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Why Hire a Kitchen Designer?




In our September issue, we asked three local designers to cook up their dream kitchen designs and we brought you their visions, expressed in three different styles: Hollywood Glam, Eco-traditional and Chic Minimalist (see "Three Kitchens, Three Flavors").

Here, Joni Albers of Thurston Kitchen & Bath and Jed MacKenzie of bulthaup by Kitchen Distributors—who designed the Hollywood Glam and Chic Miminalist kitchens, respectively—answer our questions on the importance of hiring a kitchen designer to help you take on your next project.

CH&L: What does the process look like of working with a client toward a kitchen design? 

Joni Albers, Thurston Kitchen & Bath, Thurstonkitchenandbath.com:
“Kitchen designers start by exploring the client's wants and needs. We ask a lot of questions to access what we should include in your project—those hot, new items that are out there to the traditional top performers. It is important that you have a very open mind and be very honest; You will get the best results. Then plans need to be drawn. Sometimes that includes providing architectural plans to your designer or possibly a site measure. A designer will come up with plans for what they recommend for your space, often accompanied by finishes, color palettes and samples of products they recommend. Depending on the project, there may be showroom visits to view products like appliances, tile and cabinetry. Once plans and finishes have been finalized, the job is usually put out to bid with multiple contractors for competitive installation pricing. Once the homeowner decides to proceed with the project, products are ordered. Each kitchen designer is different in how much ‘project management' they play a role in. But on average, most designers are responsible for ordering the products specified, arranging the delivery of the products to the job site and assisting the contractor with all the information needed to complete the installation.”

Jed MacKenzie, CKD, bulthaup by Kitchen Distributors Inc., Kitchendistributors.com:
“People come to bulthaup because they are passionate about premium quality, functionality and minimalism.  We teach them about the product and its many innovations. We listen carefully to their needs, review their house plans and brainstorm solutions. We take this information and develop a layout with pricing based on the finishes and products they prefer.”

CH&L: What unique resources does a kitchen designer bring to the table? 

Jed MacKenzie: “The primary resource a kitchen designer provides is the ability to understand a client's needs and translate those needs into a functional kitchen that is representative of their individuality. This is achieved through kitchen design skills, experience, product knowledge, access to products, connections within the industry, ability to conform to a budget and successful execution.” 

Joni Albers: “One thing the kitchen design industry has adopted almost universally is 3-D drawing programming. This offers you a better feel for the end result and gives you an opportunity to know what to expect. I find that a fair amount of people claim to “not be visual,” so to speak. Some programs can be very detailed with textures and colors, while others are line drawings.”

CH&L: How about space planning? How can a kitchen designer help with that?

Joni Albers: “Especially in a remodel, homeowners have lots of ideas on how they may want their kitchen laid out. A kitchen designer is going to draw the space to scale and fit the cabinetry and appliances to the space, while maintaining the function of the kitchen. Kitchen designers also use guidelines on clearances and spacing. For example, one thing I commonly see is an average-sized kitchen without countertop space on each side of the cooking surface. This is a ‘no-no' by designer standards. Also, the NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) sets forth standards for spacing on countertops, cabinetry sizes and appliance locations. Designers use these guidelines to create the best kitchen for their client.”

Jed MacKenzie: “Over the years the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) has established design guidelines to maximize ergonomics and spatial planning. A certified kitchen designer (CKD) takes a holistic approach to kitchen design and as it relates to the architecture of the entire house while achieving the client's goals.” 

CH&L: What risks do you run if you don't work with a kitchen designer?

Jonie Albers: “Kitchen design is a very technical profession. It requires a lot of knowledge about not just products but how to construct and install the materials. I think a lot of homeowners start a project thinking, ‘How hard can it be?' Not only is there a mountain of overwhelming choices to be made, but there is the technical knowledge to back it up, which the average homeowner has little experience with. One thing I hear frequently is: “I would have never known that was an option had I not had you involved.” Kitchen designers are constantly exposed to all the hot new things on the market, and most actively look for these new releases. You may have been interested in these items but would not have known to ask for them had you not been exposed by your designer. Another thing that you miss by not using a kitchen designer is a professional perspective. A designer can offer you the most functional use of your space—they have lots of ‘tricks of the trade' to maximize your space.”

Jed MacKenzie: “The primary risk of not using a kitchen designer is: spending too much time and money on a kitchen space that is not functional.”

CH&L: How can a kitchen designer help make the most of a client's budget?

Joni Albers: “Every client has a budget. Giving the kitchen designer a budget at the beginning of the design phase is in a homeowner's best interest.  Materials can range vastly in price. Kitchen backsplash tile could be $2.00 per square foot or $200.00 per square foot. Most designers take the budget you set for the project and determine how to balance the cost of all the materials and labor needed for your project. For instance, if you have a $60,000 budget for your complete kitchen remodel, your appliances cannot cost $20,000! So if you want to adhere to your budget, it is important that you create a budget with your designer from the beginning. Your project will run more smoothly, and you will be much happier with the results in the end. And so will your pocketbook.”

Jed MacKenzie: “A good kitchen designer can stay within a client's budget by selecting appropriate cabinetry, finishes and appliances that are cohesive and efficient.”

CH&L: What do you enjoy most about the role?

Joni Albers: “I think the best part of my job is that every project is different! It is kind of like going to a new and different job every six months or so. It is always a challenge because every job has so many variables. I am always learning new information. Plus, it is collaboration of others experiencing the exact same thing—like plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc. So we are always perfecting and fine tuning our skills, while learning from each other.  It doesn't matter if you have been doing this for 2 years or 20 years, there is always something new to try or learn.”

Jed MacKenzie: “The thing I enjoy most about the role is when the client is excited about the ideas we present, the design is an expression of their personality and the finish product exceeds expectations.”

CH&L: What would you recommend to potential clients on how to make a project run smoothly?

Joni Albers: “I think it is important to have realistic expectations of what is possible. I find that some clients who have never been through a remodel and some that have don't know what to expect. It is necessary to understand, especially in a remodel, that there will be changes and unforeseen obstacles that may come up. And when dealing with natural materials like wood and stone there will always be variation.  Unfortunately construction is not an exact science, but having knowledgeable and committed professionals around you will make things go as smoothly as possible. Another thing that I think is very important is completion times for a project. Don't plan a huge party the weekend after your project is scheduled to complete! Things happen that are out of everyone's control like shipping damages, add-ons, or the vent pipe that was found in the wall we were planning to remove.  Be flexible, this will make the project less stressful for you, and in the end—you won't be disappointed.”

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