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 - Advice From Allied Professionals

Cathy sent me an email and asked if I thought there was a design flaw in a section of her cabinet design. I had to write back that, yes, I agreed with her that part of the design was flawed. Unfortunately, it was a finished picture of the kitchen that Cathy had sent me, which made it even more uncomfortable for me to give my opinion. The kitchen was installed, and it looked like it cost a pretty penny. Here are words from Cathy:

"Lesson Learned 

I learned a big lesson the hard way and wish I had gone with my instinct to hire a kitchen designer during my kitchen design process.

My contractor convinced me that it would make more sense for him to design the kitchen layout because he was also working on the electrical, plumbing etc. so there would be a cost savings to me if he designed it and worked with his preferred cabinet company.

We decided to go ahead and in the end I thought the kitchen looked great until I noticed some design elements that look flawed to me. 

I believe that a good kitchen designer would have done a much better job and the money I am thinking of spending to make some changes to the existing kitchen could have been used towards the cost of hiring a kitchen designer.

It is very basic when you think of it. You are paying a kitchen designer for their expertise, experience and knowledge. I even believe that a good kitchen designer could probably help a client with cost-saving plus time saving advice because they have all the resources and know where to look for all the elements that go into a kitchen design project.

If I had to do it all over again I would spend the money to hire an independent kitchen designer. I have learned so much and wanted to pass this on so that someone can learn from my experience. I am definitely an advocate for kitchen designers. 



Here's my advice in terms of the medical profession, which just makes sense to most people:

The pediatrician knows a little about skin problems - go to the dermatologist instead

The orthopedist knows a little about heart problems - go to the cardiologist instead

The ob-gyn knows a little about head injuries - go to a neurologist instead


The architect has designed a few kitchens - go to a kitchen designer instead

The kitchen designer suggests a roof line change for a kitchen renovation - go see an architect

The contractor "lays out" the cabinets - find a kitchen designer

The interior designer discusses the size of a kitchen island - find a kitchen designer

The kitchen designer suggests coordinating, expensive fabrics for the kitchen - find an interior designer

The point is simple. Whatever someone does "every day" as a working professional, that's who you go to for expert advice. It means that you must interview several design professionals to find the right one. It doesn't mean that you do not listen to any advice, given by an allied professional. It means that you put the weight of consideration on the advice from the professional who works in a particular discipline every day, especially if you hired that person after a thoughtful interview process, considering others' advice very, very, carefully in the context of what THEY do "every day."

UPDATE: Cathy said I could post the images she sent me. Now, you may not see a glaring, horrible, mistake, but in my world, it doesn't have to be very obvious. I think the intention was to have "weight" on each end of the L, but to my eye, it doesn't work. Each end ends with an identical pantry, which, again, just doesn't make sense. The weight of the hood is sort of scrunched toward the left, and then you have a run to the right of lighter weight cabinetry. Everything is off. I would also have switched the oven and the refrigerator. Cathy will remove the lower drawers on the countertop cabinet, and it will be much better. Thanks, Cathy, for allowing us to look at this. You're a trooper!

UPDATE 2: Cathy emailed me to ask me to ask me to remove the images of her kitchen, so I did. 

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Reader Comments (20)

Susan, at what point in the design process does one hire a kitchen designer? Should the architect do the designs for the house, then bring in the kitchen designer? Or, should the kitchen designer be brought in early in the process - when the house is just being translated from concept to initial design?

August 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThings That Inspire

That's an excellent question! I happen to feel that it is never too early to bring in the kitchen designer.

At the very least, before construction drawings are finalized, sent out to bid and to the town for permits, definitely get a kitchen designer hired, and allow enough time, probably a month at least, before these next steps are going to happen. Even then, the architect may have gone too far in the process, resulting in costly charges to the client by the architect as a result of changes to the plans, which is justified.

So, yes, just when you have paid a fee to the architect, be prepared to pay another fee to a good kitchen designer. If you find the right one, the fee (which is often rebated back to you upon order of materials) is, therefore, of no risk and is of superb value. But you have to find the right designer, and that can take time. Just do it.

August 9, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Agreed, but curiously, what was the problem? Can you post the layout in larger format and have your readers guess what the problem is? And then you tell the answer?

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

The best money we spent on our kitchen was for the kitchen designer!!! Our kitchen was a modest project, but oh, the results were amazing! The kitchen designer's input with regards to efficiency, style, color were priceless, and we ended up with high-end look and feel on a budget.

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercathy

I should add, we are getting ready to redo another kitchen, and we will not proceed without a kitchen designer. We plan to do this kitchen ourselves also (except for cabinetry) and are allowing ourselves 6-12 months for the planning stage before we start the tearout!!

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercathy

Well, the faults don't jump you in the face, but I agree. Actually, I studied the photos FIRST and read your comments AFTERWARDS, Susan, and I immediately "felt" that the kitchen is unbalanced.

I have another question regarding the wall oven being right next to the fridge (and on the wrong side, I agree, as the fridge is being used much more than the oven). Obviously, that's something you find in many kitchens, as there is only a limited number of high cabinets, so both end up right next to each other. Is this a no-no? Do you put fridges next to ovens, and if you do, what do you install to properly seperate/ insulate the fridge?

Thanks for the update, it makes this topic even more interesting.

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

Hi Connie! No, it's ok that they are next to each other. Ovens are very well insulated these days and refrigerators as well, plus the cabinetry that divides them is a good buffer. The space that is between the oven and the cabinetry helps too. It's not often I put them side by side, but I suppose I've done it before.

Hope you're well!

August 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

As residential architects, we recommend that all consultants (including the kitchen designer) be part of "the team" as early as possible. As soon as we have our schematic design prepared, we send it to the kitchen designer for review, and make revisions based on their comments.

When every member of the team respects the talents and responsibilities of the other members of the team, a great project is always the result.

All of the comments above have reminded me of my kitchen renovation project nine years ago. I think the lesson learned it that it is not only important to hire a kitchen designer but to research that designer well...not all are created equal.

Susan's expertise is well proven in her exacting attention to design, construction and functinality details and demonstrated commitment to using the best and most up-to-date products. Not all designers are like that so the lesson here is to not just hire a professional but a respected and well qualified professional. I thought my designer was going to be good but learned afterwards that many others, including staff and installers, had issues with him.

I still love my kitchen, design flaws and all, nine years later but would do things a bit differently if I had it to do over.

Research, research, research!

Tricia - Avolli

August 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTricia - Avolli

For me, the kitchen is leaned towards one side, It's not bad, but gives an unfinished feel because of the set up.


August 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicolette

Excellent point! As the handyman I can see his point. Susan please don't get upset with me, but in the trades they just feel that you guys put it together without taking practicality into consideration. However, I do agree with your point of allowing each expert do what they do best. It's a tough call, both sides have a point yet I can see where this one doesn't work. In many industries there are standards that need to be taken into consideration, but that would be to difficult when talking design.

The answer to me comes down to one thing - communication. Yes, you do need both experts like you said, but they both need to work together and communicate. This never would have happened if this was the way it was done.

I enjoyed this one! Thanks, Scott

August 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteronlinehandyman

Hello All - I am Cathy, the user who submitted the picture to Susan. I appreciate all the comments and it was interesting to read points on both sides -- the cabinet makers and kitchen designers.

I am trying to find some solution to 'fix' the problems Susan pointed out. After some consideration I thought of removing the drawers on the countertop cabinet to help balance the cabinet run. Does anyone have any other thoughts or suggestions of what to do next? Do I consult with a kitchen designer? or go to the cabinet maker who will have to make the changes at this point?

August 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCathy C

Hey, Cathy, I see why the layout might bother you, but don't forget, it is still a very beautiful kitchen.

August 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjeannie

Cathy C,

Jeannie's comment above is exactly what I thought when I read your post.

Your kitchen IS beautiful. Yes, with some professional guidance, it could have been better, but I suggest that you love what you have. Enjoy the spaciousness and beauty of your new kitchen. Do not stress over, or spend any more money on, "making it right".

The comments above are our opinions. Susan presented us with a challenge and we, as designers, architects and craftsmen, tried to meet the challenge. Count your blessings and enjoy a nice cold lemonade (get it? lemons into lemonade?) at that gorgeous island.

A few comments have been removed, as they were strongly negative, prejudicial, and off-topic.

August 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

This is an excellent post and blog. I am an interior designer that has brought in a kitchen designer ~ it makes the world of difference. I have been brought in by clients during renovations. Sometimes right on time, sometimes after problems start. Perhaps not all problems will be solved even with the best team but odds are it will be a better overall design that will perform and please over the course of time.
Paula Grace ~

August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaula Grace ~

Scott's answer (above) is pretty close to my mantra.

This is a "communications" business. We (kitchen designers) do drawings, write out spec sheets, gather samples, etc. all to communicate our ideas to the clients and the trades.

The contractor that wanted to do it all himself was trying to bypass the communications side of the business by believeing he could communicate with himself and "save time and money." In the end, it sounds like he missed communicating with the most important person ... the client.

August 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArne Salvesen CKD

A contractor who wants to get involved in something like kitchen design usually has a hidden agendy. He may have a deal with the manufacture of the actual kitchen.Kitchen designers are here for a good reason. They work day in day out at designing a functional dream kitchen for the clients. A good designer will try to improve on the previous design. How on earth can a contractor who's niche is construction create what a designer can??? Maybe all kitchen designers out there should become contractors!!

August 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWoodale Designs

I remember another post with the same concern. The kitchen wasn't bad. However, the symmetry is simply not there.


September 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicolette

I am thinking to renovate my Kitchen. I've got new idea. Thank you so much for sharing this article. In fact, I like this Blog's Post. It is very helpful and informative.


September 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNorbertBell

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