Advice for Renovating Your Home

Posted May 9, 2018 8:20 p.m. EDT

Q: My kitchen has strong natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls. As a result, my maple cabinets have turned an unappealing shiny orange-gold color. I’m considering having them painted the same (softer) color as my kitchen walls to reduce glare and promote a monochromatic look. Thoughts and/or advice?

A: It makes perfect sense to match the color of the adjacent surfaces, but you’ll want to seal the current finish with a primer formulated to kill stains so you never see yellow again. I like Kilz 2 Latex or B-I-N Synthetic Shellac because they are water-based and thus easier to work with. Many others swear by old-school shellac-based primers, which both Kilz and B-I-N also offer. Obviously the cabinets should be sanded first so the primer adheres well. For the finish paint, acrylic is less likely to yellow in a sunny location than oil-based (or alkyd) enamels. Lastly you could consider applying film to your windows to reduce ultraviolet radiation, which is at the root of your problem.

Q: I have a 1970s home with nice solid wood cabinetry but it’s dark and needs some tweaking to be more functional. This could be solved with new upper cabinets only. Is it OK to have cabinets that don’t match? I plan to retire and move in about 10 years, and I’m thinking of future resale value.

A: Mixing cabinet styles and colors has been a popular way to add interest for a long time now. It’s difficult to say what would work best without knowing more about your kitchen, but I’ve seen nice combinations of, say, dark base cabinets with lighter uppers, or a mixture of stained and painted finishes, or even steel and glass uppers with solid wood cabinets below counter.

Beyond the style question, you should consider how the cabinets are used. Open upper shelves look great but require you to keep your china and glassware as orderly as the objects in a Morandi painting. Similarly glass-front cabinets, while less demanding, are probably not suitable for large kegs of protein supplement or microwave popcorn. For most of us mortals, solid fronts on regular cabinets prove most livable in the long run.

Also keep in mind that 10 years is the aesthetic and functional life span of a lot of kitchens. I would focus on what you like more than what will please an imaginary buyer in a decade. That person will very possibly update whatever you put in place now.

Q: I was all set to install solar panels on the roof of my home. I’m committed to the environment and renewable energy, and having done the math I see financial advantages. But I was surprised to hear that solar panels are a turnoff to prospective homebuyers who think they’re ugly. Should I go ahead with it anyway?

A: Given the rapid changes in solar technology I wouldn’t bank on panels lending value to your house in resale, unless you’re planning to sell very soon. And if that’s the case, skip them; it usually takes time to recoup the cost.

You’ve likely considered these other questions, but here they are anyway: Does your roof get enough sunlight? Is your current roof new enough to endure for the life of the panels? Will the roof warranty be affected by installing them? Does the installation affect your real estate taxes? Does your area permit net metering? These factors not only determine the cost-effectiveness of the project but also the value of panels to any prospective buyer.

You can also find alternatives that visually appeal to you more, but they come at a price.

For instance, Tesla is starting to install its solar tile roof system in a California test market at a cost of about $22 per square foot, and they look like regular tar shingles. Assuming that a minimum of a third of the roof area is covered, this gets pretty pricey, and the system is just now being implemented so it is difficult to know when you would be able to purchase it.

If you have room on your property, you could also think about installing ground-mounted solar panels remotely from your house. These allow for precise angling to get the most sun, and are free of obstacles like chimneys, dormers or other roof projections. Fixed ground panels should be comparable in price to roof-mounted systems.

Q: I’m looking for a living room sofa and thinking leather because of the comfort and durability. The problem is: I’m vegan. Is there a reasonably priced substitute material that would give me the same advantages?

A: If you’re looking to purchase something already upholstered in synthetic leather, you will likely be disappointed. There is little out there aside from recliner-style vinyl sofas. However, if you’re open to performance or outdoor fabrics, your options multiply. West Elm’s Andes sofa is among the styles offered in faux suede and a variety of performance textiles. Ballard Designs has many sofas, including the Graham Slipcover and Frame, that are custom made in more than 350 fabrics, with performance and outdoor options. CB2 sells its Brava sofa in Bella microfiber. All of these possibilities will be comfortable and durable, and you can order samples of any fabrics before taking the plunge.

Q: My bathroom needs a redo, but I’m bored to death of subway tile. Where should I go to find something more interesting at a reasonable price?

A: It is possible to attack this in a few ways. Many tile showrooms have a discounted section on their websites for overstock. Clé Tile in California, for instance, offers patterned and solid concrete tile for as little as $8.75 per square foot in the Second Shelf section of its site. Heavily discounted Waterworks porcelain and stone ceramic mosaics are available at Luxury Bath for Less for as little at $12.50 per square foot. And through June 1, Mosaic House in New York is selling leftover Moroccan Zellige and concrete tile at up to 70 percent off. The downside is that you may not be able to order samples and will have to view the tile in person. Also consider asking any local tile supplier about discounted tile since it is not uncommon for orders to be canceled.

Another option is to shop discount stores and websites. Lowe’s Della Torre Cementina is a concrete Moroccan-style tile with a traditional florid pattern in black and white for just 82 cents per tile. Home Depot has a large selection of concrete tile ranging from $4.83 to $9.98 per tile and penny mosaic starting at $4.51 per square foot. The great advantage here is that you can go to these stores and look at the actual tiles, or purchase a minimal quantity online as a sample.

Finally, subway tile doesn’t have to be boring. Rather than install it in the traditional horizontal running bond pattern, you can use the same shape to create a vertical running bond, herringbone or vertically stacked patterns.

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This column is part of a series for the Design special section of The New York Times. Readers are invited to send questions to