New Here and Off To a Bad Start

WMA89November 1, 2012

Hello! I've been reading this forum for several months now and have learned so much here. We are in the midst of a fairly major remodel to a 60s ranch we purchased 18 months ago. We are using a highly respected area architect and a general contractor. The GC gave us an allowance for the kitchen cabinetry, and recommended a couple cabinet guys. We weren't impressed with either (no inset construction, discouraged drawer storage in base cabinet, outdated showrooms, etc). We met with another cabinet maker that did nice work but doesn't do any design, and we didn't feel we had the time, energy or skills to handle the design ourselves. Then we thought we finally found a great cabinet maker--he built the beautiful kitchen of a decorator friend, showed us an impressive portfolio, and was very enthusiastic about the inspiration photos I shared with him. He listened to what we were looking for, took some measurements and said he'd do a proposal. Well the proposal was quite vague, and he said that once we agreed to hire him he'd draw up the blueprints for our review. We asked for more specifics in his proposal and drew up our own plan of what we wanted. He came back and said everything we wanted was included in his price. We were feeling a lot of pressure from the GC to get the kitchen moving, so after checking some references we agreed to hire him. Yesterday he delivered the blueprints and we were very underwhelmed with what he put together. Just banks of cabinet boxes everywhere. It looks like he spent 30 minutes putting the plan together. While we have no doubt that they will be well built "boxes", there is no style whatsoever. A stock cabinet style at a custom cabinet price. I told him that the drawings didn't reflect the style we were after and that I needed some more time to define what I wanted. We don't actually have a signed contract with this guy, and we will certainly pay him for the drawings he did, but I'm not feeling confident about moving forward with him at this point.

So our question is: How do you get a kitchen designed? Do you need to hire a designer to draw plans and then have a cabinet maker build it? In our area the kitchen designers all seem to work for companies that sell cabinet lines. We went that route in our last kitchen and really wanted custom this time. We just can't seem to figure out how to get it designed (our architect doesn't design kitchens). Or do I need to quit my job and devote myself to designing it myself? Thanks for any advice!

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Annie Deighnaugh

We went to a custom shop recommended by our architect. We had a layout in mind and their designer...who was more of a draftsman...made some suggestions and got our kitchen built the way we wanted it. He did the translation between what we wanted and what the shop built. I selected the styles and colors myself.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 9:16PM
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Sorry to hear about your bad start but it sounds like you are on the right track questioning it before you start.

We worked with an architect but did not work with a kitchen designer. I kept looking for the 'right, cost-effective' solution but in the long term learned that the only way to find it (and know it) was to put the effort in yourself. We received 4 bids (each involving multiple visits) from different cabinet mfrs. With each new design, the kitchen took shape. I think working with different cabinetry companies is a great start! As you get closer, please post your designs for suggestions/improvements (this was a huge help in our process). We questioned everything from aisle width to cabinet placement.

Perhaps your cabinet maker will be able to work with plans you draw up for him. Best of luck with all, oldbat2be

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 9:23PM
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We started with our exact dimensions and a basic layout idea then posted here for suggestions and comments. I feel like what we got from advice here was as good as or better than we could have received anywhere else. When we were ready to get our cabinets we went to him with our layout 100% complete even down to cabinet sizes. We had an inspiration picture of a kitchen we liked. Then we picked the cabinet style, wood, and stain from his options available.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 9:34PM
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Hi and welcome :)

I designed my own kitchen and then found a custom cabinet maker, who took my drawings and turned them into CAD drawings and tweaked them with me.

If you have a general plan of what you want, then I would start by posting it here to get all the layout help that you could imagine. You may find you can tweak your proposed plan here enough to get something solid to show to a cabinet maker.

You may also be able to get recommendations for good custom cabinet makers here, depending on where you live. If you don't like the cabinet maker you had already and aren't comfortable, things are probably only going to get worse. Whatever you do, make sure you don't get a vague proposal but get details about everything from finish to materials to hinges used so you can make sure you like the finished product and so you have recourse if you don't get what you expect.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 10:01PM
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I used an independent designer who came to my house, listened to what we wanted, measured our space and then did some preliminary drawings. We made a few changes and then she drew up working blue prints. We gave copies of the blueprints to the GC and our Amish cabinet maker. The cabinet maker did come to the house to verify all the measurements and go over the details with us. We chose the door style, wood finish, cabinet accessories etc.mwith the cabinet maker. The designer offered to help us with any or all other details such as countertops, appliances, hardware, paint colors, and lighting. We did not use her services for those things though because we were comfortable doing that ourselves.
So you could check into an independant designer or go to some places that have kitchen designers who deal with several different cabinet lines and see what they come up with.
Good luck with your kitchen deign.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 10:50PM
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I am curious to know exactly what services, if you know them, that you want done. Do you want layout suggestions? Wall/window/door movement suggestions? Materials? Colors?

The reason I ask is that (as others have said) you can probably get good layout and wall/window/door suggestions here. It is probably a little harder to get suggestions on those little touches, but we can try!

I hired an independent KD, but got almost nothing of value. I wound up getting my layout here (Thanks, Buehl!).

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 11:44PM
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I met with 4 KDs - each either took measurements (field) or from the architects' blueprints and came up with variations of design. In the process I discussed with them about materials, construction, process and they all gave a close ballpark price. it was a toss up between choosing the best designer (higher price) or lower price/quality construciton but required more work on my part to ensure the right design. We came pretty close. I went for lowest price/highest quality we could afford.

Keep looking for a good KD. it's well worth the investment in time.

the GCs allowance is just that - you decide how much to spend on your kitchen.

good luck and post often.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 12:28AM
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Thanks so much for all your responses. You have confirmed what I suspected (but was hoping to avoid!)--that ultimately we are going to have to take primary responsibility for the design of this kitchen.

I do have a general layout, a good sense of the materials/colors, etc. I want, and lots of inspiration shots. I think our budget is realistic--we've estimated about 2.5x what the GC allowed for in his bid. I've read the "new to kitchens" thread and will post this weekend with more information about what we're looking for along with the layouts that have already been drawn up.

I look forward to all your guidance and advice. Based on the finished kitchens I've seen here, I have total confidence that this forum will be more helpful in me getting the kitchen I want than the design community here. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 7:22AM
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I hope I don't open a can of worms here but I just wanted to offer my perspective. I am a homeowner who just completed her kitchen but I also work as a KD. I work part time at a traditional cabinet showroom and I work from home doing independent design. The showroom has walk in foot traffic and many of the people come in with plans from other shops spilling out of their folders and with the news that they'll be visiting x, y and z shop after they finish with me. To be honest, it is really difficult to spend 10-15 hours coming up with a detailed floorplan or more time than that if there are multiple options that come to mind, when you know you may or may not get the job. It takes a lot of time, thought and energy to come up with a really workable plan and I find I can give that energy to people when they make a committment to me that they are going with me (vis a vis a design retainer).

I guess the tricky part is how do you know you want to give a design retainer to someone if you haven't seen what they can do? Perhaps the KD mentioned by the OP would have given more of his heart and soul had he gotten the retainer up front?

So many people come in and pick your brain and take your ideas and you never hear from them again. Its a wonderful business when you have a client that shares their ideas, trusts your advice on functionality / layout, and commits early in the process to going with you (which I think builds trust). Its a hard business when you're trying to sell your abilities (which really takes a lot of time to put something detailed and meaningful down on paper) and get nothing for it since many people are shopping at some many places.

But I do agree wholeheartedly with what others above have said that the GW community offers incredible advice on layout, etc. I just think that the original KD seemed to have come with a good reference and had good work to back up his reputation and may just needed more of a committment to spend the time??? maybe not, just a thought.

sorry if this is controversial

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 8:35AM
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I don't think your point is controversial, mamadadapaige. I think it just shines a light on the give and take, tension really, between the prospective consumer and the prospective designer. Clearly a designer doesn't want to spend undue amounts of time and talent on a job they'll never get, while the consumer doesn't know if this designer can/will give them something they want. Most consumers begin the process not really knowing exactly what they want for their space, they work it out as they go. It's helpful if they have inspiration pics like WMA89, but it still needs to translate to something for their particular space. How much they have to spend also enters the picture, and that can surely put constraints on the project. The KD meantime is trying to suss out what these people are looking for and how serious they are, which can be way more complicated than it sounds. Just look at all of us here picking each other's brains and experiences, starting at A, but often moving to G as the process moves along. I imagine that a certain amount of personality comes into play on both sides - a certain degree of match-up is necessary to make this relationship work. I find it useful and illuminating to read what KDs have to offer about the whole process - we all learn.

The OP's question though is a good one. They thought they'd found a satisfactory person, but once they agreed to hire this person and pay for actual plans (vs. "here's an idea"), they discovered that the designer wasn't going to meet their expectations as far style was concerned: Just banks of cabinet boxes everywhere. It looks like he spent 30 minutes putting the plan together. Now what? Will this KD likely find some style if pressed? Give up and go elsewhere? Forget it and do it themselves? Maybe you live somewhere there are other GWers who have a recommendation for you.

WMA89 - I only have one piece of useful advise for you since I have nothing concretely useful to answer your basic question: don't get rushed!! Yeah, the GC might want you to hurry it up since he has a time slot he'd like filled, but it's your kitchen and your money. Time spent at the front end of a project is time well spent. Be sure where you're going before you let the guys in with sledge hammers.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 9:32AM
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A cabinet maker may be a carpenter who can do what you ask and build good cabinets, or he may be the artisan/craftsman, but the builder is not always the designer.

Since you found this guy through a decorator and friend, ask the friend about how much she had to specify in the design end of things. Ask how she got where she did and if necessary, have her work with you to bring the two visions together. Might not cost a lot but save you a lot of time and stress.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 9:45AM
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Another tiny bit of prespective:

You're not off to a bad start, you're off to a disappointing one. There's a huge difference.

What you expected to have handed to you after the first meeting seems to have been this magical, perfect, wonderland of a kitchen. OK, I'm exaggerating, but I get the impression you might have subconsciously exepcted it to be a one time shot. Obviously, and if you have been reading, you know it doesn't work that way.

I'd talk with the guy and nicely express your fears and concerns, and yes, disappointment. What input did you give him? Or did you just expect him to come up with "perfect?" I think reading here is helpful and harmful. Expectations, both positive and negative, can be distorted by what we decide we expect, deserve, and then, afford. A palace on a cottage budget type thing.

This is just your first awakening. Walk it through. It's not bad, it's just not what you expected.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 10:39AM
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You are all so wise in your advise. I loved reading it.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 11:55AM
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I would say that most cabinet makers are not designers.
The average maker would be excited to get detailed plans from a KD. A cabinet maker could be an artist at making cabinets but mediocre at design. They are two distinct skills.

Get a KD with a good rep and body of work. Pay them for their skill and time.

Do not think that architects are KD's, they are not believe me.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 2:49PM
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Your responses and feedback have been incredibly helpful. We've decided that we're slowing the process way down--until we have a much better defined idea of what we want along with a concrete proposal from the cabinet maker. I am getting photos, layouts, etc. together today and will be posting it here today.

A quick update: I had a long conversation with my decorator/friend (I am paying him for his consultation, so this is a business relationship). He was fairly defensive of the cabinet maker (he does refer clients to this guy frequently) and was putting a lot of pressure on me to "keep the momentum going". He wants to meet with the cabinet maker's CAD guy and refine the plan. I told him that we're not ready for that yet, as I was need to spend more time with the plan myself. We told him that from a business perspective we are not satisfied with the vagueness of the proposal. He did not seem to understand our concerns. Here's the outline of the original cabinet proposal:

-Face frame construction
-5/4" face frame materials
-inset doors and drawer fronts
-exposed butt hinges
-maple interior construction consisting of 3/4" sides and 1/2" backs
-maple drawer boxes with dovetail joinery
-under mounted, full extension, self-closing drawer slides
-crown molding on cabinets
-custom wood hood
-$10 per knob or handle included in cabinet pricing

That's it. No dimensions, no. of cabinets, door style, etc. When we pressed him for more detail he emailed that the following would be included:

--all cabinets paint finish
--base cabinets to have a top drawer
--two full drawer banks, 3 drawers each
--pull out trays in base cabinets
--pull-out trash bin
--two piece crown molding on cabinets
--silver ware and flat ware dividers
--base and uppers to have end panels to match door style chosen
--4-6 upper cabinets with glass doors and painted interiors
--cabinet installation

We got back to him and told him that we wanted almost all drawers in the base cabinets, not pull outs. He said that was fine, but then drew up the plan with numerous pull out cabinets. He wants 40% down from us now.

So that's out dilemna--we don't feel that we can sign off on this yet--but he doesn't want to provide more details until we do.

Off to get my materials ready to post here. . . Thanks again!

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 10:29AM
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Personally I would end the business relationship.


He is "defensive of the cabinet maker"

He is "putting a lot of pressure on me"

I am "not satisfied with the vagueness of the proposal"

"He did not seem to understand our concerns."

To me all RED FLAGS.

End the business relationship now in hopes of saving the friendship.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 11:31AM
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Sherrie Moore

I think you have gotten a lot of good advice here. Definitely take you time.

Personally we are going with a design build firm that I have worked with before. They did my masterbath remodel a few years back.

They come out and talk to you about what you want in a remodel. Then they come up with what they think might be a ballpark figure. If you decide to go ahead, you pay 5% of that ballpark figure for their time to come up with a detailed plan (including blueprints), including having an engineer,plumber, and electrician come out to make sure everything is feasible.

At the end of that time a total budget, and details of everything included and not included is presented. If you decide to use them, the fee is put towards to total budget. Otherwise you are free to take your plan and go elsewhere.

But basically you are paying them for all their work. Which I have now been working with my KD for a few revisions and won't proceed until I am totally comfortable with everything.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 12:09PM
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debrak, I believe you are correct. I'm going to drop the decorator. The kitchen will be on hold until we get a proposal we're comfortable with. GC won't be happy, but he'll have to deal with it. There's still plenty of work for his guys here.

Buckeye, the plan your design/builder uses makes sense. Thanks for the reality check!

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 12:27PM
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Wise choice, IMHO.

You wouldn't believe how many time your same story is told here, yet people continue on. Despite their own instincts and clear, experienced-based advice from here.

Then want sympathy and commiseration. Huh?

Sometimes people just need to hear what they all ready know. Like you, I think.

So, get you graph paper, pencil, paper & pictures out!

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 12:37AM
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    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 7:43AM
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