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Published: June 11, 2010

Tip 4 How to Select a Designer and the Client Relationship

Selecting the right designer for your needs

If you have found a knowledgeable and friendly designer and have begun to establish a good working re-pore with them then you are off to a great start.  I would easily recommend a certified designer they will have a minimum of seven years of experience and education to even be eligible to sit for the National Kitchen and Bath Association's (NKBA) exam.   The following website http://www.nkba.org/ has valuable information regarding why work with a certified designer and how to find one in your area.   In many cases working with a design build firm that can handle the project from conception to completion provides many advantages.  I will discuss this further below.  So as you ultimately select the designer do they have the products you want (mostly the type of cabinets) and do they have installation services available.  Have they offered references?  Have you actually called the references?   When you do call the references you will be more confident and trusting of your designer as they work for you so do both yourself and the designer a favor and call the references.

Justifying the costs of design work for your project

This knowledge and experience that a good designer has will be very valuable to improving the final results of your project and should pay definite dividends with any realistic design fee costs. It is not uncommon for reasonable design fees to typically be about 3 to 5% of the actual cost of the project.  In my opinion this is just as valuable as the plumber hooking up the sink that does not leak or that any tile work that was done does not later come up off the floor. Good design is a vital part of the most successful projects.  I have always said that the success is in handling even the smallest of details.  Design only services usually will not pay the bills unless the designer is able to work on a volume of design projects or typically charges more for the design only projects. And in many cases discounts are offered if you actually purchase the project from them this is where they have an opportunity to earn the needed income to support their business and make a reasonable living.  In most cases the client will benefit   from working with a design build firm that can design, provide products and install the projects maintaining continuity of issues and the assurance that only one identity is responsible to make certain that your dream becomes the actual reality you deserve to receive after you have paid the type of costs that these projects cost today.

Building a good client designer working relationship

Hopefully the following information will assist you with appropriate etiquette if you will for clients and designers to follow to obtain the best service possible from your designer and get your money’s worth from them.   It is important for the clients and the designer to work together as a team approach.  This team should include all decision makers with the project. Everyone has something valuable to contribute to process and the mutual end result obtaining a great kitchen or bathroom project. Important factors to achieve should not only be to create a great looking design that fits the character of the home and has good color coordination etc.  But also to develop a useful or functional design that meets the individuals needs and enriches their lifestyle making their life easier or more enjoyable with the daily tasks that kitchen and bathrooms are used for.  Let us also not forget the all important project budget concerns.  I will address that one in more detail later.

A good designer will not only listen to their client but should make certain that he or she illustrates back to the client that they understood their question or concern sometimes we hear but forget to convey that we did receive their message.  I also believe that all thoughts are valid but not all thoughts are necessarily a good idea.  At times there may only be one or two good ideas out of ten but if you do not allow the first eight or so you may not get to the one that held value for you or the project. My preference and personal style with working with my clients is to educate and inform them of their choices and options so they can then make informed personal decisions along the way regarding their design issues. Most clients do not have any clue as to just how many different small to large decisions that they will ultimately make as they finalize their projects design details.  I have never counted them but I would not be surprised if there were as many as a hundred or more the point is there are many.   A good designer will walk you through the process and a good client will allow them to perform their work in the sequence that over the years the individual designer has developed this is how you will obtain the best service and are less likely for the designer to forget some valuable step along the way.  Although a good designer should make an effort to recognize the customers needs and attempt to accommodate the client when or where possible.

Discussing your Project Budget

One of the biggest mistakes a customer can make is not being willing to address the project budget with an open and honest answer.  It is very difficult for a designer to make material and design related suggestions when they have no idea what your budget range is.  There is a wide range of product pricing available from maybe only $1,500.00 for a set of ten cabinets or so for an inexpensive kitchen all the way to ten times that and more for fine furniture grade custom cabinets.  When a client is reluctant to discuss the budget it is the biggest red flag you can wave that says I am not really serious about may project. The NKBA recognizes or suggest that establishing a budget for the project is very much the first step in your process to your remodeling.

Here are two of the most common reasons a client will not discuss their budget:

A.)  It seems some feel if they disclose a number first the designer will just automatically spend that much money.  Maybe some will but here is the reality of the situation whatever you want it to cost it is always going to be more than that anyway.  Is that not the simple law of consumerism for most of us?   So maybe say well I was hoping it might only cost $20k to $25k or whatever your numbers might be and then say would it be possible to do my kitchen for that.  In many cases it may very easily be possible but will it be the kitchen you want or that the value of your home should receive?  Then listen to the designer and the informative information that they have to offer you most likely you will learn more about the subject and be better preparing yourself for the realistic price range for your project.  Do not be discouraged because a good designer will be able to offer less expensive options and help you lower the costs but you have to be open and give them a chance to serve you.

B.) Many clients may really just not know what a kitchen or bathroom that they are interested in should cost.   So the appropriate answer when asked what is your budget is I really do not know can you help me establish a realistic budget for my project.  A good designer usually will be happy to assist you and do this initial consultation for free.  This is something that a seasoned designer can easily do even in his showroom from a simple 5th grade sketch that you can provide.  It is usually customary practice to set an appointment to work with the designer so they can set aside quality time to establish this budget with you. This is something that normally will take more than a just a few minutes while you happen to be there.  In most cases it is not necessary to make a trip to the home to prepare a realistic budget and determine if this person is the right designer for you. But for many folks a trip to the home is very important and sometimes a good idea if there is something unusual or out of the ordinary. Sometimes setting up a follow up appointment perhaps back at the show room after visiting the home will give the designer a chance to work up some preliminary numbers for you.   For more information on establishing a project budget read KBDR Tip #2 below.

Reviewing the proposal

Above all do not ask the designer to simply E-mail or fax their proposal to you.  If the designer is any good, they will want to explain the proposal to you and answer any questions that you may have.  Otherwise you/they are left to your interpretation of the proposal which in most cases is only a summary of all of the facts and does not accurately inform you with all of the information you may need to make the best decision.  Remember that in many cases this is the free consultation part if a designer has come to your home and in many cases spent and hour or two with you plus their drive time and then perhaps several more hours preparing a budget and or proposal all for the purpose of helping you with your project.  It is only common courtesy that you should show the designer respect for this free work and allow them an opportunity to professionally share and explain his or her work to you it is in your best interest to do so.   I know we all have busy life styles and E-mail and the internet makes many things in life faster and easier.   If you are serious and respectful of your designers time and expertise you will make the time to go and see them during normal business hours as you would with any other professional.


Just as there are designers who fail to perform for their clients or have an uppity attitude there are also customers that easily knowingly or  unknowingly manage to take advantage of  a designers knowledge, time or and expertise.  Fostering a good working relationship is very beneficial for you and the outcome of your project and the time to start building that great working relationship is form the very beginning.   I welcome any questions or comments with regards to this blog information and look forward to hearing from you.  I truly hope the information will be helpful to clients and designers alike.  Good Luck with your projects.

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