Raising Your Home's IQ

Stay Open-Minded
If you prefer to cook (and clean dishes) behind closed doors, you're in the minority: Open kitchens are still popular as hubs for entertaining and family togetherness. "People want informality and rooms that are multipurpose, " says Elizabeth Roberts, an architect in Brooklyn. You're prepping food in the kitchen, and the kids are doing homework at the dining table." Consider opening your space if you can. 

Spend Selectively
Splurge on the one or two items that matter most to you, and opt for tried-and-true basics elsewhere. In the kitchen, a "can't go wrong combination" of white subway tile and IKEA cabinets will keep costs under control, says Julie Carlson, editor-in-chief of the home design site Remodelista. (big box stores, like Home Depot, are also worth perusing.) Then, if you're an avid cook, you can buy the best range you can afford.  

Be a Snob About Your Sink
Invest in high-quality, classic faucets, suggests Carlson. "There's nothing more annoying than a leaky or temperamental one. And knockoffs of higher-end brands are made with plastic components. You want solid metal - we like ones from Chicago Faucets." 

Select Countertops With Care
They should be strong, heat-resistant, and nearly non-porous. Marble, to the laments of every aesthete, comes up short. But there are lots of gorgeous choices that meet these criteria. Natural stones include granite, soapstone, and quartzite (just as lovely as marble). For man-made, try composites like Caesarstone or Corian, or check out the new ceramic slabs - they're hugely durable and come in lots of shades.