“Home Building Guide”: Kitchen / Bath

Plumbing Fixtures

House builders give their clients allowances for certain items, carpets for example, and the clients, with that allowance in mind, pick their favorite styles and colors. Plumbing fixtures are an exception.

“Builders usually don’t give a plumbing allowance,” says Tracy Bartlett, showroom manager at Westburne Supply Inc. “Instead, it’s a set package of basic fixtures, and if the homeowner wants to make changes, he must pay the price difference.”

Start early if you want to participate in plumbing-fixture picking. “Sometimes the fixtures are being installed before the homeowners know what’s happening.” Bathtubs, showers and faucets go in before sheet rock goes up, and special orders (which include colors except white or ivory) can take three or four weeks. Fixture shoppers should bring a copy of their floor plan to the store so the salesperson will know what size tubs and showers are specified.

Kitchen Design

Before you commit to a kitchen island, consider clearances. “Clearances are basic to kitchen design and really important,” says Diane Quinn, owner of Beyond Kitchens.

The leeway-around-an-island rule used to be 36 inches, which is the width of a standard hallway. But if an appliance sits opposite the island, the space between becomes, in kitchen design parlance, a “work aisle,” and work aisles need to be more than a yard wide to allow for access to the refrigerator or oven or dishwasher. In a one-cook kitchen, work aisles should be 42 inches wide. Higher-traffic kitchens for two cooks or a cook and one or more frequent refrigerator-raiders, for example, need work aisles of at least 60 inches.

“An efficient work aisle takes up a lot of space,” Quinn says. “It can determine whether or not an island is a good idea or an inconvenience.”

Kitchen and Bath Cabinetry

Kitchens and bathrooms lead the list of the most popular rooms for cabinets. Dens and family rooms come next, and their cabinetry need not be custom-built, says Jennifer Selle, co-owner of Kitchen Concepts of Rochester. “More and more, stock cabinet companies are offering storage units, desks, and entertainment centers and complementary pieces.”

Den and family room cabinetry comes in a variety of styles in a variety of woods – maple, cherry, oak, hickory and birch. Painted pieces are available, too. Enamel paint gives a rich look and is rising in popularity. You can mix and match finishes, too; for example, antique white enamel cabinets complement oak trim and oak floors.

The stock pieces offer a full range of possibilities, Selle says, “at prices somewhat more affordable than custom built.”


Early in the building process – well before your new kitchen becomes a kitchen – pick your appliances, says Jackie Rau of Guyer’s Builders Supply. “You can’t do cabinets first then say, ‘I’d like a built-in refrigerator.’ It’s smart to shop and see what’s available and then go home and decide what you want and need.”

Selections abound. “Would a wall oven and cooktop suit your cooking customs and lifestyle? Would you prefer a professional series range? For this you will need more air flow (CFM), and you need to coordinate this with your builder early on. These decisions can make a significant difference in your budget and cabinet layout.”

“Discuss your options with an appliance person,” Rau says, “and then coordinate with your builder.”

Solid Surface Countertops

In its role as antacid, the chemical compound alumina trihydrate soothes stomachs. But if you add an acrylic binder, don’t swallow the alumina trihydrate cocktail. Use it as a countertop instead.

That’s right. Solid surface material (such as Corian) consists of alumina trihydrate and a binder. “Because the mixture is naturally pure white, pigment is added,” says Tim Buechler, owner of AFM Surfaces. “Solid surfaces come in hundreds of colors.” Then manufacturers shape the mixture into sheets which are turned into counter, desk and table tops and fireplace mantels.

The solid surface’s outstanding feature is design flexibility. “You can glue it to itself, and the joints disappear. It looks seamless and can be made into all sort of shapes.”

Laminate Countertops

Before you order a counter top, look at a LARGE sample of it, says Kathy Blohm, co-owner of the Top Shop of Rochester. “Some of the patterns really change when seen in a big piece.”

If you pick laminate material (such as Formica), you’ll have hundreds of patterns and colors from which to choose. That’s because laminate is made from decorated paper, saturated with resin and bonded to resin paper sheets or backer material. Laminates are durable but “not meant to be used as a hot pad or a cutting board.”

The color trend is earth tones: terra cotta, sage, cinnamon. Nature is in style, and laminate can masquerade as stone. You can upgrade your counter top by adding a wood edge.

About that large sample: Look at it sooner, not later. Orders take approximately three weeks, and turnaround time lengthens in the spring and fall when new houses are being finished.

Stone Countertops

When you choose countertops consider stone. Stone might surprise you, says Michael Welch, President of Stone Concepts. “Many people have in their minds that stone is very expensive. But it isn’t. It isn’t cheap, but it isn’t out of most people’s budgets either.

“Stone has character. It’s beautiful and durable.” Granite, most durable among countertop rocks, is the favorite choice for kitchen countertops. “Granite is almost care-free. You just use it.” Marble and onyx can be used in kitchens, too, but aren’t as hard as granite and fare better in low-traffic areas.

Granite also excels in versatility. Depending on its finish – polished, matte or in between – it can complement a variety of decorating styles. Slate and soapstone aren’t as all-purpose, but they star at accenting the Old World look.

Stone’s indoor applications aren’t limited to counter and vanity tops. Its uses include tabletops, bar tops, fireplace surrounds and floors.

Copyright 2010 Rochester Area Builders, Inc. No part of the Builder’s Corner articles may be reproduced or printed without written permission from Rochester Area Builders. 108 Elton Hills Lane NW, Rochester, MN 55901. Phone 507-282-7698.