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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A Dream Kitchen?

I started reading the New York Times' blog, Dream Home Diaries, late last spring.

Let me say that I truly wish Alison and Paul, the homeowners who built a home in Anna Maria Island, Florida, the very best. I hope they love their kitchen, that it works well for them, and I wish them all good things in connection with their home.

I've been a regular on the Dream Home Diaries blog on posts that had to do with the kitchen. My motivation was to help out Alison and Paul, who asked for help, admitting to being completely clueless to building a home, as well as educating the public at large. Many of us helped out. What a great resource of information (and smart alek-y and snarky comments) they had before them. Man, this blog is so entertaining, I'll be sorry when it's gone.

I found myself feeling quite annoyed at times at the authors' complete lack of response to my and others' advice. Advice on fundamentals! Let me give you an example. Alison wrote that John, their builder, recommended that the kitchen not be designed until the plywood was down in the kitchen and then one could mark it up to feel the space.

I've never heard of anything so ridiculous in my life from a builder of a custom home. And, at that moment, the builder will be screaming for rough ins of electric and plumbing. I, and others, oh what's the word, valiantly campaigned to the authors to get a kitchen designer NOW...and I offered specific advice on how to hire a designer.

Unbeknownst to anyone else, I offered my own services way back (not free) because I was so concerned that the kitchen plan was simply not being attended to...and it really bothered me. I wrote and said I would not wish to be known in the blog as the designer, but I'm here if they needed me to step in (which was before they got a designer.) It was a brief, but sincere, offer, which was met with no response and was not published. I have so many complaints about the way things were done by the authors, I won't even bore you with it, I promise. And, my general negative attitude throughout the blog about how this kitchen design process progressed had nothing to do with my rejected offer. Anyone who has read my subsequent impassioned posts know that I care a great deal about the value of making the most of the time available pre construction...as time breeds creativity, attention to detail, and a whole lot of other good stuff.

The bottom line is that, given the amount of money they spent on their kitchen ($60,000?) I feel it was wasteful, very much so, to not have hired a kitchen designer early on, to have had the luxury of time to plan their "dream home" kitchen and not to make use of that time. If you take a look, you'll hear me whining, cajoling, almost pleading at times to pay attention to this or that. Although, educating the readers was always a goal as well. It's really funny how into their kitchen process, or lack thereof, that I got!

Also, one thing to remember is, what looks shiny and new doesn't necessarily mean it's fundamentally sound design for the kitchen as a separate entity or for the architecture it is surrounded by. But, it's their kitchen and they are the ones to be happy with it, no one else. But, they could have known so much more along the way....

This blog gave a lot of us lots of raw emotions from time to time. I also laughed, got impatient, angry, and always hoped for the best. Take a look before it's gone...



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Reader Comments (18)

Ahh, we love the clients that come to us that are able to look past the 'shiny and new' and appreciate good design. The others we just wish they would have ended their search at Toll Brothers and left us alone. I had a crappy meeting today. Can you tell?

March 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commentererinn

Yes, erinn, I can tell...


March 31, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Alison wrote that John, their builder, recommended that the kitchen not be designed until the plywood was down in the kitchen and then one could mark it up to feel the space.

This is, easily, the *stupidest* idea I've read in a long, long time. I'm still sitting here gobsmacked.

Wow. There's not enough "what." in the world to cover that.

March 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbronxelf

enjoy reading your blog. Just looked at this "dream house." didn't look long enought to see the kitchen couldn't take it. But this is one of thoes times that you have to count your blessings for not getting a commision. Most pleople have no idead what a good designer/architect can do for them.

March 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjs

bronxelf, yeah, the thing is, most people have no idea at all what is involved in designing a kitchen, all the small decisions that are all very important, along with the choices available, for product purchases and design choices, that will last decades. Time should be put in the front end.

js, thanks. You're right...as I said just above, most people don't realize, until the process unfolds, and to start too late adds pressure and lots of limits.

March 31, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

heh. What a wealth of riches they left ungathered in the comments sections, huh? I do hope they are happy with the house, but it could have been SO much more for not much more to no more money. sigh.

March 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPamela

Pamela, let me first say, I love your blog. I lurk quite a bit. Love your voice, it's real!

Yeah, really, I can't believe the quality of the comments they received along the way, yours included. I get the "sigh"...

March 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

You are so right about Paul and Alison, Susan. They were infuriatingly obtuse about so much of this process. They wasted money all over the place - but whined and worried about it all the time. btw - their Massachusetts home is in my town. I've been keeping my eye out for them...

Linda, yes, infuriating was a feeling I had. And, again, not infuriating that things were not done my specific way. It was about not listening to a whole series of fundamentals, by a chorus of many, resulting in favoring apathy and waste instead. The commentors cared more.

March 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan


Thank you for all the time you spent on Dream Home. I learned a lot and I loved reading what you had to say. What frustrated me so was the impression that P&A were much less involved in the blog than many of the readers. As someone wrote, they were just phoning it in.

I would be very interested in knowing more about what is right and wrong with the kitchen design from Dream Home. I do not like the tile backsplash, but I hope the colors look better than they do on my monitor. But even with better colors those small tiles seem out of place. I am also not a fan of granite counters, but obviously many people love them.

I couldn't believe that P&A were so uninterested in using designers. And so oblivious to very experienced advice. Especially after insisting on an architectural firm that was so wrong for their project. There is nothing about their house that is a reflection of them. Nothing custom about it. Except for the roof deck that would have looked a little better if they had not let the builder redesign it.

Anyway, I enjoy your site. Reading about design is almost like reading about a different culture for me. :)

March 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSally

Sally, I have really enjoyed your comments too. Very insightful. Yes, it really wasn't a blog at all, it was a running commentary by two parallel trains on different tracks much of the time, most of the time.

I do have to say, I'm sure it must have been tough too, to read all those negative comments. With all the stress of building a house, regardless of a flawed approach, that must have been difficult too. I'll bet there was many a time one told the other "you write it, no, you!" I wouldn't be surprised!

I am thinking about making a list of lessons that should be learned from the way this process was approached.

I think in some blog somewhere I thought I read that perhaps it was Paul who said he didn't think they needed a kitchen designer? Maybe I'm wrong. I think the early reluctancy could have had to do with money, either spending it on a retainer or thinking they may have to pay more if they went outside of John's people. That's my guess.

Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate it!

March 31, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Hi Susan,
I urged P & A to contact you early on. I hope they like their choices. I imagine they will rarely use the dining room. Perhaps that "middle of the room kitchen" stands for wanting to be closer to the pool. In any case, the dining room window placement is so bad. I could go on and on.

So.... lots of us have enjoyed your comments and learned from them. We designed our house with an architect and that includes the kitchen though a having a special kitchen designer would have been optimal. In any case, it worked out well. Last weekend it stood the test of a reunion with many hands in the kitchen. I love my 2 good sized sinks most of all.

April 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEva

How about that layout on the plywood, huh? Who needs scaled drawings, design in real scale, what a novel idea! I wonder if the architectural plans were etched in the ground as well.

Great Blog, Susan, love your work!

Kitchen Wish by Aggie

April 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAggie


I am fairly new to kitchen business, only recently started full time and designing independently, but I am learning. I can really relate to your "shiny and new" seeking client. The worst customer is the one "just replacing the cabinets" and shopping for the best price. I don't understand, why they need me at all, if it is such a piece of cake. Usually I end up redesigning the whole atrocious layout, and it slowly starts sinking in with them, but it is really frustrating that appreciation for good design is so scarce. There are a number of ways you can arrange boxes, most of them will look like crap and a few will look like a million bucks. That's what I tell them, some of them have started to believe. Cheers!

Thank you for your kind words about my blog Susan. :)

April 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPamela

I could have spent my entire day at work reading that blog. But I was too busy, so I only read the kitchen entries. What was weirdest to me was that the couple never seemed to respond to any of the comments, no matter what they said. It was like a fake reality show, and I imagined some 20 year old girl sitting behind a computer screen laughing as she made stuff up. But I guess the photos of the house prove its real. At first, I was sort of shocked at how mean some of the comments were, but then I realized that the bloggers seemed oddly absent, so why not?

I'm not a kitchen designer, so what do I know? I thought the kitchen looked okay, although why you would put your sink right where people are sitting I can't imagine, etc. But I don't get why, in a custom built home you would have that narrow space as your dining room, with an ugly closet right in the middle??? I am putting in a kitchen in a Victorian house built in 1894. Not at all designed for modern living. Constructed of 15-inch thick brick walls, no less, so no way of bumping out or adding on without it looking awful on the outside, and costing a fortune. And I live in a historic district, so that sort of thing is frowned upon. There are a lot of quirks we have to live with, and compromises I've had no choice but to make (but thank God for Freedom Towers!). I adore my house, and all its "charms," but if I had a blank slate, I'd sure plan a lot better than that couple did. Really weird.

April 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJean

I thought the whole "blog" was misleading. At first, A&P said they wanted to build a cottage and needed the readers' help, they even hired an architect because stock plans wouldn't do.
The result is a totally unremarkable blah house that differs a lot from the architect's plans, and they obviously didn't care for all the help and advice the readers were giving. They made many last-minute choices on items that could have been ordered long ago, given that this is their dream home. They did almost everything differently than I would have done it.

I think A&P are glad the "blog" comes to an end now. I will kind of miss it, though. It was fun to read the comments, and I also learned a thing or two.

April 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

The final pictures are up. I hope the authors don't see this comment because I think the interior is disappointing. I won't list all the things I see that make it so to me. Nor the things I do like.

I post to say that I can now see better WHY I don't like it. Susan I can see some of the details that make the whole not to my liking because of your comments and some of the other comments. A light bulb moment for me.

On my own I could not do much better than P&A have done. I need the help of a talented professional to get it right. So many people could have the home of their dreams in the home they live in now if they would use a professional to help them.

April 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSally

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