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Kitchen Design Tips...use an Independent Kitchen Designer

Updated on September 28, 2014
 Kitchen showroom...don't get started
Kitchen showroom...don't get started

Don't be a vulnerable walk-in

For many homeowners, designing a new kitchen may be a first time/only time event. That lack of experience can translate into vulnerability in the world of big ticket, commission motivated product sales.

Your kitchen designer is the most important non-product choice you make. This is essential you understand....Never just walk into a kitchen showroom or even a home center without having a name to ask for.This is not like buying a car. It's much more like handing over your personal finances to a financial planner.

Kitchen cabinets, countertops and appliances are all commission based sales. Showroom duty is typically split up amongst the most needy and newest designers. The best kitchen designers will usually have enough direct referral business to never be responsible for showroom walk-ins.

Even walking into Lowes and getting help from whoever happens to be working commits you to that person for the whole process. You're tagged. Are you with me on this? It's important, I hope you are.

Independent kitchen designer

Somethimes the best solution to getting your kitchen designed is to use an independent kitchen designer. That's exactly what I do. I provide the design work and perspectives for any given client who can accurately measure and provide some images.

This method allows for a consumer to properly 'shop around' for their products unencumbered by design fees, obligations and in-home commitments..."Here's my plan, price this please."

I suggest a web search for independent kitchen designers and see who pops up locally...(you may find me again).

 installing cabinets
installing cabinets

Kitchen cabinet installer

There are a dozen buying scenarios for a new kitchen. The common requirements in each scenario is a kitchen designer and a kitchen cabinet installer.


If you plan a detailed high fashion kitchen, you're going to need a craftsman to install your kitchen. There is nothing like a great installer to deal with any kitchen design mistakes. Make sure to address this early on. Any given cabinet supplier should have access to several installers, always insist on the best installer for your new cabinets. In fact get a name and have it written in your sales contract.



The up front design fee issue.

This is a tough issue. The design fee deposit.

Up front design fee policies vary widely from region to region and are sometimes based on simply how busy a given kitchen showroom is...sad but true. There is no nationwide standardization, only regional conforming..."If they're going to do it, so will we..."

These are the possibilities...

  1. No design fee and you are free to use their plans to shop with...the old fashioned way. This is becoming a rare protocol as the housing economy improves.
  2. No design fee but the design stays with the dealer until project is contracted. Fair enough.
  3. A design fee of 250 to 2,500 deductible from any actual purchase. This is the way most high reputation dealers will do business and almost mandatory using a 'certified kitchen designer' for high end kitchen design. As a consumer, this is when you have a better option. A qualified independent kitchen designer will provide you the same (or better) design presentation without product biased for the same or better pricing.

If you are annoyed by the design fee protocol in your area, or struggling with a design. see my profile page for contact information.

Speaking of magazine kitchens...

This is just a common sense reminder.

Any kitchens that end up in magazines, brochures, pinterest and all the other sites are typically big ticket kitchens. Many, including the big kitchen shown to the right were $100,000 or more. I don't mean to discourage you. Any image you can find that you like, pin it and print it. If your kitchen designer is anything like me, he or she will enjoy the challenge to replicate something special but on a realistic budget.

kitchen design mistakes
kitchen design mistakes

Home center cabinet myth

There is a common assumption that you must go to a home center for the best price on cabinets and a kitchen. Not !

Home centers do sell some cheap cabinets that kitchen showrooms would not consider. But when it comes to Kraftmaid or other quality brands, you need to shop around.

The point is that Home centers and your local kitchen showrooms should both have price match policies. If you're going to get the same price with or without real service, take the service that comes with from a K & B showroom.

Kraftmaid makes a terrific cabinet, and unlike faucets and fixtures, the home centers and the dealers get the same quality product and pay the same cost for cabinets. Your local Kraftmaid dealer will relish the opportunity to compete with Home Depot or Lowes.

The other issue is how many times your designer will visit the job site.....once, twice or five times. I visit my jobs as needed, about 4 times. That may be an issue with the kitchen planners in the orange and blue smocks. I could never think of planning a remodel without in-home walk-thru for traffic flows and adjacent rooms!!


...Get the best drawers !

Kitchen Design tips...

I'm a little late with this alert. By now almost all cabinets are made using undermounted full extension drawer slides featuring solid wood drawers. If by any chance this is an option on your cabinets, don't even consider not choosing them.

The only big improvement in cabinets in the last decade has been the drawer slide system. Your drawers must pull out fully and be 75 - 100lb. sturdy and with concealed slides.

This allows for 20% more visible storage in every drawer, and much better function with drawer accessories. If you hear the phrase 'blum undermounted', that's a good thing! Blum is the best available drawer hardware.

Red flag alerts and cautions

Recessed panel door caution

Recessed panel cabinets are used to create many very popular door styles such as shaker and mission styles.

There are 2 ways to make a recessed panel cabinet...using a flimsy 1/4" veneer panel, (pictured top right) or using a 1/2" solid wood panel (pictured bottom right) The problem is that there is no apparent difference (to a consumer) between the two, unless a cut through as pictured.

There are a few ways to figure out which is which.

  • Look at the backside of the door...it should look like a reverse raised panel if solid wood.
  • Door sample would feel very light by comparison to other doors.
  • Simply tap the center panel with a knuckle, if it's the cheapcut...you'll know by the sound
  • Just ask..."is this panel veneer or solid wood"....if he/she does not know immediately, you're in the wrong place.

Again, a lot of very popular cabinet styles are recessed panel, make sure you know what you're getting!

Above are shipping clamps, fixed shelves
Above are shipping clamps, fixed shelves | Source
Truly  adjustable shelves
Truly adjustable shelves

Shipping clamps are not shelf clips!

This is something that happens way too often. Many kitchen wall cabinets are shipped with the shelves in place. To do that, they have to use a plastic shipping 'clamp' as pictured to the right.

Very often the designer fails to order the real clips and the homeowner is left with shelves that take 2 people and a chisel to remove 1 shelf. You'll be screaming mad.

Be certain to avoid this potential fiasco. Once the wall cabinets are installed it's a major chore to remove these clamps.

Corner Lazy Susan cabinet....

Base Lazy Susans..or Basic Lousy Solution as I call them. For 30 years we have had to design kitchens with lazy susans that were embarrasing junk. Contraptions. I'll bet you've had one at some point, the vertical metal rod with plastic spin shelves. If so, you know why I hate'em.

Today there is finally a real solution...called a 'super susan'...A super susan has independent wood shelves each mounted on a big ball bearing swivel. These shelves actually hold 33% more usable space, and cannot sack, tip or pinch any fingers. The pole is gone.

Here's the problem. None of the cabinet makers removed the original corner contraption from their catalogues Ignorant designers are still using them to hold the price down knowing the consumer will never know about the super susan.

Therefore,you must make sure...'SUPER SUSAN"..it takes the same amount of space and the best way to turn a corner.

Raised panels doors with veneer over fiberboard

Technology has created the means to make a raised panel door that is actually fiberboard with a wood veneer. The cabinet door shown to the right got wet, water sat in the bottom rail of the door frame. This was an exceptional circumstance.

A veneer raised panel actually creates a very consistent door-to-door appearance. But the point here is that you may like a veneered RP door and never be told about the center panel.

This should only be available in budget cabinet lines, but by simply asking about it, you'll expose yourself as very knowledgeable. That's a good thing...

Cheap white cabinet caution


Many years ago, painted white cabinets came back in demand. With that came the evolution of 'thermofoil'. Thermofoil itself is not an inferior product, but when it gets as thin as newspaper, and used only for the doors and drawer fronts, it is not a cabinet for consideration except bargain shoppers.

The cheapest way to build a white cabinet is using 3 different materials, thermofoil doors, white painted face frames and white melamine end panels, shown top right. And who knows what for the mouldings.

What you must use for white cabinets is all thermofoil, or all paint. When you use the same material to make everything, there’s no color variation between the stiles and rails, doors and the exposed sides. Therefore, the end panels, face frames, moulding and all other accessories will be identical in color now and years from now.

There remain several other concerns with white cabinets, including frameless vs framed box construction, door overlay, quality of paint and thermo thickness. Too much to explain here. If your Kitchen Designer leaves you puzzled, feel free to contact me regarding white cabinets.

Cabinet fillers and bad design

I Hate fillers. So should you. There are designers who are afraid to trust their own measurements and plan fillers here and there to allow for kitchen design mistakes. That is a horrible way to design and order a kitchen.

First of, I always design with cabinets that are available in any widths, not just 3" increments. I only plan a filler when mandatory such a 90o blind base corner. In those cases I always use symmetrical design and use overlays to disguise them. The picture above right is non symmetrical and without overlays.

The lower right image is a symmetrical corner done with overlays...little better right?

Many mid priced cabinet brands feature custom widths. Instead of 12, 15 18 and 24" etc, any base or wall cabinet can be ordered to the fraction of an inch, like 19 1/4".
This comes in really handy to get a sink dead centered on a window.

The truth is that using the 'extended stile' (right or left) option should replace using any fillers. If your kitchen plans indicate any loose 'fillers', make sure to ask why. If you don't get a good answer, comment me, I'll be glad to help.



Solid surface illusion

If you have read my article corian vs granite, you know what I think about corian and all the equivalent brands of solid surface.

If not, just realize that solid surface might be solid, but it is only 1/2" thick. You would never accept 1/2" kitchen countertops, so solid surface is fabricated to create an illusion of
1 1/2" thickness. If you are going to spend a lot of money on kitchen countertops, go with granite or quartz...The only true solid material for countertops.

This entire mantle style hood is 60"
This entire mantle style hood is 60"

Wood hoods over the range

Just a word of caution on all these wood hoods you'll be sure to see everywhere. Showrooms love them, me too. Don't design what you can't afford.

It's been 30 years since I used a metal range hood in a kitchen. That space that used to be occupied by little 6" painted tin box with 2 dim lights and that obnoxious fan is now prime design territory. No doubt you've seen the extravagance as in the custom wood hood pictured above.

I did a google search for wood hoods images and went through the first 100 and never saw 2 of the same. But what I did see is that a lot of consumers are willing to pour a lot of money into what basically just makes noise and moves a little air, but looks real pretty.

There are several factory made pillar type components that create a 60" hood canopy like the hood pictured above @ approx $7,000 (for all exposed cabinet fronts, blowers and lights). That's a lot of money for almost pure aesthetics. As I designer I could do an awful lot of design detailing elsewhere with just half of that expense.


           48" wood hood, job built
48" wood hood, job built

Hood assembled from cabinet parts

For far less money, a clever kitchen designer can use individual cabinet components to create an integrated wood hood like the one pictured at right. In this case the whole 48" hood was built on the job using loose cabinet doors,panels and mouldings plus an arched valance.The fabrication and installation is tricky, but with the liner, blower and light, this entire hood could be assembled as shown for about half the price of the hood shown above in the first image.

Other Hood options

Pictured to the right are two other realistic hood options.

The free hanging, one piece wood hood pictured to right is typically available from any cabinet company to match (or accent) your cabinets. Depending on the actual style, the width, the wood species and the internal works, expect to spend around $3,500 for this type of wood hood.

The nice stainless steel hood pictured can be bought as an appliance for $800 to 1,800 depending on the brand, the width and blower strength. Broan and Vent-a-Hood offer this type of free hanging stainless range hoods.

Both can be enhanced with beadboard on the wall behind and crown trim as shown..


3D kitchen designer

What to expect from an independent kitchen designer
What to expect from an independent kitchen designer

Independent Kitchen Designers

Finally here, if you are in need of kitchen planning services, 3D design, or simply consulting on your new kitchen project, visit my profile page for my contact information.

Planning a new kitchen? Comment me with any questions

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    • Kitchenguides profile image

      Ashfak Ilahi 5 months ago from United Kingdom

      Excellent post. Not all the time you can rely on the external designer to do service for your home. Over commercial thinking of different companies really affect their design sense.

    • LinStory profile image

      LinStory 3 years ago from Seattle,WA

      Another great article!

    • LinStory profile image

      LinStory 3 years ago from Seattle,WA

      Fantastic Article...Tons of great tips.

    • KitchenBuyersAid profile image
      Author

      Dave Hatton 3 years ago from PA/SC..USA

      my email address is kitchenpro123@yahoo.com. Shoot me your contact info. I'll see what I can do.

    • profile image

      Jane Archer 3 years ago

      Am having real trouble finding an independent kitchen designer for my difficult cottage kitchen. I am live in the Essex area. Any recommendations you can give, would be much appreciated. My kitchen is difficult, lots of recesses, one under stairs and two either side of fireplace. It is rapidly turning into a nightmare for me. Thank you in advance.