Tames Kitchen Design

It does not take much time, once one delves into the black hole of even thinking about a kitchen renovation, that the thoughts become disorganized, to say the least, given all the parts, pieces, concepts, ideas, not to mention products that are part of a whole kitchen renovation.

There is absolutely NO excuse in 2011 not to be organized when embarking on a kitchen renovation. There are many online management tools to keep track of every single detail. You can be organized in several ways:

  • in a super simple task focused way where tasks are simpl written down and checked off
  • tasks are attached to projects
  • tasks are attached to tags and/or projects
  • tasks are attached to tags, projects, and a calendar
  • tasks are shared by others in the same program 

and those are just a few ways to think of the detail/task/organizing process for a kitchen renovation.

If I told you how many free trials I've taken of task and project management programs, based online, I'd be embarrassed to tell you. The program I have kept coming back to over a couple of years, even though I needed to stray to find the greener grass, of which I never Thymer. I've had many interactions with the developers over this time and they are extremely, and quickly, responsive, even over weekends. Best customer service I've encountered bar none, truly.

Thymer is SO simple, so lightweight, you wonder if it's a serious player in the project management world. It is. But, let's talk about how to use Thymer for a kitchen renovation.

First, Thymer is PRETTY. I don't know about you, but I like pretty. I like colors. If it is just a kitchen renovation you are doing as opposed to, say, a whole house, which could also handle Thymer, you may want "projects" labelled such as:

kitchen misc., countertops, cabinetry, appliances, flooring, backsplash, tile, designer, floorplan/design, trades, building materials

Great - you have your projects. As each task gets created, begin to add tags. For example, the appliances project would have tags such as: cooktop, refrigerator, double ovens ... you get the idea. And, those tags are available to you when you create each task. 

Don't need to deal with appliances for a few weeks out? Put a date on it - set it and forget it! Sync it with your calendar too.

One feature I'm MOSTLY crazy about is that at a glance, due to the innovative calendar within the task list, I immediately know what my day and week looks like...what has to be accomplished today. It instantly makes sense, since I'm seeing the complete picture. Thymer works on a loose GTD format, based on a concept called "Getting Things Done." Again, I cannot overstate that for me, to instantly look, without constant clicking, at what needs to be done/when, that's where Thymer excels.

Do you know where the real power is though? It's the ability to effortlessly and quickly send your emails, WITH ATTACHMENTS, into the Thymer system. Just forward an email, with attachments if it has any, to: It will recognize your email address and add it to your list. You can even add lots of different instructions into the subject line to further organize that email into a task. If you just throw the email into thymer, like I do, it will land in your inbox, to be dealt with later. Beautiful.

It's the easiest way ever, to organize a kitchen renovation. How would you use Thymer

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 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!


Is Your Kitchen Designer "Too Busy?"

I'm busy these days. I feel it.

My guess is that design pros sort of get that "busy feeling" when business is, let's say, better than normal, obviously. Multiple deadlines is also an obvious giveaway.  For me, it's here. The thing is, my business is a roller coaster, and one where you don't necessarily see the ups and downs from a distance...the roller coaster is enclosed in a dark tunnel! It all has to do with construction schedules, town approvals, architects' schedules, all of which is beyond my control. "It" has a life of its own and the big rolling ball sort of scoops me up when just barely in sight!

For those of you who are looking to do a kitchen renovation, you may want to ask the kitchen designer of your choice what her/his schedule looks like down the road and what it is like now. If they can predict, and to a certain point, a short distance, a designer can. Until that schedule goes to the dogs by the a) architect b) town c) contractor d) other delays, including busy clients where life intervenes!

This past year plus, I've worked on no less than five projects (and I don't do all that many beyond that in one year, maybe double that) where the schedule has been delayed by between 6 (not bad-but only one project) to 18 months.

What do you think is happening now? Well, of course, I could not have planned it better myself, I have the perfect storm! Four of those five, and one of them is the equivalent of three projects, are all moving like molasses suddenly heated with a blow torch!

Their plans have just been approved by the town, schedules have loosened or accellerated, machinery is in the dirt. framing is happening or is soon to happen, which means that the equivalent of seven (most, big, and highly detailed) cabinet orders need to be made very soon. And, very accurate perfect!

In my situation, I'm lucky that:

  • I don't have child obligations (they're grown)
  • I only need 5-6 hours of sleep so I can fit in other things besides work, like needed exercise
  • I work long hours when I need to
  • I have a supremely supportive spouse (we're talking cooking, laundry, and a happy face...good stuff)
  • I have really great clients!
  • I know what needs to be done "when", I have an intrinsically positive attitude
  • I LOVE my work and love working with my clients! I love the collaborative design process.
  • I can manage stress and pressure very well. The candle burning at 7 am near my monitor is one little method.

Schedules happen! Or, maybe, more to the point, scheduling roller coasters happen. They're unpredictable, they are fraught with delays, with stops and starts, and each schedule does whatever it's going to do. Being busy does not necessarily mean the designer took on too much work. It's the nature of our business with unforseen scheduling issues. We don't want this situation either, trust us! Like you, we want the luxury of time to do our work. I've been held up, but I've never held a job up. Another reason why I'm feeling busy...gotta get the work done! In fact, I'm ready to schedule new projects for 08, as this wave will be over in the next couple of months (yes, they last this long!)

I'll get through it, and they will all be perfectly ordered projects, I'm not concerned. Somehow, after doing this for 20 years, I know that the law of averages will continue to be on my side...and that is, that NO cabinet will arrive to a client's home wrongly ordered amidst all of these projects. It just doesn't happen to me.

So, another reason I can find a little serenity at 7:22 am before the business day begins. Writing this post was a good, temporary detour from my work, which I need to do from time to time.

I was going to look for a dramatic before and after image...can't take the time, have to stop here!

OK, I and the next few posts....gorgeous kitchens (I have so many to show you!!) They're coming!


Will Your Kitchen Be Finished For The Holidays?

Every year, in the summer, I look toward the end of the year and wonder, what will the last quarter look like? Will it be a frenzy to get my clients ready for Thanksgiving and then the Holidays beyond? Are there clients who must be completely done by Christmas....or else they will self destruct? If so, then I go along for the ride!

Already, the memories are flooding back. Memories, in particular, of an installer who promised me that he would finish a few items in a client's home (moldings are everything, the finished look) on Christmas Eve, no less, yet called to cancel a day or so prior, setting the client into a tail spin. Or, the client, where there really was no chance of getting done what she wanted anyway, due to her other tradesperson, so instead, I faux painted some 6'' x 54" x 3/4" pieces of wood and put them into place in those empty spots in her kitchen (which looked great!)

And, then there are the countertop deliveries! I can't remember any countertop delivery horror stories, but I may well be blocking those out. I will say, in those last few months, the countertop fabricators and installers are much busier than usual, as, of course, everyone wants their kitchen done, whether it's feasible or not, they just want it! Of course, how can I blame them, I'd want it done too!

And, then, there are those who yawn through the holidays and tell me, whenever, whatever, "I'm not going to drive myself crazy around the holidays." Some of those clients tell me that it gives them an "out" on entertaining responsibilities.

This year, I'm thankful and looking upward (and sideways) that I don't have any clients who are racing against the clock to get their kitchens done by New Year's Eve or earlier. I hit it real lucky this year, I can relax this month, just a bit. While I am busier than usual, it's for future work, not buttoning up present work in the month of December. Yay!

If you're in a frenzy right about now, wondering if you'll get your kitchen done by your deadline, I don't have any words of wisdom for you, unfortunately, There are so many steps, people, and suppliers involved in any one kitchen, that, take your pick, something can go wrong when you least expect it, and it can be legitimately, VERY frustrating for the homeowner. It's a tough one. I actually recommend getting your cabinets delivered by October the latest, if you want your kitchen for the holidays.

So, hang in there, and, Happy Holidays! I hope you all get your kitchens done BEFORE your deadlines!! Here's to that hope!

Kitchen Designer/Client Synergy - How It Works

I had a meeting with a client today, one whose project has stopped and started over many months. Now, we're on a roll, finally.

This client is lovely. She's high spirited, often opinionated and always positive. She obviously really enjoys the process, which is delightful to see.

Here's the thing...I guess I understand what an actor on the stage means when he/she says that he/she "feeds off" of the audience, and the audience is different every night.

My energy, my creativity, my spirit, in large part, is fed from the client. If the client is positive, I'll double that feeling, resulting in lots of real enthusiasm and quite possibly, enhanced creativity. If the client is reserved, nervous, or negative, the stage is set for me to try to bring us to higher ground, where we can connect and become real partners in this venture. I'm at my absolute best with a positive, engaged, interested client. It becomes magic!

Today, I brought forth ideas rapid-fire, I exulted and exclaimed loudly when we hit on a great idea, all in response to a very motivated and positive client. Serious/reserved/"professional demeanor?" I'd rather exclaim, "look at THIS, wow!"

I enjoyed myself immensely today. Clients, motivate your designers with a positive demeanor. You'll get the best work from your designer, and you'll have some fun too. Relax, relate, reap rewards!

What I Did Last Week

I guess I took a small leave of absence that was unintentional! I've just finished a crazy week, crazier than usual.

It started last Wednesday in New York City. I was asked by KBB magazine (Kitchen Bath Business) to be a judge of product innovations for 2007, to be disclosed in their December issue. There were five other judges invited and, I believe, 147 product entries for us to go through. This took most of the day, and included much spirited, open, discussion. I suppose it was sort of what a jury room must be like! The jury foreman (non judge representative from KBB) did a great job of adding order to the chaos, and assuring that everyone was heard. We came with different points of view, a good thing. I could tell you who the winners are...but then I'd have to harm you!

The next day, Thursday, I met a business associate from Europe, and we traipsed down to Washington D.C. to discuss a large residential multi apartment project. We took the 6 am train there and the 1 pm train back. We also took a circuitous route back to Union Station in DC by way of a cab driver (I casually said, give us a tour) who then wanted to charge us $60 when all I asked to see was the Capital, which was right near Union Station! Switched trains in New York and took the train out to my home and went to dinner with my husband and business associate.

Friday found me and my associate in the offices of two shelter publication editors, again in New York, striking while my associate was in town (more details at another time!)

Saturday, again in the city with my associate, looking at beautiful showrooms in Soho, with a first stop in DUMBO to see the Gaggenau/Bosch/Thermador showroom, and take in the incredible view.

Mind you, most of these times I went going back and forth to the city from my home in Long Island, an hour away with no traffic. Sunday, I CRASHED at home, of course, doing work too, and my associate left town after a successful trip. I must note that Friday we experienced (got my husband to meet me to drive home together) legendary traffic. We left the city at 4/4:15, I think it was, and came home at 7 pm!

It's a very good "busy." I enjoy doing other types of work involving kitchen design, it makes things interesting, very interesting, rather than doing one type of work each and every day, although, of course, I enjoy my work too. But, I love to branch out and touch all sorts of peripheral kitchen-related parts of the business.  A number of interesting kitchen related events on my calendar that are coming up too...can't wait.  

The Secret To Making A Selection

I met Grace, my client, and her best friend at the tile store today. She had to choose a floor for her family room, which is somewhat open to the kitchen we're working on. I wasn't purchasing it for her, but she's a great client, and I wanted to help her out, so I readily agreed to meet with her at the store, gratis. Happy to do it.

How does this relate to kitchens? The whole house relates to the kitchen and the kitchen relates to the whole house. Grace had her cabinet samples and granite sample with her.

Here's what we looked at. She wanted a porcelain tile for the floor (the family room is on a slab and the dog mostly stays in that room.) We quickly found three that we liked:

  • A red with multi colored soft tones in it,
  • a very elegant, sleek, tile, very large, very light, very subtle, but with a beautiful light and linear greigy color (my choice-a less is more kind of look),
  • and an in between tile which was quite busy.  All gorgeous.

Long story short, we chose a fourth tile that the store owner uncovered for us, from behind other large displays. Textured but fairly consistent. It had a texture unlike anything else we'd seen, and different, unique, is a good thing. It has warm terracotta and warm gray tones in it, so although cold to the touch, it will feel warm, visually. It works great with the colors of the kitchen, just beyond the room.

At first I admonished myself that I didn't take photos, but, it's not really about what we chose.  

The Secret

The last tile just "spoke" to all of us, equally. We had a visceral reaction to it.  The secret to making a selection is that you want that strong, sort of organic, reaction to reveal itself.  It will come and find you. Be patient, keep looking, and keep the faith. You owe it to yourself to wait for that feeling to surround you. It's unpredictable, but, you know it when you feel it. Keep looking until you feel it. You will!

Sometimes, you have to step away for a little while, turn your attention elsewhere, and then return to the item and be aware of how you're feeling about it. Um, like love, you want to be sure of your selection!

I would love to hear your thoughts on when you knew something was the "right" product or material for your project. Please share your experiences with me.  


My Day Today - Talking Kitchens and More

Once in a great while I like to sort of write about my day. Today seems to be a good day for that. Things are swirling around. Busy day.

A New Installer 

I started the day with an appointment at 7:15 am in my office with a new, potential, cabinet installer. Choosing to work with an installer is not unlike choosing a business partner. You want to make sure the mutual goals are similar, the business values, good habits, in order to feel that there is synergy at a certain level to produce quality work. An installer and a designer, ultimately, are a team, like it or not. They both need one another to be successful, efficient, and get the job done in the best way possible. I like this installer, and I feel very confident about him. I'm very picky and interview installers with many questions. The answers were great. I foresee mutual respect, which must be present, or it won't work.

This one's for you, Joe Z***

Where I don't see mutual respect, unfortunately, is with Joe Z***, who I met with last Friday. I guess I spent, with travel time, our meeting, and preparing for the meeting, 3 hours that day.

Joe Z*** (a local builder) called me because he loved reading my blog! He needed a kitchen for his own home and asked if I could meet him at his home. I said sure. Through our 1 phone and 1 meeting conversations (I'm a good listener) I learned (about six times) that he is a fourth generation builder, about his youth, his college, his wife, how they met, where she's from, his family, his father, his father's business in the past, where his father retired, what he's (his father) doing now, their kids, his business relationships, all his connections, name dropping legendary NYC real estate developers, and all the big, huge, work that he had done and that was coming up. Joe Z*** speaks softly and always with a big smile. That should have been the give-away.

He was very enthusiastic about working together with me and said there would be much work that he would love to send my way. He liked my approach, and we talked about getting together this past Tuesday. This meeting took place last Friday.

Joe told me at the end of our meeting that he wanted me to do the design only for his kitchen and he would use his cabinet maker. I said that I don't normally do things that way, but let me think about it, and I may have to raise my rate for my retainer to be more proportionate to the work to be performed. Zero reaction/resistance, and we spoke again about meeting on Tuesday. I said I'd get back to him the next day as I thought about a revised rate, if any. I usually like to leave a door open and leave time to consider an offer.

I left several messages for Joe since last Friday.  Joe chose not to return my calls. Joe did not have the decency to pick up the phone to say, "Thanks for your time, but I'm going to go in another direction." Joe has perpetuated the negative reputation that many builders have from their circle of allied professionals as well as the general public. There is no way around this. To ask for 3 hours of someone's time at no charge (all fine, if that's the policy, as it was mine) but to NOT return a follow up phone call (or email) to the professional who gave their time, is rude behavior to say the least. Very rude, very unprofessional, very disrespectful, and, of course, arrogant. Conversely, I have a potential client who recently let me know that he is currently exploring other options and will get back to me at the end of the month in response to my inquiry after a meeting. That's how it's done. I'm grateful that I am not involved in Joe Z's world.

A Gutted Kitchen 

I'm in the middle of a kitchen that is totally gutted. It's both thrilling and nerve wracking every time. In this case, I'm doing some wacky things, so I'm a bit more on edge than usual, and excited too. I'll keep you informed as things happen. Had a meeting today with the contractor and homeowner to work through many details. Her home is ripped apart by my doing, and there's always that little voice...will it all come back together again?? This one will be something very special, you just wait!

The Dog And The Cat 

We're watching my daughter and son in law's adorable little dog. Every once in awhile I hear a yelp! Probably something to do with our cat. The dog used to bark loudly at the cat. Till the cat very quietly put the dog in line. How, I'm not sure...except for those occasional yelps we hear! Now the dog doesn't bark AT ALL near the cat! 

A Wedding 

Now, I'm off out east on Long Island to attend a good friend's daughter's wedding. Gotta run and get ready.  


Kitchen Cabinet Order Process

It was a very busy week last week. Of course, a large cabinet order for a kitchen had to be edited while I was away, which I did (while I was away). Then, it had to be looked at in its entirety again right after I got back, to do the back and forth editing with the factory, which I did, and have just finished.

I thought it would be interesting to give you a little glimpse of what is involved in ordering a kitchen, this stage of the order processing, which is the final stage. It's a stressful time. It's decision time, fish or cut bait, do or die, last chance and all that!

I do things the long way. When I put in my cabinet order, it's probably 95% accurate. Usually, that is because I need to rush the order writing somewhat so that I can reserve a particular week for delivery...timing is always critical in my line of business! At this time, the client and I go over the final plans and they place the deposit with me. In the course of going over every final detail, more issues often arise, changes, rethinking, etc. on the part of the client. I permit that, I never discourage it, because I want my clients to have things "their way." I want them to have every opportunity, even if it comes later than it should, to make their kitchen the way they want it.

Sometimes, as in this case, the client kept thinking and rethinking things well after we first placed the order, and I continued to accommodate this client until the day before I left for my trip (a surprise two hour meeting!) And, then we emailed and spoke again while I was away!

When the factory gives me back their interpretation of my written order, and before production, it looks like the image, here! I need to start from scratch with every single dimension for the entire room, taking another look at a couple of hundred+ cabinet order details, and taking everything else (appliance specs & more) into consideration all over again. That's how I do it.  It takes focused concentration for long periods of time.  As a result, I never, ever, have a problem with a cabinet's fit, and I'll often come up with new, better, ways of detailing a cabinet during this time.

There are four pieces of information that I check, one against the other, constantly: the specifications list in the contract, the floor plan and elevations, my order to the factory, and the original dimensions from the space. Back and forth, one to the other and back again.

Sometimes I have not been 100% clear in the order, and sometimes the factory makes a mistake or misinterpretation on their edited copy of the actual order. They check me, and I then check their final interpretation before it goes into production. We communicate via phone and email. To me, it's not over until it's the last day before production (well, the goal is to have it be over when the factory begins their editing process!) You can get a sense of how detailed a designer is if you ask him/her to tell you how he/she edits their orders with the factory. Sometimes I call it engineering the cabinetry to fit, as I design all cabinetry to the 1/8". If they roll their eyes at the thought of this stage of the process, it's a good sign! Now the order is done, and guess what, when the cabinets arrive, I'm doing the whole thing all over again to remember why I did what I did!



Kitchen Remodeling Project Management and Technology

I love technology, I always have. I'm not an expert, but I have a natural curiosity for many technological things...gadgets first and foremost, software, any sort of productivity tool. I think of these tools not only as time saving but as fun, and fun is always good, especially when you're in the kitchen remodeling business, or even worse, UNDERGOING a kitchen remodeling! So, I'd like to share a few productivity tools that I'm using that you could find useful too, I'm sure.

Backpack: Get Organized and Collaborate

Backpack -  You're a homeowner and you're doing a kitchen renovation. With backpack, also called backpackit, you have pages in which you can put information, accessible to you anywhere/anytime, since it's web based, and it's all in one convenient spot. So, you may want a page for your kitchen cabinetry, a page for your countertops, a page for your sink, your faucet, even a page for your designer and contractor. Well, I can think of a whole lot of "pages" you'd need during the course of a remodel. It's the web's answer to a spiral bound notebook.

Here's what you put on the pages. You'll put in notes, lists (with lovely little boxes next to them to check off tasks), make tags for search purposes (a huge plus), use a calendar, set reminders, and let's not forget, upload images!! And, here's the best can make it completely private, open it to specific people, or have it public for the world to see. I'm wild about it. I have the super mega upgraded service and I'm paying $9 a month! 37 signals, makers of this service, also offer other amazing services, of which I use a few, such as basecamp.

If you wouldn't mind, please use this code in the Referrer Code field if you sign up: BP2956J - many thanks!


Cell Tell - It's "voice notes" and it works with backpack, above. This service is nuts. I'm sorry I can't be more elegant than that. Picture this: I'm at a granite yard. The slab my client and I love has a long reference number along the side of it. We may want that slab. Here's what I do. I speed dial a number on my phone, I say the reference number of the granite, which yard we're at, where it is in the yard, and I hang up. Two minutes later, the voice note is sitting on my designated backpack page. No hunting for the salesperson, no hunting for pen and paper, only to have to keep track of the paper, no taking forever to type it into my pda. Oh, by the way.....the service is FREE.

And, guess what else? It couldn't be easier. No voice menus, no other entries to make! You a) speed dial b) hear your name c) speak d) hang up. It's a beautiful thing.  


simulscribe.jpgSilmulScribe -  If the above service is nuts, this is beyond nuts. Again, picture this. You're someplace where you can't really take the time to access your phone messages, or are otherwise preoccupied. OR, too, like me, your cell phone doesn't ring in your home or office because you're in a bad cell area, doesn't matter if it's sitting right next to you. SimulScribe will translate cell phone calls into text and will then email the text message to you! For me, it's amazing, whether I'm in my office, working on my computer, and I get a cell phone call (which will show up as a text message in my in box a few minutes later) or I'm out and about and can't take a call, but CAN quickly skim a message on my pda, this service solves a whole host of problems. For the hearing impaired, it could be a great tool. I'm wild about it. It's $10 a month for 40 messages.

When I'm out of the office , I can forward my office calls to my cell phone number, which will then email me the text messages of these calls, and I can read/view them on my pda.  The trick is to remember to do that before I leave the office!


iPhone -  I love it. I'll tell you just ONE reason why, out of many. The calendar is a joy to use, but the best part is that you get TWO alerts, or reminders, for an appointment. So, you're my client, and we have an appointment at Friday at 2 pm. Set one alert for some time on Thursday, as a general reminder, and set the second alert for two hours before our appointment on Friday, or any other handy combination of dual alerts. I don't know about you, but I'm busy, and even with a calendar, I could really use that second reminder.


snagit.jpgSnagIt - And, last but DEFINITELY not least, I'm all OVER this little piece of software! A client who used my consultation services turned me on to SnagIt. Whether you are making notes on an image, a word document, an advertisement, any piece of anything, this software allows you to create notes right on the "capture" and convert it to a variety of formats, including a jpg or pdf document. You can also "capture" just a section of a document or image to save in a file and then make notes on it. Oh, I'm not explaining this very well, but, please take my word for it and go look at it! This image is an actual "capture" that I marked up for a client.

And, wait till you hear this...there's this little 1/8"-1/4" x 2" blue line that sits up at the top of my monitor that is just waiting for my mouse to touch it, I don't even have to click on it, just run the mouse on top of it, and it springs into action, to capture what I need captured, always at the ready.

Now it's your turn! What great productivity tools do you use?? 

(I promise...pretty kitchen pictures are coming back shortly...and wait till you see what pictures I'm going to put up next!) 

Jott.jpgUPDATE:  How about one more very cool tool? I also signed up for Jott. Jott does the holy takes YOUR calls or messages and emails you (if it's a note to yourself) the text AND the original voice mail! So, I'm at a jobsite and the installer tells me to order 6' more crown molding. I speed dial Jott, say "order 6' more crown molding for the Smith job" and when I get back to the office, the email is there with text PLUS the original voice recording. Jott also works with group contacts, where you can Jott a message by your cell phone, to say, 6 people, saying you'll be late to the meeting. No more separate phone calls! Oh, it's FREE.

Right now I have signed up for both Cell Tell and Jott, and have them both speed dialed into my phone. I'll use them both and see which one I go toward more...the one where one designated "page" of backpack serves as a (good) dumping ground for these random on-the-fly notes, to later move the items into my personal to do list page or business to do list page, or Jott, which emails me text, and I like text, but, which could get lost in the black hole of the emaildom inbox. It's all about productivity and the ease of it!

OMG, I'm going to have a backpack page for each client! I've found the holy grail (I think I've found a couple here today!)


Kitchen Design Whine

I'm going to take a minute and whine (yes, I'd safely put this under the category of whining) but along with whining there's the lesson behind it (ok, my motherly instincts are also at work here, I see) and so, I will make this brief, but instructive.

So that I don't trash any particular allied professional, as I must say, from the architect to the helper who sweeps the jobsite clean every day, and everyone in between, including myself, we all have our day in the sun where we can screw up on a (hopefully, teeny tiny) part of a client's project. However, with luck and concentration, those times are few and far between, IF we follow this advice below regarding email communication.

It is important for the unnamed (above) to do a few simple things in an effort to make a project progress in a timely and responsible way. This advice absolutely goes for clients too (you have responsibilities too!)

1. If an email is received with specific information in it, read it...carefully. Don't just ignore it. Look at attachments with specific information in them as well, (which, if pointed out-means something is important) and deal with the information on a timely basis. If this is not done, things may get messy later on.

2. Don't skim emails, as information will be vastly diluted, forgotten, and of course, not even seen in the skimming process. Again, slow down. Did I say slow down?

3. Don't make excuses that you could not keep track of the information in two emails because another person was involved with forwarding them, yadayadayada. This borders on insulting.

4. Consider all pieces of information from all parties connected to the project as being important to hear. Do not judge "importance" until you have absorbed the information at hand...premature judgment of non importance is risky.

5. It's the recipient's responsibility to reply, get answers back, etc. Don't be one to have others chase you down for information. That's not cool. 

That's all. Had an email with critical information been read in a timely way, a month would not have gone by, which, at this moment, has now put a big, fat, snag in a project. Color me annoyed at this moment. It will pass, as it all does. It's not cancer, (perspective is always important) but I get nuts about the above stuff. The devil resides in the details! And, yes, my turn will come, with another situation, but I'm not sure I'll be ranting about it!


Have a nice day...and read your emails!!  ;-) 


Designing Your Kitchen - Trying To Beat The Clock!

I got a call from a long time business associate on Monday. He asked if I could come out and look at his kitchen. He has a remodeling crew there now. The shell of the extension is up, and they will break through the wall to the existing house, into the dining room and the kitchen, very soon. I was going somewhere else, in that direction, so I said sure.

He showed me a kitchen design that he had been given from Lowe's. I yawned (to myself) at the uninspiring design work. After my yawn, I started to do what I do, which is to ask a series of lifestyle questions. But, details, lifestyle details. Obviously, the husband and wife had never been asked these types of questions before by their architect or the designer from Lowes. They were genuinely surprised at the questions I was asking them. I moved them, figuratively, into the kitchen bubble, where they looked at these issues for the first time. While the hammers were pounding, literally, in the extension.

The urgency of the meeting, as I saw it, was NOT to point out problem areas of the current kitchen plan from Lowes, but to discuss far more critical, and immediate, issues involving windows and doors and the eating area which was right in the center of two 6' or 8' doorways, one going to the outside, one going to the extension, and, the table with 6 chairs not 10 feet away from the dining room table. The dreaded "table/table" syndrome. 

The doors and windows were ordered that day. We quickly decided the contractor should cancel the order.

So, the meeting went well, I was hired and said I'd do my design work. They told me they needed it done soon, and I said I'd do what I can do. I do have other clients!

This was Monday. Yesterday, Tuesday, I received an email late in the day saying that the contractor needs to know the door/window sizes by Thursday.  

I wrote back, saying that while it may be possible to get it done by Thursday, he has a choice of getting it done with 25% or less of devoted quality time and thought put into it than is typical for me, "filling in the blanks" in a very basic way, OR, to allow the proper time for this expensive, and nearly once-in-a-lifetime project to develop.  A kitchen takes time to plan, a lot more than one thinks it "should" take. I hoped to illustrate that.

I advised him to tell the contractor in a nice way that he, the client, misjudged the time needed for planning purposes and that Thursday would not work. Perhaps the contractor can put his crew on another job when they get done with what they are doing.  

This is a crisis for the clients at this moment. They may end up paying the contractor real money for disrupting his schedule, if he's not willing to work with them. They are only now understanding that a kitchen is not just cabinets that someone punches mindlessly into a computer for 30 minutes at Lowes, but,

  • A quality of life for 20 years.
  • A design statement connected to the entirety of their home.
  • A functional environment that has at least several work flow possibilities which must be explored.
  • Perhaps, a once-in-a-lifetime project.
  • A space that needs to address numerous lifestyle activities.
  • A space that needs to "speak to" other rooms in a intelligent way.
  • A space that needs to work with the architectural elements such as doorways and windows.

Here's my message. Truly, it's never too early to hire a kitchen design professional. If you THINK it's just a quick thing to get the cabinets plugged into your plan, you will be doing your family, and your life in the kitchen, and your home, a huge disservice. I cannot overstate that. It's just never too early to get your designer in place. Leave time to interview designers. To find the right designer for this huge undertaking, not to mention expensive, should be given as much time as it needs.

I'm sorry for these people now. Part of their project, including doorways and windows, is up in the air. I have time obligations to other clients. I didn't really realize how strongly I felt about my kitchens. This type of timing issue does not come up too frequently, when one is in the middle of construction, at least not for me. But, it just really bothers me. It needs to be done well, carefully, as dimensioning for locating doors and windows is extremely critical, the lifestyle issues are critical, and so, it must be done right.  And, in my world, that's not done in 30 minutes.

I'm leaving off with a sigh...and a solemn, and slow, shaking of my head, as I hear the drum beat of the hammers in the distance  ;-)


Kitchen Cabinet Delivery Day Is Coming!

The day is finally coming, after all the time, the planning, the labor, and let's not forget, the angst, (just a little bit somewhere). So, what's going to happen? How will it all unfold, and is there anything you need to know? In a word, YES. Here are some tips to make the day go smoothly, and be as exciting as it should be:

  • Start two weeks ahead and review your contract. If extra items were ordered, or any items cancelled, settle up with your designer sooner than later.
  • Note the method of payment on your contract! Is your payment designated to be via bank check? If so, have your funds in order in advance to avoid any unforeseen difficulties.
  • Still 2 weeks in advance, get the day and time of day of your delivery so you can plan accordingly. Be home, or your delivery may not be able to take place if there is no access into the house previously arranged, and as a result, you may be responsible for a redelivery charge. Often, your kitchen is one of several being delivered that day, therefore, it is critical that the cabinets be delivered, or the other kitchens may not be able to be delivered to their destinations, and even if they can be, your cabinets will be moved around in the truck. This is not a day to be forgetful. For me, the designer, it is a high stress day, always, to have it all orchestrated properly, as you will continue to see below!
  • Tell your designer to keep you in the loop as to any changes in delivery time in advance, or even that day, to be aware if the schedule is still accurate.
  • Consider the path into your home. If floors are newly finished, make arrangements to have building paper put down in advance. This step is most likely not in your contract, and can be as simple as putting down drop cloths. My recommendation is to address it in advance with your designer. There may or may not be a charge attached, if you want all of your floors covered with building paper. Consider where you will store the cabinetry. If you realize that you have nowhere to store them, due to project delays, call a storage facility or see if you can delay delivery (sometimes you can, but probably not likely). You want the cabinetry handled as little as possible, therefore, try to make it just one stop.
  • Is your address confusing? Are there two streets with the same name in your township? Advise your designer, who may not know this, or you will be waiting unnecessarily.  
  • If it is winter and you are in a cold climate, or hot and humid, do not store your cabinetry in your garage! Your cabinetry should be in a climate controlled environment. Think of it as furniture.
  • Do you live on a driveway that is up or down a large hill? Make sure that it is completely clear and accessible, and all pathways clear of snow, ice, and debris, or the delivery may not be able to take place.
  • You are permitted to be controlling(!) and if you think of it, ask your designer to stack your cabinetry efficiently (in two layers vertically) and carefully. It does not hurt to occasionally keep an eye on how the cabinets are being brought into your home and ask questions/make suggestions where you see the need to. I always tell those who move the cabinetry into a home to understand that it should be treated as if it is glass. I hover and watch and remind and direct in a nice and professional manner. I will ask that items be rearranged. That's ok to do. 
  • Plan to be home if possible during your delivery. Find out if your designer or his/her representative will be present at delivery and will supervise. ideally, you want someone to stand at the back of the truck to determine if any cabinets are transported off the truck in a damaged state, (a rarity). This is critical. Any damage should be noted on the delivery receipt, which your designer will keep a copy of.
  • Do not worry if anything is damaged or missing. Your contract should protect you in terms of missing items and manufacturer's defects. It rarely happens. Sometimes the factory will not advise the design firm that they are "shipping short".  Your contract is your promise that all materials will be delivered in good condition. Check that on the front end, not the day of delivery.
  • Do you have to tip those who move the cabinetry? No. If you want to, that is up to you. It is not expected.

I would guess that NONE of my clients follow the advice above in regard to the day of delivery and are often not present, and everything ends up fine. However, a word to the wise...

I'll bet you did not think there were so many issues involved during the day of delivery! 

HEY! That's one of my kitchens on the side of the truck! And, it's for real!  :-) Too bad it never comes to my part of the country.

susan serra truck.jpg

Tiii-iii-ime is NOT on your side

How many materials are involved in your kitchen project? Let me say that another many different categories of materials are involved? Let's take a quick inventory:


  • cabinetry
  • countertops
  • sink(s)
  • faucet(s)
  • sink accessories
  • faucet accessories
  • lighting, more lighting
  • hardware
  • hardware
  • appliances
  • tile
  • that all encompassing "OTHER"

P2050021a.jpgI'm sure I'm forgetting some smaller types of items. I have a project going on right now where I advised my client to make a decision on her countertops in a timely manner. In this case, the countertops did not have to be templated, they could have been ordered well in advance, to be present at the time the cabinetry was installed and could be installed immediately thereafter.

Time just went on. And on, and on some more. My client finally made a decision on the countertops at the time the cabinetry was being installed. The order was put in for the tops, and unfortunately, they now have to wait a month for the countertops to arrive, with the kitchen finished. But, wait! The tile cannot go in yet because the countertops are not on. 

AND, the sink and faucet cannot be hooked up until the countertops are in. I think I'll suggest a temporary countertop and sink/faucet hookup.

Now that I think of it, the same thing happened with another client. Just putting off the countertop decision has such an impact on timing and the ability to use the kitchen.

My advice? Get all your decisions made at ONE time. Some people do not begin the installation process until everything is at hand. Time has this funny way of just passing in chunks, it seems, at times, as we're busy going about our lives. Get your decisions made, and put it all to bed. Your kitchen will be up and running in no time.


Timing is Everything


What time is it?

I'm often asked "how long will it take to do a kitchen?" The words "how long" really get everyone in trouble. Make people crazy, make them patient, impatient, anxious, all sorts of things. We want things done either a) fast or b) exactly when we want them done. There are those who understand that a kitchen can have a life of its own. Point being, TAKE CONTROL OF TIMING AT THE START OF THE PROCESS, not just before the construction process, but from the initial process.

Talk about timing a lot. With your architect, with your contractor, designer, and anyone else. Keep it in the forefront. Ask for updates (sorry, not every day) from the beginning to the end of the entire project. The client who stays in control and aware of timing will probably get their project done at the most productive (not necessarily fastest) pace possible. Communication is everything.

Set up timing goals from the start. Do you have events? School starting? Holidays? Project forward as much as you can and communicate your timing expectations .