Ask the Architect

Time to replace the kitchen


Q. We are replacing our kitchen after living in our house for 37 years. It seems that there’s a lot to choose from, and we’ve been getting different opinions, including suggestions to take a wall down and have an island and a more open first floor. How do we know if the wall is structural, and whether we need a permit for this? Who would know?

A. Yes, you need a permit, because you’re changing the structure and configuration of your first floor. Although the wall you take down may be a bearing wall, something that should be examined by an architect or engineer, consider that the wall weighs a lot and you’ll be altering the load, even if you’re taking it away, because the island has a differently load. Weight distribution is much more important than most people understand until movement causes cracking to appear.
There are many ideas about kitchens, and depending on where you go, there are different levels of training as well. Some places emphasize computer configurations based on great software, and others have many grades of cabinets, from the thin “thermofoil” finishes — vinyl that’s heat-molded around low-density fiberboard doors — to high-end all-wood, custom-fitted in several parts that are jointed using splines and dovetails, woodworking techniques meant to help hold parts together or allow them to move for natural expansion and contraction, since there are many humidity and temperature changes in a cooking area.
Low-density fiberboard can swell at cabinet door edges and in the toe-kick area. Once this happens, it has to be replaced or lived with, and usually looks unsightly. Heavier laminates over high-density fiberboard are in the middle of the cost spectrum, and generally perform better over many years without cracking and separating.
Some things to pass on are farm-style sinks that protrude, since they contribute to more water problems with surrounding cabinets, even though they look great. Under-mount sinks are sealed better, have hidden edges and drain water back into the sink, whereas farm sinks are raised above the counter and drain onto the adjacent cabinets and counters. Make sure the refrigerator isn’t the end unit next to a wall, or that there is a filler piece or no wall, since the refrigerator door usually swings past the side of the refrigerator and won’t open fully with a wall next to it. Some refrigerators need 6 to 10 inches of side space.

I’ve always wondered why someone needs a “pot-filler” faucet above their cooking surface, since the pot has to be carried to the sink to drain afterward anyway. Save the money for a gym membership, so you can more easily lift those heavy pots and carry them to and from the sink.
Experience has taught me that natural stone isn’t a better choice than engineered quartz. Stone needs cleaning and applied sealing, whereas quartz is much more durable and carefree and has many uniform choices of the stone look. Good luck!

© 2022 Monte Leeper.  Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.