Hiring a Professional to Design a Kitchen

The most important step in a successful kitchen project is selecting the right people to work on the job. Because much kitchen work is structural, it's essential -- for legal and insurance reasons -- that the work be performed according to the building codes of your area. And to be sure all work is done appropriately, you'll want to hire professionals for every aspect of the job in which you are not personally an expert.

A professional designer can help you plan and realize a fully unified design scheme.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A professional designer can help you plan and
realize a fully unified design scheme.

For any structural work, you'll need a licensed architect or design/construction firm. You'll also want to use licensed contractors and skilled tradespeople, and you may want the specific expertise and creativity of a certified kitchen designer (CKD) or an interior designer with a lot of kitchen design experience. Whomever you hire, you'll rely on their expertise to guide you through technical issues, and you'll count on their integrity in working within your budget. What's more, your experts and their crews will be in your home and around your family for the life of the project. So make sure they really deserve your trust!

Check the Basics

Check with the attorney general's office in your state and with your local Better Business Bureau to be sure there are no unresolved complaints against the professional you're considering. For contractors, ask to see property damage, liability, and workers' comp insurance. (Don't take their word for it; tell them your lawyer insists you see each individual policy. Note the policy number, dates the policy is in effect, and the name, address, and phone number of each company providing coverage. Before work starts, call to be sure policies are still in force.)

If building permits are needed, make sure they're made out in the contractor's name, not yours. This way, the contractor, not you, is responsible for rectifying any building code violations.

For every professional, ask to see samples/photos of similar work performed for others, and request contact information so you can call those customers. Ask for a dozen references, not just two or three; you want to know the firm has a good track record. Then, call three or four of those references. Ask if their projects were completed on schedule, if the pro was responsive to their calls, and if he/she kept them informed about the progress of the project.

If you'll be living in your home while the work is being done, ask if the workers left the place "broom clean" at night or in a mess; if they woke the baby with loud music or were easy to live with. Ask if they would hire him/her again or recommend him/her to family and friends.

When you meet with your prospective professionals, be sure you have an elementary rapport with them. Do you believe they're knowledgeable? Honest? Pleasant and responsive? Reliable and unflappable? Do they seem interested in your needs, your lifestyle, and your dreams? If anything "just doesn't feel right," keep looking. Chemistry counts!

Finally, make sure the pro gives you a quote fully describing the work, the specific products to be used (by brand name, type, model number, color, size, etc.), the costs, the starting and completion dates (plus conditions of, and penalties for, nonperformance), and the terms of payment. You won't need the same full-blown contract for a $1,500 job that you would for a job worth $30,000 or $150,000, but be sure the basics are covered in writing.

Get detailed drawings of the project to ensure that you, the designer, and the contractor are envisioning the same kitchen. Every aspect of the project should be included -- from the location and number of outlets to the size of doorways and windows. Changes down the road can be costly and frustrating. Keep in mind: It's your home and your money.

Hopefully by now you've made some decisions about how extensively you will overhaul your kitchen and who you will have helping you do it. Now you're ready to begin, right? Not so fast. Before you start, you should read the basic remodeling tips in our section.