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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Kitchen Design Notes And Experiences

This post may sound self serving, and, well, it IS, and it is rare that I am quite this direct, but what I want to do is illustrate, specifically, why a client must continue to ask questions of his/her kitchen designer throughout the entire design process, even if you, the client, think it's a question not worth asking, or worse, assume that you instinctively know the answer!

Here is the crux of this post: a client, now immersed in the world of kitchens, sometimes, mostly, or nearly always, believes that he/she knows the (sole, and "right") solutions to the issues in his/her kitchen project, depending on the client, of course. You, the client, do the research and talk to lots of knowledgeable people. As a result, you may feel that it is not necessary to ask your kitchen designer some of your questions. It's only one question...you don't want to take the time to call, it's a minor issue, you feel you can figure it out yourself, your friend/mother/contractor/husband/wife knows as much or more than the kitchen designer, among other reasons.

That way of thinking is a very big mistake! 

Here are examples of some very casual questions that my clients have asked me, which could just as easily NOT have been asked.  I'm glad these questions were asked, or bad things could have happened! Others are examples of questions which were not asked...and bad things happened!

I'm considering cooktop A or cooktop B - which do you think looks better? My response: If you choose cooktop A, your cabinet will have to be reconfigured. At the time the question was asked, the factory could still change the cabinet configuration, but it could have been an enormous and costly problem once the cabinetry was delivered, should the wrong cooktop have been chosen without my knowledge. Enormous. Costly. Problem. Warranty issues too.

Just leave enough room, I'll select a refrigerator later. Air clearances on the sides, back, and top of NON built-in refrigerators vary. The refrigerator must be selected during the design process, all appliances must, otherwise the choice may have, again, an enormous impact on the cabinetry surrounding the refrigerator, your warranty, not to mention the hassle of having to send the appliance back, if it can be returned (you know, thrown out box and all!)

Here's what I bought, it's coming Tuesday: "A" brand cooktop and "B" brand downdraft. My response: These appliances cannot physically fit together inside the cabinet and will not work. It took me five minutes to figure out and the client didn't believe me for at least three days, putting his belief into the appliance salesman instead who sold him this combination. Had I not been told this purchase was made, the countertop templating would have been delayed, possibly by a few weeks and either the cooktop or downdraft would have had to be returned, or possibly both!

My interior designer is designing the hood: Is he/she aware of a) the cfm requirements for your cooktop/lifestyle issues b) ducting/duct path issues c) how to size a hood (width/depth/height off cooktop) d) a wide variety of stylistic sources to suit the kitchen's theme that a kitchen design professional deals with on a regular basis? Just asking!

Flooring Debacle: I was not consulted on the flooring on a kitchen project and observed that the rectilinear lines of the tile, which had another outside rectilinear shaped insert that connected to it, had no relationship whatsoever with the strong curves of the kitchen, including having no frame of reference or relationships to walls and doorways. It just. doesn't. work. Bad choice.

Paint Colors on walls and/or trim: Ah, a common issue! In most cases, it works out if I am not consulted. In some notable cases, it's a very sad (or I've seen it be a ridiculous looking) mistake. 

Cabinet/kitchen design: The client turns to a trusted allied professional who designs a kitchen every other year, if that, putting me into the position of a follower. I will do that; I am paid the same whether I lead or follow, but it's an unfortunate situation for the client's sake when they hire me and look toward others for advice on something that I do every day and have done for 20+ years. Thus, sometimes it's like watching a multiple car crash in slow motion. I express my opinion during the process in a professional and caring way. The client cannot "hear" me. It's ok for me...not so much for the client. 

My (whoever) is designing the tile for the backsplashes. My response: Great! True story: In two featured areas within a very expensive kitchen, any trained design professional would sadly shake their head at the obvious out of whack proportions of the (large/important) tile design that was done for my client. Out of whack can be creative or it can just look wrong. In my practice, several tile designs are planned and drawn to scale so balance and proportion can be analyzed with a critical eye...mine.

I will get my own corbels for under the hood. My response: Great! In one project of mine that was published, the corbels are out of proportion to an extreme as they relate to the hood...large hood, teeny tiny corbels. Looks silly, and sad. 

You know, sometimes I only supply the cabinetry, and sometimes I supply cabinetry, countertops, tile, lighting, flooring, and more, or any combination thereof. Often, I may also be asked to consult on color. Sometimes fees apply, depending on the scope of the consultations, if it will become a time factor, and most often, I do not charge anything if there are quick questions here and there throughout the project on products that I am not supplying. I'm happy to help. I want to know my clients' considered selections. It just makes sense to get your kitchen designer involved in every (yes, every) decision that has to do with your kitchen. What appears to be a small decision-if it has anything to do with balance, proportion, scale, contrast, texture, of your kitchen, or has to do with function (a minor detail) is not a small issue. It's a big issue! It may be a forever decision!

I care deeply about my clients' kitchens. I'm very far from a designer who needs control. Quite the opposite of having a controlling nature, I feel my role is to offer choices. Dear clients of kitchen designers everywhere...not to even ASK your kitchen designer a few questions about your selections, because you think you know what's best, is blasphemy unfortunate. I'm here to help, AND, I have a whole lot of information, experience, and designer's tips, tricks, and resources, to help you and to guide you!

Let me say it this way...we (most of us kitchen designers) know better than you do in regard to the discipline of kitchen design. We care (most of us) and you should at the very minimum, keep us in the loop. That's all, just keep us in the loop, KEEP asking questions....and listen. Not obey, just listen. Listen to the kitchen designer you hired with an open mind. Be aware of who you are influenced by and why. That's your power and your wisdom. For those of you who do not have a kitchen designer, you may want to go here

My goodness, do I wish I could go in my image files to illustrate some of these issues that I have mentioned!


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Reader Comments (12)

Many unfortunate things could have been saved by just asking or by hiring a professional first before spending gags of money. I cannot tell you how many times clients have said to me "I wish I hired you before I spent thousands of dollars on (fill in the blank)....furniture I don't like, doesn't fit......" Kitchens are even more costly to remedy. ASK!!!!!!

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaula Grace

Of course, I agree!! Thanks for your very enthusiastic comment! :)

November 8, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

My mom is building a house right now and she almost didn't ask about refrigerators. It turns out that her architect only left room for a side by side and mom had intended to put a top/bottom unit in there.

Could have been a huge problem had she not brought it up.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBritney Bennett

Bring it up...bring it all up. Better yet, an organized system for the client is a MUST. Look into evernote.com or basecamphq.com or backpackit.com to organize your project, including lists of issues/questions, etc. You could also get a sticky note program for your monitor to post issues that need attention.

November 8, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

I have been a kitchen designer for 25 years and I couldn't have said it better myself!!!! When you have a client that asks all the friends, relatives and neighbors their opinion and then gets confused because of to many opinions, you have a mess. If you hired us and love our other work, you need to trust that we know what we are doing. I think I will make copies of this and make it required reading for all new clients. Sue

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSue Murphy

Hear - HEAR Susan!

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Deras, CKD, CID

Personally, as a cabinetmaker, I have always been comfortable with the choices my wife and I make for our projects around our own home. But right now, to give an example, I am designing a website for myself, which is an area outside my comfort zone. I have some people who know, though, and whenever there is a question of how to proceed, I make very certain that I do just what they say I should be doing. When it’s finished, I want it to be right.

The same is true of a kitchen design. It needs to be right. And if people are not comfortable with their own choices and expertise, then they will seek help. But why, if you go to a Certified Kitchen Designer, would you not want to accept that advice? Isn’t that what you’re paying for?

The other thing, and you see this a lot, is people so unsure of their own choices that they find it necessary to get the advice of half a dozen friends, all of whom have a different idea. The client then tends to accept whatever advice was given last.

Really, if it were me doing the design work, I would listen to the client very carefully and then do everything I could to design the kitchen the client would design, if he had my skills. And if I were the client going in search of a designer, I would want to pick one who would listen to my input and then do what he could to come up with ideas that fit into what I had in mind, always bearing in mind, of course, that some of my ideas may not be particularly practical.

But why on earth would anyone want to hire a designer for anything and then not run everything through the designer? How else will you coordinate your project?

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

The client always needs to ask questions, otherwise incorrect assumptions can easily be made. Part of the responsibility of the designer should be to not only set expectations, but also be very clear on what they arte designing. Surely the use of kitchen design software, in front of the client would answer many of the questions immediately?

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Turner

It happens to all designers Susan. We CARE very much about our projects and feel some ownership of them.
I have a project now where a family member is selecting the countertops, tile and tile design because in the owners words, "she is a realtor and has been in a lot of expensive homes".
In the end all we can do is our best.

I just love it when the interior decorator comes in at the last minute and takes over the hood design. Been involved with several projects like that. It’s always a train wreck.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Are their kichen designers that can work with DIY homeowners? My husband wants to remodel our kitchen himself. He is extremely meticulous and takes his time to plan everything. However, he will hire someone to do the countertops. But after reading your post, I can see there would be problems and I don't want to end up with a kitchen that doesn't work or fit our home. Our problem is that the kitchen and dining room are open to each other. The kitchen is not seen from the living/family room, but I want all those rooms to have a flow to them. I would love to hire a professional for their critical eye as far as choosing flooring and backsplashes and hood, etc. Is it worth it to hire a professional for a small traditional home that we want to update with a more classic look when we aren't going to change the footprint?

November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria

We chose everything ourselves, just called professionals to do the job, and nothing was wrong with the furniture and materials we ordered, still admire it.

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercountertop

In Europe, kitchen design is a specialty in and of itself. After having gone through several home and kitchen renovations, I can say that working with a kitchen designer is a real positive. I did a large kitchen in our apartment in Germany with a large, upscale kitchen cabenetry company called Bulthaup. The owner of this particular Bulthaup store was an architect. She did everything for me. We discussed all the issues which you list above. I learned SO much from her that when it came time to do my kitchen here in Italy, which was literally done with the help of a mason, I was fully ready to do it on my own. There were so many little things which she advised us on that improved the functionality of the kitchen that I have used here in Italy.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdiana strinati baur

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