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A lift of tile and granite. Couple takes command in kitchen revamp

KITCHEN renovation can be fascinating and frustrating, but ultimately rewarding. That's what Christina and Richard Davis discovered when they tackled their New York co-op apartment kitchen. Kitchens are the most frequently remodeled rooms in homes - the Davis project was but one of 3.3 million completed in 1987. This year it is projected that up to 5.6 million kitchens could get a face lift.

The Davises love their apartment in a handsome 1928 building. They plan to remain there for a while.

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But they wanted a make-over of their L-shaped kitchen and pantry that would erase the linoleum floor, haphazard arrangement of cabinets, and florid-medallioned wallpaper of a previous owner's 1960's renovation. They wanted state-of-the-art efficiency and good looks.

``Once we decided to go through all the mess of remodeling, it didn't make sense not to invest in the best possible design, materials, and equipment,'' says Christina.

Failing to find a kitchen designer that met their requirements, they decided to hire an architect to replan their kitchen. But it was soon apparent that ideas and tastes did not mesh. Both architect and contractor were dismissed. The whole project was put on hold for two years.

Eventually the Davises chose architect Henry Wollman, feeling assured that he understood the kind of kitchen they visualized.

But first, Christina recollects, ``we evaluated our needs by reviewing the notes that we had been building for several years, and consulted a professional caterer who had cooked in our kitchen.

``The style we decided on was traditional, yet classic, with a heavy reliance on natural and durable materials. We chose blue-gray tile for the floor and light, natural ash with clear finish for the custom-built cabinets.

``After visiting several marble yards, we selected a dark-red polished granite, which takes heat and doesn't mar or mark, for all countertops. We selected materials that we thought would harmonize and endure for many years.''

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After much interviewing, Christina selected the contractor who she felt could competently execute the architect's design.

``We then sealed off the kitchen from the rest of the apartment, rigged up a makeshift cooking arrangement in the dining room, and began to monitor the work daily as it progressed.

``I would offer smiles and encouragement during the day. My husband would take his legal pad every evening and check every widget and every aspect of the work as it progressed. That's when we learned that every single hinge, knob, or piece of trim should be specified in the architect's original drawing, because every time we made a change, we paid an extra `add on' charge!

``To get every storage feature that we wanted, as well as the look of fine craftsmanship, we elected to have all the cabinets custom built rather than buying customized manufactured cabinets. We are glad we did and feel we paid little more.''

Five months after the project began, the Davises unsealed the door to their beautiful new kitchen. All the effort and expense had been worth it. In the kitchen ``L'' where food is prepared and cooked, they now have two dishwashers (one for dishes and one for pots and pans), one conventional oven, one convection oven, and one baking oven.

They also have a microwave oven and a U.S. Range, and a small four-burner restaurant stove, which burns gas. Across the wide window is a high counter/shelf with two tuck-under high stools for snacking.

The original pantry-laundry area has been enlarged and lined with built-in storage cabinets of ash and glass. Granite countertops are used for buffet serving of meals. Guests pick up food in the pantry, then move into the dining room for seating.

The washer and dryer are now concealed behind foldout doors in the new space opened up between kitchen and pantry. A new storage closet has been added, as well as a compact ``command center'' with bulletin board and desk for telephoning, ordering, and note writing.

The Davises share a few suggestions with other potential remodelers. Their dos and don'ts include:

Collect ideas from magazines and kitchen publications, and also jot down the pros and cons that you have learned from your old kitchen.

Before selecting a contractor, carefully check all references given and also try to visit several completed projects.

Before the contractor begins work, make sure he has a complete, finished set of plans and specifications, including the selection of all appliances, accessories, and fittings.

Confirm availability of adequate electricity and gas to kitchen area to support appliances chosen - before plans and appliance selections are made final.

Before work begins, complete and sign a firm contract with architect and contractor, which includes a cancellation clause for inadequate performance and a completion date with penalties for unexcused delays.

Provide a powerful, well-insulated exhaust system over cooking surface and ample lighting over all work surfaces.

Don't allow the architect or designer to impose tastes contrary to your own.

Don't stick with a contractor or designer once it becomes clear that the job is not getting done or that serious mistakes are being made.

Don't accept a schedule of payments that compensates the contractor ahead of actual work completed.

Don't choose appliances that are not supported by local service facilities.

The Davises love everything about their kitchen, but they won't discuss its cost except to say they would know how to do it better and more cheaply next time! Christina has just celebrated her new facility by taking a refresher course in French cooking.

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