5 Home Upgrades That Are Worth The Money

by Donna De Palma


Looking to maximize the resale value of your home before putting your house on the market?  Not thinking about selling, but considering the impact of a home upgrade on resale value?  Not all remodeling projects are created equal.  Here are the top five upgrades that pay back when you decide to sell:

First impressions are lasting impressions. Outdoor maintenance that enhances curbs appeal can have a strong effect on resale value.
First impressions are lasting impressions: Outdoor maintenance that enhances curbs appeal can have a strong effect on resale value.

1. Curb appeal

Spruce up your home’s exterior to get the most bang for your buck.  Landscaping and minor exterior improvements pay back 100% of the money you invest.  If you’re going for a complete makeover, you’ll spend $3,500 for new sod, flowers and shrubs, a new walkway, enhanced porch and front door upgrade.  If you’re just refreshing what you already have, plan on $1,500 for cosmetic improvements like paint, garden upgrades and porch touch-ups.

Easy fixes like freshening up trim paint and replacing old awnings go a long way in restoring your home’s curbside appeal.   If the paint on your front door is peeling or your front steps are in need of repair, prospective buyers question how much effort you’ve put into maintaining your home.

Decorative planters on a front porch bring color front and center.  Replace overgrown shrubs by your entrance with flowering plants in varying sizes and colors.  Select blooms in one color and group them together for the most impact.

Plantings can be used to emphasize a home’s best features or to hide some of its flaws.  Placed alongside a natural wood door or near columns by the entry to your home, flower pots or planters bring attention to that all-important entrance.  Your home’s entry is also more inviting with outdoor furnishings that complement your style.

If your porch seems a little too basic, add columns to introduce an architectural element. Visit a nearby historic house parts store to repurpose old columns or start from scratch detailing new columns with a clever mix of moldings in different widths for more detail.

Major outdoor improvements can increase the value of a home over time.
Major outdoor improvements can increase the value of a home over time, such as adding a wood deck.

2. Major exterior improvements  

Vinyl siding, house painting and updating your front entry can pay back on average 95% of your cost.   Plan to pay $7,000-$8,000 to replace vinyl siding on an average home.  Painting your entire house can set you back between $2000-$4000 for a 2,100 sq. ft. home.

When selecting exterior colors, eliminate the guesswork by going one step further than color swatches or paint color cards.  Paint a small section on your house with your top three color choices, then paint trim color on a small section of trim close by.  Finally, paint larger swatches of your door color choices right on your front door.  For a splash of color, go bold with a door color but stay within the overall color scheme of your home.

Look at colors in different light and at different times of day before painting your entire house.  Hot pink or bright chartreuse may not add to the resale value of your home like a soft palette that has universal appeal would and one that suits the style of your home. To estimate supply costs, remember this rule of thumb: one gallon of paint covers on average a 400 sq. ft. surface.

Replace or repair old and worn shutters.  A pair of custom-made wood shutters can cost up to $500.  Raised-panel vinyl shutters start at $70.00.  Add on another $100 for hardware plus installation costs, if you hire a pro.  Wood or vinyl, new shutters will give your home a brand new look.

Replace an old front door with a new, mid-range steel door with clear dual-pane half-glass panel and a new lockset for $1,100.  Your garage door can be replaced for $1,500.

Surprisingly, adding a 16’ X 20’ wood deck costs about $11,000.  Decks only recoup about 90% of cost so add a deck only if it’s something you can’t live without.  Instead, add an interesting gate to a courtyard or a decorative fence to enclose a front yard.  Replace a porch railing or introduce outdoor lighting to make your exterior pop.

The front entry is taking on new importance these days.  Outdoor furniture–rugs, table, decorative outdoor lighting, even a loveseat–make a porch an inviting, outdoor space. Play up your home’s first impression with lush outdoor furnishings that draw attention to your home and garden.

Window and door replacements are still a good investment particularly in our climate.  With an average return of 89% on investment, replacing ten 3’ X 5’ windows with new double-hung wood or vinyl windows runs $10,000-$11,000.

3. Minor kitchen upgrades 

Kitchens are one of the first things home buyers look at when they consider purchasing a home.  It’s important not to go overboard with a kitchen remodel though.  A high-end kitchen remodel can price your home out of the local market and put a big dent in your wallet.

Major kitchen remodels are not likely to have as good of ROI as minor remodels.
Major kitchen remodels are not likely to have as good of ROI as minor remodels.

Basic kitchen upgrades–up to $15,000–return on average 98.5% of your cost.  Anything beyond that cost and the return takes a sharp drop, down to 66%.

You don’t have to re-do your kitchen from the ground up if it’s already functioning well.  A budget of $15,000 will allow you to re-face cabinets, replace an outdated oven, cooktop, sink, lighting fixtures and countertops with modestly-priced alternatives. You can also install new flooring (other than hardwoods) within budget.

Genuine hardwood flooring costs about $2.50-$3.00 per sq. ft. and another $3.00 per sq. ft. for a pro to install.  That’s about $1,100 for a 12’ X 15’ room not including subflooring costs.  Refinishing an existing hardwood is more cost effective: only $400-$500.

Instead of hardwoods, DIY a “floating floor” of wood or laminate for $1.25 – $2.00 per sq. ft.  No nails needed and the pieces snap together.

Brighten up your kitchen by sanding and painting existing cabinets.  Install new hardware.  Select mid-priced appliances, an updated sink and faucet, glitzy or trendy light fixtures for a little bling, Corian or quartz countertops and a new vinyl or wood veneer floor and you’re within budget.

A granite countertop, stainless sink and faucet will run between $5,000-$8,000.  Synthetic stone materials look as good as granite for a fraction of the cost and wear better.  Skip the backsplash for a whopping $2,000.  A backsplash can date your kitchen and the chances the next owner will approve of your color and design selections are pretty slim.  Design and product selection are key to keeping your minor kitchen upgrade from becoming a major renovation.


4. Major bath remodel

The latest trend in creating an at-home retreat is all about the bath.  A spa-like bath remodel returns on average 93% of your investment.  Plan on $26,000 on average to replace your tub and toilet and to add designer sinks and faucets, a linen closet, lighting, ceramic tile floor and exhaust fan.  Also included within this price tag is relocating your tub and expanding the space in a 5’ X 7’ bathroom.

Replacing old floors with tile or stone pays back.  Cut corners by making an old vanity look new again with new countertop.  Hang a designer mirror or two on your wall for a more contemporary look.

Many buyers looking at three-bedroom homes want two full baths.  It’s sometimes a better idea to bump out the powder room into a full bath rather than remodel an already ample master bath that can be refreshed with cosmetic upgrades.

Just add a shower to a powder room and suddenly it’s a full bath.  Rainfall showerheads will cost you about $200, handhelds with gadgets, $500. Since bathrooms are especially prone to looking outdated, pick neutral colors and finishes.


5. Attic bedroom 

Is the space in your home feeling a bit overcrowded?  Want a place to retreat to at the end of a busy day?  How about an attic bedroom?  Adding additional square footage to your house has big impact when it’s time to sell.  Beware though: attic remodels are one of the most expensive remodeling projects you can undertake.  Tucked away in the rafters, an attic bedroom costs about $39,000 to complete but returns 93.5% of its value when you sell your home.

Attic conversions are a good way to add additional square footage, but can be costly.
Attic conversions are a good way to add additional square footage, but can be costly.

Included at this price is a 15’ X 15’ bedroom, 5’ X 7’ bath with shower, 15 ft. dormer, four windows and a closet.  Add-ons may include insulation, vapor barrier for moisture, a possible addition to your HVAC to accommodate another room and an attic fan.  Depending on the finishes you select and your existing space, cost can vary from $30,000 to $39,000.

Will your renovations pay off and give you the best return on your investment?  Just because a project is expensive, doesn’t mean it will pay you back.  Don’t exceed the ceiling for your neighborhood or you won’t get your money back.  Do your homework before planning and budgeting for a home upgrade to ensure it pays you back when that ‘For Sale’ sign goes up in the front yard.

What’s popular now may not be in style in five years.  Consider how long you plan to be in your home before beginning a renovation.  Wise choices mean a better return on your investment.






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Kitchen Upgrades on a Budget

by Donna De Palma


You don’t have to spend a fortune to give your kitchen a fresh look.  The average cost of a kitchen remodel is $25, 000.  If your budget is closer to $2,500, do what experts do and transform your kitchen with these budget-friendly makeover ideas.

First, prepare a realistic budget.  Begin with the one item you can’t do without.  To cut expenses, consider working with the kitchen layout you already have.  Most kitchens are one of four basic design footprints: L-shaped with an island, two triangle, two-wall galley or U-shaped with an island.   Tearing out and replacing cabinets and walls, repositioning a sink, or converting a peninsula into an island, can mean big bucks. Instead, inject some love into what you already have.  Use a little DIY know-how and your dream kitchen will become a reality.  Improve flow, give your kitchen an open feel, and make it look like new by following these simple tips:

Open up the space you already have 

By taking doors off cabinets and replacing them with open shelves, you can create an airy, spacious feel in any room. A kitchen with windows offers an opportunity to incorporate storage in unexpected places.  Place a shelf above a window or above the sink.

Put unused walls to work by installing floating wooden shelves with invisible brackets for a contemporary, open feel.

Refinish existing cabinet doors with paint or strip and stain.  If you reface your cabinet doors, remove them first and be sure to refinish them somewhere other than in your kitchen.

If totally exposed cabinetry sounds daunting, consider replacing some of your cabinet doors with frosted glass.  Or, install a row of small clear or frosted glass cabinets above your existing cabinets to display oversized serving bowls and decorative items.  This simple step updates an entire room.

Install new hardware

Tired or worn knobs and pulls on cabinets date your kitchen. Give your cabinets new life with pulls that complement your design scheme.  If your kitchen is traditional, try decorative pewter pulls or select a sleek stainless steel design for contemporary cabinets. Switching out old knobs and pulls can transform the look of your cabinets.

aunt patty - kitchen collage

Do something simple to add counter space and improve workflow

Getting everyday items off your countertops improves workflow.  Hang a magnetic strip to hold utensils so they’ll be within reach.  Look for a short metal rod outfitted with S hooks to hang spoons, whisks, ladles and spatulas.  Pass on the professional-grade stainless systems which can be too pricey if you’re remodeling on a shoestring.

If it’s limited cabinet space you’re trying to overcome, install a pot rack.  Hang a rod above your stove or above an island to keep your pots and pans within easy reach.

Light up your kitchen

Hang a unique pendant light.  Balance style with function by selecting pendants that provide adequate lighting for kitchen tasks.

Switching out an overhead light fixture is easier than you think.  Don’t forget the value and convenience of under-cabinet lighting.  Light up your work space.  A well-lit kitchen is more inviting and functions better.

Replace your countertops

Countertops, especially in an open concept kitchen, play a prominent role in the overall look of your kitchen.  If you’re replacing countertops, quartz is an affordable alternative to marble, granite or other natural stone.  Quartz comes in a wide variety of colors and is low-maintenance.  Laminates are another cost-effective choice and can make a statement even on a budget especially if your look is contemporary.

Look underfoot at your floor

Replace an old, dingy floor with porcelain tile or laminate flooring. Both are budget-conscious alternatives to hardwoods and natural stone.  If you’re using porcelain tile, choose a grout color as close to the color of your tile as possible for a seamless finish.

Wood laminates simulate hardwoods with wood planks and graphic grain patterns and are much more durable than wood.  They’re also easier to install if you’re doing it yourself.

Another wood-like flooring is vinyl planking which has depth and texture and is soft underfoot.  These new vinyls are not what you’d expect.  The look is high-end and comfort factor rates high for children and pets.

Don’t overlook natural materials like cork and bamboo.  Cork comes in rich colors and adds texture to your floor.  Have a professional install cork or bamboo.  If you choose bamboo, buy the highest grade possible for best results.


Add a backsplash

If your kitchen needs some color, pattern, or shine, install a backsplash behind your sink or stove.  A mosaic-tiled backsplash adds character and texture to a plain wall.  Tiling a backsplash is an easy DIY project.  Tiles come pre-attached to sheets of mesh to ensure accurate spacing.

If you want to add color and surface design to a ho-hum kitchen, try a backsplash.  An even more cost-effective choice is porcelain subway tile available in a variety of colors.

Replace an old faucet

Often called ‘kitchen jewelry,’ a faucet draws attention to your sink just as an old, nondescript faucet gives away the age of your kitchen.  A single-handed faucet in an attention-grabbing design can be found for as little as $80.00.  Shop for finish and shape.  A faucet’s shape should be unique enough to draw the eye yet mimic other shapes in your kitchen.  Match the finish of your faucet to your cabinet pulls.


Decorative brackets add detail to the traditional kitchen.  Either in wood or wrought iron, they impart an understated flourish to solid panels of wood on cabinets.  If your kitchen is traditional, search for brackets that match the style of your cabinets.

For a unique take on the traditional bracket, position brackets below your countertops or under the countertop of an island or peninsula. Repurpose vintage brackets from historic house parts or from old furniture to add charm to your kitchen.


Paint, paint, paint

When in doubt, paint.  With so many color choices available in paints that wipe clean, if your kitchen needs color, paint walls so they come alive.  Find a palette that breathes fresh life into your kitchen project.  If you like crisp white, use it as a trim color for molding instead of on an entire wall.

Paint walls and ceilings in warm and cool neutrals for the perfect backdrop to your new color scheme.  Paint an accent wall in a contrasting color to add variety.

Add a rug

Put down a 4’ X 6’ cotton rug near your sink or add a colorful runner alongside an island or in a walk-through area of your kitchen.  A rug draws the eye down to the floor, introduces pattern and a pop of color.


Add softness with window dressing

Keep it light when covering kitchen windows.  Natural light gives your kitchen a clean, fresh look.  Window treatments are a great way to soften your kitchen’s look.

Roman and roller shades, stationary valances and cornices, accent kitchen windows without obstructing views or reducing natural light.

Another good choice is floor-length curtain panels, for large areas of color and pattern, either over sliding doors or a bay window. A swag, over a single window, can be eye-catching too.

Replace your sink

For a seamless look, install an undermount sink.  Match your sink to the scale of your kitchen.  If your sink is large, you may be giving up precious counter space.  Choose a finish that matches your appliances. If you’d rather make a color statement, Kohler has a line of colored sinks that are great for contemporary kitchens.

Swap out kitchen accessories

Update your small appliances, dish towels and oven mitts.  Play off the design elements of small appliances and other accessories stored out in the open. A fire engine red KitchenAid mixer, retro toaster, stainless steel dish rack or a set of navy blue and white striped kitchen towels bring color and style to your new kitchen.

Think surplus

Some fabricators keep off-cuts on hand that are cut from larger pieces of stone.  These are usually sold for a fraction of the cost of the original material.  Ask your contractor for surplus from other jobs.  Tile or laminate from another job can be half the original cost. Look for close-outs.  Shop online for deals on discontinued items.

Don’t ‘live with’ your outdated kitchen.  If you’re willing to be creative, share some of the work with your contractor, and get a little dirty, your dream kitchen can be yours for under $5,000.  You may be working nights and weekends for a while but your new kitchen will be well worth the extra hours when complete.


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From graphic designer to interior designer: Mary Anne Brugnoni of Brugnoni Design

by Donna De Palma


Interior designer, Mary Anne Brugnoni, owner of Brugnoni Design, went from graphic designer to interior designer after she redesigned the logo and marketing materials for one of her top clients.


“I created a new corporate identity for the accounting firm, DeJoy, Knauf & Blood, ten years ago.  Every time I visited their office, I’d comment on how outdated their lobby was.  The best way I can describe it is shabby 80’s.  The lobby just didn’t reflect what a great company it was.  Finally, one day, my client asked me to redesign the space—and their conference room and employee lounge—to complement the rebranding,” Brugnoni says.


According to the designer, it was the most fun she’d ever had on a project.  She consulted one of her clients at a local college, hired a business coach to come up with a plan to achieve her new goal, then headed back to school.  In 2012, with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and a brand new associate degree in Interior Design, Brugnoni set her sites on kitchen and bath remodeling.  After a two-year stint at a bath and kitchen showroom, she developed enough experience to go solo last year.


Self-employed for more than 25 years, Brugnoni has switched from page layout to room layout and space planning, which she says, is one of her favorite aspects of interior design.  “I’m just working on a larger canvas,” Brugnoni says, and her latest kitchen remodel for an 80’s California contemporary, shows her skill and design savvy.


The goal of this kitchen remodel was to replace outdated white laminate wood-trimmed cabinets, improve flow and update fixtures.  “This kitchen had great bones.  Picture a cedar ceiling with six skylights.  One-third of the ceiling is vaulted,” Brugnoni says.


Existing hardwoods in a warm neutral tone meant this room featured lots of wood. “The challenge was to select wood for new cabinets without feeling as though you were in a houseboat.”  Brugnoni suggested two-toned cabinets with lower cabinets from quartersawn oak to match features in an adjacent family room and creamy white upper cabinets to match the paint color of the kitchen walls.

Brugnoni Kitchen Desk FINAL

She specified different pulls for upper and lower cabinets: dark copper for lower cabinets and a brushed nickel for uppers.  “This kitchen had a ‘Bermuda triangle’ of appliances, three separate pantries, and an existing island that had the wrong dimensions for the room.”  The designer moved the frig into one of the pantries and made the island longer and slimmer to create the impression of a more spacious kitchen.


She specified a slate backsplash in grey tones to keep the look contemporary.   The overall neutral color scheme draws attention to granite selections: Yellow Rain granite tops the island with perimeter countertops finished in White Kashmir granite.


A curved, brushed nickel faucet by Hamat and deep Blanco sink in cream add organic elements to this modern redesign.  Brugnoni says, faucets are “the jewelry of a room,” and should make a bold design statement.


“When selecting hardware or fixtures or any design element, it’s good to ask yourself, do you want a monotone look or are you seeking contrast and the drama that provides.  That will guide your color choices and the materials you choose,” she says.


An existing desk in the kitchen was updated with new cabinetry. The designer repurposed a rectangular stool; its seat reclaimed from a vintage 1940’s sewing machine.


A door separating the kitchen and dining room was replaced with a pocket door, circa 1930’s, from Historic House Parts in Rochester, New York.  “This find didn’t even need refurbishing, just new hardware. It’s one of my client’s favorite design choices,” “she says.


The designer, who’s comfortable making color selections after 25 years as a graphic designer, also likes to prepare drawings for her installers. “It’s always better to have project drawings in front of you, even when laying tile, so there are no questions as to how the finished design should look.”


Brugnoni’s design philosophy is simple.  “I like to ensure that the design of your new kitchen or bath will be timeless.  Trends are just that, trends. Good design is a synergy of aesthetic, function and imagination.”

Brugnoni Linked in 2014 copy

Contact Brugnoni Design at [email protected], or at 585.264.9964.


Karen Waldron of Sensitive Design on “Jazzing up” a townhome on Calm Lake


By Donna De Palma

For Karen Waldron, interior designer for Sensitive Design—a design firm she founded two years ago—learning about what matters to her clients is job one. “I want to get to know them, what’s important to them.  I want to know what they love in life.  I want to hear their stories.”

Waldron believes that good design means more than just having a beautiful home.  “When you walk into someone’s home, you should feel as if you’re surrounded by the things that are most important to that homeowner,” Waldron says.

When Michael DuPre hired Waldron to “jazz up” his 1500 sq. ft. townhome, he just wanted to replace old kitchen cabinets.  DuPre, a jazz enthusiast who loves bold colors and the city of New Orleans, enjoys entertaining but the layout and decor of his home held him back.

Waldron, who believes in minimal impact design, says, “If something is still beautiful, why toss it in a landfill?”  In that spirit, she consulted with DuPre and decided to start small, selecting a light grey tone for walls as a backdrop for bold color.

Waldron saw there was wasted space in the kitchen.  The open floor plan of the first floor lacked continuity.  The foyer needed a refresher.  According to Waldron, a half wall of wooden spindles in the living room had to go.  The lower level lacked personality and her client’s kitchen needed to be reconfigured to accommodate DuPre’s penchant for entertaining.

Waldron suggested her client replace a peninsula in the kitchen with an island to improve flow.  Now guests can walk around the kitchen without bumping into walls.  She selected a colorful granite countertop with notes of amber, rust and cream, streaked with deep wine red.

To create a cohesive look on the first floor and to reflect the colorful and fun-loving personality of her client, she chose a wine red cork floor throughout. “Cork is a sustainable, easy-to-live-with flooring that provides rich color and texture,” Waldron says.

Her client selected a rectangular charcoal grey sink—made from recycled composite— to offset the bright tones of the room.  Amber glass pendant lights hang above the island to create a warm glow.
To bring the outside in—a view of Calm Lake—Waldron combined cool blues and neutrals in a mosaic backsplash that reflects the water theme.  She plays warm tones against cool for a dynamic color statement.

The homeowner chose custom cherry cabinets and the rich, natural look of hardwood—handmade by Harmut Deeg—with burnished copper pulls to add warmth. A burnished copper faucet finishes the look.

For design inspiration, Waldron headed to the basement where she uncovered a Mardi Gras-themed poster.  References to jazz and New Orleans are sprinkled throughout the home.  A wall sculpture of jazz musicians sits above a reconditioned fireplace.

The designer carried the water theme downstairs to the great room by reclaiming fishing lures—now hung from hooks in the hall— and vintage fishing photos.

“I like to reuse and repurpose old things.  Those “gems” in the basement or attic hold personality. They bring a home to life,” she says.

Waldron, a marathon runner who studied art history, insists that when she enters a home, it speaks to her.  “I have a feeling for what a house needs the moment I step inside. Custom design is a process of discovery; discovering what a homeowner envisions, then sharing your vision with them.”

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Dani Polidor of Suite Artistry brings a kitchen to life

by Donna De Palma


Environmental designer, Dani Polidor, owner of Suite Artistry, an interior design firm with offices at Barn Bazaar in Pittsford, prides herself on coming up with out-of-the-box solutions to her clients design needs.

Whether it’s a fire engine red, custom-designed, U-shaped bar like the one in Dani’s office or an artfully-inspired accent wall of lime green cabinets, Polidor’s design statements are tastefully integrated into clean, sophisticated design.

Her European roots shows in the materials, appliances and fixtures she sources.  Born in Germany, growing up in Toronto and here in Pittsford, NY, since 2006, she brings an eclectic sensibility to her unique design skills.

A kitchen redesign she took on recently in one example of the rare yet thoroughly modern materials she selects.  “I sourced pear wood, smoked oak and bird’s eye maple from Aurora, NY, for a contemporary kitchen remodel for active empty nesters in Pittsford who love to entertain in their kitchen,” Polidor says.

Photo Courtesy of Don Cochran
Photo Courtesy of Don Cochran

“A rosewood granite countertop was used for a two-tier 3’ X 10’ island with a sunken 6” X 60” Kohler trough sink.  Just behind the island, a second island of black granite called Blue Butterfly—it features tiny blue dots— adds more work space and another area of interest,” she says.

Polidor selected a two-tier island to conceal glasses and empty bottles when entertaining.  “I’m always thinking about functionality when I’m planning a space,” she says.

Polidor and her team knocked out a wall between the kitchen and dining room to reconfigure the space and concealed a post in the pantry to create the open feel in this upscale redesign.

A travertine porcelain tile floor—24” X 24” tiles installed at a 45 degree angle—gives the space a clean feel.  Warm tones of wood and granite throughout are finished with modern accents: a glass top table, industrial blue dining chairs and contemporary Italian bar stools with formed oak seat and square chrome base.

Polidor installed a sliding glass door to replace a window enhancing natural light in the room.  Elongated LED pendant lights over the island, hidden speakers and a SONOS home automation system were added.

She also remodeled the couple’s powder room and laundry room just off the kitchen to complete her redesign.  The powder room features an oversize pedestal sink and crystal light fixtures for added bling.

Suite Artistry provides custom cabinetry and millwork and is a supplier of Miele appliances.  From dining furniture to custom closets and soft lighting, Polidor helps her clients discover the right combination of style, material and color.

She says, “The rooms in your home should reflect who you are. If you’re looking for fine interiors, or space planning, and want the feel of a boutique interior design studio, I’m here to help.”

“My clients want a home that works but they don’t want to compromise on style.  I say, ‘We can do both.’  It’s about finding creative solutions to space planning, then integrating design that’s functional and timeless.”


Visit her website at www.suiteartistry.com or contact Dani at [email protected]