He pointed out another good reason to go with laminate countertops - his company will be doing the installation, and if I go with laminate they'll handle that too, while solid surface and granite are handled by other contractors. Having the same people coordinating all of the installation is a huge plus. When I did the kitchen in the house I lived without a kitchen counter for weeks, and then had to wait again for them to come out to anchor the new dishwasher, because the dishwasher installer was not allowed to drill into granite. The scale is definitely tipping to the laminate side. And it looks like this.
He also had some good suggestions for cabinets that would create angles and dimensions in the room, instead of just flat cabinets against the wall. Bump out the cabinet over the fridge, put a nice big lazy susan cabinet in the corner, and of course I'm already hellbent on my big pantry cabinet. The cabinets over the sink will be larger, the lighting will be much better, etc.
So, a plan is coming together. Cabinets will go in first, followed by tearing up the whole place for flooring, followed by finishing touches like getting rid of the 80s light fixtures, wallpaper, etc. etc. Some of that I can do myself, but the stuff involving electricity and 16 foot ceilings, I ain't touching.
If I'm lucky, Phase One of the makeover will be done by Labor Day Weekend.