About Hiring a Kitchen & Bath Designer

The perfect kitchen won’t make you a great cook, and an all-marble bathroom will still need cleaning. But the fact remains that a kitchen or bath remodel can make your life at home enormously more pleasurable on a daily basis. They are often the two rooms that see the most use, and so their planning and construction deserve careful thought. A good kitchen and bath designer will listen attentively to a client’s desires and incorporate them into rooms that are as functional as they are beautiful.

Finding a Designer

Some architects, interior designers, space planners and certified remodelers dabble in kitchen and bath design. There are even "designers" who work for manufacturers and home improvements stores. But if your sights are set on a specialist, you’ll want to look for a Certified Kitchen Designer/Certified Bath Designer (CKD/CBD). To get certified, the designer needs at least seven years of hands-on experience in addition to coursework, and must pass a series of tests administered by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), the field’s main professional organization. Even after certification, continuing education will enable a designer to stay abreast of current styles and the latest advances in equipment.

Most designers have either a showroom or portfolio to give you a sense of their particular style. You may think that you are on the same page when you talk on the phone, but when you see the ideas embodied in a room you may find that you have very different ideas of what a word like "contemporary" or "traditional" means. You’ll be a giant step closer to getting what you want if you can find a designer whose style is similar to your own. Take a look at your prospective designer’s recent work history while you’re at it. At the very least, a designer should be able to produce three current references, and a history of two or more projects per month shows a healthy demand for the professional’s work.

Finding someone you feel compatible with will make the whole process more pleasant and productive—especially if you see eye-to-eye on budgetary considerations. It will also help alleviate some of the inevitable stress. With the right designer, you’ll be able to openly discuss such issues as project cost, time frame for completion, product information and warranty issues. You should feel comfortable asking for advice on the logical and functional placement of appliances, how to make cabinets childproof, lighting alternatives, your storage needs, personal preference for gas or electric stoves, the upkeep involved in tile kitchens vs. stainless steel and other design considerations. Also, do you want to work with the appliances you have or completely replace them? Don’t assume that a designer can read your mind and knows that you will not—under any circumstances—part with your matching canary yellow refrigerator and stove.

On Cost

There are generally two ways in which a designer can charge for their services. The first type of pricing structure is a percentage—about 10 percent—of the project’s total cost. This type of fee schedule is common when the designer coordinates the entire project as well as supplying the artistic template. Coordinating the project includes ordering all materials and finding and managing the workers to install everything. This approach is often a good value. It also relieves you of having to find someone else to carry out the project, or of immersing yourself in the hassles of ordering and overseeing.

The second method of pricing is an hourly fee called a pure design fee. Your money buys only the designer’s ideas and plans for creating the kitchen or bath of your dreams. The price will depend upon the designer’s experience, education and general reputation. Hourly charges range from $65 to $200 or more per hour.

It is imperative to discuss total cost prior to starting the job, of course, so you know what to expect. If you have your heart set on a new kitchen layout that requires new plumbing and electrical work, for example, know that this will be a more expensive renovation than one that involves existing systems. If the cost of such a renovation is more than you’d like to spend, work with the designer to match your dreams with your budget.

Once you’ve chosen a designer, you’ll need a contract to protect both parties. No professional will be offended if you request one. The contract should spell out the services you are expecting and include a timetable for payment. Expect to part with a down payment of 40 percent to 50 percent to secure a good designer.

Many designers are sole proprietors, which means that the designer may be the only employee of the company. Others are part of a large firm with designers representing a range of specialty areas. Deciding whether or not to use an individual or a firm is a choice that depends upon your own style and the scope of your project: a firm’s diverse collection of talent may come in handy if your project is especially complex. Some clients prefer dealing with one person, while others may feel more confident having a number of designers available. If, after speaking to a few of the vendors in this book, designers from both large and small firms interest you, make some comparisons such as their availability to begin work and how long they anticipate it will take to complete it. Their answers may help you narrow your search.

As with any major home project, you’ll go through a period of upheaval when everything—including the kitchen sink—gets overhauled. But the result will be worth the trouble, whether your fantasy is to cook dinner for 20 with minimal running around or to sink into a tub tiled in the style of a Roman bath.

Trend Ideas

In the bathroom: With space in New York City at a premium, installing a bathtub may not always be possible. If you can’t go without soaking yourself in relaxation, give your stand-up shower the capacity to be a "steam room." All it requires is the plumbing of the steam device, a tiled seat and sealed glass door.

In the kitchen: Use an open cabinet for storing all your everyday dishes and glassware. This will break up the monotony of all-doored cabinets and come in handy when washing dishes—you’ll duck beneath open doors less frequently. Placing your everyday dishes in open cabinets may also motivate you to clear out any missmatched pieces and to better organize your frequently used tableware.
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