Help! Am I Paying Too Much for a KD?

dreamojeanMay 1, 2013

I really need help figuring out what to do next on our kitchen (and deck) renovation and whether to hire an interior designer at a high price (she wants $8,500 as a fixed price or $150/hour as an hourly rate (which means she expects around 55 hours for this job, including up to 4 site visits during construction, but that's misleading because her business partner charges the same thing and they would visit us together, so she thinks fixed price is a better value for us), and I'm in NYC but still, I've got sticker shock (understatement)). This is for a NYC brownstone job In a small kitchen (about 7’x12’ for the kitchen part, and 7’x15’ for the dining room part ��" it’s one big open space and there will be an island, and possibly a column or two supporting the header between the rooms) in a 100 year old brownstone and it's going to be a squeeze. As for budget for the deck/kitchen, I hope it costs well under $100,000 total including hopefully under $50,000 for the kitchen part (including under $30,00 for cabinets, countertop, backsplash and appliances plus contractor labor). So this designer essentially wants around 15% of kitchen construction, I think. I'd hired an architect on an hourly basis to design the kitchen/deck and he did a basic layout (I love the deck he designed), we got permit approval, used his bid package to get bids (which excluded the kitchen cabinets, appliances, countertops, backsplash, since those were not determined yet), I've got a front runner contractor. But we have paid our architect $12,000-plus already and the kitchen hasn't even been designed, and the architect will definitely have construction administration during the work. Our architect sources Conestoga cabinets at a 12% discount (not assembled, so we have to pay the contractor to assemble them, like IKEA) and I think his firm’s kitchen design fee would be less than the ID's, but I don’t have a sense of what the design would be like or what it would cost (and I’ve asked him). The interior designer candidate also would design Conestoga cabinets, then a cabinet-maker could assemble and install them. What appeals about Conestoga is that it’s real wood and fairly customizable, and also that these designers know how to order this brand.

I don't think $150/hour is unreasonable for a KD, but what I don't like is paying so much for professional help - and it feels like I'm paying twice in some ways! I should mention that I’ve been to IKEA, I’ve looked at Home Depot and Lowe’s (but not met with a KD there), I’ve gotten a quote from a good and mid-range kitchen design place that would supply us with Medallion cabinets (I liked that designer, it’s still an option), I’ve gotten a design I disliked from another kitchen store, I’m waiting for a design from a third and would be happy to order from them (subject to their design), and I met with a 4th kitchen design store and think their designer would be good (I’d order Kemper through them, which I liked a lot). But this interior designer was more holistic than anyone else. so I'm really leaning toward paying a higher (too high!) design fee for design of Conestoga cabinets for someone to assemble, so at least the cabinet price is not too pricey and it's basically custom, but instead of custom price for the cabinets, less than half the price is cabinet and the other half is design time. Is this crazy? It feels crazy but I just want to get to the next step of our renovation and keep coming up with dead ends. Thoughts?

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Having trouble with your post. You're using KD and ID interchangeably, and they're not the same thing. In my area, CKDs tend to charge a lot more depending on what cabinetry they sell, if they're certified, and based on the level of technical excellence they have. This is very different than an ID.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2013 at 10:59PM
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$8,500 sounds really high. What services will the kitchen designer provide? Just picking out the finishes (counters, backsplash, pulls, fixtures?) What other services are included in the quote?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 12:49AM
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The KD will be meeting with us with her business partner to find out about how we live in our kitchen space and what our priorities are, and what we want; they will do an initial design, another meeting, fine-tuning the design 1-2 more times, and I believe setting up the cabinet order in full detail and helping us with the rest of the kitchen (appliances, backsplash, countertops etc.), and some construction administration - I think there was more but I think I went numb when I heard the price and shut down for a few moments so I'll have to ask her again.

All of this has led me to serously consider our bringing in the contractor we like to do everything BUT the final kitchen design, cabinets, backsplash, countertops, and just bring in appliances and some wall unit pieces, and hook up the minimal kitchen for now - if we do that we can get a tenant into our bottom floor (right now we're camped out on 3 floors of a brownstone until we do this renovation, when we only need 2 floors, so getting the messier parts of the reno done and setting up appliances would buy us time to do the cabinets/island and hopefully raise funds for them in the interim (via HELOC or something). For us the pressure of needing rental income is one big driver for me to rush. Otherwise we are lucky in that we currently have 1.5 kitchens and will keep those kitchens during the addition of the new kitchen and then lose the older full kitchen to a tenant, and even if we add just appliances and then rent out the rental floor before we add cabinets, we have the 1/2 kitchen upstairs as backup, and that has cabinets and drawers already. So I might consider this KD if we can get a HELOC with a very low interest rate, and until then just wait on the whole "nicer design" thing.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 1:08AM
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I would not pay $8500 for a week's work.

It does sound like you are paying an awful lot for the design, as well as too many hands in the pot. Over $20,000 for a small kitchen, small dining and deck area design? I expect there would be more to come, too. You are wise to stop and do some research and shopping around.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 1:14AM
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I get the feeling that this particular KD will do more than a week's work and that she'll go the extra mile. She's pretty thorough and has been doing this work for decades and seems to be well regarded. Overall she may spend 60 hours on it over many weeks, but I'll have to check. I may defer hiring her anyway until we are down to just the kitchen design work, and try to do everything else first and live with the chaos of basically having a "european" kitchen with free-standing storage, for a couple of months until we figure out the cabinet situation.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 1:19AM
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If it helps, we are paying $150 an hour in Houston, but she only thinks it will take 10-15 hours. I will probably end up spending more because I liked her design so much that I now want her to help woth other things, though. I'm a little surprised your hourly rate isn't higher, being in NYC.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 2:00AM
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the only reason I might consider that type of service is the historical structure you are dealing with and the fact you have two rooms... what about the living room,however? for the dining room/kitchen that you state are at play, is the architect not enough to help you retain the features...if he sources conestoga,don't they have a design service that can assist with fine tuning/embellishing the space.Somehow, all of this should be streamlined,and not just in the dollars /cents meaning, but just the back and forth with too many people... imo.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 7:04AM
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Texas Cajun, our architect charges $175/hour and his spouse (an unlicensed architect and designer) charges $120/hour, the designer I'm considering charges $150/hour and her assistant (very experienced) charges $150/hour so in some ways it's a combined $300/hour rate for 2 people,each with 25 years of experience. The designer's a visual artist (I like her artwork, from what I've seen online) and boy does she have a good eye, she pointed things out in 5 minutes that no one else had, about matching our new header to existing moldings and arches that double as headers (it seems an obvious point but our architect apparently never looked up and over...). What we would do if we hire the designer is, turn the kithen over to the designer and leave the exterior work (structural) for the architect to check on his continued hourly basis, so we wouldn't keep doubling up on the kitchen with the architect. Not ideal, but I've learned (too late) that it would have been better to do the exterior work separately using an exterior expert and whatever structural help we needed, and leave the kitchen work to kitchen experts. I've found fantastic contractor candidates for the kitchen who don't do or sub out exterior work, and since we permitted the job together and need a contractor to cover both jobs, we lose those possible contractors. (and similarly I have an exterior expert I could hire for the deck but they don't do kitchens like the one in our space, and they are the low bid overall and I don't think the kitchen would turn out well with them). All this is enough to make someone with a weaker constitution just sell our darn house and move out of NYC - tempting at this point, but we would lose money on the sale and I like living in the city.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 7:12AM
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Agree with Herbflavor. An architect, interior designer and kitchen designer seems overkill for the size of the project. If the architect's design eye fails, the KD or ID should take over, but you shouldn't need all three. For a truly functional kitchen, I'd lean toward a KD's services over an ID.

We used an architect and consulted an ID for our first renovation which was whole-house mechanicals plus a cosmetic gut of two floors of our brownstone. For the kitchen, which is a whole-floor renovation including a bathroom, we're using an architect and a KD. Both of them have good design eyes, the KD in particular, about making sure our historic brownstone elements carry through to the kitchen.

I'm also NYC - Brooklyn - and we're paying our KD a flat fee of $5000, which is totally offset if we purchase cabs through her. For that we get full design services including elevations and scale drawings that the architect can integrate into his plans for Dept of Buildings approval. We also get the detailed cabinet list, so if we end up going custom through the GC's guy or purchasing a cabinet line that the KD doesn't handle, we have a great layout plus we know sizes and interior fittings for each cab.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 8:27AM
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zeebee, thanks! I'd be interested in knowing who your KD is (I'm at jeanmarine at yahoo dot com) since $5,000 is a far cry from $8,500 to me. It's the difference that is hard for me to do. I "only" have 2 possible design professionals at hand - the ID who is $150/hour and offering an $8,500 fixed fee totally separate from cabinet price, and/or the architect (whose spouse does KD work all the time, but we are then paying her $120/hour and I'm waiting for some kind of # of hours she would expect to spend, I am already burned on the "open-ended" hourly fee of the architect himself). If we went with a KD I wouldn't use the ID. So far I've encountered FREE KDs, then going up from there to $200 (IKEA), $700 with one kitchen specialty store (going toward price of cabinets), $1000 or so (our possible contractor's design guy, who I haven't met), $3000 (another kitchen store, going toward price of cabinets), $5000 (another kitchen specialist who uses Plain/Fancy, also going toward cabinet price but cabinets would be a lot more than we're budgeting for) - design fees in NYC (and I'm in Brooklyn too) are all over the place. I've gotten a ho-hum drawing from one kitchen place for free, looked like a rental apartment, not a homeowner's kitchen. That's because he does stock cabinets and custom, a lot in Manhattan, and a lot of apartments.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 8:35AM
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I wouldn't give too many points for matching headers and moldings. I can't imagine any designer or architect not doing that, just because they didn't mention it. The other thing I notice, in anticipating costs, is the idea that they will be working more hours than they will charge for. I think you're setting yourself up for trouble there.

Whatever you budget, there's a rule of thumb to anticipate more, especially in an older structure. I don't know the guideline but it's significant. 150%? 133%? I'm not sure. But I would be prepared to be spending more than the estimates.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 11:57AM
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Snookums, are you saying that it's not a good idea to go with a fixed price bid from an interior designer, but that hourly is better? I wasn't sure I followed but am interested to understand your point better. Separate point taken about perhaps me thinking here I am controlling costs and staying sane when perhaps that's just not possible? I have lived that the past couple of months, fixing up the top floor, I got 4 bids ranging from $5-8,000 (a semi freebie by one of the contractors bidding on the bigger job), $15,000 and $16,000. We went with a time and materials person, did more electrical than planned (by choice), did the floors (I hired the flooring guy and pulled up more carpet and finished more floor than I expected), did a hallway, etc. The total cost was $25,000 but in the end we probably spent $16,000 on what was originally bid on, so we didn't spend too much more on what was planned for, and chose to spend more to do more and get more, and the difference is evident in what we ended up with (hardwood floors restored rather than beat-up wall to wall carpeting, nice entrance rather than hideous green walls (which we lived with for over 6 years before changing them) etc. I don't mind going slowly necessarily, so long as it's not penny rich pound foolish

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 12:44PM
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"I get the feeling that this particular KD will do more than a week's work and that she'll go the extra mile. She's pretty thorough and has been doing this work for decades and seems to be well regarded. Overall she may spend 60 hours on it "

I was referring to the above. If she's charging you for 55 hours of work, she isn't going to do to 60. Maybe her estimate is higher because she's got that aspect covered. Like when you get your car fixed. They estimate and charge you for 4 hours of work but you were in and out in an hour because there were no problems.

Hourly, of course, has its problems. There's no incentive to be efficient (other than personal integrity and work ethics), you can get charged for rework or other typically non-billables, and they can milk the job. But even if you've got a fixed, when time starts running out, things will get rushed and corners cut so they can make their desired rate of income. If the job has unknowns, some will want to work hourly so they don't suffer losses. Or you might get wildly high estimates to cover things like that. Then someone else comes in with a low ball. But they might not be experienced enough to know better or might not have adequate knowledge of the job for it to be done right. Then you're over budget for unforseens or redoing things.

"Separate point taken about perhaps me thinking here I am controlling costs and staying sane when perhaps that's just not possible? "

You are smart to understand, organize and try to control costs. I was just saying that if you have $100,000 to spend, don't be thinking it will actually be $100,000 in the end or you might not be able to finish the job.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Thu, May 2, 13 at 13:57

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 1:15PM
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Snookums, I completely agree. I am seeing over the mountain to "not enough money to finish the job" - great design and no money to pay. So now (subject of a different thread) I have decided to hire the contractor, get the exterior work done, and get the interior work prepped but not order cabinets or countertop yet. I'm going to take some appliances from other floors and buy some new appliances, and cobble together more of an open-shelf kitchen that is usable but simple, as part of this phase. The goal now is to get done with the city-permitted part of the job (deck, stairs, door, and opening up walls, putting in a header etc.), get in a tenant on our ground floor for rental income, and just live in the space for a bit. And apply for a line of credit (we were denied one to add the deck and kitchen because we didn't have even a bare-bones 3rd kitchen in a 3 family, so now we will have a bare-bones 3rd kitchen). The goal is to then finance the cabinets and design part with a loan. I reailze this is a bit of a risky plan but I've been stuck for a few weeks and the longer we wait the longer it will be before we can get a much-needed tenant (we can afford the house with a tenant, really can't without one, and we're in month 3 without one right now; my goal would be to have a tenant in mid-June or starting in July, and not ...whenever).

Back to the interior designer - I told her this plan and she still suggested coming out on an hourly or much smaller fixed fee basis to give advice (e.g., location of door off kitchen), and I'm inclined to get her help, but ask that it apply toward a fixed fee if we convert to that. I'd pay her the fixed fee or for her time, and we could go from there.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 1:25PM
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"she still suggested coming out on an hourly or much smaller fixed fee basis to give advice (e.g., location of door off kitchen), "

There is great benefit in a design professional, but do you really need a $150 professional to advise on where to put a door? I find that puzzling. I would post here first and see what the cumulative experience of others suggests. People have been through a lot of remodels and design projects here. They are extremely interested in good design and quite astute about quality and function. If they feel you have a complicated project or issue, they will tell you.

Can I suggest more white space in your posts, lol? It can be hard to read one paragraph :)

This post was edited by snookums2 on Thu, May 2, 13 at 13:48

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 1:46PM
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By "door" I didn't mean internal door, but door to our backyard deck/stairs, and whether to put it off the kitchen or dining room.

I have started different threads about this piece, and have attached the closest layout to where we will probably end up - BUT no sink in the island - we'll either have a line of appliances (fridge facing dining room, sink, stove) OR fridge facing dining room, stove, then sink in the corner near the window or in front of the window, with island moved further away from the windows. If we have a line of appliances along the wall, the door to the backyard could be in the kitchen or dining room. If the sink gets in front of the window in any way, then the door off the dining room is the only solution.

I just don't want to think about these issues now. So I just want to put a door off the dining room and call it a day, since that opens up the ability to play with the kitchen layout. This designer thinks we should parse a bit more (on her dime, ok fine) because it's really a permanent decision and informs the rest of the layout. She's probably right.

My goal is to keep options open, so the door location is the only one that I want to make now. Oh by the way, the architect's drawing (above) is NOT to scale (paid for that one hourly by the way) in that the wall between kitchen window and first dining room window is probably half or 2/3 as long as they show, maybe. Would be nice to have measurements as part of the architect drawings too. Oh well, next time, along with more accountability. (OK I guess I'm a bit frustrated with the whole project)

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 1:57PM
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Just emailed you KD information.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 2:06PM
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I'd liked your space when you'd posted demo pics and had drafted something rough. Dug it back up and here are some quick/dirty and now outdated renders.
Happy to update and iterate on them with you for the low low price of nothing. I'm not a KD, arch or otherwise, but it could save you some of those pricey hours with the pros.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 12:42AM
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In discussing this designer, there's no mention of artistry, although "holistic" is out there. Some can use standard ingredients to create something exquisite, most others run of the mill not matter how much is spent on finishes. How talented is this team?

In any case, regarding placing the doorway it'd be wise to use a good designer for that. It's not just permanent, it's a very important artistic decision, inside and out.

Otherwise, bringing in a few unfitted kitchen elements while you take a breather sounds like a great idea.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 7:33AM
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The placement of that door is an architectural issue as well as an interior issue.

A small percentage of KD's deal with architecture, a small percentage of ID's do, just as a small percentage of Architects effectively deal with kitchens. Most often when I am involved in such things there is a collaboration with the architect, occasionally I do it, occasionally I am working with a contractor who can also handle some design and there is a collaboration there.

I understand your stress but that really ought to be dealt with concurrent with your construction.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 10:00AM
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Seattlecraftsman, I've love your help! (was offline for a bit, meant to respond sooner) at first I thought perhaps you were thinking of someone else's kitchen but that's becuase you have used space so well, I didn't recognize it - that's an interesting layout for our possible kitchen, if the plumbing for a sink in a peninsula would work by using the wall with the window to hook up the plumbing, most people tell me the sink in an island isn't going to work but perhaps a peninsula would be different, our front runner contractor says that sink by the window is an option, so perhaps just moving it into the peninsula would be good.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 3:38PM
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jakuvall and rosie, thanks for your posts! The interior designer I was considering is a visual artist and a good one at that so there's a lot of artistry to what she does. but I've decided not to pay the fixed price for her time because it simply blows our budget, no more and no less. I will probably hire her from time to time to consult, and we're not chucking our architect since he's the structural guy and we need him for our exterior work and our structural work. but I'm separating out the kitchen design from his other work. And he just offered up a design package through his firm that is hourly capped at $3,000, so a different ball of wax from the interior designer (less than half).

For me it's not about the money, entirely, it's about partnering with someone within our budget if possible.

So I just hired a designer at a kitchen store to design our kitchen for $700 which goes toward the price of the cabinet. They only have a few cabinet lines including Kemper, QCCI and an Italian line. I truly hope if I like his design and we decide Kemper isn't the right choice, that I could convert the design to Conestoga which is what our architect would design. I LOVE Conestoga and it would be more work to get someone to put it together, but I don't love the Kemper finish colors (the designs for doors are fine, but the colors? Jury's out). I just want a good designer, am willing to pay for it (just not $8000 at this point), and will go from there.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 3:50PM
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Seattlecraftsman, thanks again for your renderings, I just emailed you with more information, but we didn't hire the expensive designer and I've decided to go with fridge flush against the right wall, then going from right to left, a landing then a sink then a dishwasher then landing then stove then landing (closer to the outside wall) - all the appliances along one wall, and a peninsula type island on the other side, and door to the outside between them.

We will have an overhang for 2-3 stools that goes a bit into the dining room, and possibly a reading nook of mini-office armoire near the bay windows behind the dining room table. A bit crowded but it's NY City and I looked around at a lot of neighbors' kitchens and they are all crowded in this part of the world.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 12:51PM
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