Well, the local economy hasn't improved much, especially in the areas of housing values and unemployment. But if history's any indication, it will -- eventually. And so now might be a good time to think about those kitchen improvements you've been waiting to make.
You might consider the kitchen of Las Vegas resident Dominique Doumani as an inspiration. In addition to the requisite two ovens and Subzero refrigerators of today's fantasy kitchens, Doumani has an under-the-counter microwave and built-in steamer and wok stations. The wok, she said, can be swapped out for a pasta pot. She'd originally planned a pizza oven in the same spot, but changed her mind when the estimate skyrocketed. But it was a fortuitous change; she thinks she uses the current setup "10 times" as much as she would a pizza oven.
With all of its innovative features, Doumani said the most remarkable thing about her kitchen may be the way her father, developer Edward Doumani, helped to lay it out, after he was inspired by a kitchen he saw in Southern California.
The architect, she said, designed the kitchen with curved walls, which can make layout somewhat of a challenge.
"Everybody puts an oven on top of an oven," she said. "Mine are separated. To fit everything we wanted into the kitchen, it was painstaking." Her father, she said, "tried to make my space work. Everybody told him he couldn't, and he made it work for my house."
And that's probably the No. 1 thing to consider when planning a new kitchen or rehab project: How will you use the kitchen? How does it fit into your lifestyle? And how can you add character?
Marjorie Poore, a producer who helped design the kitchen for Chef Hubert Keller's PBS show, "Secrets of a Chef," and has been producing cooking shows for 25 years, said Keller's TV kitchen includes personal touches. Poore said the chef collects food-related antiques, and some of them were added to the set during filming.
But while ambiance is important, serious cooks are looking for certain kitchen features, she said, which include plenty of firepower from the stove and ample counter space.
"A lot of times, I've seen chefs roll their eyes when they go into these kitchens," Poore said. "We go into beautiful kitchens to film, and we can tell from the decorations that they're not real cooks -- like when they fill their counter space with little decorations. Sometimes they way overbuild," when the money, she said, might be better spent on cooking lessons.
Extensive counter space, she said, allows for better organization.
"One of the keys to great cooking and great entertaining is organization -- space to organize all the food, have it laid out and still have room to work," she said. "That just makes your cooking and entertaining go that much better.
"What do the inside of your cabinets look like? Do you have great storage space, built-in storage space? Are you able to pull things out easily? It's also great to be able to store lots of things." She noted that with the growth of the small-plates trend, little dishes and cups are being sold to serve them; "Where are you going to store all that?"
Warming drawers are another plus for anybody who does a lot of entertaining, she said, as are pull-out refrigerator drawers and dual dishwashers.
"That's not even a huge expense," she said of the latter. "I would prefer two dishwashers over, say, one step up on the granite."
The set also has an industrial-style faucet, capable of a variety of functions.
"We always have inquiries from the viewers," said Alec Fatalevich, executive producer. "We always pick out appliances according to the trends. A trend now is to incorporate professional items into home kitchens."
Marc Bartolomeo, host of the DIY Network's "Kitchen Impossible," agreed.
"People are doing the spring-action (faucets) you generally find in commercial kitchens," he said. "Two of my friends have restaurants here in New York, and their kitchens have those."
Bartolomeo said long-arching and high-reaching gooseneck and pull-out faucets are particularly useful.
"Those are always great," he said, "especially if you have a two- or three-basin sink. The kitchen always looks like an army's been through it. Those allow for washing or scrubbing down the sink area."
Some innovations are simple but extremely useful, he said, such as magnetic knife holders that attach to a backsplash and take up less room than a knife block.
"Your knives are visible, and you're saving counterspace," he said.
Bartolomeo said built-in steamers are increasingly popular, and those he generally installs are built into the countertop. But John Wesley, showroom manager for Ferguson in Las Vegas (where a sculpture reading "Dream" rests on a kitchen display counter) also showed one by Miele that has a vertical orientation. He said they've used it to prepare a full dinner for eight. It retails for about $3,500.
Also popular, he said, is a Miele built-in coffee system that stores and grinds beans, makes coffee and can produce cappuccinos, macchiatos and the like. It's in the $3,000 range.
Energy efficiency is a big concern among consumers (to which manufacturers are responding), as is food preservation, Segler said. Subzero/Wolf features a refrigerator with built-in air-purification system and built-in laminated cards that tell the owner how and where to store the food for optimal preservation.
iPod-like technology is spreading to the kitchen, too. Segler demonstrated a Jenn-Air double oven with an iPod-esque display that uses touch-screen technology to direct baking and roasting. The display asks questions such as what you're cooking, what kind of pan you're cooking it in, degree of doneness when it applies (the picture even changes with amount of rareness) and starts, sets itself and stops to meet those requirements.
"It takes all the guesswork out of it," Segler said.
Even sinks are getting more thought, he said, with Kohler lowering the divider in a two-compartment sink so overflowing water would go from one to the other instead of onto the floor. Others have built-ins such as cutting boards and stemware-drying racks.
A new Kohler stand-alone island has a cast-iron top with sleek, stylized sink area and storage below. It measures about 39 by 63 inches and retails for about $3,500.
Consumers are paying more attention to lighting styles, Segler said, and energy-efficient LED and halogen systems, especially in track lighting, are popular.
Segler agreed that faucets are incorporating more technology, such as Delta's touch-activated model that can reduce cross-contamination, and others with magnets built into the sprayer head so it'll pop back into the faucet. He said pot fillers -- a built-in faucet at the rear of the stove, which can be used to fill large pots -- aren't as popular here as they were a few years ago, while Bartolomeo said they're still in high demand nationwide.
And Bartolomeo said he's noticed one definite trend: People are doing more research about potential features for their kitchens.
"There's so many products and innovations out there these days," he said. "It's mind-blowing. The decision-making process gets really overwhelming."
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.