Despite the economic decline and uncertainty, it's still a great time to remodel a kitchen or bath, interior designer Lyn Peterson told attendees at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (K/BIS), held in Atlanta May 1-3.

According to statistics, Peterson said, renovated kitchens return 75 percent to 100 percent of their total renovation costs, while remodeled baths return 100 percent to 104 percent of theirs. "If you want to sell your house, you have to have an updated kitchen and bath," commented Peterson, author of two books, Real Life Kitchens and Real Life Renovating.

Still, the designer cautioned against going overboard with cool but impractical designs and products that don't make food preparation and cooking easier for everyone in the family. In her view, one-story kitchen additions are best, because the designer can add interesting ceiling details, such as exposed beams and ambient lighting, that can make the space spectacular.

Remodeled kitchens typically are 25 percent to 30 percent bigger than the 10-foot-by-12-foot spaces they replace, so the traditional work triangle doesn't work in the larger spaces, she continued. She urged pros to think outside of the box and place appliances and sinks in areas that will make food preparation and cooking most convenient for the home's chef.

The graduate of Parsons The New School of Design—also president and creative director of interior design firm Motif Designs, in Mount Vernon, N.Y.—encouraged K/BIS attendees to focus on the cabinets, because they are the biggest part of the remodel budget and will last for decades, rather than appliances, which may be replaced in 10 years. Cabinets should be high quality and have a timeless design, she added.

Peterson, who preaches practicality, said wall-mounted faucets over cooktops to fill big pots are impractical. "Water splashes out or people overfill the pots, so the cooktop may begin to rust," if the water is left to pool over time, the designer said.

Meanwhile, she highly recommended warming drawers because they keep food warm and moist up to five hours, whereas warm ovens can dry out a meal in 20 minutes.

And if the client wants a secondary sink in a bar area, make it small and sexy, she said. If the second sink is going to be used for food preparation, it should be large enough to make the cook's work easy.

Peterson's biggest piece of advice was to keep things simple. She gave many examples of designs and products she thinks are impractical based on the way ordinary families live. For example, she said the door on appliance garages (roll-up cabinet doors) don't roll high enough to easily get large appliances inside. "Who needs them?" she asked. Instead, she recommended pros take the door off and create a space like a carport.