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The Era of Modernization Part III

Part III: Kitchen Upgrades

 By Dennis J. Basquill

In the continuation of The Era of Modernization series, in Part III we will discuss how housing authorities throughout Massachusetts are providing upgrades to kitchens in their buildings that date back to the early 1950s.  Most of the appliances and finishes in these kitchens are either past their life expectancy or outdated and in need of a complete renovation/replacement.  The constant maintenance and upkeep of these kitchens is not cost effective for the housing authorities, nor is it a permanent solution.  In the long run, it is beneficial for housing authorities to provide their tenants with new amenities that will last fifteen to twenty years and reduce the need for maintenance.

There are many things to take into consideration when redesigning a kitchen.  You must consider the countertops, appliances, cabinets, flooring, designing the space to maximize usability, and, of course where applicable, meet all ADA requirements.  All of these components, if organized and designed well, can create an attractive, low maintenance space at a relatively low cost to the housing authority. 

First let’s discuss the countertops and sinks.  Similar to the bathroom countertops and sink upgrades I spoke about in Part II, kitchens can also use the same materials.  Most of the housing authority unit kitchens have linoleum or plastic laminate countertops which have cracked, stained, burned, and peeled away from the substrate over the years exposing sharp, dangerous edges.  A perfect inexpensive solution for replacement countertops is the use of solid surface material such as Swanstone or Corian.  They each make a variety of different products for kitchen countertops and sinks that look like granite.  These products can be used in residential, housing, healthcare, and education.  They are very easy to clean and maintain and will not encourage fungus or mold growth.  There are a variety of different colors with a matte finish that are resistant to heat and scratches can be buffed out easily.

The renovation of the kitchen cabinets is also a fairly straightforward fix as most of the kitchens in these housing units are not very large in size.  A typical kitchen in a housing authority unit would receive one row of upper and lower cabinets.  KraftMaid Cabinets has been around for many years and make a very good quality affordable product suitable for housing units.  The hand crafted, all wood cabinets come in five different styles, including oak and maple, with various finish options.

GE is a good choice when specifying a kitchen appliance manufacturer.  All of GE’s oven ranges and refrigerators come in a range of models ranging from very affordable to more elaborate, expensive models.  GE appliances are also readily available and can be purchased at your local home improvement mega store.  GE’s wide range of appliances are able to accommodate the needs of most demographics. 

When choosing the finish flooring you want something low in cost, durable, and easy to maintain.  Vinyl composite tile (VCT) is all that, plus resistant to scratches and impact damage.  If it does get damaged, each tile can easily be replaced without tearing up the entire floor.  While sheet vinyl is also low in cost and easy to maintain, if it gets damaged you will have to replace the entire floor.

Most housing authority units are limited in space and can range, typically, from 600 to 700 square feet for an entire unit.  This greatly limits the options for design layouts.  Kitchens are typically small in size and are not very user-friendly for persons with disabilities.  When doing a kitchen modernization project it’s always good to look into several options for changing the layout of the space to maximize the amount of usable space necessary to meet ADA requirements.  “L” shaped kitchens, or even wide “U” shaped spaces, allow for a person in a wheelchair to move comfortably around the space and easily access the appliances.  Extreme care must be taken to locate appliance controls at the proper heights and locations.  Clearance space below counters are also important to verify before construction begins.

To modernize a single kitchen would typically take a contractor about a week to complete.  This includes all the demolition and installation of fixtures and finishes.  This is a very short period of time and would barely hinder the everyday activities of the tenants.  For a short week’s worth of work, the payout in the end is very beneficial to the tenants and at a low price tag for the housing authority.