Many inexpensive knives can't be meaningfully sharpened to a fine sharp edge because the steel is too coarse and too tough. However, they can be made to cut more efficiently -- somewhat saw like -- using the sort of inexpensive, carbide sharpener that people buy to keep in their tackle boxes. Is that what you want to do?
An Artifex is a no BS knife made by Richmond Knives (Mark Richmond of CKtG). It's made here in the USA by Lamson from an excellent alloy, AEB-L, hardened to its sweet spot. The knife takes an excellent edge and holds it a long time. The handle is plain but comfortable. It has no bolster. The knife and edge geometry are both extremely good. In terms of form/function it's very much like a Forschner; and even though it costs almost twice as much it's at least as good as a Forschner for value/price -- maybe a better value because it's a much better knife.
While you don't want to store any good knife loose in a drawer, there are other options besides a block or strip; for instance in-drawer knife holders, blade covers, and sayas. By way of example, my western handled knives are in an in-drawer block, my Japanese handled knives are in sayas in another drawer. Just protect your knives and your hands -- the method doesn't matter.
I'm not sure where I'd put it as an investment priority for someone putting together a good knife kit on a limited budget. But a wood board is very important. End-grain wood is the best, long grain a close second.
Shun and Global knives seemed revolutionary when they first entered the US market, but their time has passed. You can do as good or better for the less money, and much better for the same money.
Wusthof and the other German makers manufacture some very good knives. However, the trend is away from that style of knife, and for very good reasons. If you want to talk about the knives and/or the reasons, I'm open; but it sounds like you're already beyond that point.
Identifying how far up the quality ladder you want to climb is as important as identifying your real budget. There are a lot of good performer, bargain knives, and a lot of more expensive, excellent performers which are good value because they're such excellent performers. The price range runs from just under $100, to perhaps a bit north of $300. After that, you're paying for appearance or prestige. I can't tell you where on the ladder you want to find yourself, no one can. The best you can get from someone else is enough information about a few knives at a few rungs to make a good decision.
Don't undervalue cosmetics, fit and finish and other "aesthetic considerations."
Wood is not more sanitary than plastic. There was a study done about twenty years ago which showed that wood was "self-sterilizing," but it's a bad study. If cleaned appropriately, they're the same. Otherwise, they're the same.
Bamboo is not wood, it's grass. Bamboo is hard and springy. Because the shaved sections of bamboo used to make a board are so narrow the board surface is almost as much glue as bamboo. The glue is hard and stable. Bamboo tends to ding knives out of true, and may have some tendency to chip knives which are themselves very hard and brittle. But we're not talking about those knives. Bamboo boards are inexpensive, and while you don't want to use one as your primary cutting board they have a place in a well-stocked home. I'd rate them about the same as "composition" and Sani-Tuff, and better than any plastic.
We can discuss tri-stones if you like, but tri-stones are about oil stones, and the knives you're looking at are much better sharpened on water stones.
A Bester 1200 is a medium/coarse stone. I've been using one for a few years and -- although it's not perfect -- it's a very good stone. A "one stone" solution is adequate, but if you're going to sharpen on bench stones I suggest starting with at least two stones. A 1200# edge is toothy and somewhat fragile. You want to finish a chef's knife made from a decent alloy with a minimum "medium" stone. That can be #2000 - #5000, depending on how the maker rates the stones. For instance, a Gesshin #2000 will sharpen as fine as a Norton #4000. A very typical high quality/high value pair is the Bester 1200 and Suehiro Rika. I also like the Naniwa SS 1000 and 3000 10mm stones as a good starter set.
Bench stones are great, but there are other options. If you can afford one think about an Edge Pro system. You might also want to explore the possibility of something like a MinoSharp Plus3 or a Chef's Choice Model 316 (electric sharpener).
Miss Meg seems very nice and very sincere. She also seems to be someone who has accepted using very dull knives without quite realizing that they're very dull.
Hope this helps,
Edited by boar_d_laze - 11/9/12 at 10:25am