Critiquing Kitchen Design and Cabinetry

May 6th, 2010 § 8 Comments

From Luxury Home Magazine: Phoenix 

As a blogger who’s primary focus is that of all things kitchen and bath related, I get excited when I see a kitchen or a bath that has been carefully designed and executed with all the right design elements. Well, alright, maybe there are one or two things I would have done differently, but not by much. Overall I give this contemporary kitchen two thumbs up. Quiet elegance is what I call this. 

The home is located in Scottsdale Arizona. The neutral color palette and “tone on tone” scheme fits into it’s overall desert surroundings. What I mean is that the design is not contrived. They did not impose a Tuscan- themed design in a contemporary home. The kitchen is fairly large and the use of two islands is a stroke of ingenuity. They stayed away from the mistake of using one monster sized island and instead divided the space into two islands. The interior island, approx 6 1/2′ x 4′ is the workhorse island and includes the main clean up sink and dishwasher. (I wish they didn’t place that ridiculously over sized plant on the counter that blocks my view of the space). The opposite side of this island with 24″ deep cabinets allows for plenty of storage. This is a dream kitchen for entertaining. Who wouldn’t love this kitchen? 

The outer island is open to the living area and yet has a 42″ pony wall that prevents your eye level view landing directly onto the kitchen counters. Smart idea when company is over. You don’t want your guests focusing on the clutter in the kitchen. I like this, if I can hide clutter from view, I will do it. 

One of the most commonly overlooked elements in kitchen design is the ceiling. This kitchen added the drywall clad beams in the slightly  darker paint color. The addition of the beams adds an important element in the design. It prevents the large room from looking too generic and sterile. The one thing I see that I would have done differently is the placement of the microwave. Most kitchen designers have an opinion or two, or three about the microwave. If you are a tall person, let’s say 6 feet tall or so, placing a microwave 54″ above a finished floor is acceptable if you are this tall. But for the rest of us who are height challenged, 54″ a.f.f. is too high up for comfort. Actually, 54″ is the bottom of the wall cabinet. The bottom of the microwave starts at about 55 1/2″ the center of the microwave winds up at about 60″ tall. If the average height for women is 5′-6″ tall, the center height of a  microwave at 60″ is too high. You should never be pulling hot objects out in the direction of your face and above shoulder height. It is dangerous and can lead to severe burns if the container explodes in your hands as you are pulling it out. Argue with me if you insist, that you do not like a microwave lowered from the rest of the wall cabinets, but in the picture above, you can clearly see this microwave wall cabinet is located between two 24″ deep appliances and could have been lowered 6″ for the sake of comfort of shorter users, kids included. Actually, the microwave is usually a child’s first introduction to helping out in the kitchen, why not make it more convenient for the young set?  

I also like the use of 24″ stone floors. 12″or 13″ tiles would have been the wrong scale for this room. I wish there were more pictures of this kitchen to show the cook top section but sorry, this is it. 

The irregularities in maple wood is more noticeable on medium to dark stains.

Here is another important factor in the design. The cabinets shown here are maple in a medium tone and it looks like they they might be finished with a brown glaze wiped into the surface grooves in the door panels. Maple stained darker becomes more ruddy, more blotchy in appearance. You may look at this sample door shown and reject it for the blotchy appearance on face value alone. I picked apart this kitchen above with red circles the way a homeowner would before giving the cabinets a fair chance before the kitchen is completed. The number one sales call a cabinet sales reps receives has to do with the perception of what a finished cabinet should look like. Avoid over analyzing your cabinets with a clear grid sheet by picking apart the highs and lows in the graining and mineral steaks that are naturally occurring features in wood. This is not the problem of the wood itself but the problem of the sales person not properly explaining to the customer the inherent characteristics found in the wood species they selected. There is nothing wrong with the maple wood shown in this example and it should not  be considered a flaw requiring all the doors to be replaced. My intent with this example is to show  that when the maple is viewed in perspective in a completed design, the ruddiness becomes less of a factor. Look back at the first picture. Your eye is not focusing on the blotchiness of the cabinets, your eye is looking at the overall beauty in this kitchen design. If you look hard enough and close enough, you will find flaws in anything. Anyone who holds a 10x magnifying mirror to their own face can testify to that! Oh lord do I know that! Yikes! 

Mineral streaks found in wood cabinets are beauty marks not flaws. 
The most beautiful women in the world have beauty marks. 

You should never expect perfection in wood graining just as you can never achieve true perfection in your own skin’s pores. Before your cabinets were…”cabinets”, before the lumber from which your cabinets were built, they were once upon a time trees in a forest. How much light the trees received, the natural elements in which the trees grew are a forever reminder that your cabinets were once a living, breathing part of our natural environment. The demarcations on your cabinets tell a story of your cabinets history or pedigree. These natural characteristics cannot be air brushed away, cannot be removed with lasers or bleach lightening agents. What should not be accepted are burn marks from over sanding, thumb prints in the stain, mars in the finish, and rough finishes are not acceptable and should be brought to the attention of your sales person for replacement. Mineral streaks and mineral flecks are naturally occurring in wood and should be considered beauty marks not flaws. If you can not accept this fact, you need to look at thermofoil and plastic laminate that will provide you more consistency and repeat pattern in graining. But then again, if this kitchen was done in either, I would not consider it as beautiful as it is, would you? 

When all is said and done, this kitchen is really a beautiful example in elegant simplicity. 

Follow Fridays

November 6th, 2009 § Leave a Comment

Sometimes I just nod my head in agreement when reading a fellow Designer’s blog post. So with no further ado, I divert your attention from my blog to go read what Kelly is talking about in her blog Kitchen Sync. 

Managing Stealth Costs

Very well said Kelly! Thank you so much for pointing out the obvious to us but not so obvious to first time remodel types.

University Creates Catharsis Chambers for Stress Release

October 30th, 2009 § 2 Comments

University Creates Catharsis Chambers for Stress Release
The Epoch Times released a report on October 6, 2009 about Universities in China installing emotional release rooms. Could they be on to something? Wouldn’t we all like an emotional release from the stress of …. (fill in the blank). Or is this a bad idea leading to more anger and range…I meant rage. (Sorry, still thinking about an annoying spec detail on a range). And exhaustion too! These catharsis chambers sound like an exhausting experience leading to more stress and anxiety.

Remodeling can bring on stress and I find that a long walk works quite well. Maintaining a sense of humor also works well. When ever stressed out, I imagine how Robin Williams would respond to the issue at hand and I wind up making myself laugh.  

image by BrittneyBush

Managing Design Expectations: The Client -Designer Relationship

September 16th, 2009 § 4 Comments

The Kitchen Designer: Hello, this is Laurie. How may I help you?

Client: Oh Hello, before you come out to my house to take measurements, I have one other request for my kitchen design. At our first meeting you asked us if there was one primary cook or two and if we had any special needs we want you to take into consideration.
The Kitchen Designer: Yes?
Client: Well, yes, we thought about your question and realize we do have a family member that uses the kitchen quite frequently and we think we need to take his special needs into consideration.
The Kitchen Designer: Oh?
Client: Yes, you see we have a cat that won’t drink from his bowl. He drinks from the kitchen faucet. Actually, our cat is very fond of water. The only problem we have with this is that he can’t turn the faucet off when he’s finished. We need you to help us with this. Can you specify a sensor into the faucet that will turn off when there is no motion?
The Kitchen Designer: Well… sensor faucets are on the market and they are becoming more popular…I would have to check specs to see how we could make this work…I suppose…can I get back to you with an answer?
Client: Sure, that would be fine. Here is a video we took of our cat, perhaps it would be easier if we could just show you what we mean. If you can just review this, and maybe if you can also show this around to your vendors to get the best deal, we want the faucet to be triggered by a sensor…our water bill is getting pretty high with the faucet on all day. Can you show us all the best possible options to help us out?

This is a hypothetical story, of course, using a very funny cat video submitted on line by Kim Tasky at You Tube. (She is neither a client nor the person in the above scenario.) I use this very amusing cat story to make a “tongue in cheek” point about a universal problem regarding the client-designer relationship.

The point is this:
There are some clients working under the impression that Kitchen Designers should spend time on your project researching, sourcing, evaluating, planning the best possible options to incorporate a client’s every last desire on the wish list before paying for services. There are no professions that work for free. So why do people expect to be dazzled with a design before paying for it?

You can call a plumber for a service call and he will charge you $75.00 just for the trip charge before he pulls out his plumber’s wrench.

You wouldn’t call your attorney and ask him to review your lease agreement
without expecting a bill would you?
And you wouldn’t tell your attorney “I want to see what ideas you can come up with first and then I will let you know if I will hire you.”
Perry Mason

Kitchen Designers receive a myriad of special requests for a remodel project. Some details more complex then the next to specify and execute. And most every time, the client is on a deadline because they did not budget the time to allow for the design details to be fleshed out. All projects, no matter the size, require thought and research before recommendations can be made. Here in lies the problem. How do you value your designer’s time?

How much free design do you think you are owed before paying a retainer?

Solving Design Problems: What is this service worth to you?
There is a perception problem about what a design is worth to the client. Here is the issue Designers are continually facing: a prospective client has a design problem they want their Kitchen Designer to solve for them. Designers expect a prospective client to interview with two or three designers before making a final selection. Qualified designers expect to be interviewed and are able and ready to prove their qualifications to prospective clients. But ask a Designer to pull out the “dog and pony show” for you and you may get a polite response declining your request. Internally the dialogue going through that Designer’s head may be something to the effect of “I have been doing this for 30 years, I don’t need any more practice to prove I can design.”

Ask a Kitchen Designer their opinion about “HGTV” type shows where three designers are trotted out for the client to compare three fully detailed designs and you will get very opinionated answers.

“Ideas are free but designs must be paid for.” Laurie Burke

Home improvement shows have done a disservice to the design community and have built up unrealistic expectations for clients. You would be surprised to know that a majority of potential clients expect that several design options be presented in detail before paying a retainer to contract for design services. It happens at all ends of the spectrum from the high end client to the budget minded client.

A fully detailed dimensioned design plan with elevations and renderings, before a retainer is paid is just not a workable business model for designers as it involves time without money, and giving ideas away with the ‘hope’ of getting the business is just bad business.

Charles Schulz

Hiring your Kitchen Designer should be based on several factors, creativity being one if them. Secondly, the ability to complete projects in a timely manner and within budget. Third, the ability to communicate with you, your architect, your engineer, your GC or subs throughout the job as needed. Fourth, the ability to manage obstacles as they arise, and lastly the ability to see a project to it’s completion.

A Renovation Check List

September 15th, 2009 § Leave a Comment

Getting ready to remodel? I will point my readers in the direction of a “MUST READ” article posted by my friend Paul Anater of Kitchen and Residential Design about renovation expectations. I too have received the phone calls from clients who are in a state of panic over the tile going up, the color of the cabinets, the floor, the paint and so forth. Paul has made sane points, so with no further ado, I point you to Ready To Renovate? Take A Moment And Breathe First.

I highly recommend you print out these “10 Points of Reason ” when you feel like you are going to loose your mind. Print it, post it where you can see it, your bathroom mirror, outside the plastic wall of your remodel zone, your check book.

Remind yourself that long after the remodel is over with, the dust and muss is gone, what remains is a beautiful space. And above all else, remind yourself to breathe! Thanks Paul!

Asking for a discount:: How not to do it.

June 2nd, 2009 § 6 Comments

Kelly at KitchenSync posted this first, and she found it at another site. Spreading fast through the internet; I had to revisit this You Tube Video again for grins. Haven’t we all been there with clients? There are better ways to negotiate price. This video is a prime example of what not to do.

There are ways to save money so be up front about it. Your service provider will appreciate your honesty if you are up front about your budget and be able to look for ways to save you money. Looking for angles to get a discount after the fact is just bad behavior.

Communication with your Contractor

January 23rd, 2009 § 2 Comments

Successful remodeling companies have a pre-construction meeting to clarify the construction logistics before construction begins. Once a project begins, you will be living in a construction zone. It is so important that homeowner and contractor have a game plan in place for the logistics, parking, deliveries, work hours, primary contact phone list, and discuss expectations for the project.

Written procedures must be in place for a successful outcome to your project. When you hire a contractor, insist you have this meeting at your home prior to demolition. My firm has an excellent written Pre-constructon Meeting Checklist we implement for all our projects. The meeting takes about an hour and all the logistics are discussed. The client gets a copy and another is kept in the lead carpenter’s job binder and one copy goes back to the office.

As new home construction sales are on a decline, it is not uncommon to find new home construction contractors competing for the jobs in the remodeling sector. A construction zone differs greatly when the homeowner is living in the home during a remodel. It’s important to find a contractor that specializes in remodeling and will be able to set standards for his crew to abide by while they are in your home. The attitudes can be relaxed in new new construction where there are no children and pets to be aware of, and no one sleeping or changing for work under the same walls.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association’s Professional Resource Library sets forth a good sample as outlined below. As a homeowner here are some questions to ask during the pre-construction meeting:

  1. What are the contractor work hours?
  2. What days will the contractor work?
  3. Will the contractor provide a construction time line?
  4. What areas of my home will be protected?
  5. What will be the path of entry?
  6. What type of floor protection will be used?
  7. Will the contractor use plastic zip walls?
  8. Will the contractor cover the vents in the construction zone?
  9. Will the contractor use air scrubbers to filter air-borne particulates that are kicked up during construction?
  10. What type of covering will be used for the newly installed tub, the new cabinets, and will plywood/cardboard coverings be used to protect my new counter tops so that no tool is set down on a finished surface?
  11. Who will be responsible for moving and storing any precious possessions, (the grand piano or art collection) adjacent to the kitchen or bath.
  12. Will the contractor need special permission to enter certain areas of your home?
  13. Discuss security alarm system and procedures.
  14. Will the contractor provide a lock-box system during the project?
  15. Will a mailbox be set up inside the job site for homeowner and contractor to leave messages, and other important documents such as owners manuals and warranty paperwork that should be provided to homeowner.
  16. If the home has wireless connectivity, may the contractor have access to your wireless network? If not, is there a high speed internet line available to use in the work zone? (Laptops are now carried by some contractors for downloading specs or expediting e-mail communication or schedules.)
  17. Regarding children: what is their schedule, who is responsible for them if they return home when parents are working?
  18. Are there any pet considerations?
  19. Are there any neighbor concerns?
  20. Regarding lunch time, will the crew have permission to eat their lunch in a designated area on your property? Will the crew take their lunch trash with them and not place food in the dumpster to avoid rat infestation?
  21. Does the contractor have rules in place for the crew members and sub- contractors that respects your home from loud radios, cursing, smoking and from using any of your personal tools, trash cans and household equipment?
  22. Where can the contractor drop/store deliveries, notably the cabinets and or/crated, over sized bath fixtures?
  23. Where can the contractor maintain a staging area and a place to store his tools?
  24. What do you want to salvage from demolition, and where do you want it stored?
  25. Where can the dumpster be set up?
  26. Where and how will trash be collected? Are they any community regulations about it’s location.
  27. Where can the portable toilet be set up? (Or, which of your bathrooms can the contractor use?)
  28. Will the contractor provide a temporary kitchen? (On loan temporary table, microwave, toaster oven, hot plate, temporary sink.)
  29. Where can the contractor and subs park vehicles?
  30. Where may the contractor post a company sign?
  31. Where are the utilities (gas, electric, septic, communications)?
  32. What furniture or shrubbery needs to removed?
  33. Who will be the primary contact person (husband or wife) for the contractor to communicate with?
  34. What hours can the contractor call you, and what numbers should they use (home, work, cell, other)?
  35. How often do you want the contractor to meet or contact you?
  36. Do you and your family understand that no family member or other unauthorized individuals spend time in the work zone, and that all communication is best maintained between your lead project manager or designer and the homeowner.
  37. Will the contractor provide professional cleaning service at the end of the project or provide a “broom clean” service?

Well, that’s it. It’s important to know that construction is not a perfect science. Expect that things may not go perfectly, but as long as you and your contractor have a clear understanding of procedures, it helps make the project run smoothly.

A trip to Kim’s Kitchen Remodel

November 5th, 2008 § Leave a Comment

Over at Desire to Inspire blog author Kim Johnson is undergoing her own kitchen remodel. Kim admits “I am a complete kitchen reno virgin and am learning as I go.”

Kim is allowing her readers to watch the progress with photos as the job progresses. Demo just begun. Come follow the progress at a special link called Kims Kitchen Remodel. I’ll be watching from the peanut gallery. Come watch with me.

The cabinet line she selected is made by, Green Tea, asian inspired hand-built furniture styled cabinetry from reclaimed woods. Really beautiful pieces. I admire the beautiful unfitted hand worked antique appearance of these cabinets.

Since Kim admits to being a “remodel virgin”, I offer this friendly advise to her and others who are new to the experience. Construction, a little like pregnancy, begins with joy and expectation, and almost always ends with joy and satisfaction. There will be a few points in between, however, when you may wonder “Whatever did I get myself into?” Recognizing this in advance may prove helpful in managing emotions.

My gift to you is a mood chart: a graphical representation of the changing moods during a typical design/build remodel project: Post it on your kitchen wall and remind yourself that high’s and lows are to be expected, and remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.


A trip to Kim’s Kitchen Remodel

November 5th, 2008 § 4 Comments

Over at Desire to Inspire blog author Kim Johnson is undergoing her own kitchen remodel. Kim admits “I am a complete kitchen reno virgin and am learning as I go.”

Kim is allowing her readers to watch the progress with photos as the job progresses. Demo just begun. Come follow the progress at a special link called Kims Kitchen Remodel. I’ll be watching from the peanut gallery. Come watch with me.

The cabinet line she selected is made by, Green Tea, asian inspired hand-built furniture styled cabinetry from reclaimed woods. Really beautiful pieces. I admire the beautiful unfitted hand worked antique appearance of these cabinets.

Since Kim admits to being a “remodel virgin”, I offer this friendly advise to her and others who are new to the experience. Construction, a little like pregnancy, begins with joy and expectation, and almost always ends with joy and satisfaction. There will be a few points in between, however, when you may wonder “Whatever did I get myself into?” Recognizing this in advance may prove helpful in managing emotions.

My gift to you is a mood chart: a graphical representation of the changing moods during a typical design/build remodel project: Post it on your kitchen wall and remind yourself that high’s and lows are to be expected, and remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.


Verify everything in writing

July 6th, 2008 § 8 Comments

At the scene of an auto accident,
the one thing for certain is that there will be numerous versions of what lead up to the accident.

At the scene of an accident, every witness and every party involved in the accident has their own version of what took place. What is perceived as each persons truth will never really agree with the next persons story. Explaining what happened varies: speed of travel, weather, amount of cars on the road, color and type of cars involved all are subject to interpretation. The accident happens so fast, that everyones recollection will be weighted based on what they were doing at the time of the accident.

Don’t let your remodel become a scene of an accident.

A home improvement project can become an accident without proper documentation. I got a call today from my sister complaining about a home improvement project that is nearly completed. There was mold and water damage in the kitchen. The insurance company had a specialist come in to handle the mold remediation and repair the cabinetry. One of the workers promised, “a verbal promise”, that he would install all new roll out trays in the pantry.

Listening to this story, my red flag alert went off.

Does a a verbal agreement between an employee of a company constitute a valid

contract change order? No. Anything discussed verbally, requires a written change order detailing additional time, materials and labor that will be added to the project cost.
Should a company honor a verbal agreement? It becomes a problem at this point. There is the interpretation argument of what was promised versus what was in the contract.

The issue is, that this employee’s promise of roll outs was never written into the contract originally and a change order adding the roll outs was never submitted for her to sign off after that discussion of roll outs. An employee of the company can promise an item all he wants, but the homeowner must ask for this in writing so that there is no “he said/she said” dispute.

Imagine you were to explain your story in court, you are before the judge and you explain, “Your Honor, he told me he would install new roll outs for me. How was I supposed to know this was not in my contract , I was under the impression it was included based on what the salesperson said.” It is a homeowners responsibility to know what they are signing for, what they are buying, and if not, they need to ask questions and have it explained if they are unclear about anything. Whenever your sales person starts explaining what they will do in a contract, have them take the time to show you where this is in your contract. Signing a contract, no matter how much paperwork you have to read, and no matter how tedious it is to read, you cannot ignore this step and plead ignorance later.

Get it in writing.

Now that it is time for the project to end, she is asking for the roll outs installed based on a verbal promise made by an employee of the company. The owner of the company is saying this wasn’t billed into the contract and he will not do it. So the employee who made the promise is now denying he said that, the owner is not willing to supply the roll outs, and my sister is going to demand they be installed because they were discussed and requested originally. The whole reason she went with this company was he was the least expensive and the sales man said he would install roll outs where others who bid the project did not include them in the cost. The problem is that roll outs are not written anywhere in the contract. She is insisting it is the companies obligation to make good on that employees promise. If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Get all promises in writing.

So who is right and who is wrong?

There is a customer belief that they would receive roll out trays because of a verbal promise. The problem is there is no documentation of roll outs in the contract. You can’t go on the assumption that a verbal agreement will be honored. Most likely, they were never included in the original charges. If the owner was willing to make amends for his employee promising items he had no authority to do without charging for it, he could split the cost or reduce the cost of the roll outs and install them to keep the customer satisfied. My sister is right to be upset, the employee was wrong, but all this could have been avoided if she checked her contract and got the change order in writing. If it sounds like I am taking sides with the owner of the company, I really do not want to, but my sister should have made sure to get the sales person’s verbal agreement in writing that it was included, she would be in a better position to ensure that work gets done. Saying she trusted the sales person is not good enough.

Put your wish list in writing and compare it to your written quote.
Question anything that is vague.

I put a bid on a project where the client had a cap on what she wanted to spend on her kitchen remodel. (Who doesn’t? Every one has a budget). We crunched the numbers and came up with a plan that accomplished what she wanted in her project with a few exceptions. We could not honor the whole wish list without breaking her budget; but we provided a very nice complete project for the budget.

To keep the project on budget, the wish list items that didn’t make it into the project were relocating the water heater and going tankless; adding an exterior door into the kitchen plan; adding a desk; adding a glaze to the cabinets; changing the door style to a more expensive door; adding custom cabinetry; adding more cabinetry and molding in general.

What I discovered was that the client was not willing to compromise on excluding anything from her wish list. Incidentally, she was not willing to expand her budget to include the wish list work.

The wish list made it’s way back into the plan.

In the end, the client added her whole wish list back into the project.

This was all detailed by me in writing with a change order form detailing the costs and additions to the project.

Drawings were resubmitted for approval, and explanations of where the additional charges were added. This was all explained to the client in detail, and was approved by the client and signed off. Now that all of this was approved in the last meeting, the cabinet purchase order was painstakingly reviewed and submitted to the factory for order processing.

After all of this, the client had a change of heart, admits she does not understand why these changes were not included in the original estimate and cannot justify spending the extra money on her wish list items. One aspect of this is that she could be getting more estimates from others who will down play the construction costs, underbid items only to throw change orders at her later, throw doubt into her mind. Someone can always do it cheaper. One thing I know is that I never have to apologize for quality.

Adding more construction and adding more materials costs more. If anything was not included in the original quote, it can not be assumed to be included.

What I know for sure is that my original budget friendly design gave her a great design for the budget. It was a perfectly doable project. It just could not include the fancier details.

The reality is that getting everything on your wish list will cost more.
If you are willing to add more details, be prepared it will cost more.

Managing a client’s expectations is probably the most challenging aspect of my job. Normally, my time with a client during a design meeting and a contract signing is very thorough and can last on average for two hours to make sure both husband and wife are very clear on what they are buying.

In managing your own expectations, write it down exactly what it is you want in your project, convey that to your contractor or designer. Then write down a separate list on what items you are willing to compromise if it won’t work with your budget. There has to be some give and take in what can be accomplished for the money.

In an auto accident, there is no time to think of all the details leading up to the accident. In a construction project, you have the opportunity to review and make sure you are clear about all the details in the project. Don’t rush the details. Read your estimate, read your contract. Have details explained if you don’t understand them. Taking the time now, prevents the problem later of dealing with the disappointment of what you thought was included, when it wasn’t.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Managing Expectations category at Kitchen Design Notes.