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How do you find the right kitchen designer? [moved from Not About Food]

We're only in the talking stages right now, but we're thinking about doing a kitchen makeover. It's not just the kitchen that will be involved -- we have a little-used sitting area with a fireplace that's separated from my kitchen by a half-wall that we'd like to incorporate into the kitchen, too. I have no idea how to begin to find someone who can work with me on a design. Ideally, this person will be an independent designer who can recommend, but not be directly affiliated with, product suppliers.

Another question -- and maybe this isn't even answerable -- but, what is the "ballpark" rate I should expect to pay for a designer's time? I realize this can vary greatly by region, but I have no idea what I should expect to pay.

And, is this the best way to approach a project like this? Am I better off walking into Home Depot and talking to someone there, understanding full well that this person makes their living from selling Home Depot cabinets, appliances, flooring, etc.?

I'm already overwhelmed and we haven't even begun. I need some guidance, and I appreciate whatever advice anyone can offer. Thanks.

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  1. References...is the only way to go. We found a wonderful kitchen designer through a personal reference, who then recommended a wonderful contractor (a rarity!) to do the work. I would ask around and try to find someone who was happy with their kitchen makeover. If you do know a good contractor, you might ask them for a reference.

    I would not go to any specific store for this service. They will only sell you what they have! You could however go to a large appliance store and ask them if they could recommend a kitchen designer in the area. Do not however retain anyone without getting references, and seeing pictures of the jobs they've done.

    Depending upon the size of your kitchen and the type of appliances and cabinets you choose, you are probably looking at a minimum of $40k for a complete redo...and if you're going to spend this sort of money...fees to a certified kitchen designer are well worth it. It will probably cost you ~$1,000 - 1,500 in fees, but it's well worth it, and it can save you money in the long run, by avoiding costly mistakes.

    In the meantime, start buying home and kitchen magazines, and marking those kitchens that have the look that you like. Also, there are some excellent photo books about kitchen design.

    1 Reply
    1. re: josephnl

      I totally understand the reasoning for not walking into a Home Depot or any other home center and asking for a "makeover." I also agree with you that working with a designer will be money well spent. Thanks for your input.

    2. Home renovation is completely overwhelming, I know from having (semi) completed a full gut renovation, doing a lot of the work ourselves. We did a fully commercial kitchen for $10,000, but we have no kitchen cabinets (we refused to buy into that racket). The most important thing is really knowing what you want and what you truly need.

      As for the Home Depot question, do you like their aesthetic? I'm sure the kitchen they design would be passable, but do you want to go through all of the trouble, mess and expense so that you can have a kitchen that will have the 'Home Depot Look" as I affectionately call it?

      A renovation is definitely in the top ten most stressful life events, so if you are going to do it, avoid half measures. Also, cabinets are outrageously expensive, and not necessarily the best storage solution, so think twice before buying lots of them. When you do buy them if you plan to enjoy them for more than five years avoid particle board like the plague (it is everywhere and well-hidden under veneers). If you have older cabinets consider refacing them, the junk that is out there these days is unbelievable.

      A super-trendy kitchen will date your home quickly so stick with the classics to avoid problems reselling or having to redo the project too soon. Look at design cliches from the past, search for the patterns in them, and try to find the same in current trends and avoid them.

      If you are not the types to design things yourselves it would certainly help to hire a great designer, but try to have a firm grasp on what your needs, aesthetic and budget are and be able to communicate them clearly to the person you hire.

      Also, just because they take the time to create a proposal for you does not mean you are obligated to hire them. For each person you hire to work on this project be sure that that they are one of three that you have interviewed. You will have to deal with these people constantly over a long period of time so make sure that you feel comfortable with them in your home and near your personal items (I would put away anything of value).

      References are a must, Angie's List is worth the money, as is Consumer Reports. I also found Amazon very helpful in terms of finding reviews for just about everything. Be careful of fast talkers and don't commit to anything without a good chat with your partner and a night's sleep. We had a couple of potential nightmare scenarios including almost ripping off our perfectly good,
      but damaged slate roof due to aggressive sales tactics, and almost needlessly replacing our entire heating system had we not taken the time to get a second opinion. Be aware of the building codes in your area as well. Good luck!

      6 Replies
      1. re: suzysue2

        We spent over $10,000 for the appliances alone, and we did not use high-end appliances (a Sub-Zero frig alone can easily top $10k)! Unless you are doing much of the work yourself, and are doing a very limited makeover, I can't see how you can do a kitchen remodel (appliances, cabinets, counters, plumbing, lighting) for less than $40k, and easily a lot more.

        We did a complete home remodel, and although it was stressful at times, it was never overwhelming...because we lucked out with a great designer, and an outstanding contractor...very unusual from what we hear.

        1. re: suzysue2

          Suzysue2, can you please share a bit more about your design and how you were able to go without any cabinets?

          1. re: keysdax

            Commercial shelving is one way. Just like in most restaurant kitchens. Bit you really do need to like the "commercial" look...most people don't. I think it would present a problem when you try to sell a home without kitchen cabinets.

            1. re: josephnl

              Not to mention that items not used constantly require a lot of dusting and cleaning off, as do the open shelves. I think well designed custom cabinetry is worth spending on.

          2. re: suzysue2

            I had wondered about using Angie's List -- I've never used it and I don't know anyone who has. It'd be interesting to hear from anyone who's used Angie's List for this kind of project. Obviously, keeping a "cool head" and not making rash decisions under duress is extremely important.

            The last time we remodeled our kitchen (about 15 years ago) we opted for large drawers in place of cabinets below the counters. I'll definitely do the same again.

            1. re: CindyJ

              If you live in a populated area and are planning a project(s) I think Angie's list is a decent value and a good place to start looking for resources. I used it to triangulate on research and found some good contractors that way. I wouldn't take everything at face value but sometimes it is good to see the amount of detail and what your neighbors think.

          3. Any designer is going to have commercial links (if only by preferance) to particular manufacturers.

            We selected ours partly because they were local (and had local references) but also because they were both designer and contractor. This meant that all the construction work (which, like you, went beyond the actual kitchen space) was project managed by a single person. It worked well and I have absolutely no regrets about going down that route but, of course, it was not the cheapest way of doing it - there was no change from £23k.

            1. Cindy, I know we are in the same area so if you would like a reference I can give you one. We built a new kitchen from scratch in our Hockessin house. We did all the planning/design work ourselves, but we did use a designer to help us at the beginning. It was useful for thinking about the basic layout of the kitchen, how much floor space was needed, how many cabinets, where the lighting should go, etc. She came out to the house several times and gave us about six different layout drawings, from which we eventually drew our own plan. We already had a general contractor and an architect, and did not buy cabinets (Mr. travelmad478 built them). We ordered the countertop from a commercial stainless fabricator, and bought the sink/appliances/lighting/plumbing fixtures ourselves from places like Overstock.com.

              I can't remember exactly what we paid the designer, but it was less than $1000. She was quite helpful. She's in Wilmington.

              1 Reply
              1. re: travelmad478

                Thanks for the offer, travelmad. I'd love to know who your resources were. Your kitchen designer sounds just like what I've been looking for, and for the work she's done, sounds very reasonably priced. Our project is still out there in "someday-land," but we're definitely at the stage where we're tossing around ideas. I'll put my email address into my profile.

              2. When we were trying to make major decisions about a kitchen redo, including whether to move it to another room, I consulted with a nationally known designer/space planner who happened to live and work in the area I lived--Providence.. I think she was about $100 an hour and that was 20 years ago. What she did was help us sort out the big picture, since we were quite comfortable with the details of creating a kitchen. All in all, we spent maybe $250 with her and it was money well spent. If you look at local magazines you may well find the equivalent in your area.

                1 Reply