5 questions to ask your kitchen designer

Does your kitchen designer measure up?

Here's five questions you should ask when buying a new kitchen

It may surprise you to know that the many kitchen refurbishments don’t need any input from a kitchen designer at all. A refresh, with a new paint job and replacement the cabinets, can be achieved by getting ideas from online resources for interior design like Pinterest or Houzz. You would then seek out a  reputable supplier, based around a style that you like the look of to create your new kitchen. Add to that a good set of trades people to carry out the installation and you’re good to go. For those in search of something more substantial, the chances are you’d benefit from some professional design input. In the UK, this usually means a trip to a well known kitchen retailer. Often after seeing an ad on the TV or the internet. The expectation being that you’ll be having your kitchen designed by an expert. But the fact is kitchens aren’t designed by companies. Kitchens are designed by the people they employ. And your job as kitchen buyer is to find the right person for your new kitchen project.

Most kitchen retail companies offer a complementary consultation. This is your opportunity to assess the qualities of the designer. In many ways this is a job interview and you’re the boss. It’s your time to ask a few searching questions. If you’re up for that, then read on.

What questions should you ask your kitchen designer?

For those in a hurry, here's what I’m going to recommend you ask the person designing your kitchen:

Question 1. What are your qualifications?

Question 2. What experience do you have?

Question 3. Do you have a personal portfolio?

Question 4. Are you insured?

Question 5. Will you be on hand during the installation?

If these questions make sense and need no further explanation, you should stop reading, go back to your designer and have the conversation. For those who want me to elaborate, keep reading.

It might surprise you to know that, by and large, the kitchen retail industry is completely unregulated. A full blown kitchen renovation might require an architect, a structural engineer, a plumber and an electrician. Each of whom will need some form of certification. But the person heading up your project, the kitchen designer, doesn’t need to have any certification or experience at all. That might sound crazy but that’s the way it is. And that’s why it’s worth asking a few questions.

Family kitchen designers

Question 1 - What are your qualifications in kitchen design?

A modern, open plan kitchen could consume half of the floorspace on the ground floor of your home. That’s a significant chunk and the ideas presented by your kitchen designer will have a major influence over the way it looks and functions. With that much on the line, what’s wrong with checking a few credentials?

As I’ve said, there are no legal requirements that state a kitchen designer should have a qualification. But design graduates are moving into the KBB industry and this is great news for people wanting a genuine design service. There’s even a “Kitchen Design” degree course available at Buckinghamshire New University. If you can get one of their graduates on your team, I would highly recommend it.

So, why is a design qualification so important? Well, it demonstrates an ability and an intent that stretches back years. Before you can achieve a degree in design, you’ll have shown an aptitude at school. Picked up an A Level or two, completed a 1 year Art Foundation, before starting a 3 year degree course in a specific art discipline. That shows a real commitment, which is an important attribute to have as a kitchen designer.

As well as the kitchen layout to make the best use of the space and choice of cabinets they'll also need to consider suitable appliances, hard ware and sanitryware. All of this to tie in with design ideas for things like lighting and flooring too.

Of course, there are a wide variety of relevant Art and Design degrees available. Buckinghamshire New University’s Kitchen Design degree would be ideal but with so few graduates, there’s only a small chance that you’ll find one. So what qualifications does a kitchen designer need? 

Here’s a list of courses of study that would best suit a professional kitchen designer:

  • Interior Design
  • Interior Architecture
  • Architecture
  • Furniture and Product Design
  • Fine Art

If you’d prefer to work with a qualified designer, it’s worth investigating the independent kitchen retail sector. You can find graduate designers in the big chains but the experience is likely to be very different.

ideas for new family kitchen project storage cabinets

Question 2 - What experience do you have?

Having a qualification is great what about experience? Doesn’t that matter more than a certificate? Potentially, yes! In an ideal world you’d have qualifications AND experience. But if experience is all your designer has to offer, let’s make sure it’s the right experience. Ideally, you need someone who’s been designing kitchens for a number of years, not weeks or months. Hopefully, they will have worked with families in a similar type of house to yours and can demonstrate a high level of competence in the style you’re going for. Besides the design and layout of the furniture, they'll also need to consider suitable appliances, hard ware and sanitryware. All of this needs to tie in with design ideas for things like wall colour, lighting and flooring.

A kitchen is a multifunctional room and you’ll need experts from multiple disciplines to complete an installation. Your kitchen designer will need a good understanding of each element and they’ll only get that through years of overseeing kitchen installations. You need to know they’ve navigated the challenges that come with the territory. Without experience on the coal face, they will hand over all responsibility to the tradesperson. The likely result of that approach is the tradesperson will do what suits them. In most cases, that won’t benefit the design.

Truly bespoke kitchen design isn’t a job for a novice. This is especially true where you start form a blank canvas to create an entirely new layout. There's a huge chance that inexperience could lead to serious errors.  It's not just your money on the line,  There are also safety issues that need to be considered. You need an experienced designer and you shouldn’t feel bad for asking. And that will lead us nicely into question 3.

new kitchen cabinets storage and appliances for home

Question 3 - Do you have a personal portfolio?

So, you’ve plucked up the courage to ask if someone has any experience in designing kitchens and they say “Yes”. Should you take their word for it and move on, or should you dig a little deeper? Well, you’ve come this far, why not ‘dig-in’ a bit.

Just like an architect, decent kitchen designers will have a comprehensive portfolio they'll want to show you. Their portfolio is important for two reasons.

  1. It will give you an idea of how many projects they’ve worked on previously.
  2. It will give you an indication of the scale and style of their work experience.

If you like traditional British In-Frame kitchen but your designer’s portfolio is full of contemporary German kitchens, you’ll know you have the wrong person. In the same way, a portfolio full of basic layout designs won’t suit a client if they want something with a more creative flair.

Ideally, a kitchen designer will have their work professionally photographed, showing their designs in the best light possible. They should also be able to show you the associated preparatory work, be that 3D renders and or hand drawings. Seeing the preliminary drawings will also give you an idea of how the designer worked together with the client to present their initial ideas. You'll get to understand how they put together the plan, the time taken and how they present their view of the room.

Question 4 - Are you insured?

new kitchen appliances for family homeWith the right team of experts in charge, kitchen installations usually run relatively smoothly. However, even with the best will in the world, things can go wrong. Human beings make mistakes and accidents happen. Some problems are avoidable, whilst others are totally unforeseen. You need to ensure that you are prepared for a worst case scenario.

From a personal perspective, as the customer, you need to ensure your own house is in order. That means your home and its contents are fully insured for the planned project. On top of that, you also need to ensure that the team involved are covered in line with their responsibility.

Have you ever had the misfortune to bump cars with an uninsured driver? If you have, you’ll know where I’m going with this. When both parties are covered, there’s a good chance that any problems will be sorted professionally and amicably. When only one party is covered, the other usually does a runner.

If your kitchen designer is also selling you the kitchen, they must have sufficient product liability and public indemnity insurance. Don’t take any risks with insurance. Make sure all the “T's” are crossed and the “I’s” dotted.

designing cabinetry lighting storage layout options

Question 5 - Will you be on hand during the installation?

If your kitchen designer goes AWOL as soon as you place your order, who’ll be in charge of the installation? If you’re lucky, you’ll be handed over to a designated project manager.

But that’s not a given. A common scenario is that you’ll be appointed a team of fitters who you’ve never met before.

QUICK TIP: Ask to meet the installation team and any associated trades before you sign any contracts. These people will be coming into your home, make sure they aren’t total strangers.

In my opinion, your kitchen designer should be on hand throughout your installation. Their job will be to ensure the team of tradespeople follow every aspect of the design to the letter. Believe me, that’s not an easy job.

Our designer, Jo, has managed hundreds of kitchen installations and each one presented unique challenges that required a creative solution. Left to their own devices, most trades people will find the solution that suits their own needs. But that could compromise the design. Without someone on hand, championing the design of your kitchen, you could be left with a disappointing result. Don’t risk it. Get a commitment from your designer on day one. They must see their design through to completion. If they are a passionate about their work, they’ll understand and stick with you, all the way.

People buy from people

I’m a firm believer that people buy from people. But powerful marketing techniques have blurred the reality. Brand names have fought so hard for your attention that the people behind the brands have vanished. Kitchen design is a highly personal service, where the designer really must to get to know you.

That’s the only way they’ll learn to understand your needs and fulfil your desires.

Where possible, investigate the independent market. There are some amazing, family run kitchen design companies in the UK who would be happy to help. There’s a good chance you’ll meet a designer who’ll answer positively to most, if not everything on the list above.

plan for remodelling cabinetry without appliances

In conclusion

Due to the unregulated nature of the kitchen retail industry, the success of your design journey will depend on the ability and experience of the designer you are working with. Full blown kitchen renovations, the ones that involve considerable changes, aren’t an easy proposition. You need a professional, experienced and committed designer. It’s worth taking the time to find the right person for you. Don’t play the designer lottery. Take the time to get the right answers at the start of your project, you’ll be glad you did.

I’d love to hear about your results after reading this post.

What answers did you get? How did those answers affect the way you felt? How did your kitchen turn out?

My hope is that you’ll have a renovation success story and I can't wait to hear all about it.

Categories: kitchen design