The Kitchen Designer

Thanks for stopping by! I'm Susan Serra, certified kitchen designer, and my mission is to take kitchen design style, function and analysis to a higher level. Here's why the kitchen has the most honored place in the home - all five senses reside in the kitchen.  Best...Susan  Contact: susan@susanserraassociates.com

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The Kitchen Installer - Your Everything

kitchen installation 1You know from time to time I delve into those touchy subjects. After all, as I've said before, you simply cannot do a complete kitchen remodel without being stressed about something. So it is my duty to provide those stressful issues to my readers! Better reading about them than living them. Hopefully, I can help channel some stress into awareness and information. What is to follow are remodeling scenarios at their most stressful.

You've been through the whole process, the contractors, their tradespeople, the inconvenience, change orders, delays. You're tired and you've had it. Stop right here. Is this typical at this stage to feel this way? That's a trick question. The larger the renovation, the more impatient people become later on, understandably. But, of course, one can never generalize, and people are as different as their kitchens!

All is prepared in the kitchen for the installation. The cabinetry is delivered, and a brand, new, shiny source of stress is beginning. Here is a huge investment in cabinetry that will change your quality of life. You are ready for the perfect installation.

We are assuming the kitchen installer is a sub contractor from the kitchen designer. In my world, I have already had a lengthy relationship with my clients designing his/her/their kitchen, but they have not met my installer.  

Here are some tips to know about kitchen installers.

  • There are basically two types of kitchen installers. The first type of installer runs his own business, the second type is an employee of a kitchen installation company. There are pros and cons of each type, and I use each type for different reasons.
  • Installers, like you and I, are capable of making misjudgments and mistakes. It does not mean they are unqualified or less professional, etc. Mistakes must be made, as we are humans. With a competent designer in a supervisory role, and good installers, mistakes or misjudgements are minimized or nonexistent. But, of course, they can happen. More about mistakes another time. When I am talking about mistakes, I'm talking about small mistakes that are easily correctable. Big mistakes qualify as a big problem!
  • kitchen installation 2An installer's appearance is no indication of skill level. I've used one installer with tattoos over most of the exposed parts of his body, for years, and who wears somewhat worn clothes. The skill level has been at the very top compared to any installer I've ever used. His demeanor is professional.  Appearance IS zero indication of intelligence, creativity, and problem solving ability. I've also used, and use, an installer who is missing a few front teeth. The most honorable, pleasant, all around fantastic installer, intelligent, with a skill level on par or above the tattoo guy noted above. And, I use installers who happen to be more well dressed as well. Different installers for different projects for different reasons.
  • Negative opinions or assumptions by the homeowner and the contractor about the installer's work can be extremely damaging to the project, causing an unnecessary (and potentially messy) loss of confidence in the designer and/or installer. Sometimes another tradesperson or contractor will do things a different way and point out where the installer is "wrong."  When the client is having an expensive product being installed, such as cabinetry, the clients are very vulnerable to any and all opinions, good or bad, right or wrong. It is a stressful time.
  • To further this point, again, as noted, the client is often in a vulnerable state at the time of the cabinet installation. An outspoken and opinionated contractor, who has been on your project for months, criticizing a designer and/or a cabinet installer to the client, (whether done ever so softly, or loudly) the installer having been just introduced to the jobsite, can be highly influential to the client. Many clients, in this state, having come so far, now fear, or do not even consider, disagreeing with their contractor, sometimes thinking that their project will be adversely affected going forward if they disagree (a form of Stockholm Syndrome?) This is a particularly common dynamic, a fear to disagree with one's contractor. What to do? Beware of this dynamic, hear the contractor, keep an open mind, and address any situation with your designer in a positive and productive way. See "mistakes" above. A Kitchen being a high priced item, and being installed last as part of a long project, has much stress and expectations attached to it during this time. Do not underestimate the personality dynamics which are a part of every project in one way or another, and how they can affect the client too.
  • The advice above assumes that your designer is highly responsive, professional, and listens to your concerns with respect.
  • kitchen installationInstallers and designers sometimes disagree...sometimes in a heated way. An argument means that both parties care about your project. For me, it is a rare occurance. Plain speaking is most common, back and forth conversation with the installer but occasionally a point needs to be made in another way. Sometimes I will follow an installer's advice, sometimes I insist that my direction be followed. It is a team effort for your behalf.
  • Do not misjudge a seemingly apathetic outward appearance with, well, apathy. Do not misjudge the use of humor with apathy. Installers and designers have dealt with the stress of installing cabinetry for years and in most cases can put emotions aside very easily in an effort to be professional and find good solutions to installation situations which may arise.
  • Treat the cabinet installer with respect and you will get the best job out of him. Your demeanor toward him truly makes a difference. I cannot overstate this. He wants to work in a pleasant atmosphere. He wants an environment where he can take pride in his work. Taking pride in his work means you get the best installation you can for this product you will be using for many years. Be positive and respectful and your installer will work harder and better.
  • Keep a pad and pen near the kitchen and when the installer leaves, observe what was done that day and write down any questions or concerns you may have. Bring them up to your designer.
  • You have the right to expect that your project will be worked on every day until it is completed, perhaps with a gap while the countertop is being fabricated if all other work has been done. Sometimes additional parts need to be ordered, and the installer will return when they come in.


As we say in my business, it is not the problem, it's how it's addressed that is important. This entry morphed just a bit into problem areas with installations, and that will also be covered in a big way in later entries.

Hang in there it will all be over soon!! 

So, when DO you know you have a problem with an installer? What are the signs? Find out soon!


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Reader Comments (7)

Having been in the trenches as a interior designer, this post needs to be read by each and every homeowner. Well said, well done!

May 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMichele Lessirard

I agree, great points!. The worst part of working with several different tradespeople is that everyone points the finger of blame at the other guy and the homeowner is left not knowing who's right. And sometimes, they all are, they're just looking at it from their own perspectives!

Wow, two people actually got through this lengthy piece? That's great!

I definitely hesitated discussing this issue, which I believe is a phenomenon, at least to the kitchen industry, given the length of time a kitchen takes to be created and ordered, and the unique timing in the project when it is installed. But, Linda, you said it all in one sentence. I took 9 paragraphs! (lost count).

It was written really to create awareness of the dynamics that occur on a project, and the client is right in the middle of those dynamics too, like it or not, so to be aware, is a good thing.

Anyone can screw up at anytime. Some need to make an effort to place blame to make themselves look good or for other reasons, and, others do not and are supportive and team players.

I had a recent project where my installer made a couple of mistakes. One of them, I should have caught, actually, should have directed it be done a certain way, and it slipped by me. These were easily correctable errors with no consequence. They were corrected. The client never forgave me after that. He just didn't.

I strongly suspect that the contractor whispered not so sweet things in the client's ear to make himself look good. The interesting fact was that the contractor, who had done work for these people before, screwed up in a few areas, to the point where the ceiling was so out of level (which was supposed to be leveled as it was being redone) that the client had to hire a separate skim coating person to level the ceiling so the cabinets would look right against the ceiling. The floor was also supposed to be leveled, and that was off more than it should have been. Somehow these major issues were fine and mine were unforgivable. I have a few ideas why. But, it's so unnecessary.

This blog WILL deal with difficult remodeling issues. I always try to tell my clients the "I won't walk you down a rosy path speech".

And, after all my years, I find it hard to get over something like this. I'm referring to situations where designers, such as myself, truly care about their projects, are responsive to anything and everything, and are as professional as they can be, meaning having a real ability to deal with conflict in a mature and professional way. I pride myself on that, and in some cases it doesn't matter a whit. That's a definition of frustration. You can't win for losing sometimes!!

And, don't get me wrong. I have come in contact with many wonderful contractors, after all I need to refer them. A contractor who is a team player is a joy! But, that said, lessons can be learned by discussing things like this, and it can go the other way around too with bad kitchen people, but that's not the topic now. I welcome the feedback.

Ahhh....I feel better now. :-)

May 1, 2007 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Thank you so much for this blog! We are shooting to have our kitchen remodeled in the Fall and I am finding your entries invaluable. I am already trying to find the right company/designer. I am narrowing down the designers/companies fast as most of them want to start sooner than later and I feel I need to take my time seeing as I am in the kitchen a lot and I want to mull over the design. Is that unacceptable? because some of these companies are making me feel this way. Anyhow, I just wanted to de-lurk and say what a great blog this is, I know I will continue to read it even after the remodel.

May 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Hi Ashley....thanks for delurking!

As you see there is a lot involved in the entirety of the kitchen design process, and much more will be covered in the future.

From my way of thinking, it's never to early to hire a designer. I don't know what your criteria is, and I have yet to really put together something on this blog, but take a look at an faq on my own website "What do I Look for in a Designer", you'll have to scroll down until you see the tan lettering in the question. The answer is somewhat elaborate, and you may not need all of that criteria I talk about, but it's a good guideline nonetheless.

You should not feel pressure. Keep looking until you find the right person. Keep me in the loop.


May 1, 2007 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Ashley - I'll second Susan. As an interior designer, I've had many clients who've been mulling the decision over for a long time before they call me in. But by that point, they are ready for immediate service and work, and can get disappointed when they are wait listed. Any reputable designer (kitchen or otherwise) should be patient with your time frames and understand you are in the "mulling over" period. But, they are also invaluable to help you think about your plans. I always recommend that the wait is about finances (as in, I'm not ready to buy right now), but the thinking period should be in conjunction with a designer (if you plan on going that route) with whom you feel comfortable. Don't feel pressured and only work with someone you enjoy spending time with (because you will be spending time with them!). Good luck!

"So, when DO you know you have a problem with an installer? What are the signs? Find out soon!"

...looking forward to that one!

November 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterNathan

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