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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« Dream House Diaries March Toward Mediocrity | Main | Designing A Kitchen For A Large Space »

Lessons Learned From New York Times' "Dream House Diaries"

As I noted a few days ago, the New York Times blog, of which I was a "regular", has put up its last post. It's definitely bittersweet for me (I can't deny there are SOME emotions to seeing the last post, since I've hung in here for close to a year!) But, somehow, I think I'll be able to work tomorrow. :)

Here are the lessons that, I think, one should learn.

1. Plan in advance. As far ahead as you can, as soon as you are thinking about remodeling or building a home, start the process to find a kitchen designer. Alison and Paul's (the homeowners) builder told them to wait until the kitchen had a floor. That's...I can't find the words.

2. Find a kitchen designer - Take a look at this post for tips to find a kitchen designer. Allow for time up front, it may not be able to get done quickly.

3. Before you sign a contract, tell your builder you may not want to use his kitchen designer. Deal with that up front, and find out what sort of allowance will be rebated back to you. My take is Alison and Paul thought they would get a better deal with the builder's kitchen person. This is unknowable on their part, and I doubt it would have been much of a deal in the end. Not worth it.

4. Be aware that sometimes builders' kitchen designers are most comfortable with doing kitchens one way, and fast. Do you want that for a long term purchase?

5. Will your kitchen designer advocate for YOU...or for the builder? Alison and Paul had an issue with a large air handler which created a very bad aesthetic situation on several counts in their kitchen. Their designer should have been on the spot right away to come up with alternate solutions.

6. Be aware that even if you have to pay an upfront fee for a kitchen designer, in nearly all cases, the fee is refundable upon purchase of cabinetry. Extremely low risk and very much worthwhile to go this route.

7. Make sure the designer draws in surrounding spaces ESPECIALLY (did I say especially?) if the space is a great room. This was not done in Alison and Paul's case. As a result, the great room is a kitchen with a dining and seating/sofa area in it rather than a great room with a kitchen in it.

8. Make sure the dining area is drawn with chairs, the proper size table, all proper size furniture, and the spacing is gone over very carefully with you. Alison and Paul's great room is 44, maybe 45 feet long, with, oh, 9 1/2' allocated to the dining area. Yes, that's REALLY  a place that I want to hang out at. Maybe there is 4' between the table and the sofa on the other side of the space.

9. Note the window placement in relation to the dining table. In Alison and Paul's case, the windows have no relationship to a dining table. And, they are different sizes. It's just bad. They were warned.

10. Alison and Paul have acres of countertop, all of it one dark colored granite. Be aware of the impact of this type of situation.

11. Don't blindly put boxes on the wall. There are many other creative ways to design a kitchen.

12. Look at proportions and sizes of cabinet doors. In quite a few areas, Alison and Paul's doors do not relate well to one another, side by side and/or top to bottom.

13. Please think twice before you "default" to maxing out every possible inch for storage. The kitchen can look like another room, a lovely room, a real room. Do you really need all that stuff? If you do, and it's a great room, then be aware that there are alternatives to all those.....boxes. Creativity takes time. Give it time and understand that the aesthetic nature of the kitchen should be given equal, yes I said, equal, billing, especially in a great room!

14. Just put the time in. Apathy breeds boring design solutions as well as outright bad design due to others' apathy, responding to your apathy.

Ah, I feel better. I've had so much built up frustration during the course of this blog. The apathy, the waste in this kitchen, really was unfortunate. And, again, ad nauseum, I'm talking the apathy and waste in the fundamentals.

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Reader Comments (8)

Oh Boy! I finished my taxes and delved into the infamous Dream House Diaries Blog for the very first time today.

Oye! Having experienced some forgettable experiences with clients who have exhibited apathy for the details of the project, fail to order the appliances, tile and doors on time, despite my numerous reminders to do so, fail to care about the details they are signing off on the plan, whereby one party (either husband or wife) does not want to be a party to approving the details only to complain later that it was not what they expected. Whereby same client failed to return my phone calls or emails, I have new rules for taking on projects. The DH Diaries brought back some bad memories.

I am more selective on who becomes my client.
I won't take on projects unless both husband and wife are equally interested in the project.

Having been very optimistic and going above and beyond to please my clients only to be burned by a few very bad experiences, I have learned to take extra precaution and more time to qualify a couple who has no previous experience remodeling. Thus I am interested to see their true characters, and whether or not they are going to have unrealistic expectations.

You are right, apathy breeds apathy. I would much rather take on a client who shows interest than one who does not.

Thanks Susan for bringing up these bullet points. I hope this will help howmowners in the future.

Laurie, it was a march toward mediocrity. Every single step of the way. Call me crazy, but if I had a million bucks to spend to build a house, I'd make sure that at the fundamental stage (I have to keep driving that word home) furniture placement was mostly thought through before the architectural plans were submitted to the town building department. The way that kitchen is configured, you can't even have overflow people fit into that C shape, people who want to escape the confining dining area! If it were not a C shape, it would be much more of a social kitchen. I don't know if you read in January where I told them not to order the kitchen and start from scratch. Honestly, they should have done that. Thanks for your comment!

April 7, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Did you guys notice the placement of the bed in one of the guest bedrooms? the headboard is partially covering a window, in a brand new house!!! Susan, you are so right about the C shaped kitchen!, it is a confining space and no flow can happen in it because it is all obstructed by the enormous Mausoleum quality slab. What happened to the ever functional kitchen island? Isn't it common sense to incorporate island work surfaces in a kitchen, if you have the room?

Aggie, I'll let you in on a secret. I did not learn this in design school, but, my eyes have been opening up more widely as a result of working with the people at Hansen, www.hansenliving.com . They advocate a social kitchen, meaning multiple islands which will have much to do with people relating to one another, working across from one another, rather than with backs toward one another. It's the first time I have heard of this sort of philosophy, and I am quickly moving toward it, so you are on the right track. This kitchen is an anti social kitchen, even though it is wide open (in my opinion.) And, that's the point, you need time to evaluate social issues vs. function vs. aesthetics. Thanks for your comment, very insightful.

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Danes have - and this is my very personal experience with Danes in general and my husband (and his family) in particular - for decades been very aware about social aspects of design. And design in general. I think this contributes to the special atmosphere in their homes. No wonder so many people throughout the world admire Scandinavian architecture and design!

Compared to what we see in new or renovated homes in the U.S., Danish homes are cozy and somewhat contemporary at the same time, and they are all pretty different. You don't see these "country kitchen cabinets - acres of granite - stainless steel (with black sides) appliance" no matter what kind of home they are in. I think this uniformity in the U.S. is a result of too much HGTV. Granite, for instance, has never been very popular here in Europe.

I find it profoundly interesting to see different approaches to the same questions. Isn't the world wide web a wonderful thing?

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

I wish I could be your apprentice. lol! :)

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPamela

Well said Susan! Thanks for sharing your insight on their creative and building process and how we can learn from it.

April 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy

Connie, very interesting you say that. As I look more into the reasons behind, for example, Hansen kitchens, I am told that the philosophy for their kitchen design work is equally based on social as well as function in the kitchen.

And, yes, it IS interesting, the web, because now we can easily see all different types of kitchen design based on cultural ideas and differences, as well as seeing the similarities. I've sought out so far, French, English, Scandinavian, and a little bit of Italian kitchen design. I need to look further and report back...thanks so much as usual for your great feedback, much appreciated.

Pamela, haha! That would be fun, I know it!

Timothy, thanks for YOUR support.

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

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