Kitchen Designer Diary - A Day In The Life

DSCF3701a.jpgFrom time to time I will share with you real life client meetings, like today. It was an interesting day today. I had received a call last week from a woman who asked about my kitchen design services, as she and her husband are planning a kitchen renovation. I was immediately intrigued when she said they lived on Fire Island. Fire Island is a very long, and very narrow, strip of land, beyond the south shore of Long Island, about 1/2 an hour off of Long Island by boat, reachable only by private boat or ferry. No cars are allowed on the island, and there are several small towns. It's all about the beach on Fire Island!

I was born and raised on Long Island, and I had never been to Fire Island, the residential section of Fire Island, as opposed to the public ocean beaches, a totally separate area, so I was interested in going. The trip there and back was time consuming. I live on the north shore of Long Island, a straight shot across the island from the ferry on the south shore. Here's the math:

DSCF3706a.jpg1/2 an hour to the ferry

1/2 an hour on the ferry

2 hours 45 minutes between ferries (once on Fire Island)

1/2 an hour on the ferry back

1/2 an hour back home, once on the mainland

= close to 5 hours and a fair amount of wear and tear!

But, again, I was interested in seeing it, so off I went. I thought I'd be met at the ferry, so after wandering around a bit, I called, and they said they'd be right there and asked if I rode a bicycle. Hmmmm...I dressed in a skirt and had 2 heavy bags with me, but, this was an adventure, so, I must do adventurous things. "Sure, I said, I ride a bike."

DSCF3746a.jpgSome minutes later, up came a man (the husband) riding a big old bike and holding another bike as he rode, a female style bike, bright blue. The husband took my things, put them in his basket and off we went on the way back to their house.

We rode on some beautiful, very small, narrow, paved lanes, typical for the island, past lovely, small homes, with beautiful gardens, such lush growth everywhere, a front lawn with large seashells, tall beach grasses blowing, and passing others on their bicycles too. Weaving from one lane into another, we eventually got to the house, leaned the bike up against the house and went inside.

DSCF3744a.jpgThe home was beautiful in its simplicity, exposed beams everywhere, as the home is not winterized, and it was all in white. There was authentic, and beautiful, mid century furniture pieces by famous designers such as Hans Wegner, and a light by Louis Poulsen. It was very inspiring. We talked, all went well, and I immediately thought of a new line of cabinetry that I will be announcing soon (!) which would be just perfect for this particular setting. The kitchen is wide open to the living room and dining area. I know exactly what to do here. This kitchen needs surgery! The estimate was received well, it was asked that I fully measure, we'll see what happens.

It was a long day, oh, and how can I forget to mention the pouring rain on the ferry trip back, complete with rough seas, thunder and lightning (and let's not forget the below "E" gas fill-up at the self help mini mart gas station where one must go into the mart, fill up, then go back to the mart, then back to the car (in the rain)? Ugh.  

All in all, I had a great day, met nice people, saw a beautiful place, and an interesting home, it's definitely all good. 

The Kitchen Electric Estimate

IMG_6583a%20copy.jpgGeez, I spent a long time trying to spice up the title to this little piece, (I can't always just stick to pretty kitchen pictures!) and I just couldn't find anything clever to describe an electrical estimate. Give me some ideas, please! Maybe something about sparks flying? No, bad idea.

It's a GOOD idea, when getting multiple bids for your kitchen renovation, to be organized so that your bids from contractors will use the same set of specifications. It sounds like a no brainer, and it should be, but the only way to make sure the estimates are comparable is to have one set of specs to give out to your electrical contractors to bid from.

Here's what you may want to include, or make sure your designer includes, on a floorplan and/or separate sheet of specifications:


Appliances - Brands and model numbers if possible. List all appliances, including:




Refrigerator Drawers

Wine Refrigerator

Under Counter Beverage Refrigerator 

Stand Alone Icemaker 

Cooktop - gas or electric

Ovens, Single or Double - gas or electric


Other Ovens (steam, etc.) - gas or electric

Pizza Oven 

Deep Fryer

Grill, gas or electric - separate from cooktop/range

Built In Wall Rotisserie - separate from oven 

Built In Wok

Built In Mixer 

Range - gas or electric

Warming Drawer 

Built-in Coffee Station

Instant Hot Water

Garbage Disposal

Trash Compactor


Hood/Blower or Downdraft


Receptacles - Will you use Plugmold or standard receptacles? Note GFI protection. Note location and number if possible.

Special circuits - Do you need multiple separate circuits for special needs in any one area? A monster toaster that takes 17 amps? Paired with another appliance on the same circuit, it will trip. Be aware of potential lifestyle electrical needs.

Circuits - A good guideline is a separate circuit for appliances (not countertop appliances) over 10 amps, but the electrical codes takes precedence

Accent lighting - Note if you'd like accent lighting in cabinetry or pointing toward certain cabinetry. How will it be switched? What about accent lighting above cabinetry or as part of a tray ceiling or other ceiling effect? What about sconces? A little used by lovely style of lighting, yes, for the kitchen.

Task lighting - Under cabinet lighting, what type? Halogen, flourescent, xenon, etc. Can you specify the brand? Try to specify the locations and switching if possible.

General lighting - Are you using recessed lights? Pendants? Ceiling Fixtures? Note what you are using, how many, and how they will be switched, whether in multiple locations or a single location. Also specify if dimmers are desired. And, make sure that the wattage in your lights is adequate, which could effect your estimate. Very generally speaking, I specify/prefer as many lights of the same type, say, recessed, switched together, as possible on the electrical plans that I do. I'm not a fan of 3 lights here, 3 lights there on different switches. I feel general lighting is just that, general lighting and is meant to be turned on all, or mostly all, at once. The other reason is that too many switches cause confusion and forgetfulness.

Fancy switches - Oh, there are so many touch-type fancy wall switches out now. Start by checking out these switches at Lutron.

TV/Phone/Computer - Don't forget wiring for media. This type of wiring may be done by audio/video/computer technicians. Check with your electrican.

Speakers - Most likely wired by your audio technician, but not necessarily. Check that out.  

Heat - Any specialty heating solutions such as toekick heaters? 

Last but not least - Check the service panel! 


Home Automation 

Will the kitchen be part of a home lighting control system? Check out Lutron for basic information. For further information on home automation, check out CABA

If you want to see a digital kitchen in action, check out this video, but keep the tissues handy, the emotional guitar music may make a tear fall.

Here are a few more articles with insight from Builder Online,  CABA's page on the digital kitchen and don't miss this humorous look at all the automated frenzy, from Network World.

Apologies for potentially overwhelming you, what can I say? Yes, the world of kitchen remodeling has many devils lurking in the details!

In a future post, I will talk about and show, an electrical plan. (Don't flood me with emails asking, When!! When!!) 



The Next Kitchen Estimate Saga

Since I promised to offer "useful information", I think it's a good thing to talk about the estimate and how it unfolds in certain situations, really, any situation that I come across (well, maybe not ALL, that would be too boring, although I do have a category entitled "The Estimate")...

I went to see a new client over last weekend. Very lovely people. The husband had a number in his head as to what he wanted to spend. So, what I like to do is take my measurements, calculate my costs based on the room size and our conversation, and come up with a categorized list to plug in on my handy estimate form, which my potential clients can keep, file away, rip to shreds, or burn, as desired.

In this case, the client's number in his head was $50,000. I always ask for the client's number after I present my figures.

  • It was a smallish medium kitchen - good
  • They wanted cabinetry with a lacquer finish over an exotic wood and also a painted lacquer finish as well, elsewhere - bad
  • They wanted high end appliances - bad
  • They wanted stone countertops - bad
  • There was a couple of walls to be removed and rebuilt along with other construction - bad
















 My first estimate was, $106,000 for everything, except the floor, which they were doing separately, connected to flooring in other rooms.  This estimate included high end cabinetry (including installation)-$48,000, top appliances-$20,000, stone countertops-$10,000, construction-$20,000, and the rest was for tile and sink/faucet fixtures. It was very good that they were sitting down.

That's ok, that's an initial figure. On the estimate form, I have two figures, one for middle quality cabinetry, and one for high end cabinetry. I also have a range within both of those categories, low to high, the low, which includes less options/goodies, the high, which is more realistic and assumes a fully appointed kitchen cabinetry cost.

So, now to work these figures! There were several variables in my estimate. First, and foremost, is the cabinetry. By talking more specifically about their needs, which led us toward middle quality cabinetry, the price dropped substantially. Can they accept a glossy formica door? No. That's ok, at least we all know what is a priority. Now, if one wants to work on a particular budget, one must be flexible. So, my thought was for the appliance category, that they should choose one or two high end appliances that they really wanted, and go toward more middle pricing on the other appliances. That was received as a great option.

Another consideration was construction costs. Can I wave a wand and have my construction price be right on target? Of course not. I do have a good sense of construction costs, and usually estimate a bit too high, so as not to have to surprise people later on. In this case, I felt I could have estimated too high, based on a just completed project, so we deducted some money, probably a bit too much. Next step is to get in a contractor to narrow the costs down, and the client will make their own financial arrangements with the contractor of their choice.

The remaining category was countertops. Would the countertops be $8,000 rather than $10,000? Very possibly, and probably doable, depending on how the kitchen was designed. Let's save $2,000 there.

estimate2.jpgThe bottom line was that we saved about $35,000 off of my original "high end", "dream kitchen", estimate. The final figure was right around $70,000. But, he still wanted to be around $50,000.

OK, let's categorize $50,000:

Appliances: $15,000

Countertops: $8,000

Construction: $12,000 (demo, move 2 walls, relocate 2, patch ceiling, all new lighting, new circuits, relocate plumbing, sheetrock, patch, etc.) This figure is probably doable, I have a good/fast crew, but needs to be verified.

Tile/Sink/Faucet: $3,000 (includes labor)

This leaves $12,000 left for cabinetry. Out of that figure, take about $4,000 out for installation, which is a little low. Take another $1,500 out for freight and tax. This leaves us with $6,500 left for cabinetry.

They realized that their number of $6,500 was not a realistic number for what they want in the kitchen, especially in terms of a decent middle quality cabinet. And, I'm unable to provide a kitchen at that cost. That's ok. It's more important to understand how the numbers add up, as opposed to looking at one large number. This way, they can decide what to do next, expand the budget, rethink certain categories, etc. I can do no more, I'm only one person!


Lesson: The number that you have in your head may be based on what you'd like to spend, but, with all due respect, may not be based in reality. Secondly, be flexible, or else, nothing can happen at all. Rethink those high end appliances. Put in a less expensive countertop temporarily. Yes, you can downgrade your cabinetry as much as you want, but the quality will not hold up over time, and THAT would be a real nightmare five years down the road. The right answer will always reveal itself to you, but also, listen closely to a design professional's suggestions.



Irrational Fiscal Exuberance

I received a call today from a potential new client. We chatted about his project, about the logistics of the project, and we even began to go through numbers, which I would not have brought up. But, it is always welcome to begin the money talk sooner than later. I worked backward from what his all inclusive budget figure was, categorizing each cost, and ending up with one sum for the construction (not a lot), which I felt was fairly close to what a labor estimate might be, given what he told me of his project. Of course, that is all subject to change when I see the home, but nonetheless, it's a good start, and I had just done a similar project.

 He told me that another kitchen design firm quoted him 3 times the amount, in terms of labor, that I estimated to be reasonable, with that firm also not having seen his home, and double the all inclusive budget overall. So, reasonable question, why the wide difference? Of course, I have no idea what all was included in the other "estimate".

iStock_000002186776XSmalla.jpgThis is one of the toughest and most tricky areas overall, the estimate. Essentially, we need to estimate something before it is designed. We need to evaluate the client's wants and needs and put a dollar figure to it. It's a little bit art, a little bit science, to get that number. But, with care and thought, it's doable.

Me, I don't want to be too low and build false hope. I also don't want to be too high and lose the job. I'd say I err on the higher side, but not too high, HATING the idea of having to reveal much larger numbers down the road and instead, often revealing a pleasant surprise of a lower cost instead of disappointment when the design work is finished. After we go through the whole process, who on earth wants to be told that the project is now out of their budget! That's a huge fear of mine, HUGE! I'd much rather lose the job than estimate too low.

But, you also don't want to mistakenly estimate too too high either.

Perhaps that more expensive shop feels as I do, that erring on the higher side is better than building false hope. From the information I have thus far, I think they went too far afield into irrational fiscal exuberance territory. I'll update this as I get more information. 

Tell me about your estimate story!