The Kitchen Designer

I'm here in Chicago for KBIS

Hello kitchen fans! Had a great flight yesterday on JetBlue. JetBlue is either fantastic or horrible. Yesterday, on a week's old plane, it was great.

Today, I attended two half day seminars. The first was on kitchen ventilation (use your hood or else all these little particulates will get over everything...heat, vapors, and food particulates, yuck.) Just use it. But, a lot more on this later, I'll expand on what was covered in the seminar (I know you're on the very edge of your seats for this but you'll have to be patient.)  ;)

And, I attended a seminar on green residential design. As things, products, and philosophies change fairly quickly, it's important to keep up to date. Took tons of notes and will expand on that too.

Then, off to a GE press event (LOVE those press events!) More on THAT too. Meanwhile, here's a photo I took of a small spot of the show floor, but trust me, this is what the whole show floor looked like this afternoon, and this was less than 24 hours before the show starts! This is typical, and somehow miraculously, the displays get constructed, wall to wall carpeting goes down on the entire show floor, and the show begins! I REALLY need my sleep now, more soon!



Posted by Susan serra, ckd
over 11 years ago

Going to KBIS in Chicago!

One of my most favorite things to do year after year is to go to KBIS. My husband usually comes with me, I see old friends, attend fabulously fabulous press events (massage event, anyone? IMAC event?) and just love the whole thing. I've been inundated with pre-KBIS emailings, postcards and other good stuff, and I look at everything.

I will be spotting trends, perusing kitchen design both good and yawn-worthy, extricating myself from nonstop talking marketing people, and watching those super-bending dancers at the hourly show at the Kohler booth. Please, kitchen Gods, don't bring back the Maxewll smart schtick at a booth I can't remember the name of, I can't deal with that again...

I am SO ready to go...leaving Wednesday and coming back on Sunday. I'll be blogging for Glam...more soon!

Posted by Susan serra, ckd
over 11 years ago

Dream House Diaries March Toward...

One more post about the New York Times blog, Dream House Diaries, just one more! And, if the link does not work down the road, this is what the blog was about. A couple from up north builds a house in Florida, spending close to one million smackeroos, double, from what they first planned on spending, land and construction, included.

Here's the bottom line: In the course of spending one million smackeroos, they got a builder's kitchen in their march toward mediocrity (and obvious design flaws.) So, the lesson for the day, for this blog, for those who are about to spend thousands on a kitchen, is this:

There are different types of kitchen designers.

That's it, end of story. Alison and Paul were told this little nugget of wisdom, and they did not listen. As a result, there are so many flaws in their kitchen, I won't bore you again with the list. Instead, I'll go positive and tell you, basically, what's out there.

Low budget for new construction/remodels

Home Depot, Lowes, and your builder's kitchen "connection" come to mind first and foremost. But, that's not the end of the story...For you, you also have this option below...see the next category. If your kitchen is designed in 30 minutes, even 60 minutes, run away. This long term purchase deserves more time than an hour, no matter how nice the person is behind the computer. The business model here is about speed. And, you're not getting the best deal either.

Middle end budget for new construction/remodels

Here is where the local mom and pop kitchen and bath stores come in. They are everywhere. In my market, there is a saturation of them. They work hard, provide good service, care about their clients, go to the jobsite, do creative work, as compared to the big box stores, and as a result, increase the value of the product you are purchasing. Many of these firms will carry a very inexpensive line that the first budget category needs, but with added value to the services than are found in the first category.

Upper middle budget for new construction/remodels

These independent kitchen and bath firms may carry products in the next lower budget category noted and will carry even higher end products, offering even more services to their clients. Most of their work will be in this category, but they may be very willing to take jobs in a slightly lower budget range. Some will, some will not. The products are middle to higher end, and oftentimes the creativity continues upward as well.

High end kitchen design firms for new construction/remodels

These firms carry the best, or nearly the best (not always, oddly) products and generally offer even more detailed design work, devoting a good amount of time to your project. In theory, these designers work with a higher level of creativity, offering products that may not be able to be found elsewhere. Sometimes they have a product line that is somewhat less expensive. Some will take projects in the upper middle budget category, depending on their interest or work load. Their pricing is usually competitive with other equivalent firms and with the category just below. Thus, interestingly, a superb value is often found in this category.

Of course, there are other ways to buy and design a kitchen, but what I am speaking of here are the engines that drive the kitchen and bath marketplace, and how it is, in my mind, categorized.

I can be proven wrong by real life examples in any of these categories, which will illustrate that, as I implored Alison and Paul to do, one must carefully interview designers up front, to find the one that will provide the very best value, and be the right one, for their vision, their budget, whatever their main needs are. Look, interview, evaluate, find a good "fit."

The crazy thing is, many of these providers mentioned, offer design services for free. OR, those that do charge a fee, usually make it fully rebated upon purchase of the cabinets.

But, as I am speaking about Alison and Paul, here, they had this opportunity, they were told about better alternatives, and they chose the #1 solution, above, for the million dollar house. They got what they deserved.  The builders' kitchens are alive and well, I see, warts and all! What a waste. 

Posted by Susan serra, ckd
over 11 years ago

Lessons Learned From New York Ti...

As I noted a few days ago, the New York Times blog, of which I was a "regular", has put up its last post. It's definitely bittersweet for me (I can't deny there are SOME emotions to seeing the last post, since I've hung in here for close to a year!) But, somehow, I think I'll be able to work tomorrow. :)

Here are the lessons that, I think, one should learn.

1. Plan in advance. As far ahead as you can, as soon as you are thinking about remodeling or building a home, start the process to find a kitchen designer. Alison and Paul's (the homeowners) builder told them to wait until the kitchen had a floor. That's...I can't find the words.

2. Find a kitchen designer - Take a look at this post for tips to find a kitchen designer. Allow for time up front, it may not be able to get done quickly.

3. Before you sign a contract, tell your builder you may not want to use his kitchen designer. Deal with that up front, and find out what sort of allowance will be rebated back to you. My take is Alison and Paul thought they would get a better deal with the builder's kitchen person. This is unknowable on their part, and I doubt it would have been much of a deal in the end. Not worth it.

4. Be aware that sometimes builders' kitchen designers are most comfortable with doing kitchens one way, and fast. Do you want that for a long term purchase?

5. Will your kitchen designer advocate for YOU...or for the builder? Alison and Paul had an issue with a large air handler which created a very bad aesthetic situation on several counts in their kitchen. Their designer should have been on the spot right away to come up with alternate solutions.

6. Be aware that even if you have to pay an upfront fee for a kitchen designer, in nearly all cases, the fee is refundable upon purchase of cabinetry. Extremely low risk and very much worthwhile to go this route.

7. Make sure the designer draws in surrounding spaces ESPECIALLY (did I say especially?) if the space is a great room. This was not done in Alison and Paul's case. As a result, the great room is a kitchen with a dining and seating/sofa area in it rather than a great room with a kitchen in it.

8. Make sure the dining area is drawn with chairs, the proper size table, all proper size furniture, and the spacing is gone over very carefully with you. Alison and Paul's great room is 44, maybe 45 feet long, with, oh, 9 1/2' allocated to the dining area. Yes, that's REALLY  a place that I want to hang out at. Maybe there is 4' between the table and the sofa on the other side of the space.

9. Note the window placement in relation to the dining table. In Alison and Paul's case, the windows have no relationship to a dining table. And, they are different sizes. It's just bad. They were warned.

10. Alison and Paul have acres of countertop, all of it one dark colored granite. Be aware of the impact of this type of situation.

11. Don't blindly put boxes on the wall. There are many other creative ways to design a kitchen.

12. Look at proportions and sizes of cabinet doors. In quite a few areas, Alison and Paul's doors do not relate well to one another, side by side and/or top to bottom.

13. Please think twice before you "default" to maxing out every possible inch for storage. The kitchen can look like another room, a lovely room, a real room. Do you really need all that stuff? If you do, and it's a great room, then be aware that there are alternatives to all those.....boxes. Creativity takes time. Give it time and understand that the aesthetic nature of the kitchen should be given equal, yes I said, equal, billing, especially in a great room!

14. Just put the time in. Apathy breeds boring design solutions as well as outright bad design due to others' apathy, responding to your apathy.

Ah, I feel better. I've had so much built up frustration during the course of this blog. The apathy, the waste in this kitchen, really was unfortunate. And, again, ad nauseum, I'm talking the apathy and waste in the fundamentals.

Posted by Susan serra, ckd
over 11 years ago

Designing A Kitchen For A Large ...

I was recently hired to design a kitchen for a large space, which will incorporate two connecting rooms. The home has its architectural challenges, of which I could mention a bunch off the top of my head. Currently, in this huge kitchen, there is about 36" between the island and the main "run" of cabinets. 36" in a huge kitchen. That really makes, it doesn't.

Part of what I find to be a lot of fun, is when I go into a home, look at the existing kitchen, and I can see the thinking, the motivations, of the previous kitchen designer. I do enjoy making lots of mini observations, connecting the pieces, to figure out how and why the kitchen was created in its original form. And, I could be way off base, too, with my assumptions, sometimes, but, it's a fun, little, exercise. And, of course, one never knows who really drove a design, the designer or the client.

Here is the empty plan of the existing space. I'll tell draw it out, put in windows, doorways, double check measurements, etc. You're done, after some hours, and then you stop, look at this (in this case, big) empty space in front of you, take a deep breath, and say, here it begins...turn on the inspiration, here we go, find the inspiration, find it, but don't force it, don't rush it, let it flow. Rushing tamps down creativity. Time breeds creativity. This point is sort of a red stop light, a pause, before the light turns green. It's an interesting feeling. It's a natural pause for me.

I do a variety of plans to suit a space. I've already come up with several plans I'm quite pleased with, thus this post. I've also cautioned the clients to keep an open mind (a really open mind) because what I'm coming up with is very different from what they have now! I'm excited about the possibilities for this kitchen and surrounding spaces. They will be able to choose the one plan they like from more than several they will be shown.

The existing kitchen is flawed. It is possible to design fabulous cabinetry in a ridiculous way, yes it is. What's wrong with their existing kitchen is:

  • the kitchen looks like it is boxes on a wall with no architectural interest
  • it defines the term "hodge podge"
  • it blindly makes all surrounding base cabinetry 24" deep
  • it's cramped all around the island
  • it's un-fun to work in
  • the appliance locations are wacky

I'll be creating a family room area in one of these spaces and will need to find harmony with an existing fireplace, a wall of French doors and find room for media, too, with an eye toward relating to a newly opened up kitchen on that end. I'll fill you in on the plans themselves, after I show them to the client, as well as which one they chose. How lucky am I to be doing this work? Even after all these years...


Here are existing kitchen images, notice the ins and outs and very small areas between very, very large, tall, pieces. Notice the sink is unconnected to other countertop areas. It just looks, to my eye, very disjointed, not making sense, any sort of flow.


Posted by Susan serra, ckd
over 11 years ago
Certified Kitchen Designer