Mother and Daughter Working Together - Kelly's Kitchen Renovation

Before I go deeper into the design of Kelly and Dave's kitchen, I want to let you in on my thinking at the start and along the way.

When Kelly (you know Kelly as my daughter) and my son-in-law, Dave, asked me to design their kitchen, the concept of "control" quickly entered my mind. I was thrilled that they came to me because it showed a respect for my work and a confidence or hopefulness of some sort on their part that we could make it work, presumably without...drama. 


So, the control issue came up for me because, well, yes, I know kitchen design and they don't, yet it's their home, so how would THAT manifest itself in my approach with them? I'd be visiting this home continually after the project is over, unlike my other projects. Hmmm...

  • Would I come on too strong? 
  • Would I have to pick battles? 
  • Could my daughter be nudged in certain directions without creating a power struggle? 
  • Would I have the need to project myself as the authority to quash a potential power struggle in order to get my way?
  • Would those fears even be an issue and is it harmful for me to even question that?
  • How would the give and take that has to happen in a positive design process work, given that we are mother and daughter?
  • Lastly, would I do a good job? Wow, that was a huge concern at the start - later, it went away

As you can see I was quickly on the lookout for potential, very deep rooted, situations to present themselves! Plus, the kitchen is 190 square feet, is eat-in, must be suitable for entertaining, and there is no other dining area in their home, so the design had to be GOOD. There was no room for error; every inch counted! Good collaboration was vital!

Being a graduate (are you ever a graduate?) of long term therapy years ago, I decided to find tools of communication that would make the process a positive one. One of the biggest tools we both ended up using from the start of this kitchen renovation project was the combination of sharing blunt/wide open opinions, stated either calmly or enthusiastically as the situation warranted, often laced with humor ABOUT the fact that we were "just putting it out there", perhaps with a mischevious smile. Or, we would just talk things to death from every possible angle.

We also provided time for each of us to digest an opinion or concept. We dug deep right away and stayed there throughout, always, or mostly, being aware of what was really behind our opinions. Looking back, humor was the theme - there was a LOT of laughter, often making fun of potential control issues on either side! It was a way to be aware of our intentions. That particular type of humor sort of brings with it a piece of vulnerability on both sides which then brought us closer everytime we engaged in it.

I like humor, I really do. Many times, if I was pitching an idea to Kelly, doing a full-on pitch, I'd also throw in..."and the baby is ready for a sippy cup by the way", just to be silly, bring levity, and add that fun factor. Kelly did the same, firmly and delightedly putting me in my place as she saw fit, or just felt like doing for her own idea of a good time! We didn't feel the need to always tread lightly with one another. Sometimes we pushed it to the max!

So, like all of my other clients, I could only be an authority up to a point. My professional side quickly brought in that understanding - that it is ultimately their home and my job was to enlighten, provide choices, education, and they would take what they wanted from it. I knew in essence, there was no difference with this approach, whether it be a typical client or my daughter. That should be my gift to her, right?

In a desire to be transparent, I'm trying to think of where there was drama, and either I'm blocking it out or it was so minimal that I don't remember it. Maybe Kelly will. What I remember is one word: fun.

Renovating a kitchen, I think, definitely can be one of the most rewarding, fun, and enjoyable things to do. All of the senses reside in the kitchen: touch, sight, taste, smell, hearing, something I have noted for years. The kitchen is the soul of the house. Kelly knows that, she felt it, and from my perspective, she also wanted this experience to be meaningful, us working together, as well as fun. It was, and we did have fun. We congratulated ourselves when it was over and we declared it a good experience!

Whether it's a mother as the designer and daughter as client, (or any family combination) or husband/wife working with a chosen designer, I have some advice, having come from years of experience as well as from the emotional place of working with a family member. This advice is for working with friends as well.

Think positive - just do it

Look for fun - find something funny as frequently as possible (like, a lot)

Put decisions into perspective - think "first world problems"

Trust and respect your design professional and make sure that is returned before you hire him/her - nothing good will happen otherwise. Trust Susan on that.

Take time to make a decision when you need to - don't be or feel pressured

Communicate as clearly and openly with all parties involved in the process as you can

Be organized - putting your thoughts, choices, etc. into a project management system will take the pressure off

 Did I say have fun???

Kitchen living on the "other side" of the renovation


The Kitchen Holidays

Is it the Holiday spirit? Yes, I'm sure it is, in part, that makes me so positive about, well, nearly everything today. I just finished watching Celine Dion sing The Christmas Song, which was done with such beautiful restraint and quietness (granted, for a change!) Lovely. Made me think of my experiences today and how it relates to none other than my kitchen design business.

It began with a trip to the dentist (again.) This time it was an hour and a half visit, and again, it was a piece of cake. But, a little twitch on my part, and he was all over it..."do you feel any pain?" "everything ok?" "just tell me" all of which made me feel very, cared for, I suppose. Nice feeling. A little chatting, pleasantries, just nice all around.

Then, I went to my project (wait till you see THIS ONE-not the one below) and, with four different tradespeople there, plus the clients, everyone was happy, cooperative, collaborative, relaxed, all really good stuff that sometimes cannot be found on a project. Another lift to the spirit. In fact, a real big lift, fed by all these people, including a very positive client. Some minor issues came up with a few of the tradespeople...through patience, respect, and collaboration, solutions flowed to these details at hand.

After that, I went to a business supply store and bought two gifts, one for my long time accountant, and one for his employee, my weekly bookeeper. The customer service I received was truly a model for all businesses! The service was courteous, kind, helpful, going above and beyond to help me find the perfect gift, and then wrapping it carefully with a ribbon. Really nice experience. Again, chatting, pleasantries, a warm experience.

I dropped off the gifts at my accountant's office. I wanted to show my appreciation, as I do every year. I don't think I need to in a material way, but it feels good to say thanks. I arrived, we chatted about our families, our plans for the holidays, and I expressed my thanks to my accountant and my bookeeper. More warmth.

So, among these experiences, I thought of my business and how important it is to stay positive, to go above and beyond to not only please, but to delight my clients. I'm human, and sometimes I fall short, but today was a great day to be observant and a reminder of the dynamics involved in people relating to people in a positive way.

Happy Holidays and a wonderful, positive, 2008!! :) And, have faith, because this:













really will turn into this:


Drilling for Kitchens

So, I'm at the dentist this morning (a whole hour appointment) and I'm happily under the sweet air, and what do I start thinking about, but this blog. First off, I'm very busy these days, so that's the reason for the less frequent posts.

So, I'm hearing drilling in my head (mind you, all different whirring sounds, not just one type, the high pitch AND the low pitch) and after that I'm hearing beeping, like a truck backing up, yet, I'm relaxed and focusing on details of the blog and what I want to talk about today. Then, I had to concentrate on acting totally normal after I get up from the chair, as if I feel no lingering effects of the sweet air and am in total control! I'll tell you, this is one, painless, dental practice.

But, back to lying down in the chair and thinking of the blog...

What came to mind was just a small detail of the dynamics of the remodeling process and the client/designer relationship, or client and builder/contractor/whatever relationship.

framing.jpgI was emailing back and forth with a client this morning, around 5 am or so, about doing a framing change in the scullery and, of course, the framing is happening now and for this next week (it's a new home.)  Yesterday, I suggested that we increase the width of the scullery by one foot, to not feel confined, when one spends time there. I'm also two states away and it's a new home being built.

The client asked if we could even do this at this point, said maybe we shouldn't, I said, sure, no problem, it will be better, no biggie, and then I heard nothing from the client. Turned out he had left for work earlier than usual. All we had to do was get the blessing from the builder and architect to support this decision.

Here's the point...I think sometimes, with the immediacy and fast pace of building, things like this can be quite stressful for homeowners, where, conversely, us pros are very casual about it...perhaps to the point where the client reads a casual demeanor as either being apathetic, unconcerned, unengaged, however you want to put it.

I'm not sure that's the case here with this client, but I did reassure them that if they want me, I'd drive up tomorrow. I know I've sensed annoyance before when I've acted, perhaps a bit too casual for my clients' tastes. But, homeowners, when we do this year after year, it would be a bad thing if we were to let a little quick pace get us all freaked out, now wouldn't it? A casual demeanor is a good thing, it means steadiness and control, and clear thinking, not apathy.

Just a little fyi...can you relate, pro or homeowner?


Pardon My Dust - LA Times Remodeling Blog

I recently "met" (in a cyber sort of way) Kathy Price-Robinson, author of the blog, "Pardon Our Dust", seen in the LA Times. I was immediately struck by Kathy's "voice." It is a voice of reason in this wild and crazy world we call remodeling. It is a voice of knowledge about the remodeling process, which is exactly what Kathy Robinson-Price specializes in...the process. How to put one step in front of the other, to survive the remodeling process (intact.) Kathy talks about what consumers need to know, and interestingly, what they don't. I like Kathy's take on the process. She knows her stuff, and she pulls no punches! It's my pleasure to introduce you to Kathy Price-Robinson. Thanks, Kathy!

1. OK, I'm curious, why remodeling? Where did your knowledge or experience come from?

I started writing about houses as a fluke when another reporter at the Santa Barbara News-Press hated his assignment to write about a house a week and he asked me to take over the assignment. I love, love, love going into people's homes and writing about them. I wrote a weekly series for the News-Press for seven years (that's 350 houses!) and then moved my series to the L.A. Times in 1997. As for my experience, I'm a writer first, and a remodeling specialist second. I did grow up around construction as all my relatives were in “the trades,” such as plastering, lathing, masonry and carpentry.

remodeling.jpg 2. What do you want consumers to know about remodeling kitchens?

As you mentioned in your intro, I'm into the process of the remodel and helping people get through it. While an expert like you can help with layout and product selection, I like to help people understand that remodeling a kitchen is the most difficult, complex project there is. Perhaps because I am so into food, I want people to take more care when they figure out how they will survive without a kitchen for weeks or months at a time. How will they cook? How will they clean? Where will the refrigerator be? You cannot live on granola bars for two months. You need to eat fresh, nutritious foods, especially during the stress of a kitchen remodel. I think if people took better care of their needs during a remodel, they would have fewer emotional, mental and physical meltdowns during the process.

3. How should consumers put together/hire a team...architect, contractor, kitchen designer, interior designer?

For a kitchen, I suggest that the architect, contractor and kitchen designer work hand-in-hand from the very beginning. So many problems start during the “hand-off” from designer to contractor, and it doesn't have to be like that. The worst way to go about it, in my opinion, is to get bids on a completed design. What you could end up doing, if you are looking for the lowest bid, is hiring the company who left the most things out of the bid, only to add them in later as “change orders,” which will increase the costs. The better way is to decide the team you want to work with, and work with them from the beginning.

4. How can conflicts be avoided?

Communication is the key. Every meeting and phone call between homeowners and their team should be documented. Take notes. I also like the idea of a jobsite notebook where all notes are kept and the team members can leave notes for each other. Also, I suggest that homeowners get out and see all the materials they can in advance. Go to tile stores, and carpet stores, and kitchen shops. Plus, get a stack of magazines and ponder which kitchens you love and which you don't. You'll start to notice common denominators. From my experience, the homeowners who are happiest with their finished kitchen remodels are the ones who did the most upfront research.

Kitchen%20Remodeling%202.jpg 5. How involved should the homeowners be in the process, once it gets going? Can/should they just leave it all up to the experts?

That's a tricky question. It depends on how many issues remain unresolved when construction begins. A kitchen remodel typically requires so many decisions, and homeowners are not usually able to make all of them up front. If there is a well-thought-out list of deadlines for those decisions to be made — color selections, fixtures, etc. — and the homeowner sticks to the schedule, the job goes smoother. Some homeowners like to be involved and some want the pros to take over. I’d say it depends on the team.

6. What are your thoughts on green design/building?

I love this topic and we all must figure out a way to live sustainably. That means that we meet our own needs while not compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Obviously we cannot continue to pour pollutants into the air, water and land forever. We once thought the planet could take whatever we threw at it, but now we see that's just not true. Even in the farthest reaches of the wilderness, we find human-created pollutants have a negative effect on wildlife.

In kitchens, there are many ways to design and build green. We should probably not take as many items to the landfill, so items in the old kitchen should be retained when possible, or reused (old cabinets used in the garage are a great example), or recycled or given away. Then, you want to design the kitchen in a way that cuts down on the need for artificial light in the daytime, and that conserves water. And the materials that are “resource conservative,” as some in the green building field like to call it, are growing in number all the time. You can get some exciting counter materials, flooring, cabinets. And of course, we should all be using compact fluorescent bulbs, if only because they need changing so infrequently. I'm all for that.

7. What other projects are you involved in? Where else can we get a little bit of your wisdom?

Thanks for this interview, Susan. It has been fun. I think my blog is the best place to access my work. I do have a website,, but I don't update it as often as I should. But that's my goal for 2008!


Kitchen Remodeling Perspective

Next time anyone connected to a kitchen remodel is super stressed, remember this link, below. In order to understand the whole thing, please click on the link in the post "enormous concrete Virgin." Funny story.

kitchen%20remodeling.jpgHow can I tie this into kitchen remodeling? For one thing, I, too, can get carried away with worry, concern, all sorts of emotions in the course of doing my job. I mean, issues with deadlines, clients, tradespeople, allied professionals, delays, suppliers...there are many opportunities for me to get undone, and the same goes for my clients.

I've been reading this blog I have linked to, checking it most days of the week since mid December. It's helped me have a healthy and more serene perspective on life than I had, previous to finding it. It actually has had a profound impact on me, to tell the truth. It also propelled me, after having been far too lax, to go on a campaign to get every test and go to every doctor that I could think of beginning this past January to get all of the appropriate information on my current state of health. It's all been great news! This blog I speak of is an incredible read. The writing is intelligent and very special.

So, next time you really get undone about something, give yourself a reality check. Emotions can come hard and fast in the world of remodeling. Stop everything and get your perspective back. Sure, some issues are important and irritating and unjust, but there are more important things to get nuts about. There really are.  It's just about redirecting emotions which can potentially do damage to fragile relationships. In remodeling, that's pretty important for all sides to remember. Once these relationships are damaged, it's difficult to backtrack and do repair work.

Kitchen%20Remodeling%202.jpgI'll even add one more life changing (truly) event that happened, coincidentally, a week prior to finding this blog I mentioned. I went to Norway as a guest to an event surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize. In seeing the Bangladesh people who were invited to attend the presentation of the Peace Prize as recipients of the micro loans the Prize was based on, people who lived in huts on dirt roads and have never been out of their village, let alone, to Norway, I thought of my lifestyle, and the words came to my mind "....and I'm stressed?" In front of me was another world, which abruptly removed me from my comfortable world. I learned about life in another world, I saw people from many nations come together, and my own perspective changed dramatically. I shook hands with a Banladeshi woman in her full, beautiful, dress, our eyes locked, and I was just transformed to a different, changed, reality.

Have patience, and all these pesky remodeling issues will work out. Patience, trust, effective communication, and perspective, and you'll survive your remodeling with flying colors and even dare I say, enjoyment!

Do you know what one of the most important pieces to survival of a remodeling experience is? For anyone and everyone connected to it? Humor! That's right! Find it, you'll be glad you did.  

This post was not planned, but I really wanted to share that linked post with you when I checked the blog today. Enjoy your day!


Is Your Kitchen Designer Driving You Crazy?

I didn't plan on writing about this topic, I haven't thought about it much at all recently. I don't currently have any conflicts with clients, all is quiet on the eastern front. To set the scene even more oddly, I was out in the quiet early morning taking pictures of my incredible delphiniums in the garden with just the birds as my companions, when these thoughts started creeping into my head. Truthfully, it's an issue I've cared very much about for years.

delphiniums.jpgSo, I got to thinking out in the garden about conflicts between clients and their kitchen designers this morning. And, this will not be about how kitchen designers are so wonderful and well, misunderstood. I won't go down that biased and defensive road.  Objectivity is my goal.

I'm going to go backwards, take the negative feeling and try to offer up ways out of it.

The one thing I will say is that what makes a kitchen and bath designer, "professional", besides our experience and expertise, is the way we handle stress, find solutions for problems, and so forth, to a point. It's not about the problem, it's how the problem is handled!

And, as always, I will be speaking very frankly, below...(oh no, they groan, not AGAIN, please, for all that is sacred...) I will be speaking to clients and to kitchen designers, my peers.


Clients - Be prepared for annoyances. You cannot do a remodeling project without being annoyed at something, or someone, sometime. At least I don't think it's possible.  Annoyances here and there are ok. The alternative, nightmares, make annoyances seem like a walk in the park. After a nightmare, you'll be looking under rocks for annoyances! Keep that in perspective and do not make an annoyance more than it is. Speak of the annoyance if it could potentially grate on your last nerve? Absolutely. You must. Annoyances? They come and go, not a biggie.

Kitchen Designers - are allowed to be annoyed, it's a human emotion. Being a professional, however, means keeping annoyances in perspective, dealing with them, and stress, quickly, or overlooking them where appropriate. This includes clients, suppliers, coworkers, whoever, with annoying habits. I have had clients where every conversation, even about something quick and small, can be 20 minutes, as the client goes on tangent after tangent. A needless disruption in my day when I got the point immediately? No doubt. Am I very happy that the client feels comfortable with me to go on and on? I really and truly am. Find the good. It's there. Look at the bigger picture. Are you annoying? Ask your coworkers. You need to know.


Clients -  If your kitchen designer is a human being, there is a real possibility that a mistake will be made somewhere. Doesn't mean it will happen. But figure it might and you're prepared. Gauge how serious the mistake is to determine your response, if any. Stop, think, evaluate and then reevaluate a response. Are you in any way responsible? If so, take whole or partial responsibility! What you want is peace and harmony, not conflict. If you're in constant blame/paranoia mode, your remodeling experience will be misery. Be aware of mood swings and your ability to handle stress. Self awareness will get you through the entire process. There are tough times in the best of projects! Oh, and let me also say this. It is absolutely not unusual that a mistake makes for a better solution than was originally planned. That has a funny way of happening sometimes, so please be open to solutions and you just may be rewarded with something better than expected!

Kitchen Designers - Again, there are many people on a project who can make a mistake including yourself/myself. Deal with it professionally and quickly and move on. Speed is everything and is often where we fall short. Mistakes should be handled as an urgent matter to resolve. People's lives are disrupted enough in this process. They want and deserve progress in a timely manner. Get tools such as a camera, voice recorder, software, plain daytimer, etc. to have an organized way to note details. It's all about details and documenting those details, and then, getting things done!


Clients -  Understand that, although you may have a fairly close, enjoyable relationship with your kitchen designer, the designer has other clients and other obligations and cannot always respond to your request immediately. The contract you sign should be for specific materials and services. If you desire more services and materials, please be prepared to pay for same. Sometimes, in fact, often, in a spirit of goodwill, a designer will go above and beyond what is written on the contract or invoices, but this should not be assumed. Abide by a company's policies and what you have agreed to on paper. Anything that happens beyond that is good fortune for you, but is not to be expected.

Kitchen Designers -  We cannot control everything. Our clients have their own agendas and short of factory deadlines, our job is to cater to their agendas and timing, as they arise, not ours. We serve their needs, not vice versa.  It means that we need to take seriously what their needs, desires, and issues are. Our clients are entitled to good service, end of story regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, sex, age, physical disabilities and yes, even difficult behavioral issues.


Clients - I had a client not too long ago who gave disrespect a new name. This client was arrogant, difficult, miserable, well, I won't go on. Another was purely sexist. Be careful about that. The response of the professional you hired will most likely be that they will shut down emotionally (yes, we care deeply about our projects more than you will ever know!) and honor their contract in its most minimal way to hurridly get out of the bad karma abode. When I had these clients, I went into "self satisfaction" mode. I wanted the kitchen to be done the right way, so I disregarded this (continual) abuse and sort of worked on the kitchen for ME...and I did go above and beyond, as noted above, but for my personal satisfaction. That worked for me, but I'm not sure how common this approach is. Don't be disrespectful. Just don't. If you have a spouse who is, please speak to them about it. You're really doing yourself more harm than good. If there is a real issue, talk about it.

Kitchen Designers - Designers' preoccupation with our clients' socioeconomic status, judgments on how they live and ensuing (dis)respect can be intertwined and confused and has no place in the design service business. Satisfaction is there in abundance for any designer working with smaller budgets, whose kitchens mean the world to their clients and for bigger budgets where design satisfaction is equally attractive. People have needs to be met, and they trust us to put aside our "issues" to help them achieve their goals. By us accepting their money, they deserve our respect and attention.

High Prices

Clients -  Are your kitchen designer's prices too high? Compared to who? In truth, there really is no easy way to compare a business's operating costs, or their own perception of value, vs. what region of the country they are in, how much time is involved behind the scenes, quality control steps, who else is involved in the transaction, office workers or sub contractors, handmade vs. manufactured, and on and on. And, on. So many factors go into setting pricing, including, interestingly, confidence, or lack thereof. Likewise, industry experience, and lack thereof. And, let's not forget the level of risk involved in various methods of executing a purchase that the client is unaware of. Someone may take two times longer to delve into a greater level of detail surrounding a purchase than someone else. Do not assume the worst because the price you get is not what you think it "should" be. Accept it and either take it or do not take it, leaving judgment behind.

Kitchen Designers - Know your costs, your risks, and other factors, to evaluate the least costly way possible to deliver a product to a client. Be consistent, speak frankly about costs and above all, document all costs including estimates. Never order an item without written consent, otherwise your clients are not responsible if they changed their mind midstream, but you didn't "hear" it or they neglected to tell you. Badger your clients with details and documentation if necessary.

The Blame Game - It's Your Fault!

Clients -  This is really tricky. You blame the kitchen designer. The kitchen designer blames the installer who blames the contractor who blames the architect, and on and on. This is a tough one. Some professionals refuse to play this game. That doesn't mean that they are accepting the blame, it just means that they don't play. Take everything you hear from everyone with a mountain of salt, even your most trusted tradespeople, and focus instead on how to solve the problem at hand. Unless you, the client, are a remodeling professional and were at the scene of the crime at the moment it happened, you really don't know what happened and why. I cannot overstate this advice to move to more productive and positive territory as quickly as possible. Who needs the aggravation? Keep your wits and your head about you. But, beware that job dynamics are always at play for various reasons. Stay above the fray.

Kitchen Designers -  Do the right thing, take the time to go through the job with all of the appropriate people, and all should go smoothly. Do not allow room for misunderstandings, as the devil is in the details and the client deserves to have input on their investment. Be objective. Accept responsibility where necessary. Take the high road even if you suspect you are being blamed on occasion or continually.  Are you the outsider on the project? Just do your job in a professional manner and do not go down this negative road for any reason.  


Much of the above is about communication and interpretation. Our past experiences, our family and business culture can surely cause us to speak to one another in different ways, ways that each assumes the other understands. There are project "dynamics" present in every project swirling about, usually unnoticed or misunderstood. So, the saying "What we have here is a lack of communication" is  probably one of the issues at hand when a conflict arises. So, what to do?


Here are five suggestions for both clients and kitchen designers:


Communicate clearly, ask questions were necessary


See the other side

Accept responsibility partially or wholly

Be motivated to get along

Respect your designer/client

Do not allow your project "culture" to deteriorate, work toward a positive experience with all concerned, you will be glad you did. Find the good.


I hope this has helped bring further understanding to what absolutely can be a truly enjoyable experience. I guarantee it!


Architect + Kitchen Designer - A Match Made in....

I'm posting this and then running to a client meeting. I'll surely be back soon to respond to this series of issues as presented by Mark LePage, AIA, author of Living Well in Westchester. Let me first thank Mark for tackling these issues with a frank and open point of view. I encourage those who read this to respond in an equally frank way, as this is what is necessary for understanding...real communication. Here, then, is Mark's point of view about kitchen design and kitchen designers. Thanks, Mark!

The images are from Mark's website. What a wonderful repertoire. Here's Mark:

Susan asked me to post my thoughts on kitchen design and kitchen designers from an architect's point of view. My first thought was to decline in fear that I would get myself into trouble. My experience with kitchen designers in the past has rarely been positive. But then I thought, this might be a great opportunity to start a dialogue about the reasons for such negative experiences. So, let's talk...

Let me start off by introducing myself and writing a bit about my firm.

Indian_Lake.JPG My name is Mark R. LePage, AIA and I am the Partner in Charge of Operations for Fivecat Studio, a design firm dedicated to the creation of fine residential architecture for clients throughout Westchester County (NY), Fairfield County (CT) and the lower Hudson River Valley. Providing full architectural services for additions, alterations and new custom homes, we're proud members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA ) and we're certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB ).

We started the firm in 1999. My partner's experience before Fivecat was designing very large, very custom, second and third summer homes for an elite clientele. With each project, she had the rare opportunity to custom design everything from the cabinet knobs to the cupola.





My experience was in residential construction (before architecture school) and as a project manager for a mid-sized architecture firm specializing in K-12 educational facilities (after school). With Annmarie's (my partner, who happens to also be my wife) design skills, and my construction and project management skills, we make a great team. We are also blessed with the best employees ever.

Being located in the heart of Westchester County, most of our works are additions and alterations. There's just not much land left to develop for new homes in these parts. Most of our additions and alterations include new kitchens. The contract agreement we execute allows our clients the option to work with an independent kitchen designer, and some do.

We have been designing custom kitchens for a long time, so the benefits of a client working with us on their kitchen are many. Besides our experience and design skills, the advantages provided by the continuity of a client working with the same designer throughout the project results in a consistent, integrated language throughout the house. The kitchen always works well with the rest of the project. Details, colors and style are consistent, as if it were a work of art with oils applied by the same hand.

Mountain_01.JPGNow I know that many of you just rolled your eyes. "There goes another architect ranting about being an artist," but that's not the point. What is important about that statement is that the project be consistent. A skilled independent designer can certainly create an equally successful "work of art", if they take the care to understand the context in which the kitchen is built.

Just like a modern house built in a neighborhood of historically accurate Victorians may disrespect its context and forever damage the fabric of that neighborhood, a kitchen designed with no relation to the intent and context of the house in which it is built will forever (or at least until the next renovation) damage the integrity of that house.

So, how can an independent kitchen designer successfully work with a residential architect? Here are three ingredients to a successful collaborative project (whether it be a custom kitchen or a Manhattan skyscraper).

Respect: Mutual respect for the skills, talents and experience of all parties (including the owner) involved in the project will allow the creation of the very best design. Respect always requires good communication...

Communication: My job as a residential architect working with an independent designer is to clearly communicate our intent for the overall project. Verbal and written communications should always be prepared and organized in a way so that they may be easily referenced throughout the project.

Organization: Create an easily understood, easily maintained system of documentation and communication. At Fivecat Studio we've created a Project Organizer System. Two binders, one for our client and one for us, are divided into sections labeled for each phase of the project. Every drawing, every letter, every document is easily filed and retrieved at anytime (even when the client is ready to hire us again, ten years from now, to perform the process all over again).

I could go on for pages more, but I don't want to use up all of Susan's bandwidth. I hope this is enough to get the conversation started. I look forward to reading your comments (don't hold back).

And Susan, thanks again for the opportunity to rant a bit...

My Day Today In Kitchen World and Beyond

Well, what a day today. That's what's pretty good about life. Who knows where it's going to go at any minute? And, these were fairly mundane events today (no, not a blog about what I had for breakfast.) Just some random, mostly kitchen related items to put out there, mixed with little personal things, which I don't often do. Things just sort of pile up, don't they?

It started with a very slow modem, on and off. Of course, you get several different pieces of advice when you call into the ISP a few different times. One said, get a new modem, one said it's the splitter for sure. So, I got a new modem and felt renewed and happy, all being right with the world again.

Then, I went to the surgeon for a consultation and arranged for subsequent pre surgical appointments (people, especially dedicated and devoted female kitchen designers who do not lift weights, please, um, do not throw yourself into the frey and insist on helping your installer pick up the oven cabinets and cabinets with drawers when he is short handed.) Not good! That's why they invented hand trucks. But, I digress.

After that, I had an appointment with a favorite contractor to look over a client's home for his part in an extensive kitchen renovation, at which time I had the opportunity to measure the space again and hopefully come up with the same numbers as the first time. I'm kidding, this is a kitchen joke. (I DO hope I brought the more accurate tape measure with me this time, I hate when that happens.) Appointment went well. He took copious notes, (and had a fancy laser measuring device.) Like a doctor, I love when I feel confident with a contractor, isn't that the best? This will be one very awesome kitchen, I can promise you that. Think...cabinetry built into, perhaps, stucco framing....a huge arch thing in one whole area (my client calls a cave)....a light khaki distressed cabinet mixed with mahogany cabinetry elsewhere. OK, I'll mention the stone hood. I'll stop there!

Home again, connecting the modem, registering the modem, reading emails from the day, and I'm back in action. To not have a modem is, I'd say, unsettling and also, yes, slighty disturbing. That's all I'll admit to. Oh, while we're at it, let's add to the list, losing a post before I realized the internet was blinking on and off this morning!

Speaking of doctors, since I'm in a rare mood speaking of personal things here and there, I'd like to point you toward a great, GREAT, blog that I seek out daily (it's updated irregularly during the week) that you may wish to pass on to others for one reason or another. It seems, too, that there could be a tiny, charming, kitchen in this blog author's future. Take a look, but be forewarned it WAS fundamentally about dealing with cancer in a very forthright it's about the future. Pass it on where you can and contribute $$$ too if you can and want to. I did.  And, no, I don't know this woman. Never met her. Her writing is simply amazing. I've been checking in every day since mid December. I'd actually love to hear about her plan for the kitchen.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention! While on the east end of Long Island over the weekend, I picked up a copy of The Independent, a paper distributed on...the east end, to check out their article on kitchens, in which I was interviewed. That was fun. A few weeks back, the Southampton Press also did an article on kitchens, in which I was interviewed. More fun! And even more fun, late last week, I was interviewed by a writer for HGTV, and I'll link the article when it goes live on their site. The fun never ends!

Now, on to doing my post of the day, the one I lost this morning! Do over! 

The Kitchen Installer - Your Everything

kitchen installation 1You know from time to time I delve into those touchy subjects. After all, as I've said before, you simply cannot do a complete kitchen remodel without being stressed about something. So it is my duty to provide those stressful issues to my readers! Better reading about them than living them. Hopefully, I can help channel some stress into awareness and information. What is to follow are remodeling scenarios at their most stressful.

You've been through the whole process, the contractors, their tradespeople, the inconvenience, change orders, delays. You're tired and you've had it. Stop right here. Is this typical at this stage to feel this way? That's a trick question. The larger the renovation, the more impatient people become later on, understandably. But, of course, one can never generalize, and people are as different as their kitchens!

All is prepared in the kitchen for the installation. The cabinetry is delivered, and a brand, new, shiny source of stress is beginning. Here is a huge investment in cabinetry that will change your quality of life. You are ready for the perfect installation.

We are assuming the kitchen installer is a sub contractor from the kitchen designer. In my world, I have already had a lengthy relationship with my clients designing his/her/their kitchen, but they have not met my installer.  

Here are some tips to know about kitchen installers.

  • There are basically two types of kitchen installers. The first type of installer runs his own business, the second type is an employee of a kitchen installation company. There are pros and cons of each type, and I use each type for different reasons.
  • Installers, like you and I, are capable of making misjudgments and mistakes. It does not mean they are unqualified or less professional, etc. Mistakes must be made, as we are humans. With a competent designer in a supervisory role, and good installers, mistakes or misjudgements are minimized or nonexistent. But, of course, they can happen. More about mistakes another time. When I am talking about mistakes, I'm talking about small mistakes that are easily correctable. Big mistakes qualify as a big problem!
  • kitchen installation 2An installer's appearance is no indication of skill level. I've used one installer with tattoos over most of the exposed parts of his body, for years, and who wears somewhat worn clothes. The skill level has been at the very top compared to any installer I've ever used. His demeanor is professional.  Appearance IS zero indication of intelligence, creativity, and problem solving ability. I've also used, and use, an installer who is missing a few front teeth. The most honorable, pleasant, all around fantastic installer, intelligent, with a skill level on par or above the tattoo guy noted above. And, I use installers who happen to be more well dressed as well. Different installers for different projects for different reasons.
  • Negative opinions or assumptions by the homeowner and the contractor about the installer's work can be extremely damaging to the project, causing an unnecessary (and potentially messy) loss of confidence in the designer and/or installer. Sometimes another tradesperson or contractor will do things a different way and point out where the installer is "wrong."  When the client is having an expensive product being installed, such as cabinetry, the clients are very vulnerable to any and all opinions, good or bad, right or wrong. It is a stressful time.
  • To further this point, again, as noted, the client is often in a vulnerable state at the time of the cabinet installation. An outspoken and opinionated contractor, who has been on your project for months, criticizing a designer and/or a cabinet installer to the client, (whether done ever so softly, or loudly) the installer having been just introduced to the jobsite, can be highly influential to the client. Many clients, in this state, having come so far, now fear, or do not even consider, disagreeing with their contractor, sometimes thinking that their project will be adversely affected going forward if they disagree (a form of Stockholm Syndrome?) This is a particularly common dynamic, a fear to disagree with one's contractor. What to do? Beware of this dynamic, hear the contractor, keep an open mind, and address any situation with your designer in a positive and productive way. See "mistakes" above. A Kitchen being a high priced item, and being installed last as part of a long project, has much stress and expectations attached to it during this time. Do not underestimate the personality dynamics which are a part of every project in one way or another, and how they can affect the client too.
  • The advice above assumes that your designer is highly responsive, professional, and listens to your concerns with respect.
  • kitchen installationInstallers and designers sometimes disagree...sometimes in a heated way. An argument means that both parties care about your project. For me, it is a rare occurance. Plain speaking is most common, back and forth conversation with the installer but occasionally a point needs to be made in another way. Sometimes I will follow an installer's advice, sometimes I insist that my direction be followed. It is a team effort for your behalf.
  • Do not misjudge a seemingly apathetic outward appearance with, well, apathy. Do not misjudge the use of humor with apathy. Installers and designers have dealt with the stress of installing cabinetry for years and in most cases can put emotions aside very easily in an effort to be professional and find good solutions to installation situations which may arise.
  • Treat the cabinet installer with respect and you will get the best job out of him. Your demeanor toward him truly makes a difference. I cannot overstate this. He wants to work in a pleasant atmosphere. He wants an environment where he can take pride in his work. Taking pride in his work means you get the best installation you can for this product you will be using for many years. Be positive and respectful and your installer will work harder and better.
  • Keep a pad and pen near the kitchen and when the installer leaves, observe what was done that day and write down any questions or concerns you may have. Bring them up to your designer.
  • You have the right to expect that your project will be worked on every day until it is completed, perhaps with a gap while the countertop is being fabricated if all other work has been done. Sometimes additional parts need to be ordered, and the installer will return when they come in.


As we say in my business, it is not the problem, it's how it's addressed that is important. This entry morphed just a bit into problem areas with installations, and that will also be covered in a big way in later entries.

Hang in there it will all be over soon!! 

So, when DO you know you have a problem with an installer? What are the signs? Find out soon!


Everybody's Talking At Me!

Disclaimer: The Kitchen Designer blog will not always be light and airy, with eye candy and interesting tidbits. No, sir. On occasion, we will tackle bigger issues that may make us squirm a bit, issues which may come up in the lovely and magical world of remodeling, presented for you to go "hmmmmm..." That said, here we go! All of the below information assumes you are working with a good designer, one who is creative, is open to new ideas, is patient, and offers you choices.

Muncha.jpgEveryone's a critic! We have the architect, the interior designer, the contractor, the mother-in-law, the mother, the father, the friend, neighbor, and let's not forget the man on the street or the plumber! None of those in any particular order, of course, in terms of their willingness to dispense opinions.

After discussing your plans with others, who then jump on the opinion bandwagon, along with their instruments, here's how to keep things from getting out of control and descending into the black hole of chaos (you didn't know kitchen design was full of such drama, did you!)

First, understand this: In an ideal world, when working with a kitchen designer, there is often a process which progresses, sometimes in a fragmented, hodgepodge manner. What that means is, as new concepts are revealed, new challenges are also revealed, or trade offs, as they are called. Pros and cons. I go back and forth with my clients. They travel down my road, or I down theirs, but then double back to travel down a different road (or their friend's or work colleague's or sister in law's road, and so on). This is where it can get confusing.

munch5a.jpgIt's GOOD to get ideas from others! Ideas are good. Ideas are important. However, I would like to offer the following observation, from many years of experience. Those who offer opinions, which may be presented as "shoulds", have not been privy to the process, to the history of the development of the plan up to that point. They do not know your and your family's kitchen "life" as your kitchen designer knows and understands it. And, they do not know how you got here from there.

The most serious effect of advice from others is that a client can lose confidence in their (previously trusted) designer and put more weight on to someone else's advice, perhaps a non design professional, who is of influence to them in their lives. Secondly, if opinions are expressed strongly, and with great conviction and flourish, to a client, existing in an undecided state, which is where clients are residing for a period of time, in "design limbo", a client can thus be more easily influenced to consider an option that may not be right for them. Those who offer design advice do so out of enjoyment, sometimes fierce loyalty, and their own sense of what "they" would do, or more dangerously, what is the "right" way.

munch.karl-johan.jpgCan the designer, even well experienced with golden achievements, think of and present every idea within all realm of possibilities for your space? Definitely, not, nor should that be done. The fact that your designer did not think of this or that, should not be worrisome to the client. What should be worrisome in regard to your designer is a lack of original ideas, lack of choices, or being closed to others' suggestions and changes. I hope that does not happen to any of my readers. That is an entirely different topic.

So, while you reside in the "design limbo" phase, IF you reside there for a period of time, some get in and out very quickly, understand that that is where you are, for right now. It's a process. Listen to others, write down the advice if it sounds good and viable, and discuss it with your designer next time you meet. Ask to see a new idea drawn, if it is something that has possibilities for you. The strongest voice is not necessarily the best voice to listen to. Step back and do your evaluation of all ideas from all sources and the best ones (for you) will rise to the top in its own time. When the process is over, and the kitchen ordered, I hope you will have made the decisions that are right for YOU.

First Meeting - Dos & Don'ts


I've had a flurry of first meetings recently, including one I just got back from. It's a dance to get to know one another. I think if the proper steps are followed, the dancing part will soon feel like we are "Dancing With The Stars" (apologies, I  could not resist that). It is these intial steps, too, where manners are very important, along with other tips for a successful first meeting. Here are some dos and don'ts for the Kitchen Designer, (first) as I see it:

  • When a client calls, DO hear him/her out, and if the project is not for you, turn the client down gently and diplomatically. That's a biggie!
  • DON'T name drop or go on about all the huge projects you do, it's a turn off. The work you show speaks loudly and clearly.
  • DON'T dominate the conversation, be a good listener!
  • DO have adequate examples of work you've done on hand.
  • DO speak to, and pay attention to, both homeowners equally.
  • DO be on time, respectful, courteous and establish an approximate meeting length beforehand.
  • DO show where the financial flexibilities lie when speaking of the project's budget.
  • When the dog's nose goes where it shouldn't, DO keep smiling...

Dos and don't for homeowners:

  • DO give the kitchen designer time to tell you their (short) story about the firm and his/her approach to your project
  • DO have both homeowners available to speak with the kitchen designer if that was requested. If one party cannot make it, call to reschedule the appointment, even if it is 1/2 hour prior to the appointment.
  • DO tell the kitchen designer if you have decided not to go with him/her if the designer attempts further contact with you to find out the status. Don't not reply to calls/emails for a status request. THAT is a biggie!
  • DO evaluate the kitchen designer not on the product they supply, but on their body of work, their credentials, professionalism, and that important "gut feeling" you'll get!
  • DO feel free to ask for references.
  • DO evaluate if you are respected and listened to. Nothing good will happen for you if you feel you are not respected.
  • DO speak frankly and openly about your budget and how/if there can be a financial "fit" between you.

There are definitely many more....this is a good starting point. What are turn ons and turn offs for you when first meeting a design professional?