Susan Serra

on Remodeling Your Kitchen
Certified kitchen designer and NKBA member

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Exclusive Interview

Susan Serra on Kitchen Remodeling

If you search online for “kitchen designer,” chances are you’ll quickly be directed to Susan Serra’s blog, Serra, a certified kitchen designer, has won national design awards, been featured in many Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications and other magazines, interviewed by HGTV and serves as a speaker at industry conferences. When she’s not working on clients’ homes, Serra is scouting kitchen trends, TV shows, magazines, blogs and countless other resources to share them with her readers. In her signature style, she distills all of her vast kitchen remodeling knowledge to the essentials.

Where do you recommend people start the process of remodeling their kitchen?

First they have to hire a team—an interior designer, a kitchen designer and a contractor. Do your homework, or get a recommendation. It’s helpful to get the team together and see that they work [well with each other]. It’s really about communication. For the homeowner, questions that come up in meetings should be written down. It takes planning and organization from the very beginning.

There’s no one best method [to find a team]. The important thing is that the homeowner is in a position of interviewing. They should not be in the position where they are spoken to; they should drive the interview process. It’s up to them what criteria they want in someone. Look at samples of work—you don’t have to see it in person, but they have to be genuine pictures. Make sure that each party who gives an estimate is estimating on the same scenario; it’s the only way to compare.

What should people expect in the first 30 days of remodeling a kitchen?

Expect the unexpected. It would be best if you have a cushion in your budget. Things come up; you have to have a method of communication that everyone knows. It may be a notepad on the job site where you write down your questions. But you have to be very clear upfront about how you communicate with your team.

There are some exciting parts, and some that seem like they will never ever get finished. Understand that this will pass. Go and do something for yourself—go to the gym, get away for the weekend. Try as hard as you can to be positive.

Inexpensive portable cooktops and a microwave will go a very long way in keeping your equilibrium. Sometimes when you take out ovens, it’s not easy to rewire them in another part of the house. But in warm months, grilling outside is tasty, healthy and gets you outside of that miserable, renovated space.

Any challenges in remodeling that people might not expect?

I think a lot of it is about expectation. Homeowners expect things to go a certain way. You have to go with the flow, but if you’re prepared up front, that will diminish surprises. Surprises are not always fun or easy when your house is ripped apart. Know yourself and how you make decisions. Take responsibility. If you know you’re indecisive, admit it. It’s helpful if you know your strengths and weaknesses.

Put your trust in your team, and you can work through almost anything. Pick your battles carefully, and try to manage your frustrations. Give people more slack during this time. Be positive. If not, you’re going to have a miserable experience. Renovating can be fun and really creative, or it can be miserable. Much of it is how you approach the experience.

What can people do to remodel a kitchen on a small budget?

Paint and some inexpensive collectible items can totally transform a kitchen. You may not have control over the bones of a kitchen, like replacing cabinets or countertops, but you may have enough money to replace the backsplash or one appliance or the sink.

Paint your cabinets an elegant or sophisticated khaki color, an alternative to white. Take off a couple cabinet doors and put fabric across. I did my own kitchen on an extreme budget a couple of years ago. You have to think creatively. There are very few rights and wrongs. It doesn’t have to be a catalogue kitchen—make it your own.

What are some other ways to use the kitchen space?

Kitchens now are where multiple activities take place. People will come and do work with a laptop. Put a sofa in a kitchen as part of the eating area, because people want to hang out. You have multiple generations that are now enjoying cooking together.

Help along social activities by having an open floor plan with room for people to move around, and provide comfortable seating. You may want to take down a few wall cabinets so that the kitchen doesn’t look as utilitarian, more like a living environment. The kitchen serves all five senses. There’s something very organic about being in the kitchen. I think that’s the draw.


What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?

It depends on the situation. It can be "this too shall pass," "change is good," "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.”

The best thing about change is… encourages growth, wisdom, courage and usually closeness to family, which is really all that matters.

What is the best change you have ever made?

I am in the middle of two major changes in my life right now. I make a strong effort to view change as a positive journey with an active choice to keep the negative thoughts and fears short-lived and reach out for support from my family when I need it. And, to listen to advice.

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