This is an excerpt from Jennifer’s book, the Kitchen Bible. Get your copy right here!



Selecting the right kitchen designer, architect, builder, or contractor is critical to a project overcoming the inevitable obstacles along the way, plus being completed correctly by the end, on budget, and within the agreed time frame. You may hire someone suggested by a friend, family member, or a professional you’ve read about in a shelter magazine, newspaper, or online.


What is the role of a kitchen designer?

Designers are the technical and creative arm of any kitchen project. They see the big picture and offer design and ideas that incorporate current and long-term trends, taking cues from your lifestyle, and helping to clarify, define, and prioritize needs versus wants. They’ll guide you through the entire process and help you stay within your budget. If the plan involves structural work such as adding on or opening up the kitchen by knocking out walls, you may need to have the contractor bring in a structural engineer but for many kitchen renovations, a kitchen designer should suffice.


How long has the designer been in business?

Whether a designer, architect, builder, or contractor does a job well requires a certain amount of experience as it enables the profesional to fine tune the skills and tools needed to handle everyday issues, challenges, clients, and workload-which is why, if the professional you’re considering is a start-up, then think twice. While you might like their ideas, want to give them a break, and you might have great chemistry, be aware that the start-up does not have as much experience, and it’s always possible that the business might not make it.


The longer a company has been in business, the more time they’ve had to put systems of operation in place so each job runs smoothly. For example, Certified Kitchen Designer(CKD) Jenifer Gilmer has had her own kitchen design business for 16 years and was a partner in another business for four years before that. It took her a good five to seven years to find the right support staff to help make the operation organized enough to take on multiple jobs, know how to overcome obstacles, and stay on top of what’s happening in the industry.


Ask for three references 

Before making a selection, it’s important to get at least three references. Each may offer a different set of experiences. Some might be more upfront while someone may give a glowing reference and not address what went wrong. To get different perspectives, you might talk to someone who recently completed a project and someone who recently completed a project and someone who renovated a kitchen 10 years ago, so you can ask about follow-through. Were items taken care of right away or did the company take its time and charge you for a service person to replace just a hinge? It’s important to learn everything you can about the professional you choose as your partner in building your dream kitchen.


How many kitchens does the firm design in a typical month or year, and is a certain number important when choosing a pro? 

The number of kitchens a designer works on in any given month or year shows an ability to work in a disciplined fashion, is organized, and has a good relationship with vendors. Good designers should be able to pay attention to your job, too, regardless of how busy they are.


So ask: If they are doing X number of kitchens a month, are they too busy to answer your questions? Will this affect their ability to handle your project? Do they have a good support staff as a follow-up? Are they good at getting back to you, if you need attention—-sometimes quickly?



Are they certified and is that important?

Getting certification adds another dimension to any expert’s skills and demonstrates professional pride. Designers want to stay on top of the trade, will continue to complete continuing education course, and adhere to a certain set of standards and ethical practices. It also means they’re dedicated to the profession and have been involved for a long time. The NAtional Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) requires that a designer has to be in business full-time for at least seven years before qualifying to take the Certified Kitchen Designer (CKD) exam to become certified.



Have they won any awards and from which organizations, and have they had their works published? 

Winning awards and being published reveals that the professionals really care about their work and will make every project shine if it’s going to be photographed, judged, and exposed to a wider audience. It also indicates dedication to a job well done. Some kitchen design professionals only want to sell cabinets. Those who win awards and are the focus of editorial articles are truly designers who are proud to display their work and will most likely do a good job for clients.



What type of insurance do they carry? 

Most kitchen design firms carry liability and worker’s compensation. But it’s also important for the client to ask contractors if they are insured and what insurance they carry to protect themselves financially for this job and your entire investment in your home.


Initial Consultation 

Is there a charge for the initial consultation to get acquainted; what’s discussed at the meeting? 

A reputable, skilled kitchen designer should meet face-to face with a client to outline the scope of the project and explain how the process works. Most initial consultations, which may last an hour or two, are complementary because the designer and client needs to determine if they’re compatible and on the same page with ideas, vision, and budget. It’s at this time that you can assess whether or not the designer is adept at not only listening to you, but also is able to respond well to your questions.


In the first meeting, it’s important to make the clients feel secure. Glimer asks homeowners to bring in dimensions of the room or blueprints of the house. Sometimes they bring in a master list of what they want, as well as favorite photographs. She uses tracing paper to draw out the kitchen plan and to illustrate ideas, and they discuss how the kitchen is to be used– is it to be gutted, added onto, enlarged by knocking our or moving walls, do they need a space for two cooks which requires more food prep areas; is the kitchen strictly decorative; is it the family gathering place do they keep kosher which can mean one cabinetry and doubles of some appliances?


They also discuss design–ultramodern or traditional, calming, glamourous, retro. She then works up a rough drawing, and gives a ballpark price of the total cost. This enables client to make up their minds if they want to move forward and pay a fee to get going or do more research and find alternatives.



Does the designer have a showroom and work with different vendors at various price points or just at one price level, and what is it? And if they do have a showroom, how often do they change it to incorporate new equipment, cabinets, countertops, and other materials? 

A showroom serves as the company’s three dimensional calling card. It’s another gauge of the level of the company’s professionalism, shows prospective clients what they are getting in terms of style and showcase skill level and dedication. When you walk into the showroom, you can touch things and get an idea of the quality of products you’ll be purchasing. Ask how often the company changes its showroom–updating it every five to seven years indicates that the designer is committed to keeping up with the times and trends.


Kitchen designers, archtetics, builders, and contractors work with a large variety of product styles  and finishes-from cabinets to countertops, tiles, and faucets to decorative hardware. Seeing the options in front of you inspires creativity and thought. The showroom should include different vendors at various price points. This is important because it ensures you that you aren’t locked into choices that might be over budget.. It gives you the important alternatives, and the ability to go with high-end cabinets, for example, and less pricey appliances, or vice versa– creme de la creme appliances and stock or semi-custom cabinets.



Do they go to industry shows to be up on the latest trends, materials, appliances, or lighting? 

Typically trade shows will offer new options in cabinets, integrated lighting in cabinets, flooring, countertops in different stones, floors that look like marble but cost less, tiles that simulate wood, the newest ambient and task lighting, the latest, greatest, and greenest appliances, faucets, and more. Perusing the aisles and seeing what is out there helps the designers glena new ideas to stay up-to-date on industry trends and build a network of vendors. Not all designers attend trade shows, but yhey;ll still keep up on trends through reading, talking to others in the industry and through local resources.



What types of styles are they most comfortable working with–traditional, transitional, modern, green? 

Many design pros have a specialty, but a good designer can work in any style given the right guidelines, Caveat. Typically, if the professionals mainly design in Europe, they may not be able to design a traditional American kitchen as easily and vice versa.


Do you need to show them photos of kitchens you like or will they show you some to expand the repertoire? 

It’s cliche, but a picture is worth a thousand words. A good designer can spot common threads such as favorite colors, love of textures, dramatic lighting, whether traditional or modern. Pictures also show what you don’t want, which is equally important. Gilmer has had clients that show up with their laptops and iPads to demonstrate what they like such as the white beach house a kitchen in the Diane Keaton and Jake Nicholson movie, Something’s Gotta Give, or the kitchen where Meryl Streep fed Steve Martin a piece of rich chocolate cake in the movie, It’s Complicated. Favorite movies and television shows are a great place to start and communicate!


If a designer comes highly recommended and you provide the right information, lots of pictures, and ask the right questions, there’s a better chance you’ll get what you want from the start. A professional designer is also able to read clients both by what they say and how they respond to suggestions. You may think they like or dislike something, but a good designer may be able to pick out something else that is better suited to your taste, budgett, and space—perhaps a cabinet or piece of equipment that you may not know about.


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