7 Tips On How to Choose a Kitchen and Bath Designer
Updated: Jun 19, 2021
Remodeling your kitchen or bath is an interactive process that usually takes roughly two months from start to finish. In order for you to feel great about the results, you need to feel great about the firm installing it for you. Though much of the research into finding what you want can be done online and through phone consultation, you’ll need to visit the showrooms of the firms you’re considering hiring to design it and install it.
1. Showrooms are windows into a company’s integrity
From your viewing of their website to substantial completion, the personnel, design samples, and products of the firm you’re hiring to install a kitchen or bath in your home should WOW you.
A significant part of how we use technology today has bypassed the kitchen and bath industry. Visit their websites and 8 times out of 10 you’ll see workpersonlike, out of date clunkers with no vision and no blog, or a few irregular entries posted years ago.
This is often not a reflection of their business. On the contrary, the kitchen and bath industry is booming and since spring of last year profits have been through the roof, and there are many firms out there with talented in house designers that have bad websites.
So, while their websites are lacking, it's more likely due to their priorities not covering taking the initiative to hire someone and shelling out a web designer to build them a fantastic site.
Visiting the showroom in person should immediately give you a look into the firm’s product standards of quality and their team’s design capabilities.
Many great kitchen and bath firms will offer three pricing tiers from which to choose the products they carry.
From your long list to your short list
Have a look at who’s installing kitchens and baths and quickly jump from your SERP long list of eight to ten firms doing business in your area and look plausible to do business with, down to three choices who leave no doubt in your mind that they should be on your shortlist. Give yourself two weeks maximum to narrow down from long to short.
Consider the following as you narrow it down:
Are the product displays unique and do they represent a broad range of styles or a specific one?
Are the they complete, in a state of flux, or missing elements?
How well are the components integrated into a beautiful, functional, designed kitchen or bath display?
Look closely at the “fit and finish” details. Does the countertop meet the sink or the cabinets, do the molding mitre cuts come together?
2. Let the owner or designer educate you
A quality kitchen is not about products or brands, but about you, your family, tastes, and lifestyle. An early warning sign against using a firm begins with designers who promote a specific product or brand. A great firm will be loaded with designers who are ready to educate prospects on the pros and cons of each product in relation to their needs and budget. A great designer will guide your own taste, not give you theirs or try to pad their wallet.
A showroom is an educational center. You should walk out more informed on the brands you liked and clear about the options you’re going to investigate.
Details you’ll want to look for:
A storyboard outlining the steps involved in the design and installation processes.
A cabinet comparison wall displaying the differences in construction and cost of cabinetry.
A selection of quality products presented in three pricing tiers.
A portfolio of designs on display, physically, virtually, and maybe in a coffee table book.
A project wall featuring current designs are on display.
Information for other work displayed online and or booklets you can take home.
Firms you’re zeroing in on will provide most or all of the above in their showroom.
3. Quality over cost
Value rarely translates to the lowest cost. True value is getting the best possible product for your investment.
It is a common misconception that only national and regional chain home centers can offer cabinetry at lower prices. Plenty of kitchen and bath firms also carry lower cost product. Any of them that do ought to have a healthy balance between them and two other options of increased quality and price.
With the advent of national kitchen and bath buying groups, professional kitchen and bath design firms, through their membership, can offer quality cabinets (as well as many other products) at the greatest value. Hiring a firm who is a member of a buying group will offer the best prices, quality service and the best value overall.
4. People make the difference
You’ve gone to a showroom of a firm whose products caught your eye. You like their design instincts though your decision should be firmly planted in the people who represent the firms your considering.
Cabinets can be a wooden boxes or works of art. In the hands of an expert it’s an art, in your kitchen it’s your dream come true. Staff expertise and experience are the most critical factors in achieving great design and incredible value. A brief conversation can begin to tell you a little about the firm, but ask about:
Accreditations from national industry organizations.
Certificates of training from suppliers, such as cabinet and appliance manufacturers.
Continuing education requirements and proof.
Testimonials from past clients.
References that you can explore yourself.
Employee background, education and length of association with the firm.
If you have never experienced a kitchen, bath or other major remodel project, you need to know that the unexpected should always be expected. How well the firm you choose prepares for the eventuality beforehand (through documentation), as well as the “crisis” itself can be the difference between a haunting disaster and a great experience.
An experienced firm will completely and accurately document the following:
Detailed floor plans, elevations and perspectives.
Specifications for each product including costs, warranties, deliverables, timing, etc.
Complete specifications for the services provided; what is included, what is not included, what may be additional, and the like.
Agreements for Pricing, Payment Terms, and Conditions.
6. Specialized Services
What are your expectations? Some people just want a good design and will handle the rest, others expect the firm to manage the process from design through installation. Be sure the firm you hire fulfills your expectations.
What does the design process include?
Will they order everything you need to complete the project, including the little things you don’t see?
Will they manage the ordering process, or will you be on the phone asking about delivery dates?
Do you want the firm to hire, manage and pay the subcontractors such as the electricians, plumbers, tile installers, painters and others?
The rule of thumb in kitchen and bath design is the greater the specialized services, the greater the customer satisfaction. Look for key indicators that demonstrate how well your firm is schooled in specialized services.
Key indicators are:
Are they preparing a comprehensive “needs analysis”?
Are they using a Good-Better-Best [G-B-B] pricing system with a schedule of cost options in place to help quickly determine the scope of your project?
Is there a project manager on board that catches ordering mistakes and quarterbacks your installation and job completion process?
Is there a system in place for digital [and hard copy if requested] notifications after the sale such as change orders, delivery times, schedule dates, etc.?
Will you receive communication giving you tips to prepare for the projects?
Is it their policy to give clients a performance evaluation to fill out upon completion regardless of the outcome of their work?
7. Business Integrity
Your greatest fear is the realization of the story your neighbor or relative told you. You know the one, the contractor took a deposit, ripped out the room, then disappeared – ran off to another project, never to be heard from again. Be sure you judge the firms you are considering by their business integrity along with the other six criteria.
Look for a solid reputation with history behind it. You can judge this online from user reviews - usually the best place to start - word of mouth in your community, and written endorsements from recent clients.
Look for a mission statement and values statement that resonates with you.
Be sure the firm offers easy to understand warranties.
Take a look at your options of the types of firms who offer the service
As a consumer, you have a number of options in searching for the best firm for your kitchen or bath project. Although there are exceptions to each, you can generally expect the following to hold true.
Home Improvement Centers – like any large retail operation, these “big boxes” cannot always find the most qualified or well trained design experts for their kitchen or bath operations. Although the price may appear to be the best in town, the value rarely is. It is not uncommon to find design oversights, less than required customer services, and substandard installations. In the end, you often live for years with the regret of not having done a better job shopping.
Consumer Buying Clubs – Despite convincing marketing, according to a design professional with 18 years of experience and a former short-term employee of Direct Buy (Laura Devlin, Boston, MA), “…the notion that the member would save half on the purchase of cabinetry was pure ‘BS’. Savings on plumbing fixtures, appliances, etc. were not that significant [either].”
As the consumer, you provide all the measurements, including door clearances. Without experience, your measurements are a “mistake waiting to happen.” Ms. Devlin said, “Having to rely on the members giving you the correct measurements and information is a stab in the dark. It is very difficult to design and follow through on a project with their [Direct Buy] type of selling. I wouldn’t recommend joining to anyone.”
Startups – These organizations lack the experience required to provide the quality you want. Without sufficient projects “under their belts,” they will likely not have the systems and quality personnel in place to give your project the attention to detail it requires to be successful. In addition, knowing that startups often fail within a couple of years, this firm may not be in business when your project needs critical service a year or two later.
Truck Contractors – There is no doubt you can get the lowest price from contractors without the overhead of a showroom or studio, but at what cost? You will likely receive an unimaginative design, inferior products and questionable integrity.
Often consumers have difficulty getting home improvement contractors to finish jobs on time… or at all. If you choose to do business with such a source, be sure to check the Better Business Bureau and Department of Consumer Protection for any complaints against the individual.
SEN Design Group Firms – These 200+ firms nationwide are members of the Kitchen & Bath Industry’s first buying group. But more important is the SEN commitment to developing and nurturing kitchen and bath professionals so they embody each of these 7 criteria. In fact, their continued membership is predicated on their ability to do so.
When you choose a SEN Design Group Firm, you work with:
A reliable source of information and sound advice.
One of the industry’s best businesspeople with high marks in customer service and integrity.
A company that can get you the best value on your cabinets, fixtures, hardware, appliances and almost every element that makes up a kitchen or bath.
Personnel dedicated to continuing education and improving customer service.
A firm that often has multiple design awards or accolades.
If you take these tips into consideration as you hire a kitchen and bath design firm, and sign with one who delivers what you want, and have patience to have the job done right, you’ll have a kitchen/bath you’ll love for decades to come.