painted the cabinets, installed a new custom-built hood, and updated the hardware and countertops.

The kitchen looks completely fresh, new and pretty, and it reflects their style and personality. Nicholas and his team did an awesome job bringing the vision to life. You can see more photos from this project on Zenith’s website.

I hope this post helped you determine whether a kitchen remodel or kitchen refresh is right for you. If you need more help or advice, schedule a free discovery call to learn more about how we can help with your kitchen project.

building a not so big house mindset shifts

Building a Not So Big House: Five Crucial Mindset Shifts to Make First

My first foray into interior design was as an assistant in the kitchen and bath department at the Great Indoors in Chandler, Arizona. I worked weekday evenings, and it could be quite slow. The Great Indoors was ahead of its time, and it had a Starbucks right inside and right next to the desk where I sat. The Starbucks had a little book section, mostly on home improvement and design, and I spent many of those slow evenings sipping a coffee and reading them over and over.

Two of those books were The Not So Big House and Creating the Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka. It was 2004, and the first book was only about 6 years old and not yet dated. I became instantly obsessed with the ideas in those books and haven’t stopped thinking about them and referencing them for over 15 years.

I’ve referenced Not So Big before in other blog posts and on my about page. In summary, Not So Big challenges the idea of the McMansion (something I was surrounded by in early 2000s Phoenix) and asks its readers to consider a different way.

What if we built smaller houses but built them better?

What does better mean in this context? It means building less square footage so that you have more room in your budget to spend on architectural detailing, materials, millwork, hardware, and plumbing, and all of the other little details that infuse personality, character, and sense of timeless quality into a home.

Recently, I’ve had several inquiries from clients interested in building or renovating based on Not So Big House principles, which truly delights me. If you’re curious about getting started down the Not So Big path as well, then there are several mindset shifts you’ll want to make before you start.d

Mindset Shift #1

Every space in your home will be used on a regular, if not daily, basis.

building a Not So Big House mindset shifts

 The quickest and easiest way to shrink your square footage is reduce the number of single function spaces. In other words, we’re going to eliminate or reduce the number of one-function spaces like formal dining rooms.

This exercise may be uncomfortable for you.  For example, you may think you have to have a separate guest bedroom. We actually have two guest bedrooms, and one of them only gets used a few times a year. With our new normal, I don’t envision anyone coming to visit for months, maybe a year.

So, I have a large room with beautiful natural light and a pretty view that no one will enter for the foreseeable future. It also has a totally empty closet and adjacent bathroom no one uses.

How can you make spaces like this do double duty in your new home or even in your current home? I could buy a sleeper sofa and convert this guest room into my office as my current space is busting at the seams. Would that be less attractive for my guests? Sure, but there are ways to make guests comfortable even in a double duty room

Mindset Shift #2

You’ll be living with less stuff.

In order to build or renovate Not So Big, you need to be honest with yourself about what you really need in your home, both for daily life, seasonal activities or events, and for sentimental reasons.

I am a first-hand offender though I’m working on getting better. For years, I carted around ten plus boxes of books than I never read a second time or even looked at. Before the last time we moved, I gave away, sold or donated more than half of them. I could get rid of even more and probably will.

In our basement, I have Rubbermaid containers filled with craft supplies I haven’t touched in twelve years. How do I know? They are still taped shut from three moves ago.

Our pantry is full of food we will never eat, including empty canisters. It also houses small appliances we never use, extra canning jars and who knows what else.

If you really want to build a Not So Big House, then you may want to Marie Kondo your current possessions first. You must commit to doing the mental work so you can let go of the stuff you really don’t need. Your closet will be smaller, and your overflow storage space will be limited.

This is a huge topic, and I can’t begin to do it justice in one post. But, it is something you will want to think about seriously and discuss with your partner and family before embarking on a Not So Big journey.

Mindset Shift #3

You will spend nearly the same amount on your Not So Big Home as you would have on a larger home.

This mindset shift is critical. Let go of the idea that Not So Big House = Not So Big Budget. That’s not the point. Susanka wrote in the original book that you should be prepared to build a house 30% smaller for the same budget if you want it to be Not So Big. You could also translate that to a dollar per square foot amount. It’s going to go up substantially.

If you’re not familiar with Not So Big, the premise is that the extra dollars you free up by building smaller are then used to add architectural character and special features. These details allow the house to live bigger than it actually is.

Are there ways to get creative to mitigate the increase in dollar per square foot? Of course! Susanka highlights some creative ideas in her second book Creating the Not So Big House.

One of my biggest takeaways: plan for future upgrades if the budget doesn’t allow for them during the build or initial renovation. This requires careful planning with your designer, architect, and builder, but it’s definitely possible.

Mindset Shift #4

Less space requires more creativity & innovative solutions.

building a Not So Big House mindset shifts

As I mentioned earlier, part of that increased budget will go towards making the most of the space you have through built-ins, integrated storage, and improved functionality in your cabinetry, closets, and other storage areas.

For example, by upgrading your kitchen cabinetry to a frameless European style you can increase your usable storage over a framed or inset style cabinet.

Designing all of your base cabinets with drawers instead of doors, incorporating pantry pullouts, and building to the ceiling will increase cost but also maximize your kitchen storage. You will need less cabinetry and less square feet for your kitchen overall.

In your closets, you can also build up to the ceiling and add pull down hanging racks. Built-in drawers eliminate the need for dressers, so your bedroom can be smaller. Custom built closets are more expensive, but they will help you use every single bit of space.

Other ideas that are Not So Big include window seat storage, built-ins or closets under staircases, recessed niches with shelves in unused pockets of space, and medicine cabinets in the bathroom.

In other words, we want to look at the plan with a critical eye and think about every place we can build in storage opportunities. But, the key is to have a strategy for what will be stored in each spot and not use this as an opportunity to squirrel away more unneeded stuff and clutter.

Mindset Shift #5

Challenge the norms we’ve become accustomed to through television, magazines, Pinterest, our friends, family, & neighbors.

Some examples…enormous kitchen islands, extra large appliances, double bathroom vanities, huge walk-in showers with separate tubs, individual rooms for each child, and dedicated offices, guest rooms, and dining rooms.

Yes, this will also be uncomfortable, but does your grown child who moved out years ago need their own bedroom in your new home? If you want to build Not So Big, this might not be possible. It’s not wrong if this is one of your goals, but you have to be realistic about what you’re trying to achieve.

Another big budget buster I often see: the finished basement that is almost as much square footage as the main level of the home. It may have a separate family room with a fireplace and television, bar that functions as a second kitchen, multiple bathrooms, a workout room, and more.

I grew up in a decent size home with a living room that was probably around 13’ square. Our family of five watched TV there together every night. One or more of us had to sit on the floor to see the TV, and guess what? We all survived.

One goal of the Not So Big House is the ability to be together but apart. The floor plan should accommodate family members’ preferred activities and give them areas to gather together and also options to retreat while still being in close proximity to each other.

If your Not So Big house is designed properly, you should find your family spending more time together and less time in separate rooms pursuing individual activities alone.

After we purchased our current home, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that it was a Not So Big House in disguise. Built in 1986 and designed by an architect, it’s almost half the size of most new construction homes that I’m designing these days.

The layout of the house is classic Not So Big. None of the spaces, except maybe the master bedroom, are any larger than they need to be. There are no single use rooms. I’m sitting at our only dining table as we type this, but we also eat here and paint and do crafts and fold laundry. Aside from the guest room and closet I mentioned, we’re using every room in this house on a daily basis.

Because it was so well planned, the house feels much larger than it is. We’ve even thought about downsizing because sometimes it feels even too big.

If you’re thinking about building or renovating, I highly encourage you to pick up copies of the original Not So Big House and Creating the Not So Big House books. Even though the photos are dated, they are packed full of gems and ideas to make a slightly smaller house live large and feel special – like a home should.

In closing, I want to say that Not So Big is not an indictment of large homes in general. It is not necessarily about building small homes. It is decidedly not the tiny house movement. It’s simply about building a slightly smaller home for the same amount of money so your budget goes farther.

I’m very passionate about building and renovating based on Not So Big and am excited to write more on this topic in future posts. Sign up below if you’d like to be notified whenever a new post goes live.


How to Determine Your Kitchen Remodeling Budget

I designed my very first kitchen back in 2006. We were living in the Woodlea Historic District of Central Phoenix, and I got this gut feeling that it was time to cash out of the market. But, first, we needed to do something about our disaster of a galley kitchen.

At that time, I had started my transition into interior design by working at a home improvement/decor store for several months in the kitchen department. I learned enough in that time to plan and budget for my own kitchen remodel.

We purchased IKEA cabinets – one of their least expensive door styles – and butcher block countertops, kept two of our three appliances, and used a handyman rather than a remodeling company. Our 10′ x 10′ kitchen came in on budget at $10,000.

I can’t imagine trying to fully remodel a kitchen for $10,000 today unless it were very small, the materials were all low-end or creatively sourced, and we were doing all of the work ourselves. 

I’ve been designing kitchens for fourteen years now, and I have found that most people know they need more than $10,000 to remodel a kitchen. However, reality design shows have skewed perceptions of how much a kitchen remodel really costs.

Every time I hear Chip and Joanna Gaines or the Property Brothers claim they’re going to remodel a kitchen for $20,000 or less, I cringe.

But, let’s define “remodeling” first. When I refer to a kitchen remodel, I am describing a project in which the entire existing space is demoed and everything is being replaced, including cabinets, flooring, countertops, appliances, etc. The space plan will change – walls might come down, plumbing could move, the lighting will be reconfigured.

Remodeling Magazine has a great online resource for getting a general idea of how much your remodel will cost. Their Cost vs. Value report can be customized according to where you live. For example, a mid-range, minor kitchen remodel in Des Moines will cost around $22,000 while a mid-range, major remodel is closer to $66,000.

It’s important to read the definition of “minor”, “major”, “mid-range,” and “up-scale” very carefully when referencing the report.

An upscale, major kitchen remodel in Des Moines will cost well over $100,000. I know that number may seem high, but in my experience, it’s very accurate. 

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about how you can plan your kitchen remodeling budget.

Make a Plan

Kitchen Remodeling Budget Plan Example
Conceptual Layout for a Kitchen Remodel

The first step in any remodeling project is to make a plan. The better defined your plan, the more accurate your budget will be. If you’re capable with a computer or scale and pencil, you can sketch the space yourself.

You’ll want to measure your existing space as accurately as possible and then sketch your new layout, showing the locations of the major functional elements like the appliances and sink.

The first phase of my kitchen design process involves developing a conceptual plan based on accurate measurements. Once our layout is defined, I put together a budget and scope of work. I need the plan so I can estimate the quantities I need for materials, fixtures, flooring, and other design elements.

Identify The Major Elements

When planning my budget, I begin with the major elements or cost drivers for the project – the cabinetry, countertops, flooring, and appliances.


IKEA SEKTION kitchen remodel Fells Point Baltimore Maryland
IKEA Kitchen Remodel

Cabinets can vary widely in price, with IKEA and some online sources at the low end, semi-custom cabinetry in the middle, and fully custom, hand-crafted cabinetry at the top end, depending on where you live.

In the IKEA kitchen catalog, each cabinet door style will have a price for a 10′ x 10′ kitchen from which you can calculate the cost per linear foot. For example, a basic BODBYN kitchen is $1999 for a 10′ x 10′ layout or around $100 per linear foot. You can easily pay five times that amount for semi-custom cabinets and ever higher for custom.

Your cabinetry cost will be influenced by the frame style (framed, frameless or inset), construction, wood species, door style and finish. There is a huge range of price points depending on the combination you choose.

The best thing to do is establish your budget first and then work with your kitchen designer to figure out what you can accomplish within your budget.

The cabinet fittings and hardware will also affect your budget. Soft-close doors and full-extension drawers cost more. Pull-outs, drawer organizers, and drawers all cost more than a simple base cabinet with two doors and a top drawer.

If you are shopping around, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.

I recently designed an IKEA kitchen for a family in West Des Moines, and $150 per linear foot turned out to be a fairly accurate number for their cabinetry estimate, with most of the bells and whistles like soft close doors, pull-outs, lots of drawers, and even drawers within drawers.


white kitchen soapstone countertops des moines iowa
Soapstone Countertops

There are more options for countertops now than ever before. Popular materials are quartz, granite, quartzite, marble, butcher block, soapstone, and concrete. Sintered stone and porcelain slabs are now becoming popular as well.

Some quartzes and granites can cost less than others. Caesarstone and Cambria are on the higher end for quartz countertops. For budgeting purposes, I’ve found that $75.00-90.00 per square foot is a good place to start.

The edge detail that you choose for your countertop will affect the price as well. A basic eased edge (square) is included in the cost. More complicated edges like an ogee will add to the cost by linear foot. 

Thicker countertop edges are a popular detail now, especially for  islands. The double edge is created by mitering two pieces of the solid material together. The labor and materials involved will increase your cost.

Of course, laminate and other composite materials will be on the lower side while quartzite, marble and soapstone will be on the higher side. Once I have my conceptual plans done, I send them to my countertop fabricator and ask for quotes based on different materials, thickness, and edge details.


White and gray modern kitchen remodel with high gloss white cabinets by Jillian Lare Des Moines Interior Designer
Refinished Red Birch Wood Floors

I include flooring among the major elements because a change in spatial configuration will require the floor to be replaced or repaired.

Depending on square footage, the cost of new flooring or repairing existing flooring can add up. If you’re patching a wood floor, your contractor might determine that you need to refinish all of your wood flooring in order for the new to blend with the old.

Popular kitchen flooring choices include hardwood, engineered wood, luxury vinyl plank, and tile. I would start at $5.00 (LVP or tile) – $15.00 (hardwood or engineered wood) per square foot for budgeting purposes.


Custom cabinetry style hood, white kitchen, dark hickory floors
GE Monogram Professional Style Range

Just like with cabinets and countertops, you can easily blow your budget on appliances. On the low end, you could spend $10,000 for new appliances, and on the high-end, you could spend $60,000 or more. There is an enormous range.

What is appropriate for the value of your home and your neighborhood? This question is more important than ever because many higher-end appliances are now built-in and not easily changed without modifying cabinetry. If you live in a high-end or exclusive neighborhood, then future buyers may expect luxury level brands like Sub-Zero, Wolf, Viking, or Monogram, to name just a few. 

Ask yourself what you really need out of your appliances.

Clients often tell me that they can’t live without double ovens, but upon further questioning, I find out they only use them once or twice per year. A slide-in range with two ovens can save money and increase your countertop space by eliminating the large cabinet required to house the double oven.

Fill in the Rest

After you’ve identified the major elements, it’s time to list all of the supporting characters. This category includes the sink, faucet, and garbage disposal as well as decorative lighting, cabinetry hardware, and backsplash tile. It could also include other decorative elements, accessories, and window treatments.

Sink & Faucet

Under-mount sink in front of windows with stainless faucet, quartzite countertop
Under-mount Sink with Stainless Faucet

Sinks are a very personal selection. How big of a sink can your plan accommodate? Do you prefer a farmhouse style or an under-mount sink? Do you like stainless steel, cast iron or a composite? What color sink do you like?

Sinks can range from a few hundred dollars to well over $1000 dollars.

I almost always recommend single handle pull-down faucets. Delta makes a few great options at reasonable prices, and Kohler and Brizo have some higher style (and higher priced) models.

Finish will affect the price of your faucet with polished nickel and brushed brass being higher than polished chrome. 

Hands-free technology is an option with most major brands, and it will increase the cost of the same faucet model without touch by a few hundred dollars.

Build.com (owned by Ferguson) is a good place to research your plumbing fixtures.

My advice is to purchase your faucet from a local plumbing supplier (like Ferguson). Often, the parts in faucets that you can purchase at big box stores are cheap plastic even though the brand name is the same. You can add $300 to your budget for a lower end, quality faucet, and $700 and up for a higher end, high-quality faucet.


White and Gray Modern Kitchen, Beveled gray subway tile backsplash, Jeffrey Court subway tile
Beveled Subway Tile Backsplash

From your plan, you can easily figure out your backsplash quantity by multiplying the linear cabinetry feet by 1.5, then adding another three square feet for the range area, and multiplying the total by 1.1.

A basic subway tile splash might run you $6.00 per square foot while a marble mosaic can cost $50.00 a square foot or more. I like to start with $15.00 per square foot.

Decorative Lighting

Jillian Lare Interior Design - Grimes Iowa Kitchen Remodel White Farmhouse Kitchen
Lantern Pendants over the Peninsula

Count the number of decorative lighting fixtures you’ll need for your plan. Maybe you need two or three pendants for your island or peninsula and another for over the sink. $300 per pendant is a healthy budget, though you can certainly find them for much less or much more.


Black Bar Pulls in Different Sizes

If your plan isn’t finalized yet, you won’t know how many knobs or pulls you’ll need, but you can add an allowance for hardware. $400 is a good mid-range number for a small to medium sized kitchen. A large, upscale kitchen with decorative appliance pulls could require well over $1000 in hardware.


I think this is the hardest category to estimate. It can be influenced by so many different factors. Lately, I’ve been doubling the cost of my materials to estimate my labor costs just to start. A project with more construction might have a higher labor to materials ratio.

Once you’ve started getting bids on your project, you can update your labor estimates with more concrete numbers. The bids might also help you prioritize some of your material selections. Maybe fully custom cabinetry doesn’t work for your budget, but you can still get a great kitchen with semi-custom or even stock cabinetry.

There are many parts, pieces and variables that play into your kitchen remodeling budget. The faster you can make decisions, the more quickly you can hone in on the right number. With cabinetry playing a key role in the budget and design process, I recommend engaging a kitchen designer as soon as possible. Once you establish a layout for your kitchen, the other elements fall into place pretty easily.

If you need help planning your kitchen remodel, I’d be happy to schedule a Discovery Call with you. It doesn’t matter where you live…I can help you with an overall space plan and selections that you can use as the starting point for conversations with your cabinet supplier and contractor.


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How to Plan Your Kitchen Remodeling Budget
GE Monogram 48 Inch Pro Style Gas Range

GE Monogram Appliances – Behind the Scenes at the Chicago Merchandise Mart

Earlier this year, I received an invitation from GE Monogram to visit their Chicago showroom at The Merchandise Mart to learn all about their appliance line. My clients often select Monogram for their new kitchens, and they love them. I was very excited to get first-hand experience and knowledge so I could better educate my future clients during their appliance selection process.

I finally made the trip to Chicago in May. Monogram hosted the designers in our group at the Moxie Hotel. I had never stayed at a Moxie before, but it was a very unique experience. It was perfect for a quick work related getaway, and its design is tailored toward the Millenial business traveler

The only photos I took at the hotel were at the bar as I enjoyed my complimentary check-in cocktail. I have to admit that with an 18 month-old at home, this educational work trip felt a little bit like a vacation. #sorrynotsorry

On Tuesday morning, the designers in our group gathered with our Monogram guide Leslie and had a delicious breakfast at Beatrix. I’ve actually eaten there several times on trips to the Mart but never before for breakfast. It was outstanding, and I highly recommend it.

After breakfast, we made our way to the GE Monogram showroom at the Chicago Merchandise Mart. This was our view for our two days of training. Although I wasn’t born or raised in a big city, I truly am a city girl at heart. I could get used to seeing this every day (just not in the winter). Following an informative session on digital marketing and social media, we jumped right into learning all about the Monogram appliances.

Keep reading to learn all about the features, options, and benefits of these professional style luxury appliances.

Cooking & Baking

For our first session, we dove right into learning above Monogram’s options for cooking. I think most people immediately picture a Pro Style Range when they think of higher end or luxury appliances, but Monogram offers several other options for a combination of cooking and baking.

Pro Style Range

GE Monogram 48 Inch Pro Style Gas Range
48" Pro Gas Range via the Monogram Website

I forgot to take a good front facing photo of the Pro Style Range that they have on display because we were too busy test-driving the appliances to cook our own lunch. Monogram offers both a Range and Range Top depending on your preferences and space.

The Range is available in 30″, 36″, and 48″ widths and in natural gas, liquid propane, or dual fuel. The grates can be moved around and flipped upside down for wok cooking. They can go as high as 18,000 BTUs.

The dual stacked burners are crafted from aluminum and brass. The brass is better for simmering, while the aluminum is better for high heat cooking. By incorporating both, you get better control over the temperature of your cooking. The burners can be turned down very low to simmer or melt chocolate and maintain their heat without clicking.

Cynthia & Michelle Cooking Lunch on the Pro Range

The center griddle can go as high as 22,000 BTUs and is also made of aluminum and brass. One awesome feature of the griddle is that it can be tilted to drain into the grease trap.

Other Pro Range Features

  • Lighting under the front edge

    Illuminates the controls. The light comes on if a knob is turned on.

  • Knobs and Labels

    Laser etched so that they'll never fade.

  • Oven Interior

    Can fit a catering size tray and includes fully extendable self-cleaning racks.

Advantium Speed Cooker

GE Advantium Speed Cooker / Microwave / Convection Oven

The Advantium looks like a large built-in microwave or a small oven. In reality, it’s a six-in-one speed cooker that can bake, broil, and microwave as well as toast. It can also act as a warming drawer. This GE appliance is the #1 speed cooker on the market today.

The Advantium uses multiple cooking elements depending on what you are cooking. It comes with 152 installed recipes that are alphabetically categorized by type, like chicken, veggies, etc. You can customize the recipes to your personal preferences and save your favorites for easy reference.

There are two different Advantium models – the 140V and the 240V. The 140V can cook four to six times faster than a typical oven, while the 240V can cook six to eight times faster and reach searing temps. You can have a crispy, perfectly done baked potato in six minutes. No preheating required!

The 140V model can be installed under the counter top, while the 240V can only installed above the countertop. The 140V also comes in a version that can be installed over the range, like a typical micro-hood, with either a regular or recirculating vent. This is such an incredible option for small kitchens. 

The speed cooker comes with two metal trays and one glass tray. When you select your recipe from the menu, it will tell you which tray to use. Advantium can be installed with a shallow stainless drawer below it (or custom like the photo above) to store the rack and trays.

Aesthetically, you can order the Adavantium with the pro style handle shown in the photo above or with the sleeker Euro style handle.

The delicious lunch we prepared at the showroom

We cooked our own lunch in groups of three. We used the Advantium to prepare the asparagus, and it was so incredibly simple, using one of the included recipes. It was cooked absolutely perfectly and not soggy at all. 

Advantium Benefits

  • Super Easy to Use

    An integrated menu of built-in, customizable recipes makes the Advantium practically full-proof.

  • Multi-Functional Space Saver

    With six functions and multiple installation options, Advantium is an investment that pays for itself. With one appliance, you eliminate the need for a separate warming drawer, microwave, and toaster.

  • Fast & Healthy Cooking At Home

    Advantium can cook food up to six times faster than conventional ovens. The reduced cooking time also means that more nutrients are preserved.

Double Ovens

Advantium / Convection Oven Combination

Monogram’s double oven with knobs is one of their best sellers. You can get two ovens – a convection above and standard oven below – or an Advantium / convection oven combination like those pictured above.

One of the best features of Monogram’s double ovens is that is can be installed flush with your cabinetry, like those in the photo, for a truly integrated look. The Euro style handle is shown in the models pictured,  but it can be ordered with the pro style handle as well.

The oven has a 30 minute steam cleaning option, and the racks in Monogram ovens can remain in place during the self-cleaning mode.

It also has more technology driven features like a remote mode that allows you to preheat or start the oven from your home. The ovens integrate with both Alexa and Nest. It also has notification lighting, so you can see at a glance if the oven has reached temperature or if the timer is up.

Large white kitchen with quartzite drop down island by Jillian Lare Interior Design
GE French Door Oven / Advantium Combination

In the kitchen at our Winston Circle project, we installed the Advantium oven with the French Door oven below it. The French Door oven offers many of the features listed above with some key differences and advantages.

First, the French Door model is amazing for tight spaces. Since you have two doors hinging from the sides instead of one larger door from the bottom, you don’t need quite as much clear floor space in front of it.

Second, if the French Door oven is installed 17″ above the floor with the Advantium above it, it’s perfect for your ADA client. It operates with one hand for easy access, and is a registered Living in Place product.

Aesthetically, the French Door oven differs from the double ovens in that it cannot be installed flush with the cabinetry. It also only comes with the pro style handle.

Monogram Oven Benefits

  • Multiple Configurations

    Combine the Advantium with either the French Door or standard convection oven. Or opt for two ovens - one standard and one convection. Or a French Door plus a convection oven. Only want one oven? You can do that too.

  • Wifi Enabled

    Control your oven from your phone or with Alexa when you have remote mode enabled.

  • Living in Place Certified

    The French Door model is perfect for clients with mobility issues, are wheel-chair bound, or plan to remain in their home as long as possible

The perfect dirty martini mixed by Chef Nick

At the end of Day One, the Monogram staff, specifically Chef Jon and Chef Nick, treated us to an incredible meal cooked in house on the Monogram appliances. All of the staff were so polished and professional in their presentations, but Chef Jon’s descriptions of how he uses the appliances in his day to day life as a chef were the real stand out for me.

The roasted apples for dessert were prepared in the pizza oven

Induction Cooking

The induction cooking demonstration on Day Two was by far my favorite part of our training at the Monogram showroom. I am so excited for this technology because it is the perfect solution for so many of my clients.

Chef Jon explaining sous vide cooking on the induction cooktop

The 36″ Monogram induction cooktop in silver is shown in these photos. It is installed flush to the countertop, which I think is such a bonus both aesthetically and functionally. It’s basically an extension of your countertop. I love the Monogram offers the silver color as an option for white and lighter colored countertops and black for darker tops. It takes up less space than a range top so an oven can be installed below it. Or the cabinetry could have fully functioning drawers.

GE Monogram Induction Cooktop
Chef Jon searing sous vide pork tenderloin in cast iron on the induction cooktop

The Monogram induction cooktop is five times faster than gas at pre-heatings, boiling, and reducing liquids. Three pans can be on high heat simultaneously. This powerful cooktop can preheat a cast iron pan to 500 degrees in in 35-45 seconds. A huge benefit to induction is that pans heat evenly across the whole surface simultaneously.

The perfect Chicago lunch - pork and pierogies

The sous vide that Chef Jon used to prepare our pork syncs with the induction cooktop. The pork was perfectly cooked all the way through with a nice sear on the exterior. It was so tender and flavorful.

As we sat at the counter and watched, Chef Jon worked on preparing our second course. His demonstrations were totally entertaining and educational at the same time. Here, he was totally showing off some of the best features of induction. The cooktop only gets hot where the pan meets the surface. Yes, those are plastic containers spread all of the cooktop. The handle of the pan will stay perfectly cool.

You can also see that Chef Jon made a huge mess. The cooktop is very easy to clean with Ceramabrite and a non-abrasive cleaning pad. He recommends using compressed air, like you would use to clean your keyboard, to blow any little crumbs out of the groove between the top and the counter material.

GE Monogram Advantium Roast Chicken
Roast chicken cooked in the Monogram Advantium oven

Back to the Advantium for a second. That bone-in crispy roast chicken was cooked in the Advantium during Chef Jon’s demo in 16 minutes. Sixteen! And, it was totally juicy and delicious.

Our second course: deconstructed pot pie - to die for!

But what about the pans??

Clients always ask me if they will have to get all new pans if they choose induction. The answer is that it depends on the kind of pans you have. Any pan that contains iron will work on induction; however, the bottom needs to be completely flat so the pan can make a full connection.

You can use cast iron, just make sure it’s enamel coated with a flat bottom so that it won’t scratch the top. If you hear a whine when you put your pan on the cooktop, it means that you don’t have a good connection.

Chef Jon recommends the All Clad brand as a great option for high quality pans that work great on induction.

Monogram Induction Benefits

  • Faster More Even Cooking

    Pans preheat in a fraction of the time. Boil water five times faster than gas.

  • Safer than Electric or Gas

    Induction technology is perfect for Living in Plan, special needs families, and those with small children because of its cool surface and surface mount controls.

  • Space-saving Contemporary Aesthetics

    The sleek flush-mount design complements any kitchen but particularly minimalist and contemporary spaces. It also takes up less space than a range top or cooktop.


Monogram offers multiple solutions for refrigeration each with their own set of features and design detailing. After years of designing kitchens, I know that selecting the right refrigerator is one of the tougher and more personal appliance selections a client makes. I’m not going to recap every single model in detail, but I’ll hit the highlights of each.

In the little video above, you can see from left to right the 36″ wide bottom freezer with Euro handles, the French door refrigerator with pro style handles, the 42″ side by side with water dispenser, and the 48″ side by side with flush integrated panels and Euro style handles.

The side by side refrigerator is Monogram’s #1 configuration for built-in refrigerator/freezer combos (as opposed to columns). It is available as 36″, 42″, or 48″ wide. One of its nicer features is LED integrated lighting, so you can really see the interior well. The climate controlled drawer can be used to thaw meat safely or to express chill wine and beer.

The side by side without the front water dispenser can be installed flush with your cabinetry and paneled to match for a truly integrated look. You can add the Monogram pro style or Euro handles or add your own custom appliance pulls.

The glass front refrigerators above are definitely not for every client. Each side is a stand-alone 30″ unit with a top refrigerator, a middle freezer drawer with ice bin, and a bottom convertible drawer. By convertible, I mean that the bottom drawer can be a regular freezer drawer, a wine storage drawer, or a fresh food drawer. It does take 24 hours to switch between the different modes.

You can order this fridge with the glass fronts as shown above or 

The convertible refrigerator is a very cool look but not inexpensive at around $7800 per unit for stainless steel and only 14.2 square feet, by far Monogram’s smallest fridge. You really do need two of these units unless you have a very small kitchen.

Monogram Freezer / Refrigerator Columns

The Monogram refrigerator and freezer columns are pictured above in an 18″ freezer / 24″ refrigerator combination. One of the best benefits of columns vs. a combination fridge/freezer is the ability to choose your overall size and how much space is allocated to each function.

The refrigerator is available as 30″ and 24″ while the freezer is available as 18″, 24″, and 30″ coming in January of 2020. So, you can easily create a 42″, 48″, 54″, and soon a 60″ combination. There is also nothing stopping you from having two fridge columns and one freezer column or two and two. You can see how versatile this is. I also love that you can split the fridge and freezer column with a cabinet in between them.

The columns are counter depth, 84″ tall, and can be completely integrated into your cabinetry with matching panels, or you can do stainless fronts with either style of handle. 

In the next photo, you get a glimpse into the interior of the refrigerator side.

24" Refrigerator Column Interior

These refrigeration columns come with some very cool design features. First, they are Wifi enabled and also have a Sabbath mode. The glass front door bins and drawers have removable mats that are dishwasher safe and also help to keep bottles stable.

The shelves are hydrophobic. You can see that they are flat glass without an edge. The hydrophobic technology keeps any spills from spreading or leaking.

LED lighting runs down each side and each shelf is lit individually, so you can really see everything in your fridge. No dark corners. The lighting can be set to dim at night.

Next to the lunch bag on the middle shelf, you can see a water pitcher. This pitcher ships with the fridge column. It is removable, like a Brita would be, and when you replace it, it autofills with water. So, you eliminate the door dispenser but always have fresh water. I also like that you don’t have to stand at the fridge waiting for the water to dispense. You can bring the pitcher to the table to serve your guests.

The mechanicals and venting are located at the bottom inside each unit. From a maintenance perspective, the columns are serviceable from the front, so they don’t necessarily need to be removed for any repair or service. 

Monogram Refrigeration Benefits

  • Multiple Configuration Options

    There really is something for everyone in the Monogram refrigerator line. From 30" stand-alone models all the way up to 54" column configurations.

  • Cutting Edge Technology

    With fully lit LED interiors, Wifi with Sabbath mode, glass shelves that automatically control leaks, and drawers that convert from freezer to fridge, the Monogram refrigerators are on the cutting edge.

  • Flexible Design Options

    Whether you love the look or stainless steel or don't want anyone to know you even own a refrigerator, the flexible design of the Monogram refrigerators means you can accommodate virtually any style of kitchen.


Dishwashers are probably the least sexy of any kitchen appliance, but the Monogram staff delivered a compelling presentation. 

Clients always want to know how quiet dishwashers are before purchasing. The Monogram dishwasher is available in 39 and 42 decibels. The human ear cannot hear below 48 decibels, so yes, they are very quiet! They are rated #1 on Consumer Reports and Wired.

GE Monogram Integrated Dishwasher
Integrated Dishwasher via Monogram Website

The Monogram dishwasher can be fully integrated as shown above or purchased with a stainless steel front. You can choose from the two Monogram handle styles or purchase one to match your decorative hardware.

GE did a ton of research on dishwashers, even installing cameras inside dishwashers to see how homeowners actually used them. They observed people routinely pulling out their silverware, examining it for cleanliness, and then returning dirty utensils back to the dishwasher for another cycle. So, they installed water jets under the silverware baskets, a feature unique to GE.

Mommas take note…the upper rack features four bottle washer jets that were designed specifically to clean inside taller items like baby bottles.

GE Monogram Dishwasher Interior
Via Monogram Website

Loading the dishwasher can be a source of friction in many households, until one person takes over and everyone else gives up. Just ask my dad. The Monogram dishwasher makes loading much easier. All of the tines are angled and adjustable, and their width can be adjusted. In addition, they can lay perfectly flat to accommodate larger items. Monogram offers a lifetime warranty on the tine coatings, so you never have to worry about them chipping or degrading over time.

Like the other Monogram appliances, the dishwasher interior is fully lit with LEDs. The top rack is height adjustable so you can accommodate larger plates. It can also run half loads, which is a perfect feature for clients who live alone or are empty nesters. It’s also Wifi enabled and will notify you if it has a leak or simply if your cycle has finished.

Monogram Dishwasher Benefits

  • Research Driven Design

    140 jets (double the leading competitor), dedicated silverware jets, and top-rack bottle jets mean the Monogram dishwasher it top of its class at cleaning.

  • Adjustable Interiors

    Configure the Monogram dishwasher to suit your needs with the height adjustable top rack, adjustable and fold-down tines.

  • Living in Place Certified

    The 18" dishwasher model is ADA compliant and certified for Living in Place.

The Residential Hearth Oven

GE Monogram Pizza Oven
Monogram Residential Pizza Oven

Perhaps Monogram’s most niche, luxury product, the residential hearth oven is the only residential pizza oven on the market. This high powered appliance not only cooks perfectly done pizzas in under two minutes, it can do anything a regular oven can do, like bake oysters and roast whole sides of salmon.

At $12,500, this hearth oven is definitely a luxury indulgence for a devoted pizza chef who wants to create a real wow moment in his or her new kitchen.

Pizza oven fully integrated into the cabinetry

Each hearth oven is built by hand. It is 30″ wide and 30″ deep and requires built-in cabinetry on each side. No venting is required because it includes a catalytic converter. You operate the oven through a touch LED screen, and it comes pre-programmed for Detroit, Neapolitan, and flat bread style pizza. It does take 20-30 minutes to preheat to 800 degrees. The cooking dome on top can reach up to 1300 degrees!

GE Monogram Pizza Oven Pizza
Thin crust perfectly cooked pizza in around 90 seconds

I actually made pizza at a local pizza restaurant in high school and the end of college. As my husband will attest, I have really high standards. The pizza we sampled was thin and crispy, just the way I like it.

True confession time. I have cooked only a handful of times since our baby was born over a year and a half ago. It takes too long, I hate cleaning up, and I have no brain power left to search for recipes or the energy to go shopping.

But, the two days I spent at the Monogram showroom really inspired me to start cooking again. Having the right tools makes all the difference, and the technology incorporated into their appliances is truly life changing. The Advantium can cook frozen chicken nuggets in five minutes. Anyone with a screaming hungry toddler knows just how amazing that is, especially when your old outdated range takes 30 minutes just to pre-heat.

After this training, I feel very confident that I can provide my clients with first-hand information when they are considering Monogram as an option for their kitchen appliances. For as long as this post is, I only covered about half the information we learned and didn’t even mention ice makers, trash compactors, wine fridges, and ventilation!

Finally, if you are thinking of specifying GE Monogram for your kitchen remodel or new construction home, the staff at the Merchandise Mart showroom would be happy to host you  for a hands-on demonstration of your own.


The Worst Bathroom Remodeling Mistakes You Can Possibly Make

I’m currently in the midst of designing several bathroom remodels and multiple bathrooms in new build homes, so I have bathroom design constantly on my mind lately. Bathrooms are one of my specialties and really how I got my start in Interior Design (along with kitchen design), so I’ve been collecting bathroom inspirations photos for years now.

After studying thousands of bathroom photos and designing dozens over the past ten years, I’ve learned that not all bathroom design is created equal.

As a former engineer, my clients quickly learn that I’m a pragmatist. Form has to follow function, especially in a bathroom or kitchen. I don’t care how pretty it is or how cool it looks if it doesn’t work!

I’ll be honest, in my early days as a designer, I probably made all of the mistakes listed below. But, every job teaches me something new, and I never repeat those missteps again. If you’re getting ready to remodel or design a bathroom, make sure that you or your designer avoids these critical bathroom remodeling mistakes.


This list isn’t necessarily ranked in order; however, positioning the shower so you have no choice but to get drenched in freezing cold water every morning has to be the worst bathroom design mistake you can make.

White subway tile shower vertical subway tile
Shower Controls Opposite Door for Easy Access

For some reason, people became convinced that the shower controls – the on/off and temperature valves – need to be located directly under the shower head. But, often the shower head is at the far end of the shower from the door, meaning you can’t reach the controls unless you step into the shower.

I have seen showers where the client keeps the shower head pointed towards the wall while they turn on the water. This doesn’t really seem like an optimal user experience for someone’s dream bathroom.

The worst shower layout is one in which you have to get into the shower and also close the door to turn on the shower so there’s no escape. Terrible! I’ve definitely encountered this setup in hotels, and it totally sucks.

So, how do you avoid this happening to you? Look at the plans for your bathroom and picture yourself opening the door and reaching for the controls. Can you easily access them without stepping into the shower and under the shower head?

Remember, most shower doors swing both ways so as long as you can open it one way and reach your controls, it works.

If you can’t, then another revision is definitely in order. You can usually fix the issue by moving either the controls or the door.

#2 Poor or Bad Vanity Lighting

Vanity lighting design definitely deserves its own post, and I am planning to publish one soon. My biggest pet peeve with many Insta-famous or HGTV-trendy bathrooms is the lighting design at the vanities.

If you have a smaller vanity (42″ or less), then often (but not always) your only solution is to place the vanity light over the mirror. However, for larger vanities, I think it’s a mistake to sacrifice optimal lighting for a cool look or fancy decorative mirror.

gray and white bathroom
Vanity with Two Sconces & Recessed Can Light

Spacing vanity lighting so that it feels balanced and proportional with the mirrors and the cabinetry is a fine art. I agonize over it on every single bathroom project I design. My priority is always to provide a sconce on each side of the mirror with the bulb height between 60″ and 66″. When combined with a recessed can over the sink, the three light sources diffuse hard shadows.

If you’ve ever looked at yourself in a bathroom mirror and thought you aged 10 years, look up. I bet the light source is a downward facing sconce centered over the mirror.

#3 Not Planning For Adequate Storage

interior designer des moines K and V Home Show Expo House 2018 Master Bathroom Vanity
Custom Vanity Design with a Variety of Storage

So often I see photos of beautiful bathrooms with absolutely terrible storage, especially in master bathrooms. The furniture style vanities can look really pretty but are they totally practical?

It’s so important to seriously consider everything you need to store in your bathroom both for the things you use every day in your beauty and hygiene routine as well as linens and other supplies like toilet paper. Once you understand everything you use on a daily basis, then think about the best way to store it. Do you have serums, moisturizers, makeup, etc. that needs to remain vertical? How tall are the products you use? How long and wide are your hair brushes?

I like to incorporate a variety of drawer depths whenever possible as well as cabinets with doors. The sink cabinet can be a great place for hiding the wastebasket. I also keep tall products like hairspray on a lazy susan from Container Store under my sink.

interior designer des moines south of grand bathroom remodel
Vintage Style Bath with Medicine Cabinet

I know medicine cabinets aren’t as sexy as a gorgeous decorative mirror, but they are ridiculously practical in smaller bathrooms.

In the vintage style bathroom above, we only had room for a single 48″ freestanding vanity, so we maxed out storage for small toiletries by adding this polished nickel medicine cabinet from Restoration Hardware. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used this exact medicine cabinet because it’s very handsome, generously sized, and comes with an integrated light and electrical outlet. No more razor or electric toothbrush sitting on the counter

#4 Not Including a Hand Shower

Gray wood-look tile shower with polished nickel plumbing fixtures.

Maybe you do your own cleaning and maybe you don’t. Either way, someone is going to be cleaning your gargantuan walk-shower at least every couple weeks. If you don’t include a hand-shower, then the only way they’ll be able to rinse down the shower walls is with a bucket. And, that’s really just mean.

I love my hand shower for both cleaning and for rinsing my hair. If you set it up correctly, you can run your main shower head and your hand shower at the same time. It’s a more affordable version of body jets, especially if you mount the hand shower on an adjustable wall bar, which I highly recommend.

#5 Buying Cheap Plumbing Online or at a BiG Box Store

During my very first interior design related job – at the Great Indoors in Chandler, Arizona, 14 years ago – a very nice plumbing salesman educated me on the evils of cheap plumbing. He told me that cheap plumbing fixtures from big box stores or discount outlets are often made with cheap plastic parts that break instead of metal.

Mirabelle Pendleton Tub Filler in Polished Nickel
Mirabelle Pendleton Tub Filler in Polished Nickel Specified through Ferguson

Fast forward ten years. I was freshening up the hall bathroom in our last house and bought an inexpensive version of a name brand faucet at a big box hardware store even though I warn my clients against this very thing. When we couldn’t figure out how to install it ourselves, we had to call a plumber. After two hours, he informed me he needed to go out and buy all new parts for the inside of the faucet because it was “cheap plastic junk.” So that $90 faucet ended up costing over $300.

I specify all plumbing for my projects through my sales representative at the local plumbing supply companies. They know their product inside out. They know all the parts and pieces that need to be included like valves, and wall elbows, and escutcheon for hand showers. And, they stand behind the product and help you when something goes wrong or needs replacing. They are completely invaluable members of my team.

#6 Forgetting about Towel Bars & Hooks when Space Planning

I had to make this mistake several times before I learned my lesson. Towel bars need clear wall space as do hooks if your towels are going to hang properly to dry. 

In a small bathroom especially, it can be really easy to forget about hooks and towel bars. Then, when it’s time to hang them, there’s nowhere to put them.

I prefer hooks to bars because I don’t want to fold my towel, and I hate the look of unfolded towel draped over a bar.

Also, consider placing a hook where it is easily reached from the shower. When our home’s former owners remodeled, they put two hooks inside the shower in a spot where they don’t get wet. I love that idea and use it whenever I can.

I could go on and on with more bathroom remodeling mistakes that I see people make all the time, so maybe I need to write a follow up post. What do you think are the biggest bathroom remodeling or bathroom design mistakes people make? Are there any bathroom trends you’ve been spotting that drive you nuts with their impracticality? Let me know in the comments.

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Worst Bathroom Remodeling Mistakes