Kitchens are where many of our memories take place. Even the simplest kitchen will host some of our best times and the warmest memories of friends and family. Here is a story written by my mother who passed away this fall about the simplest of kitchens and the happiness that she remembered there.
Our fist apartment was a small, old but affordable, walk-up. Although it left much to be desired, as newlyweds, we were satisfied and even excited about moving in — except for the kitchen! It contained only one cabinet which was situated above the sink and its exposed pipes. We improvised by buying a large standing cabinet and sewing a floral fabric to elastic and wrapping it around the sink. The area under the sink could now be used as storage space for cleaning products, pots and pans, etc.
When our first baby began toddling around, it became his favorite destination. He enjoyed crashing through the curtain, playing with the pots and pans and eating the soap powder. I could not wait to escape from this hazardous kitchen. Eventually we converted the space to a toy area where he sat playing with his cars, trucks and blocks. In fact, that’s where he said his first word, which was “car”.
One night, my husband arrived home from work with a bottle of champagne and wonderful news. He had just received a big promotion and a very substantial salary increase. While eating dinner at our little kitchen table with the baby next to us in his high chair, we toasted to his new job and our new house.
It is now more than 50 years later and I still remember that antiquated kitchen and the joy and happiness we experienced in it.
Jean McAlary passed away in October, but the little boy under the sink still loves kitchens and is of course the founder of Main Line Kitchen Design.
Hoping all our kitchens bring our customers the kind of joyful memories my mother’s 1960 kitchen brought her.
Main Line Kitchen Design had a very active 2017. Some of our Milestones included:
Moving to new offices with additional display space and three design stations.
Winning a Viking Appliance Designer of Distinction Award for 2017. Congratulations to Erica Islas for winning 2017 Designer of the Year for her fabulous kitchen located in historic Los Angeles Link here
Adding two more experienced Kitchen Designers and selling well over 100 kitchens for the second year in a row. Welcome John and Stacia!
Having our blog selected as the 5th best blog on kitchen design in the world by Feedspot
Averaging 20,000 visitors a month on our web site.
Ardmore Library Kitchen Tour Kitchen #2
Looking towards 2018 some of the events we anticipate are:
Finishing our Recommendations of Kitchen Dealers and Designers around the US. Because we get calls daily from all over the US we are hoping to steer people outside of our service area to dealers where they can get competent kitchen design help. This will help customers outside our service area, and help us by reducing the time we spend answering kitchen questions from people that can’t find good design help near them.
Opening a third office in Havertown across from the post office on City Avenue and over AD Panaccio. We work with General Contractor Al Panaccio on a regular basis and look forward to maintaining an additional office upstairs from his.
With more than 25,000 visitors a month to the Main Line Kitchen Design website we get asked nearly everyday to design and sell cabinetry outside our service area. Normally we don’t design and sell kitchens further than a 2 hour drive from our offices outside of Philadelphia. We believe that to design great kitchens and provide good customer service a dealer needs to measure a project, meet with customers face to face, and be readily available to assist if problems arise.
As a service to people not close enough to work with us we have begun to compile a list of recommended dealers. These are kitchen designers and cabinet dealers outside our service area that appear to meet our criteria for being good designers and seem to offer quality cabinet lines at competitive prices.
Here is how we selected the companies we are recommending. First our designers looked over the Houzz.com projects of potential dealers to make sure that their projects didn’t have major mistakes in them. This is actually harder than one might think. For example it took Paul and Stacia 45 minutes to find just one dealer in Los Angeles without blatant design errors on their Houzz page.
Once we found that a company met our minimum design standards and received good on line reviews on Houzz, Google, and Angie’s List we then examined their websites. The cabinet lines the companies carried needed to be quality lines and good values and their web site needed to meet our standards for transparency and professionalism.
While we do not know these companies first hand we believe our research provides a good starting point for finding a good designer in the areas we list. See the map and listings below:
A Story Highlighting How Hard It Is To Determine The Best Kitchen Designer In The Room
Determining who is the best kitchen designer in Philadelphia is difficult. This story about several kitchen designers shows why.
One Saturday, we were having an open house at a showroom I used to work at. The 5,000 sq foot display area was packed with visitors as well as the 10 designers that worked for the company. Some of the designers mingled and answered questions, and about 5 of us had congregated in the middle of the showroom talking amongst ourselves while casually looking around to see if anyone needed assistance.
Apparently we weren’t that observant because I suddenly realized that there was a customer in our little circle quietly listening. I looked down and said, “I’m sorry we didn’t notice you Miss, can one of us help you with something?”
The customer thought for a moment and said, “I don’t know if one of you would be able to help. Is it OK if we really don’t know the design we want in our kitchen? Even what style cabinetry we want yet?” All five designers immediately started to laugh, and the woman looked a little taken aback at our laughter.
I smiled and apologized telling her, “Miss, we aren’t laughing at you. We are laughing because YOU are the favorite type of customer for ANY kitchen designer, and ALL of us would love working with someone who is so open to our ideas. But, we may have a problem figuring out which of us gets to work with you.”
“I don’t want to start a fight,” she said, “and you did notice me first, so why don’t you help me. I do hope you’re one of the best designers.” Again all the designers started to laugh. “Well,” she asked, “NOW what’s everyone laughing at?”
I put out my hand and said, “My name is Paul, and I believe we’re all laughing because we know that ALL of us believe he or she is the best kitchen designer.” With that everyone started laughing and we found out our new customer’s name was Colleen.
Below is a reprint of the designer profile of Paul that appeared in House and Home Magazine in October.
What are your qualifications as a designer and what drew you to becoming a designer as opposed to any other profession?
As an engineering student at the University of Pennsylvania, I never imagined I’d end up being a kitchen designer. As it turns out, the problem solving techniques and the math and computer skills used in engineering, have all proved essential to being a kitchen designer and running a company that uses the internet as its primary source for connecting with our non-referral customers.
When I was in college, I also launched a small construction company that I managed for 10 years. I draw on the general contracting, drafting and hands-on experience I developed from this business daily. Kitchen design is something that I love and have worked at exclusively for more than 20 years.
What is the process in uncovering your clients’ needs when designing their project?
Almost all of our customers come to us believing that they know the floor plan and even the door style and color of the cabinetry that they would prefer. Some times they have even selected all their appliances. The easiest thing for any kitchen designer to do is simply to make these customers’ dreams a reality. While that is the easiest, it is far from the best.
At Main Line Kitchen Design, we tell our customers that we aren’t doing our job if we’re not shocking, or at least surprising them with alternative designs and materials. We simply wouldn’t be good at what we do if our many years of experience didn’t translate into a better kitchen at a better price than our customers could come up with on their own.
How important is the topic of a budget prior to beginning the design process?
Prior to beginning the design all we need is a ballpark range our customers are considering investing. We can also usually give potential customers an initial estimate of a projects’ cost once they provide some general information during our first phone conversation.
After we measure the kitchen and complete preliminary designs, project cost is completely determined by each customer’s selection of cabinet line and door style, type and color countertop, appliances, flooring, etc. Customers determine their own budget with their selections. Surprisingly the design itself, construction, and the quality of the cabinetry have much less impact on the cost of a kitchen than the styles, materials, and brands that customers select.
How long does it typically take to create a client’s design and what opportunities are there for tweaking?
After we measure a kitchen, the preliminary designs can be done in a few days to a week. While the first design we present is generally the design that we think works best for the space, kitchens ultimately involve numerous trade-offs between design, style, materials and function. As every kitchen we design is for our customer and not for us, what they decide on can be very different from our initial design. However starting with what works in the space best is the most sensible place to begin the design process. Customers generally have three to five meetings over several weeks. During these two hour meetings, we continue to make changes to the initial design. As the design changes it becomes more obvious to our customers what they lose when we make the trade offs they ask for and why they might want to consider some of the trade offs we initially presented.
What makes you unique from other designers in your industry and what can a customer experience by working directly with you?
I, and every designer I bring on board, are determined advocates for our customers’ kitchens. My team and I are very passionate about what ideas work and which don’t. My wife often describes the intensity with which I work by telling people that I fall asleep in the middle of a sentence about a kitchen and wake up finishing it. Customers can always count on me and my team to design in their style preference. They can also count on us to emphasize pleasing aesthetics and effective function. Many of my customers will tell you that, at some point in the process, they didn’t like me because I wasn’t immediately giving them the design that they initially wanted. In the end, those same customers will tell you they ended up with better kitchen value and design than they ever expected.
We have considered giving personality tests to customers to assess the likelihood of a successful relationship.
This is because occasionally we run into people that have completely unrealistic expectations about their kitchen renovation. These customers feel that they should experience no inconvenience during a major construction project. And whatever their unfounded beliefs are, that they should expect them met.
Conversations often begin with them saying “I feel.” As if feeling something no matter how unlikely gives those beliefs merit. For example, we have had customers mistakenly feel that moldings should come to them pre-cut to the unknown lengths that will be needed on their particular installation.
Funny video on expectations.
No amount of explanation will satisfy people that didn’t listen the first time things were explained to them and who also believe that they should have been informed about every aspect of their complex project that they didn’t foresee. There is always information that customers aren’t aware of. Especially for customers that took very little interest in becoming informed prior to their project beginning.
Needless to say these customers are also rude, impatient, and have a difficult time grasping that they are not our only customer and responsibility. If there are small problems on their installation, such as a scratched door, they can be upset that replacing that piece takes the time to order it, build it, ship it and deliver it.
The last thing I say to all my customers before they order their cabinetry is that our 20 page detailed contract boils down to this sentence:
“We do not want you or expect you to accept anything less than perfection. However, we can not tell you in advance exactly when you will get perfection and there is no compensation for waiting.”
A kitchen renovation is an expensive, complicated, inconvenient, and detailed project. There are nearly an infinite number of pieces to it, and dozens of people that all need to be working together. We can help you make your renovation something you will be proud of and that will last, but as the saying goes, “you have to break some eggs to make an omelette!”
Here is our true or false personality and intelligence test. If you answer true to more than a few of these questions please spare us your business.
I know more about kitchens than my designer or contractor.
There is no reason a kitchen renovation should have any delays or inconvenience.
Once I finish working on my design and finally pay my deposit to order my cabinets I expect the cabinet dealer to place my complicated order that day and tell me when my cabinets will be delivered.
All cabinetry pieces should come pre-cut and ready to install such as plywood for back panels, moldings, and toe kick.
Half walls behind islands and peninsulas come built in advance from the cabinet company.
Electric and lighting come pre-installed in my cabinets.
My contractor who has never worked with Main Line Kitchen Design doesn’t need to check my design to make sure he or she understands what assembly is expected of them. And has no responsibility to measure and check the design.
Farm sink cabinets, range bases, and all oven cabinets come pre-cut for my particular fixtures.
I should be able to meet with a designer today or tomorrow to start my project.
I know what I want and don’t need any help from a designer.
The first step to starting a kitchen renovation is doing the demolition.
If I do the demolition first on my own it will save me money and speed things up.
Getting the most competitive pricing, fast turn around, and customization should not be mutually exclusive.
I have done a kitchen renovation before so I know exactly what to expect.
I have a party, baby coming, move in date, or other personal deadline that needs to be met. I should still be able to order and get anything I want at the same cost independent of my timeline.
How I feel about what timelines should be or how things should be done has merit above what professionals tell me should be realistic expectations.
Hoping you are the kitchen customer we are looking for. And if so . . .
Should you consider refacing the cabinets in your kitchen instead of getting all new cabinets?
The answer is almost always a definitive NO! The reasons are varied and discussed here in detail.
Cabinetry over 20 years old will have inferior drawers, tracks, and hinges. This is true even for older expensive custom cabinets. In the last few years inexpensive well made cabinetry has become available at a fraction of the cost it once was. These less expensive cabinet lines use the top of the line drawer boxes, tracks, and hinges, and contain no particle board. Buying all new cabinetry in one of these well made less expensive lines can cost only 25% more than refacing the existing kitchen.
Almost without exception older kitchens are poorly designed. Kitchen design was not as sophisticated in years past and most kitchens prior to 1995 were not designed by experienced kitchen designers.
A few of the undesirable design elements used in older homes include:
Soffits over wall cabinets.
Using 30″ or 42″ high wall cabinets. Experienced kitchen designers now avoid these sizes.
Different width cabinet doors on either side of a cooktop or window.
Having a stove at the end of a countertop or under a window which is dangerous and against building code.
Refacing a kitchen just reproduces problematic design features and leaves outdated drawers and tracks untouched.
Refacing a kitchen with design problems and then proceeding to purchase expensive countertops, appliances, flooring, and fixtures will cost nearly as much as a new kitchen and leave an elephant in the middle of your renovated room.
Another problem with refacing is that homes are becoming less formal. For example nearly 60% of all the kitchens Main Line Kitchen Design sells involve combining the kitchen and dining room. Many large homes being built today include a first floor office but not a formal dining room. Refacing your kitchen without doing the renovation that new home buyers are looking for could be be a big mistake. When the time comes to sell your home the new buyers might rip out the kitchen that was just refaced. Thereby rendering what was spent on the renovation valueless.
Below is a conversation between Doug Mottershead and Paul McAlary the owner of Main Line Kitchen Design about kitchen cabinetry.
Selecting quality cabinetry and making practical renovation decisions is what good kitchen designers help with.
We look forward to helping you make the sound decisions that will increase your home’s value and make it all that it can be.
The best part of shopping for your new kitchen is a little known secret. Once a month, most major high end appliance manufacturers hold free cooking demonstrations to showcase their products. The evenings include wine, hors d’oeuvres, and often a six or seven course meal. Sometimes the evening includes watching Master Chefs prepare food using the latest, state of the art cooking innovations.
These demonstrations are held in design centers so there is no pressure from salespeople – appliances actually aren’t even sold at these locations. The Fretz Corporation on Woodhaven Road in Philadelphia first held what became the gold standard of these events. In the past you might have seen legendary chefs like George Perrier formerly of Le Bec Fin prepare a meal right in front of you, something rarely experienced even at his own restaurants.
I can’t recommend this experience enough, particularly if you or your customer has an appliance budget of more than ten thousand dollars. Deciding on which appliances to splurge on can become difficult when you see and taste dishes prepared in built in steamers or speed ovens, or sample espresso from Miele coffee makers.
I’m getting hungry just thinking about these evenings and so I think it must be time to go once again. The beautiful new Fretz Showroom at the Philadelphia Navy Yard or the Miele showroom in Princeton, New Jersey have particularly enjoyable programs. Here is the contact information to make a reservation:
FRETZ Showroom – Philadelphia Navy Yard 4050South 26th St, Philadelphia, PA 19112 886-987-2122 www.fretz.com
Miele Princeton Showroom – 9 Independence Way, Princeton, New Jersey 08540 800-843-7231 x 1002 www.miele.usa
Reality shows can actually make our jobs as designers and renovators more difficult.
Some of their shows on kitchen renovations involve fantastic storylines, ridiculously low construction costs, and bad construction advice. I’ve watched numerous episodes of the kitchen remodeling shows below and rated them. Over all, the remodeling shows on HGTV are the least authentic and in some cases are more than just misleading. Is your favorite kitchen show on our list?
Shows are rated from 1 to 4 stars.
Flip or Flop2 stars
Tarek and Christina El Moussa two unsurprisingly photogenic California real estate speculators buy homes to resell. Remodeling costs on this show are ridiculously low even by Pennsylvania standards. Misinformation other than the unrealistic renovation costs are not as common as on other HGTV shows. Christina’s ‘vocal fry’ makes the show hard to watch.
This Old House 4 Stars
The show that started it all. While all the construction information is accurate the show isn’t intended to be cost effective renovation. Instead the show has morphed over time into a showcase for new construction techniques and to give some interesting back story to remodeling and design. Because of this I prefer the early episodes that were more about practical renovations and featured the granddaddy of the genre Bob Villa.
Rehab Addict 2 Stars
Nicole Curtis is an attractive former Hooters waitress with little construction or design experience. Nichole hosts Rehab Addict a show about restoring historic homes. The show does not give any bad advice as far as I can tell. But historic homes can be so fascinating it is a shame this show isn’t more engaging.
Property Brothers3 Stars
Twin brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott and potential home buyers go through a formulaic process of pretending to select homes and designs. In reality houses and designs are all selected before the homeowners are found, and while everything about this show is staged the renovations and designs are creative and tasteful. Each episode also has unexpected problems arise that real professionals would know about in advance.
Fixer Upper1 Star
Chip and Joanna Gaines renovate central Texas using a complete lack of realism. The show is as much a fantasy as are the walls that Chip crashes through that never have any studs in them. Finding space aliens would be easier then finding walls without framing. Watching this show if you know anything about remodeling or design is painful.
Kitchen Crashers3 Stars
Alison Victoria and her show while completely staged at least doesn’t seem to be misleading. I’m sure that the only time Alison is ever in the kitchen being remodeled the cameras are rolling. And while the design ideas are simplistic and not particularly inspired, they are also not bad, which is refreshing. This show could actually be much better with just a little more input from some real design professionals.
Dean Johnson has gone through a series of female co-hosts over the years but since 1986 the show has retained it’s realism and it’s simple straight forward explanations for how construction and renovations are done.
Kitchen Cousins 1 Star
HGTV’s cousins Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri are contractors that specialize in renovating kitchens. The show is accurate and is not misleading. However, these two contractors know absolutely nothing about kitchen design nor apparently do any of the shows advisers. Nearly every kitchen they design breaks fundamental rules for well designed kitchens.
I hope the reviews above have given everyone some food for thought. Please continue to enjoy these shows but keep in mind that they are entertainment and not reality…
Kitchen designers should first consider the 30 plus National Kitchen and Bath Association guidelines when designing a kitchen.
After doing that the best designers know the simple tips below. Inexperienced designers, architects, interior designers, and home owners usually do not. This is just the tip of the ice berg for good kitchen design.
1 ) Never leave crown moldings closer than 9 inches from a ceiling. Once you get within a foot of the ceiling you should have the cabinetry and molding meet ceiling. Don’t create spaces that look odd and that can’t be cleaned.
Molding too close to ceiling without reaching it.
2 ) Professionals avoid corner sinks and equal sized double bowl sinks because they create such dysfunctional designs.
3 ) Keep cabinetry the same distance away from each side of a window.
4 ) Keep cabinet doors the same size and on either side of a window, sink or cooktop.
Cabinet doors on either side of the window are different sizes. Notice the other mistakes like the distance from the wall cabinets to the window is different on each side of the window and the crown molding is too close to the ceiling.
5 ) Some cabinet door styles or colors are so unpopular they that destroy the value of a home. Arched wall cabinet doors or golden oak stained kitchens are home value detractors. Pickled pinkish stain and white raised panel plastic Thermafoil cabinets are also home value killers.
6 ) Never run cabinets all the way to the ceiling without a two piece crown molding or a solid wood spacer. Ceilings are never level and there needs to be some way to disguise this.
7 ) Never put 8 feet of cabinetry in an 8 foot space. Professional kitchen designers know that walls are out of plumb or have bulges and that you can NEVER completely fill a space with whole cabinets. Fillers allow designers to make the adjustments that make a kitchen look right.
8 ) Good designers almost never use 42″ high wall cabinets. Builders and amateurs use this height to maximize cabinetry not realizing that the higher height looks out of proportion and gives little added space benefit. Cabinetry doors look best when their size is closer to The Golden Ratio. Good designers will stack cabinets with small cabinet doors on top to avoid overly tall wall cabinets.
42″ Wall Cabinets. Don’t they look silly so tall?
9 ) Always upgrade to all plywood construction or at the very least make every exposed surface real plywood. Particle board cabinets have plastic pictures of wood on their sides that discolor and peal quickly.
10 ) Highly grained man made quartz and Corian countertop patterns such as the beautiful Cambria Brittanica can not be seamed inconspicuously. These type patterns only work on tops without seams.
Cambria Brittanica countertop
11 ) Never start even the demolition on a job without a completed design plan finalized. NO time is EVER saved rushing. When contractors know what the complete project entails costs are lowered and the job runs smoothly.
The people that finish first are never the ones that started first they are the ones that planned to completion first and then started. When you hear a story about a kitchen that took 6 months or a year this was the fault of the unprofessional people organizing the job.
12 ) How much cabinets cost has little to do with their durability and more to do with the cabinet lines ability to customize. Doing a simplistic design or finish in a very popular door style like a shaker style in an expensive cabinet line is often just throwing money away.
13 ) Higher price level stone and man made tops, are not more durable, they cost more because of their color and pattern. In fact the higher level tops while beautiful may require more maintenance or be hard too seam.
14 ) The first constructive step in starting a kitchen project is having a professional kitchen designer measure the space. Any design work or material selections made prior to a professional kitchen designer measuring is inefficient and can lead to frustrations when surprises and problems are revealed to you by someone with more knowledge and experience .
15) The best kitchen designers will not ask for the the design you want. They will show you designs that make sense for your space and that you should at least consider. You can make changes from there to arrive at the kitchen that you want after considering what a profesional would do with your space. Saving money on material selections will make almost any design affordable. So keeping a layout the same ALMOST NEVER makes sense. It is the design itself that gives value to your home. Upgrading to professional appliances or custom styles and colors can be beautiful but the added expense is wasted if the design itself is poor.
Designers that give customers what they think that they want without at least showing them what’s possible are taking the easy road and the final kitchen always suffers.
Main Line Kitchen Design 2014 CotY Award winner
Wishing all our customers a relaxing and enjoyable summer. And of course…