How to Choose a Kitchen Designer
Check out this roundup of practical insights to help you research and find your perfect kitchen pro
Professional advice from: Zoe Holland of Sustainable Kitchens; Frances Reynolds of Kitchen Architecture; Louisa Eggleston of Humphrey Munson
There’s no set path and it pays to be open to all sources of input, whether that’s spotting images you like on Houzz or asking friends for recommendations.
“Our clients usually come to us via digital channels,” Zoe Holland says. “We also get referrals from clients who’ve previously completed a project with us.”
Word of mouth is certainly helpful, giving you a first-hand reference from someone you know and trust. “We aim to give each client the very best experience and personal service and, by doing this, hope that they recommend us,” Frances Reynolds says.
“Clients also hear about us through professionals such as architects, interior designers or contractors we’ve worked with on previous projects,” she adds. “They can help gauge the client’s requirements.”
“Recent work is helpful, as well as links to any independently gathered reviews,” Louisa Eggleston says. “Houzz is great for this, as each review is verified.”
Websites that feature real projects with the owners in the space are useful. “Videos can tell the story of how the kitchen is used on a daily basis, whether it’s making a coffee or hosting a dinner party,” Frances adds.
Beyond practical considerations, see if the website gives a sense of the team and its ethos. “I love to see small, independent companies really put their team at the forefront,” Zoe continues. “It says a lot about the product and how much they all care, not to mention how skilled they are.”
Ready to find your perfect match? Search local kitchen designers on Houzz, read reviews and see photos of their previous projects.
Our experts offered differing views on this. “I’d recommend you visit a showroom if you can – it offers lots of creative inspiration,” Frances says. Another bonus is that you’ll meet the people you might work with. “Working with the right consultant who’s knowledgeable, understanding and creative is incredibly important,” she says.
Louisa recommends trying to get a ballpark estimate for your project before you visit, “so you know you’re aligned before spending time falling in love with your dream kitchen”.
Don’t be too worried if you can’t make it into the showroom, though. “We work with customers all over the UK. Some of them visit, some of them don’t, but we have wonderful relationships with all of them,” Zoe says. During the pandemic, going to a showroom was out of the question.
“As a result, I now think not visiting one is perfectly normal,” she continues. “If you meet remotely, develop a good relationship, and see the work they do via designs, websites and so on, I don’t think visiting a showroom is a necessity.”
This isn’t absolutely the norm, but it’s worth asking. “We have very willing and fabulous clients who are happy to let other customers see their space,” Zoe says.
Not all kitchen design companies can offer this, however. “We don’t allow visits to previous projects to ensure client confidentiality,” Louisa says. “This is part of the reason our showrooms are fully live spaces to prep, cook, dine and relax in. We want our clients to walk in and imagine themselves living in the spaces.”
Frances agrees. “Rather than filling our showrooms to the brim with kitchen cabinetry, a lot of our displays are laid out in a way that might represent the home,” she says. “This allows people to see what they could achieve in their own space.”
There are advantages to both big and small teams. If you go with a large design company, you can expect to work with a larger team. You may have input from the design director and creative director, plus a dedicated designer, and you may also have access to a client services team who facilitate all the extras that go with the kitchen, such as freestanding furniture and flooring.
As the project progresses, other team members may be involved, from project management to installation coordination. “It takes a village,” Louisa says.
With a smaller company, there will obviously be fewer people involved. “Clients will usually have one dedicated person to talk through the project with,” Zoe explains. “They lead the client conversations and do the digging to understand the client’s vision while challenging them and providing ideas for how the space will work. We then have a kitchen designer draw up the space and bring the vision to reality.”
“We like clients to think about the space and what they want to gain from a new kitchen, how they see themselves using it, what they’re missing, and a wish list of inclusions,” Zoe says.
Moodboards and online image galleries are also useful, she notes. “These help the client explain what they like, which gives us the chance to ask why?”
It varies. Some designers recommend you visit their showroom for this; others are happy to do the first meeting remotely. “Our initial design consultation is usually via Zoom,” Zoe says. “We require rough floor plans and measurements prior to this, so we can understand the space in more detail.”
Wherever you meet, be sure to ask lots of questions before committing. “I’d encourage clients to ask about lead times, services, prices, usability, maintenance and materiality,” Frances says. “It’s important to consider the longevity of products and design, as I’d look for something that will last and look good for years to come.”
Most kitchen designers will be lead by you, so make clear whether you want to take an active role in the design of your kitchen, or prefer to hand the whole thing over.
“Sometimes, a client just wants a kitchen and for it to be taken care of; sometimes they want to be involved and understand every aspect of the design and manufacturing. Most clients are somewhere in between,” Louisa says.
No kitchen designer will press ahead with decisions without consulting you, though. “Whether you have all of the ideas and picture exactly how you want the space to look, or no clue and want the designer to take over, you’ll be involved in every aspect, so they can ensure the space is unique to you,” Zoe says. “Don’t get me wrong, though, we can still take on all of the nitty-gritty and the things you don’t need to think about!”
Costs vary depending on furniture ranges and the size of the project, and every designer will have a different payment system. Some will provide estimates and design consultations free of charge, but may take a retainer fee before doing any preliminary drawing work.
“We offer a free design service, which allows our customers to see the ideas and visions come to life,” Zoe says.
Payment schedules usually include a deposit, then one or two more payments that are a percentage of the overall cost, leading up to installation of the space, with the remaining payment on completion.
Do you have any other helpful tips for choosing a kitchen designer? Please share them in the Comments.