Why You Should Have Hired A Kitchen Designer Yesterday
Even if you are still in the early stages of working with an architect on your future custom home, you are probably already feeling swamped with the decisions that need to be made. It is likely that you've barely begun to think about assembling a team of professionals to work on the interior of your home. "When to hire a kitchen designer" is a lot like the question "when is the best time to plant a tree?" Twenty years ago is the answer to the latter question (just in case you aren't familiar with the saying). As for the answer to that first question...well, if you find yourself staring at a bunch of 2x6's that loosely resemble the shape of your future home and you still haven't hired a kitchen designer, then you're behind the eight ball, my friend. However, you have plenty of company, because that's a big mistake that we see homeowners make a lot in our business. So today I'm going to make a case for why you need a kitchen and bath designer on board with your project as soon as possible.
If this is your first custom build, then it may come as a surprise to you that the contractor will start nagging you for all of your plumbing fixtures while they've barely begun framing. The reason your contractor needs to know the specifications of all of these fixtures so soon is because the mechanicals will be roughed in immediately following the framing in order of their relative size and inflexibility. In other words, the HVAC ducts will go in first (because the lines are big and inflexible), followed by the plumbing and finally the rough electrical. So even though you've barely given any thought as to how you want your kitchen and bathrooms to look, you'll need to pick out your sinks and faucets while also committing to their locations on the floor plan. The same will follow with the electrical locations. Switching, light fixtures over the island, recessed lighting, low voltage lighting for cabinetry, etc. will all need to be specified. If you haven't hired a kitchen and bath designer during the design phase of drafting your house plans, then the architect will need to use his or her default layouts to make many of these determinations.
The thing is...I almost never use the layout or configuration shown on the architect's plans. Here's why.
First of all, sometimes the layout just really stinks. I hate to have to say that, but I need to convey pure, burning truth here. Many clients begin the process of building thinking that the kitchen and bath layouts that their architect produced are good enough to get started and then they'll go to a kitchen shop later, pick some cabinets out and that'll be that. Well...ok...if your ambition is to build the most amazing home ever with a completely mediocre kitchen and lackluster bathrooms - then that's a great plan...have at it. Truly, there are lots of these homes out there. You know, the ones with drool-worthy photos that make you start clicking rapidly through images because you think "ooh, this house is beautiful, I bet the kitchen is going to be amazing..." and then you see the picture of the kitchen and you think "hmmph, well that was disappointing." Those homeowners, I guarantee you, fell victim to using the "default layout" instead of hiring a professional kitchen and bath designer right from the beginning. By "default layout," I mean a standard layout with rigorous adherence to the "work triangle," with no thought as to how it would all look together. These kitchens are easy to spot because the appliances are frequently all lined up on one wall with a sink in the island. Well, that may be efficient but it sure makes for an ugly kitchen! In contrast, a beautiful, well-designed kitchen will have form married with function. Good kitchen designers will do more than just arrange some appliances and cabinetry for you. They will look at your unique requirements as a family and give you a thoughtful layout that reflects your lifestyle and then they will blend that with the aesthetics - the secret sauce that will make the room really sing and feel cohesive.
The truth is, many architects don't put a lot of time and effort into the kitchen and bathrooms. But wait! I'm not blaming the architects because I believe they are being perfectly reasonable! Kitchen and bath design is a specialty. If you had a heart condition, you wouldn't see your general physician about that - you would see a heart specialist. While there are some architects that might take offense at not being able to design your kitchen from top to bottom, most of them are very happy for you to take that task to a kitchen and bath designer. Frankly, from conversations that I've had with architects over the years, they don't really feel that kitchen and bath design is in their specific wheelhouse. So, unless you're working with an architectural firm that is providing interior design services as well, your architect will likely assume that there will be additional refinement to the kitchen/bath layout later as you begin to work with a designer. Consequently, he/she will not spend much time working on those areas for you.
Secondly, you haven't had the opportunity for your design ideas to mature yet. There is a natural process that happens to everyone on a creative endeavor. You conceive of an idea, swish it around in your head for a while, then realize something about it that's not working. You then refine that idea and come up with the next one...then rinse and repeat. We all have to go through this process with our own homes - no matter the budget! Because you've been crazy busy making selections for masonry, brickwork, colors, windows, doors, etc., you haven't had very much time to go through this process yet and those initial drawings I get from the architect usually reflect that. Having a designer helps you to drill down on exactly what you want faster because it accelerates the process by clarifying your values. I'm sure you've had enough experience with this creative process in other areas of your life to know that where you find yourself at the end is often very different from where you started. Case in point, many times when I receive an initial set of blueprints for a consultation, the architect (at the client's request) has drawn the cooktop on the island. When I ask the clients why they want the cooktop there, they will tell me it is so that they can face towards the family room while they are cooking. For starters, I'll tell them that if they think about it, they actually spend a lot more time in front of a sink than a cooktop (unless they love making risotto for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.) While it may be the right choice for some, there are functional and aesthetic consequences for that choice that they may not have thought through when they indicated that preference to the architect. So after speaking with me and hearing the pros and cons of that decision, they usually change their mind. One big change like that alone can radically alter the layout of the kitchen.
Lastly, I go considerably beyond what many kitchen/bath designers do in terms of layout development and space planning. I will frequently suggest moving walls, doors, windows, etc. Sometimes I completely reconfigure the kitchen, butler's pantry, and breakfast nook. These are always the projects that I'm most proud of at the end. The getting there isn't always easy, but I will campaign hard for it. So if you don't want someone to tell you the honest truth and care so much about your project that I'd risk arguing with you about it, then don't hire me. Let me tell you though, that amount of passion and conviction brings about some pretty amazing spaces and some very appreciative clients at the end. Those boring kitchens that I spoke of earlier? The ones where the homeowners backed themselves into a corner by not hiring a kitchen designer early enough? Well, those same folks often compound the issue by going to a local cabinet shop with lackluster design talent. They'll hire some designer who's afraid to suggest that you might have better options if you just moved that doorway over by 4". So they'll just work with what they're given, slap a bunch of cabinets up on the wall and call it a day. They won't care. They'll make the same amount of money selling you the cabinets regardless and it won't matter to them whether your kitchen or bathroom was the best it could be. You don't want that. You want someone who will point out to you everything your room could be...and preferably, early enough that it doesn't cause you any major headaches or expense.
I often spend more time with your kitchen than many architects spend on the entire home! So in that amount of time and intense focus, I will often see possibilities where others do not.
The ideal, of course, is to assemble a great team of professionals to help you create your dream home right from the early stages of the planning process. However, if you only bring in one other person at this early stage of working with an architect, I urge you to go ahead and hire a kitchen/bath designer. Since we work with a lot of structure in our profession, we fit in well with the architectural process. We are the most likely to suggest changes to the layout, door and window placement in order to achieve certain design or functional objectives. Making these changes during the architectural design process keeps everything flowing very smoothly. If I'm hired to do a complete design during this phase, these are a few of the specific areas in which I can add value early on.
Recessed lighting layout & hanging pendant placement (making sure that a ceiling joist won't be in the way where you will want to hang your island pendants)
Plumbing locations, including precise placement of plumbing in islands
Electrical locations for appliances and outlets (including certain special locations inside of cabinets)
Making sure that HVAC ducting does not get placed in a location where it will interfere with cabinetry design.
Determining optimal placement of windows as it relates to the cabinetry design
Determining optimal locations of doors or cased openings as it relates to flow and the cabinetry design
The projects that I've worked on that bring me in early go soooo much smoother. We are able to determine all of these things ahead of time and incorporate them into the plans that the architect is producing. This obviously saves you a lot of money as you won't need to be signing off on change orders right and left down the road. It also prevents wasted material expense, and timeline delays, as well as additional interest expense on construction loans.
In 9 out of 10 projects, I'm usually brought on board before the interior designer is selected, so most folks must realize everything that I've said above at some point in the process. However, most of the time, I'm still hired in the framing stage of the project, which is a bit late. At that point, the contractor will have to pause his timeline while dealing with some of the structural and mechanical changes that we will generate. So I hope that by writing this post, I can encourage you to go ahead and reach out to your kitchen designer. We are so fundamental to the process and hiring us early keeps all of your options on the table! You've worked so hard for this custom home and you'll want your kitchen and bathrooms to be everything you ever dreamed they could be!
A note about my services...if you're not ready to have a formal design consultation but would just like my design advice on a particular decision you're struggling with, I've made it super easy for you. You can now schedule an "Ask Me Anything" call by visiting my online scheduling calendar. Just pick an available date and time that works best for your schedule. Also, I highly encourage you to join my free Luxury Resource Library, where I provide you with exclusive access to top brands for things like cabinetry, lighting, flooring, backsplash tile, etc.