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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« Going to KBIS in Chicago! | Main | Lessons Learned From New York Times' "Dream House Diaries" »

Dream House Diaries March Toward Mediocrity

One more post about the New York Times blog, Dream House Diaries, just one more! And, if the link does not work down the road, this is what the blog was about. A couple from up north builds a house in Florida, spending close to one million smackeroos, double, from what they first planned on spending, land and construction, included.

Here's the bottom line: In the course of spending one million smackeroos, they got a builder's kitchen in their march toward mediocrity (and obvious design flaws.) So, the lesson for the day, for this blog, for those who are about to spend thousands on a kitchen, is this:

There are different types of kitchen designers.

That's it, end of story. Alison and Paul were told this little nugget of wisdom, and they did not listen. As a result, there are so many flaws in their kitchen, I won't bore you again with the list. Instead, I'll go positive and tell you, basically, what's out there.

Low budget for new construction/remodels

Home Depot, Lowes, and your builder's kitchen "connection" come to mind first and foremost. But, that's not the end of the story...For you, you also have this option below...see the next category. If your kitchen is designed in 30 minutes, even 60 minutes, run away. This long term purchase deserves more time than an hour, no matter how nice the person is behind the computer. The business model here is about speed. And, you're not getting the best deal either.

Middle end budget for new construction/remodels

Here is where the local mom and pop kitchen and bath stores come in. They are everywhere. In my market, there is a saturation of them. They work hard, provide good service, care about their clients, go to the jobsite, do creative work, as compared to the big box stores, and as a result, increase the value of the product you are purchasing. Many of these firms will carry a very inexpensive line that the first budget category needs, but with added value to the services than are found in the first category.

Upper middle budget for new construction/remodels

These independent kitchen and bath firms may carry products in the next lower budget category noted and will carry even higher end products, offering even more services to their clients. Most of their work will be in this category, but they may be very willing to take jobs in a slightly lower budget range. Some will, some will not. The products are middle to higher end, and oftentimes the creativity continues upward as well.

High end kitchen design firms for new construction/remodels

These firms carry the best, or nearly the best (not always, oddly) products and generally offer even more detailed design work, devoting a good amount of time to your project. In theory, these designers work with a higher level of creativity, offering products that may not be able to be found elsewhere. Sometimes they have a product line that is somewhat less expensive. Some will take projects in the upper middle budget category, depending on their interest or work load. Their pricing is usually competitive with other equivalent firms and with the category just below. Thus, interestingly, a superb value is often found in this category.

Of course, there are other ways to buy and design a kitchen, but what I am speaking of here are the engines that drive the kitchen and bath marketplace, and how it is, in my mind, categorized.

I can be proven wrong by real life examples in any of these categories, which will illustrate that, as I implored Alison and Paul to do, one must carefully interview designers up front, to find the one that will provide the very best value, and be the right one, for their vision, their budget, whatever their main needs are. Look, interview, evaluate, find a good "fit."

The crazy thing is, many of these providers mentioned, offer design services for free. OR, those that do charge a fee, usually make it fully rebated upon purchase of the cabinets.

But, as I am speaking about Alison and Paul, here, they had this opportunity, they were told about better alternatives, and they chose the #1 solution, above, for the million dollar house. They got what they deserved.  The builders' kitchens are alive and well, I see, warts and all! What a waste. 

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Reader Comments (41)

I would love to use one of the high end design companies in our future remodelling project. But I think it doesn’t make much sense, financially. Not everybody has a $1M house! Our FLA house, for instance, is in a VERY (and I really mean: very) upscale beach community, half a mile from the ocean and within walking distance to shopping and restaurants, still it is in a neighborhood of small $300k homes from the 1980s - you’ll most likely never see any ROI for a high end kitchen or any sort of other high end stuff.

But I’m lucky. My father was an architect who also designed kitchens, baths and even gardens. Our home was full of floorplans, elevations, cabinet drawings, drainage plans, samples of fabrics, wallcolors and flooring materials. As I said: I am lucky.

Having grown up like this, I think it is only natural that I have a strong desire (and talent, I may proudly add) to draft and design. Being an "eye person", I spend much time to explore textures, colors, lines, proportions and how they all work with each other. It is, indeed, my second most important pastime besides cuddling our lovely cat.

So for me, being like I am, the apathy A&P had towards their $$$$ project is more than annoying. Shouldn’t building a dream home and kitchen be fun and an exciting process? We’re all busy with our jobs, but putting so little thought into building a home really is a shame. What I bear in mind, as an exemple for their indifference towards design, is Alisons remark that she leaves it to the woman at the lighting store to choose THEIR ceiling fans, as a white fan is a white fan!

Coming back to the start of my lengthy comment, I know that good design - be it a house or a part of it or something completely different - need not be expensive. It’s all about creativity and inventiveness, and I often found that the most budget-tight projects, when done by professionals, had the most interesting results. I do hope that our project is going to fit into this category. And should I have a problem with the kitchen, or need someone’s honest and professional advice, I’ll contact you, Susan.

Yes, I'll really do that. But I'll NOT buy expensive kitchen cabinets. Not for that house. No way. :-)

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

Connie, thank you so much for your insightful comments. But, that's the point, Connie. Many upper middle and high end design firms do carry middle priced products, so you get good design expertise for less, essentially. I'd make an effort to seek out that type of company to work with. No, good design does not have to be expensive, you are right about that. I'm proof of that. I designed my last kitchen on a shoe string, maybe half a shoe string, and it got published in a Better Homes & Gardens publication, and they are very picky!

I have a cat who's a cuddler too! BUT, when he sits by my desk, he must cover up the calculator just nearby and swipes at me when I try to use it! Oh, cat stories, I can go on!

Annoying is a very appropriate word, here, re the NY Times blog.

April 7, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Speaking of high-end design, I'm guessing you've probably seen cabinets like these with inset handles. Any advice on where a regular person can find them (bottom left image: http://www.homeopinion.com/kitchen_design/imgquiz/select). ?

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertmaylort

The images change position when you hit refresh, but I think you mean the brown cabinet to the left of the dishwasher. No, that sort of handle design is not typical. I've only seen them on Hansen cabinetry, which is very high end.

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Heh... I was only able to read a tiny bit of that blog, it aggravated me! Good for you for sticking with it for a year! (I did want to see pictures of the horrible builder's kitchen, but am not sure I have the tenacity)

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Catherine, thanks for stopping by! At first glance, it looks mahvelous, the kitchen! And, the kicker is, it's NOT only the trained eye that sees the design flaws. They could have been prevented. Plus, we don't see one entire wall, we don't see the context of the dining area from the kitchen side. Were these lapses done on purpose? Who knows? I also find it interesting that in many cases money spent was openly disclosed in various areas, but not in the kitchen. Perhaps they just could not cope with hearing, "you paid that for this?" Look, many people would happily take that kitchen, but, that is not the point. Anyway, I'm disgressing/expanding, etc. etc. I'll stop!

April 7, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

And thank you for the last couple of posts, very informative for me, since at some point I will be doing some major kitchen work. (dratted previous owner!)

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Susan, I really appreciated your comments as the NYT Dream Home Diaries "blog" went along. It's really a shame that the authors didn't heed any of your advice because what they got was boring and flawed.

Their napkin-diagram method of planning their kitchen combined with their stated disinterest in the details, a builder with no design sense ($20 for sinks?), and a last-second reconfiguration of the whole room is why they ended up with a builder-grade kitchen, albeit with a Viking stove. The last time I checked a kitchen is a lot more than just the stove (and the wrong sized range hood).

The thing that annoys me (and apparently many of the thoughtful commenters on the DHD blog) is that the couple didn't seem to care that their $1 million home could have been better in so many ways. The materials could have been greener, the design could have been more pleasing and useful (remember the lack of linen closets), and

I doubt they can claim ignorance since they apparently did read the suggestions in the comments, though they often did the opposite. Over the course of the blog I have determined that Alison and Paul were too cheap to hire the professionals up front to do a job properly but were still so loose with their budget that they ended up spending more than they would have if they had just done things smarter and brought the right people in to begin with.

Oh well.

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDamon

Damon, you hit the nail on the head. I suspected very strongly that it was a case of being too cheap to see the value of hiring professionals. And, that's the paradox, noted above. Most kitchen designers don't charge! Good luck on your home. I have to get over to your blog! I found it frustrating to an extreme.

April 7, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Paul and Alison seem like a lot of academic professionals who are penny wise, yet pound foolish. They can't hold down the overall costs of a project, but nit pic the smaller items (like design consultation) because somehow they believe that they are smart enough to figure it out themselves and don't need outside advice. They also put too much faith in their builder, who may be a good builder (or not), but is still going to make decisions based on what is easiest and most efficient for his work and doesn't make decisions based on aesthetics and functionality. Not doing a furniture floor plan when designing the home is foolish. Just the bedrooms with beds partially covering the windows is proof enough of these misjudgements. And, as a result, they may never really be happy with the end result. It certainly doesn't look beautiful or professional, that's for sure. Such a pity. They lost a real opportunity by not heeding the advice of those like you, Susan, who cared enough to offer it. Plus, they lost a lot of credibility by allowing their budget to double and ending up with so little to show for it.

Linda, you're right on target. I dunno, I think, when you spend that much money, you need to lissen (no t intended for what reason, I don't know) to those who do this sort of work, oh, every day of the week. Absolutely, too much faith in the builder, who really, really, doesn't care much about aesthetics. He cares about production. You said it very well. And, you're right about planning for furniture in the front end! The pros are more than for helping one select finishes and frufru stuff. Pros understand space planning, proportion, scale, all of those little details...

April 7, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

All these posts about that house have me wondering. My parents are slowly gearing up to do long awaited renovations to their old townhouse, and I've been suggesting that they check out kitchen designers--mostly inspired by this blog. The kitchen is the heart of the home as usual but it's a very awkward space because it's designed for servants, unlike the rest of the house, and tucked behind some stairs; meanwhile the dining room is totally cold and unused. So I think the trouble is not so much with the cabinets, but with trying to open up and join the kitchen and dining room. Finally my question: do you think it would be best to hire a kitchen designer for this, or some other kind of designer?

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSasha

My vote, and you may not be surprised, would be to find a quality and qualified kitchen designer. Look for spaces that have been combined before, befores and afters. I really feel a quality kitchen designer will think more into the minutia of moving and functioning in the kitchen, because that is what they do every day, than others will...and that means how to incorporate a connected space. I'd put my money on a kitchen designer, but a good one.

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

This is really a case of passing the buck.

The homeowner passed on the responsibility to the builder for bringing together a cohesive project.

The builder relied on the "order takers" at the cabinet store, the window store, the lighting store, etc. to get the pieces and parts on order.

The order takers did their job and took orders. Only having a segment of the project, it was not theirs to suggest or question a design flaw. Their job is to sell a product. Or perhaps they did? Did A & P ever once question some of the glaring design flaws. Did they ever check to make sure the hood they ordered would fit with the wall cabinets. By the looks of one of her posts about the hood, Alison couldn't be bothered at that point.

Their was no one person orchestrating the flow of these parts and pieces. There is no harmony to the space. So the contractor steam rolled, (as the homeowner describes),the job into place. It would be great if he wouldn't have cared about the wackiness that resulted. Was there ever anyone the buck was passed to that was to question the measurements of these flaws?

I don't the contractor checked the cabinet dimensions closely. Was he passing the buck to the cabinet order taker to make sure the hood fit? It looks this way otherwise why else would he have to go the trouble to rip them out to make a hood fit or that the vanity sink would work with the faucet even. No one was in charge of making sure these details would come together. This is what saddens me, that good money was thrown away inexcusably. The completed installation is a mish mosh of unbalanced windows and awkward and disconnected spaces inside and out.

The result is a utilitarian shell of a house. No personalty whatsoever. Dream House is is not.

Laurie, I do believe you have jumped on the bandwagon (unwillingly, unexpectedly, and in frustration I'll bet) due to accumulated angst surrounding this blog. I wanted to feel positive, I questioned myself over and over...am I just getting cranky? No, I wasn't. My gut feeling was right...over and over. And, it's contagious and passed to you too, I see!!

April 7, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

I meant to say "it would be great if he cared" about the design coming together. It is hard to judge a guy without knowing what exactly transpired. Perhaps he did recommend a designer be consulted.

I hate to beat up any one person, including the contractor. I know many very good contractors who would have suggested a designer be on board. I can't help to believe he wouldn't have done this. Yes, Susan, I cannot help to be astounded with this project. Perhaps it is as Linda suggests that the homeowner was acting penny wise and pound foolish.

I read the entire blog from start to finish over the last couple of days since you mentioned it, Susan, and the primary impressions I had of the homeowners were that they lived a frenetic lifestyle, had academic backgrounds and professions, and saw this house as the be-all-end-all of their lives' work. Sadly, they slapdashed the project with decisions even a rookie would question, but these folks have house building and managing experience. I can't imagine they would overlook the details they did...unless they think it really won't matter once they move in. And they may know themselves very well; they just don't CARE. And, everyone's tolerance for mistakes is different. Maybe just sharing one roof at last is what they want, and they are determined not to focus on the bummers that grew from their neglect.

A second point is that I felt they were so very chummy with their 'great guy' builder, they are loath to blame him for anything at all. The buck never stopped with him, nor with anyone, as far as I could see. I think this is a mistake I have fallen into in my youth as a client...I would rather have sat down and had a beer with the guys than confront them on a mistake. I've outgrown that, but I fear that P&A stayed too dependent and grateful on their contractor, and chose to overlook his sometimes flawed decisions.

I'm also wondering if this whole blog is an invitation to simply gossip about people I will never know yet I've glimpsed their most intimate lives!! Always entertaining...

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

Wendy, thanks for your insight. I don't believe they do have any building experience, as they said in the beginning that they are clueless and hoped for help from the readers.

I do believe you are right about their builder, and on several occasions I noted to beware of my theory of the "Stockholm Syndrome" in regard to their builder. I absolutely have a theory that this can easily occur in this situation. Not always, but NOT unusual. Add a great distance, and those ducks fall in a row, especially with a steamroller type personality. Your own experience is very interesting. It's good that you have become aware of it. Thanks for sharing that, I'm sure it will be very helpful for others.

Some may call it gossip, others, a critique of how this all went down, and why.

Always glad to hear your thoughts...

April 7, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Ya'll have hit the nail on the head. They just didn't care enough to spend the time and energy needed to have a custom home built.

There are so many huge flaws in that odd box of a house that they would have been far better off to have either bought an existing home or used stock plans and made the builder adhere to the plans. Changing the building plans willy nilly gave them what they got -- a bunch of rooms that look to me as if none of them will function well.

They do have some nice porches. But that's a lot of money for porches.

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSally

Hello, refugees from the craptacular Dream Home! I agree with Sally-- the porches are inviting, but a million bucks for porches?

I had to giggle when I saw the pool picture. In some post a few months ago, A&P boasted that their pool would have a waterfall, and they showed a picture of a gorgeous pool with a grotto and a waterfall. Fast forward to today: A&P's pool seems to have a waterfall that is approximately two inches high. You could stand under it, if you were a hummingbird.

To whoever wrote that A&P's kitchen had acres of mausoleum-quality granite: <giggle>.

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCardinal Fang

Sally, yes, they probably would have saved money, too, by buying an existing home and renovating it. The air handler debacle still bugs me...making the doorway now look like a back room entrance instead of a gracious entry from the foyer, which in turn made the relationship to the window wacky, which in turn impacted the dining area and kitchen in a big way. Someone should have yelled "Hold Everything!" to the builder. Checks and balances and all that...

CF, I believe I have referred to acres of granite, I've done that for years, but not the m-word!

It's too bad...they needed advocates badly, in different disciplines...and if you don't have that, bad things can happen.

April 8, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

You know what I hate the most in that house? That none of the beds fit properly with the windows. I know there are much bigger problems, but that one is obvious to even the biggest clod. How could they have planned so poorly? That looks awful awful awful. I have not read the whole blog, and thought some of what I had read seemed overly harsh, until I saw that. Then I realized how shabbily they had put this house together, how little they must have cared. It isn't a dream house, it is a nightmare!

On the KD end, I'm in the middle of the installation of my second kitchen, and have done both the low end and high end.

Our first kitchen was a tiny tiny galley kitchen in our NYC apartment. We bought our cabinets from Home Depot, and the "cabinet orderer" was surprisingly helpful and enthusiastic, and actually spent several hours with us, and tried several different configurations. The rest we did ourselves. Although our budget was small, so was the kitchen, so we could splurge on granite countertops(not standard then), a really nice backsplash, the most beautiful copper faucet for our sink. (My mother was horrified that I had a copper faucet in a stainless steel sink, but it was gorgeous). A friend (who is now a kitchen designer herself!) did some really nice, subtle faux painting for us, in a color that my mother would never have chosen,but which worked perfectly. We got a holophane glass light fixture, which was not nearly so trendy then as it is now. That kitchen turned out great, and it wasn't just like everyone else's kitchen. I was very proud of it. When we sold our apartment nearly 10 years later, it showed like a brand new kitchen, not dated all, and was definitely a selling point.

Now, my kitchen is big, and my budget is big, and our cabinets are custom, and I have a KD who does high end kitchens, and I am so much more worried about how it will all turn out than I was with my little kitchen with no KD. My KD is great in so many ways. He is professional and responsible and responsive and very very nice. I have no doubt that everything will be where it should be and none of the work will be shoddy or substandard in any way. But I fear that this kitchen will not have the stamp of my own personality on it the way my old tiny kitchen did. I have not always had the confidence to insist on an idea when he has not liked it. I hope that I'm wrong, and the kitchen will be something I love, rather than just a generic nice kitchen.

But whether high end or low end, make sure you really "click" with your KD. I clicked with my first designer, but she flaked out,along with her cabinet maker (and some of our money). I had already hired my contractor etc. when that happened. I found another KD who I really clicked with after that, but my contractor didn't want to switch to another unknown-to-him KD and cabinet maker, and she wasn't too eager to work with this guy she didn't know either, and I was too worn out by the experience to start from scratch, so we agreed to stick with his guy. He's great, but I don't think we have the same vision for how the kitchen should look in the end. I am sure it will be very nice. But I don't know if it will make anyone say "wow." I want "wow."

Gosh, sorry this got so long.

April 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Jean, thanks for your comment, long or not, doesn't matter at all!

I want to add a thought that just came to me. I've seen this situation before, many times.

We know there are many design flaws in this home. Some are worse than others. But, what I'm thinking is that Alison and Paul could have genuinely believed a few things. That "good design" really isn't that much of a big deal, how wrong can you get it? I'll bet they thought, well, we're smart people, if it's not Architectural Digest worthy, we don't care anyway, somehow the bed will fit in the room, we'll think about that later, what's the big deal? Of course, I'm guessing here, but it sure seems that way. And, then, unfortunately, they quickly adopted a policy of not paying serious, and I mean serious, attention to the peanut gallery's recommendations as well as that interesting word, concensus.

I would love to know what they have learned from this experience, the house building, not the blog.

For you, you should stop the process right now if you can and get yourself more time to figure out what you really want. It's too much money to just say, whatever. Stop it now! :)

April 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

I think they also fell way deep into the builder Stockholm Syndrome well of manipulation. Again, it's not every builder, every situation, but, I do think we had those issues here. There were perfect conditions for it.

April 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Oh, God, I am definitely too much of a drama queen. First, it is way too late to stop the process, and second I don't really want to. We just passed our electrical, plumbing and building inspections, all the framing is done, cabinets are almost entirely done. I think the doors are being painted, but otherwise they are finished. Virtually all the other elements have been ordered and paid for, or at least chosen. We are waiting for parts to install a radiant floor heating system, which we decided to do at the almost last minute, so it is holding things up a bit, but we're really glad we're doing it.

I think I'm just having major last-minute jitters. It is like waiting for a baby to be born, worrying that everything will turn out perfectly, but fearing that something will go wrong. It is amazing what a huge undertaking this is, and it is obviously not something I plan to re-do any time soon. I should probably stop looking at pictures of fabulous kitchens, with all the myriad choices. There are so many great ideas, so many different styles, it was so hard to commit to one, and now that the point of no return has passed, I keep having second thoughts. But I actually am pretty happy with almost every individual choice we have made, although the architecture of our house has forced us to make many compromises. And of course, we made some choices for budget reasons, and I'm second-guessing some of those too. Believe me, my husband isn't, and thank goodness I have him to reign me in. I'm just so nervous that it won't all come together the way I would like it to.

Sorry if I make it sound like some tragic situation here. I hate to sound, or I guess, be, sexist, but I think I had a harder time bonding with my KD because he is a man, but I am being hard on him, and on me, and on my poor kitchen.

I'm officially going to calm down.

April 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Jean, I really want to thank you for letting us into one person's thoughts about the process, the expectation, etc. It IS a journey with ups and downs. After all, it's such a permanent installation with numerous permanent decisions, lots of money, all of which cause some degree of pressure! I'm planning my own kitchen right now and I'm going in a totally, totally different design direction that I ever would have guessed...and, I hope it works well for me and my family! You do not get many chances to do a kitchen, it should be done with care, and a dose of stress just goes with the territory. I'd really like to hear more as your process continues. Please share it with me/us. Thanks.

April 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

I gotta say, I'm pretty disappointed with a little bit of the close minded mentality of some of the postings. Here's my background: I work at a "big box", happens to be orange. I have my BFA and focused in graphic design from an accredited Big Ten university. I've always been a hands on type of person and take amazing pride in my work. I decided to jump into kitchen design for two reasons: 1. the economy in my state was horrible for artists and 2. I wanted to learn a trade that I was not only interested in, but I could fall back on.

I was trained by my "big box" and although I did not go to a trade school for it, my teacher was more then qualified. 40+ yrs in custom cabinet design and installations, owned his own shop for the majority of it. I still speak with him regularly even though I am no longer in the same state. What I'm trying to point out to not assume anything about any "big box" designer. I never have spend 30 mins or less on a design unless the customer wants me to. I always do two or three designs for the customer in a variety of styles and prices. I personally will not sell a kitchen to anyone unless I feel the customer knows exactly what they're new kitchen is going to be like and how it will reflect them and perform. I have now worked at two different stores and out of 8 designers, only one would I not feel comfortable working with. 7 out of 8 is not bad odds at all for a free service.

"The business model here is about speed. And, you're not getting the best deal either."

I'm very sorry you feel this way, Susan. I have never once been told to hurry up and sell something or been asked why I have spent so much time working on a design. And I never would tell someone you'll be getting the "best deal". I design based on what the customer and I discuss and work to make sure they are getting the best value out of their kitchen. If they walk into their kitchen in 6 months and aren't smiling and feel like something is missing, then I failed.

If anyone called me a "cabinet orderer", I'd kindly let them know I am a design consultant and I'll only be a cabinet orderer for about 5 mins during the design process.

One of the few things I tend to agree with is to find a designer that works for you and genuinely cares about your kitchen. I'm not hurt if I first meet with a customer and they end up working with another designer. I can't change personal choice but I can make sure they get what they want.

April 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterErik

Erik, I noted in my post that I actually had a good experience with the person who helped us choose our cabinets from Home Depot! I didn't necessarily have such a good experience with Home Depot itself, but the man who helped us choose our cabinets and the layout for the kitchen was great, and spent several hours with us for our tiny kitchen. And I thought my cabinets were actually quite nice.

One notable difference was that when our cabinets came in from Home Depot they were actually darker than I had hoped. It was the finish I picked so I couldn't complain, but it is so hard when you are staring at so many different finishes to really be sure what you want. This time, with my custom cabinet shop and KD, we picked our finish in the shop. A few weeks ago, when the cabinets were made, but not yet painted, our KD brought over a door in the paint we had chosen, with the glaze we had chosen, as well as a door in that color with a different glaze. He also brought over two doors in a slightly different finish that he thought was nicer, with two different glazes, so we could decide which one we liked the most. We ended up choosing a different color than the one we had originally ordered. My experience with Home Depot was that once we ordered our cabinets, we really didn't have anything to do with the person who helped us select them again.

April 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Jean, I didn't mean to come across as aggresively defending any big box. I, more then anyone, know the problems and frustrations that come with working for a company that has such a tight structure, we have very little room to go that extra mile for the customer. I merely meant to shed a little light from the side of someone here.

Perhaps I'm not the norm and perhaps my coworkers have been exceptions as well since I feel very confident in my abilities, but I implorre that kitchen consumers not overlook an orange box simple because we do not have our own office or showroom. Go to your local one and talk to a few of the designers if you can. I've done some secret shopping and had some terrible experiences at both of the boxes. It happens everywhere. But make the choices for yourself. Susan may have had a few bad experiences there but for the majority of people in need of a kitchen design, I feel more then qualified.

April 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterErik

Erik, thank you for writing. I appreciate and value your input. There is a place for every type of service, and in our business, I do believe that there are, let's say, different "levels" of services, depending on the type of kitchen business one chooses to do business with, based on one's needs, budget, and desires. That's why I loosely categorized the kitchen design firms that are typically seen in the marketplace.

I do stand by what I said. I think when one has masses of clients instead of the 10-15 that I have per year, that services offered, and their quality, will be different, very different. And, granted, too, the customers' needs are also different.

There is a place for every type of business, absolutely. And, as I said, there are exceptions to every rule, examples can be found that prove my assumptions wrong. However, the big box stores also offer good things such as health care, stock incentives, etc. that are invaluable to its employees, additional reasons one would want to work there.

It's always good to serve the client as best as one can with the tools one has available. The tools vary, however, depending on the business, which is helpful for people to understand, I think.

Thanks again for writing. Appreciate it.

April 10, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD


In your "loosely described" description of big boxes, you merely bashed the designers that work at them by generalizing that we will simply throw together a design in 30 to 60 mins. I'm not sure what personal experiences you have had, but on those designers behalves, I apologize. Not only for the short time frame spent on your project, but for them misleading you to believe you are getting the best value by shopping there. And to anyone who has actually purchased a kitchen from someone who gave such a poor level of service for such an important room, I at least in part place the blame at the feet of the consumer who made a large investment without doing any research on the type of designer to look for.

I have to disagree about the different levels of services being defined as you have - by how much the designer cares, in the case of big boxes. Every single description you made for the middle end budget, I perform. I "work hard, provide good service, care about their clients, go to the jobsite, do creative work" and take a little bit of offense that you generalize so broadly. Sure, we have a price point, builders grade cabinet option that I personally never feel good about selling to anyone who is redesigning their own home. But we offer a lot of great construction options for people who do not want to spend excessive amounts on cabinets alone for a service they can receive elsewhere.

I respect your opinion and I'd just like to try and dispell the myths that surround big boxes. I care about my clients, I work hard, I go on site, and I am a creative individual and from everything I have seen, so does every other designer I have had the pleasure of working with.

April 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterErik

Erik, I'm not bashing the designers who work for Home Depot, etc. It's the business model that I do not care for.

Perhaps you are confused, as I have not had my own kitchen designed by Home Depot or other big box store.

We can agree to disagree, that's ok!

April 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Hi Susan

I followed DHD from the beginning. Gosh, it seems like it was going to be so cool to witness all the planning and all the great moments when you figure out what's going to work and be wonderful and really be yours to fit your needs and your personality. Boy did it go in a different direction. All they cared about was having it be finished.

Time is an ingredient in planning just as much as money, and you can't always substitute money for time. P&A didn't seem to understand that. Just as an example, we had a small guest bedroom with awful wallpaper (used as nursery by previous owner). We just lived with it & addressed other rooms until we felt sure about what colors we wanted to use for the walls. We'd discuss it from time to time & just weren't sure, & thought why go ahead with the effort if we're not sure. Finally, after a couple of years (!), we came up with something we loved and I just love the way that room looks now.

By the way I am an academic professional and I think I have a heck of a lot more sense (design sense and common sense) than both of them put together!

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSJS

SJS, you said it in fewer words than me, hundreds of words fewer...

"...you can't always substitute money for time." That IS one of the big messages here.

Good for you that you had the patience to just wait until you found the answer. I had suggested that they just get a sink base cabinet, and the minimum to get a C/O and then start from scratch. So what? A few months would have been lost. I mentioned that in January, they should have listened! :) Thanks for your input.

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan


I guess that's the problem I have: you have not had your kitchen designed by a big box, so you're passing judgement without any actual proof of how the business model works. You simply assume the big box is a horrible corporate entity, here simply to crank out kitchens and get uneducated people to give us their money. I suggest you stop in at your local big box and do some mystery shopping before you pass a blind assessment down.

Since you have never had your kitchen designed by Home Depot or any other big box, what experience do you have that give you the ability to make any claim? I cater to a very large clientel, from the in-stock buyer to the 12" stack molding, pull out pantry, etc etc. Sure, I cannot compete with the smaller designer who has access to 1/16" custom cabinet designs, but I don't mind.

April 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterErik

Erik, I do not think it is a horrible corporate entity. I think every business model has its place, as I have said several times. I briefly thought of stopping by, but if I did have an unsatisfactory experience, I don't think you would accept it as true, so I quickly passed over that idea. I'm very glad that you are happy with what you are doing. That is really great and contributes to your value to your clients.

But, the services will always differ between your "large clientele" and my serving 10-15 clients per year. The services and products we each provide are like comparing apples and oranges. There is no common ground. And, that is neither good nor bad, it is just the nature of our businesses.

April 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Oh Susan...again you assume! I would LOVE any personal experience you could put out there for us!! How else will people know what to improve on without feedback from actual experiences! I do love what I do, but alas, I love graphic design more and will be taking a position more near and dear to my heart soon. But I know that my experiences make me more then qualified to design the majority of kitchens out there and I will probably continue designing on the side with an interior designer and work towards getting my KD degrees.

I work in downtown LA so I don't really have more then 10-15 clients a year simply because the in-stock cabinets are what the apartement contractors want. I have tons of customers, but only 10-15 clients that I actually do full kitchen designs for. More then designing, I love helping people and I do wish I could have your position where I can focus exclusively on one or two customers. But I wear many hats and I think that's more of the reason to pick and choose wisely if you do go to a big box.

I can balance my time and make sure everyone is happy, some people simply cannot. I think you there is a higher percentage of designers at a big box who cannot in comparison to the percentage of those independent designers who cannot. Thats all.

Thanks for the discussion and I hope you get a chance to stop in and see how the staff holds up after your designer interview process.

April 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterErik

"I have tons of customers, but only 10-15 clients that I actually do full
kitchen designs for."

I don't need to say anymore than this. You do not have the same client as I do, Erik. And, who cares, that's fine! Thanks for the comments.

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan


Interesting information.

Your right about the people that spent 1m (although 1m is not what it used to be) only to find out that their budget, probably straight from the builder, was only to have a builder type kitchen. I see this on a regular basis and it does not justice to the home that people are going to spend years in. But it also tends to fuel my future remodeling business!

I have been in the kitchen business for 20 years. Sales, factory representation, installation, production control, design. You name it I have probably been there. Our operation has mulitple focuses. We are the largest volume type operation in our area supplying 30 pct of all new homes built. Even in a down market we are completing 40-60 "builder" kitchens per month. We have a wonderful product for that market (yes it is made here in the USA) and the processes and personel to make that organization sing.

Then we have what we call our custom or semi custom homes. Kitchens may range from 20k upwards of 100k. We tend to stay in the 20-40k range as that is our forte, but if a customer comes in and has a large budget we have a product line that will fit that budget.

Then we have a remodeling branch that does full turn key remodels. Everywhere from 20k "quick switch" remodels that are 2 week projects to 150k 3 month remodels.

ALL of the divisions of the company base themselves on outstanding customer service. This is the key. While we dont design each kitchen in the production builder division, they are based on price and the customer has very little options, on the other sides of the company we take great pride in what we design whether it be a stock cabinet for a kitchen that is 12k or a full custom kitchen that is 100k

I guess what I am trying to impart here is there are those of us who no matter who walks in the door they are going to get the same quality of service and product that everyone gets. There does not have to be this division. A professional company needs to have the personel to be able to adapt to the market. In this time of a down economy how can you possibly turn poeple away because you dont want to handle their "builder" type kitchen?

Eric you are one of the few at the big orange box who feel that way, however they are out there. I can say that some of the most succesful sales staff and designers I have on my team came from the box stores. My lead designer, who is my right hand and I could not function properly without, has a degree for a very high end art and design school, worked at EXPO for 2 years, HD for 2 years, and has been with me for 3. While those times at the big boxes are tenuous the experience gained is very valuable.

My advice for you Eric? Go find a kitchen cabinet operation in your area who is looking for someone with you talents. The experience will be so much different for you. The money will be better, the sales more rewarding, the future brighter, and you will not have to wear that little apron. Oh, and they wont be open on Sundays so you can spend time with your fam. Its a win win. You just have to find the right place.

Sorry this is long folks. My first blog entry in quite some time.

June 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Mark, thank you for your insight! I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.

July 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD


can anyone tell me which is the best counter strike guide ? :)...i found this one :


What do you about take it ?

Thanx in advance

Sorry for my bad english :s

March 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercounterlord

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