What Will A Designer Do For Me?
Working with a professional can take a lot of the uncertainty and stress out of the process of planning and building a new kitchen. Consider your designer a partner who can envision (and prepare for) possibilities that won't occur to you and manage the technical details. If the countless door style, finish, and hardware choices seem overwhelming, imagine how the load increases when you add measurements, ordering and installation into the picture.
There are thousands of kitchen design specialists available to help direct your planning process, make stylish, cost-effective decisions, and avoid pricey mistakes. Kitchen designers may operate from a showroom with multiple products and vignettes or have an office with a few samples and lots of catalogs. Some have focused exclusively on kitchens (probably baths, too) throughout their careers, while others have been trained more broadly as interior designers or project managers.
Some have also received the designation of Certified Kitchen Designer from the National Kitchen and Bath Association. While it’s not mandatory for designing kitchens, the CKD designation requires the passing of a certification exam and a minimum of seven years full-time professional experience designing kitchens or a combination of education and experience.
Why should I work with a kitchen designer?
A designer takes the guesswork out of the design process without taking you out of the equation. The designer will keep you from getting bogged down in details that can throw your planning off track. You’ll be free to dream, while the designer thinks through all the measurements, material coordination, and construction logistics.
When it comes to cabinetry, an incorrect measurement as nominal as 1/2" can cause major problems—and a major gap. A designer is not only trained to professionally execute the technical aspects, but has practical experience that may be outside your sphere—for instance, knowing that the walls in vintage homes are often slanted, a crucial detail if you want your cabinetry to lay flush to the wall.
You might want a food pantry, for example, but you can’t quite figure out where it would fit so you decide to go without it. A designer, based on her experience with similar kitchens and her specialized training, might know exactly how to create a specialized cabinet, or might be aware of a manufacturer that fabricates extra narrow pullout models.
What process should I expect a designer to follow?
When you work with a kitchen designer, you don’t have to give up control of your plans or turn all the remodeling work over to other craftsmen. Think of yourself as the movie producer and of the kitchen designer as the movie director. You can be intimately involved in every detail of the project and even do some of the hands-on work. But when you do need someone to handle logistics, whether it’s ordering products or coordinating contractors’ schedules, the designer can step in.
A designer will typically:
- Visit your home to take measurements.
- Create a design and draft perspectives, elevations, and a floor plan.
- Develop a detailed budget and schedule.
- Order products and materials.
- Coordinate work with construction, painting, and other contractors.
- Oversee the installation and placement of the cabinets and other design elements.
Be sure to clarify up front who will be responsible for the contractors. Some design firms will coordinate the contractors’ work only after you have selected and come to separate agreements with each. The design firm may make recommendations for which contractors you should use, but it may not have its own employees who perform these jobs.
How Do I Find And Choose A Designer?
You can start with the Kitchens.com Professional Locator. It’s a state-by-state listing of independent kitchen and bath design firms. You can visit the Web sites of firms near you to find out more about their services. Other good options include contacting the National Kitchen and Bath Association for a list of designers in your area or asking friends for recommendations. It may seem like a lot of effort, but when you consider the investment you’re making, doing it right the first time is a priority.
To first meet with a designer, you can either schedule an appointment or just drop by a showroom. In your initial consultation, the designer will gauge how seriously you want a new kitchen and how interested you are in his or her firm. The designer will also want to get a sense of the scope of the project you have planned, what styles and products you prefer, and how much you want to spend.
Ultimately, it's a bit like dating: You and the designer must be a good fit. If you don't trust the person you would be working with or if you feel the designer is condescending or doesn't share your vision, look somewhere else. In addition, not every designer wants to take on every project—if you're just looking for a countertop or flooring, for example, the designer probably will refer you to a specialty showroom or contractor.
The designer will ask some or all of the following questions:
- Where did you hear about us? Have you looked anywhere else?
- Have you designed/built/remodeled a kitchen before?
- Is your new kitchen part of a new construction project or is it a remodeling job?
- What does your kitchen look like now? What do you like and dislike about it?
- Do you have a sketched layout with measurements or an architectural blueprint of your existing or planned kitchen?
- What space and amenities do you need/want that you don't currently have?
- What general style do you like—contemporary, traditional, or eclectic? What is the style of your home?
- What are some of the styles and products that you like, either in the showroom or that you’ve seen on the Internet, in publications, or elsewhere?
- Do you have an idea of how much you want to spend?
- When do you want the new kitchen to be ready?
You should ask:
- How long have you been in business?
- What kind of training do your designers have?
- What is your approach to the design process?
- Can I see pictures of kitchens you have designed? Better yet, actual kitchens?
- Can you provide me with references—names and contact information of prior clients?
- Which manufacturers do you represent?
- Can you do special orders? If you find a cabinet in a magazine or even another showroom that you have to have, would the firm be willing to work with you to coordinate that element with the others you select from its offerings?
- Do you specialize in any particular style, product, or material?
- How long is your project backlog—in other words, can we start working on my project now or will I have to get in line?
- What are your payment options? Do you offer financing? What is the payment schedule you expect?
How Much Do Designers Charge?
The designer may charge a fee of $50 to $150 per hour or a retainer of $300 to $5,000 per job. Often the designer’s payment will be taken off the total cost of the job if you end up buying your new kitchen from him or her.
According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, most firms require a down payment of 50 percent of the total cost of the job when you sign a contract. They expect another 40 percent payment when the cabinets are delivered and the balance when the job is completed. The total cost of the job will largely depend on the type of materials you select.
Finding A General Contractor
Asking trusted friends and family members for names of contractors they've hired is always a great way to go. If you've already hired a designer or architect, ask that individual for recommendations, too.
Professional organizations such as the National Kitchen & Bath Association, the National Association of Home Builders or the National Association of the Remodeling Industry can provide you with a list of local members.
If there's a job going on in your neighborhood, and you like the looks of the work, look for the company's job sign or ask for a name.
The Kitchens.com Professional Locator also includes remodeling contractors as well as kitchen and bath designers, interior designers, cabinet refacers, and specialty contractors and suppliers.
Questions to Ask Potential Contractors
Once you have the names of some companies, you'll want to do an initial screening to weed out unlikely candidates. Ask the following questions:
- How long have you been in business?
- Do you have proof of general liability and worker's comp insurance? What about proof of licensing?
- Do you offer design services? If not, how do you work with designers or architects?
- What type of jobs does your company usually do?
- Are your workers employees or subcontractors?
- May I have a list of customer references?
- What suppliers do you use? Do you have a showroom?
- Do you have a brochure, Web site or other background material?
- How can I contact you for follow-up questions or to set up an appointment?
Checking on licensing, insurance and references is essential. None of the other questions, however, has a “right” answer. What matters most is whether the contractor has experience doing jobs like yours and if the company’s approach matches the one you’d like to take.
Ask the contractor for copies of all relevant documents so you can call the appropriate agency as a reference.
- Use the Better Business Bureau's online tool (search.bbb.org) to find out how many claims were made against the company within the last three years and how they were resolved.
- Find out if a contractor is insured against claims covering worker’s compensation, property damage, and personal liability.
- Check with state, county, or city housing authorities to be sure that a contractor meets all area licensing and bonding requirements. (Licensing requirements differ drastically across the country.)
The Better Business Bureau recommends that you follow this checklist before hiring a remodeling contractor:
- Plan your project from start to finish.
- Be specific in explaining exactly what you want.
- Approve any architectural plans that are involved before the contract work begins.
- Compare costs before making a financial commitment.
- Discuss bids in detail with each contractor.
- Ask the contractor for local references and find out if he or she is a member of a professional remodelers association.
Remodeled Home Tours
Sevvonco Inc. (www.sevvonco.com) of Palatine, Ill.,
designed and built this kitchen, one of seven entries
in the 2006 Remodel Chicagoland tour.
Checking contractor references over the phone is easy enough, but getting an up-close look at completed remodeling jobs can be a challenge. No matter how pleased with the work, most homeowners don’t extend a standing invitation for strangers to come by and see it.
Fortunately, some are willing to offer a weekend invitation. Though not as common as tours of new homes, scattered-site remodel tours open to the public are becoming more popular. Held during spring, summer and fall, the remodel tours last from one to three days and showcase from four to more than 90 projects. Tickets typically cost about $10 or $15; part of the proceeds sometimes goes to charity.
Keep in mind that most of the featured projects will be expensive, high-end remodels. If all you need is a new sink, this is not the way to find a contractor.
Tips Before the Tour
In addition to a list of addresses, the more established tours offer descriptions and/or pictures of each project to help you decide which ones to visit.
- If no map is provided, take the time to map out the sites before leaving home.
- No eating, drinking or smoking will be allowed inside the homes. Leave pets behind, too.
- Be prepared to take off your shoes or wear the provided disposable booties at each home.
- If possible, find a sitter for the kids.. The homes may not be accessible to strollers or child-proofed.
Clues to Quality
If you’re actively looking for a contractor, take some time to inspect the quality of the products and of the work. Don’t let yourself be dazzled by all the new stuff: look for the details that can be easily overlooked at first glance but affect functionality and long-term satisfaction.
- Sealing around windows, doors, counters and fixtures
- Alignment of tile on backsplashes and floors
- Location of countertop seams
- Convenient outlet placement
- Transitions between the kitchen and other rooms: treatment of walls, floors, ceilings
- Plumb, square walls – except in old homes, which may require a little fudging to cope with settling