The modern kitchen: seven must-have renovations

Think your tired kitchen is ready for a new look? Consider these modern kitchen must-haves when you plan your remodel.

How long have you been suffering with an outdated kitchen, dreaming of giving it a fresh look? Are you finally ready to tackle a remodel?

Great! But don't rush into your remodel plan just yet. You'll want to give yourself some space - literally.

"Space planning is key," says Kevin Scalir, general contractor and CEO of Stonebrook Design Build. "A beautiful but poorly thought out kitchen will be completely dysfunctional."

So while you're thinking about all the modern finishes and must-have touches you want, make sure to think about how you like to use your kitchen, too.

If you let your personality and preferences guide you when designing your new kitchen, you could end up with a space that's both beautiful and functional - two qualities of great design. And if you don't know yet what the kitchen of your dreams looks like, consult a contractor or designer to help you with the planning phase.

[Want to find a contractor in your area? Click to compare rates now.]

Ready to start upgrading your kitchen? Read on to find out about some great modern kitchen must-haves to put on your remodel wish list.

Must-Have #1: Solid Surface Countertops

Chances are if your kitchen counters are covered with tile, laminate - or something worse - you're itching to rip them out.

For a sleek and modern upgrade, consider solid surface countertops. According to Scalir, this is the number one "must-have" requested in the kitchen remodels his company handles.

And it's easy to see why: Beyond giving a clean look to kitchens, solid surface countertops come in a wide variety of colors and materials. No matter what look you're going for, chances are there's a solid surface countertop that will deliver it.

So what's popular these days? "Caesarstone (a man-made stone consisting mostly of quartz), granite, and marble," Scalir says.

[Ready to upgrade to the countertop of your dreams? Click here to find a contractor now.]

He offers one word of warning, however: "Be careful with marble. While it's beautiful, it's also very soft and permeable and will stain when you drop your wine or drip some oil."

If you're worried about spills, you might want to go with quartz or granite.

Must-Have #2: European-Style Cabinets

Ironically, today's kitchens are going modern by taking cues from the old world. But there's nothing old about the sleek new look of European-style cabinets. So what exactly are they?

According to Scalir, European-style cabinets usually have the following characteristics: "Hidden hinges, soft-close doors and drawers, frameless cabinet construction, and full-overlay doors and drawer-fronts."

These kitchen cabinet must-haves contribute to a kitchen's modern design.

Hidden hinges keep things looking sleek with no hardware visible to disrupt the clean lines of your cabinet doors. The soft-close doors and drawers prevent slamming, saving both your cabinet finishes and your nerves. And the frameless cabinet construction and full-overlay doors give you the look of "just doors" without the older style face-frame behind the doors.

If you're looking to take a kitchen from ho-hum to "Oh, yum!" take a look at the cabinet options out there. You might be surprised at the difference some European-style cabinets could make in your home.

[Update your kitchen cabinets for the modern age. Click here to find the right contractor today.]

Don't have the money to replace your cabinets? You may be able to achieve a similar look by refacing your cabinet boxes and replacing the doors or hardware.

Must-Have #3: Stainless Steel Appliances

If you're going for "sleek and modern" in your kitchen remodel, stainless steel appliances are a definite must-have.

"If we're doing a kitchen remodel, 99 percent of the time the appliances will be stainless steel," Scalir says.

What's all the fuss about, you ask? Stainless steel has a neutral finish that looks good with most modern kitchen design schemes. But the benefits of stainless steel go way beyond its modern look. It's durable, easy to clean, stainless (surprise!), and close to rust-proof.

In fact, it's such a smart choice that you'll find stainless steel appliances in most commercial kitchens. If it's good enough for professional chefs, don't you want it in your kitchen, too?

Must-Have #4: Tile Backsplash

Tile backsplashes serve a useful purpose: They keep splatters and spills from staining walls and make post-cooking clean up a whole lot easier. But backsplashes are also a great place to throw some visual interest into your modern kitchen remodel.

"Gone are the days of granite all the way up the wall," Scalir says. "The new style is complimentary or contrasting tile with an interesting pattern on the backsplash."

And you don't have to worry about limiting your options if you choose to go with a tile backsplash. Sure, you could choose a nice safe white subway tile - but there are choices available for people who like to walk on the wild side, too.

"My more adventurous clients have used glass tile, stainless steel tile, and hand-painted accents," Scalir says.

[Get a kitchen that expresses your personality. Click to find a contractor in your area.]

Who knew your mess-containing backsplash might also provide the visual "Wow!" you've been looking for in your dream kitchen.

Must-Have #5: Open Floor Plan

If you've got the money and guts to tackle reconstructive surgery on your house, an open floor plan is probably on your must-have list already. And what better way to modernize your kitchen than by opening it up to your entire living area?

"If we can remove a wall and open up the kitchen we usually do," Scalir says. Sounds simple enough, but this one change can revolutionize the way you experience your kitchen - and your dinner parties.

"Often the open floor plan will allow us to use either an island or a peninsula that allows friends and family to sit in the adjoining space (usually a family room or great room) and converse with whoever is working in the kitchen," explains Scalir. That's one change that might really reflect the way we live.

These days, it feels like people congregate in the kitchen while the food is being prepared, talking and socializing with the chef. As Scalir notes, opening that area up makes it easier to share these kitchen moments with family and friends.

Must-Have #6: Under-Cabinet Lighting

Take a page out of any Hollywood filmmaker's book and you'll know that lighting is crucial to defining the look of a space. Sure, harsh overhead fluorescent lights will illuminate the space, but is that the kind of lighting you want to live with night after night?

If you're looking for a softer, warmer use of light, under-cabinet lighting is one way to make the most out of your kitchen remodel.

"The simplest light under the cabinet adds a tremendous amount of useful light," Scalir says. "It also adds a nice warm texture to the kitchen."

This is a must-have feature of most modern designer kitchens for good reason. The softer task-lighting under the cabinets can give your kitchen the warm glow you'll never get with glaring overhead lights.

If that doesn't convince you to add under-cabinet lighting to your remodel plan, consider this: If you're already planning to spend the time and money on lovely new cabinets, counters, or tile backsplashes, why not invest a little more and light them well?

Must-Have #7: A Garbage and Recycling Center

Do you separate your garbage from your recycling in the kitchen, but find yourself tripping over bins? If so, you might love this kitchen remodel must-have: a built-in garbage and recycling center.

"This sounds like an odd must-have," Scalir admits. "But almost all of my clients ask for it."

So what goes into a garbage and recycling center?

"It's a cabinet that we usually place next to the sink with two bins," Scalir says. "One bin is used for trash and the other is used for recyclables. The bins are hidden unless the drawer is opened. It's a great alternative to shoving a garbage bag under the sink."

Now you can do your part for the environment without having to stash an unsightly recycling bin next to the fridge. Tucked out of sight, a garbage and recycling center makes it easy for your kitchen to be both green and, more importantly, gorgeous.