Skip to content

10 Signs That You Need a Better Kitchen Designer.

Our cheat sheet to help select your kitchen designer

So many kitchen designers are less than competent that I thought I’d give customers sign to help them evaluate the designer they might be working with. Here are my top ten warning signs. If several apply to your project, then you are almost certainly working with a less proficient kitchen designer.

Shaker Kitchen in white and grey. This design won a kitchen design award.

Sign 1- Your designer is not a full-time kitchen designer.

IE they are an architect, interior designer, contractor, family friend, or real estate agent. Kitchen design is a complicated profession and anyone not designing and selling cabinetry full time for a number of years could not have learned enough to be good at it. Would you pick nonprofessionals to replace your transmission or cut your hair? If that would worry you then why are you using a nonprofessional to be your primary adviser on a 20-to-200-thousand-dollar renovation?

2- You are planning on keeping the footprint of your kitchen the same just replacing the old cabinetry with new.

Every kitchen we see can be improved. Since most customers mistakenly believe that they have limited design possibilities and that design changes have a large effect on costs, it is almost certain that if you are keeping the footprint of your kitchen, you are making a mistake. For the same money you could always get a better design because that’s what good kitchen designers do; show you better designs than you realize are possible.

Sign 3- You have serious design issues, and the designer can’t find a solution.

Examples of serious design errors would be having a range or cooktop next to a doorway, having the primary sink without at least 18″ of countertop on one side and 24″ on the other, having a cooktop or range under or immediately next to a window, or having cabinetry or molding within a few inches of the ceiling without reaching it.

4- You are getting a side-by-side refrigerator and your refrigerator is within 12 inches of a side wall so that one of the doors can’t open completely.

The smaller freezer side hitting the wall would be the worst-case scenario.

Sign 5- The designer has 24″ wide cabinets in your kitchen with single and not double doors.

This is one of the first lessens kitchen designers should learn. 24″ wide doors sag over time and look out of proportion. NO good kitchen designer will EVER use a 24″ cabinet with a single door.

6- You have more than one or two types of unusual gimmicky cabinets in your kitchen.

Examples would be corner drawers, tall pantry pull outs, magic corner or Leman’s corner cabinets, mixer lifts, chefs pantries, or more than a couple of lift doors. There are always design issues associated with these unusual conveniences, that’s why they are unusual. They are also expensive and are less efficient in using space. If your designer has added several of these items without letting you know about their limitations it means that they probably don’t know about them and that they are spending your money ineffectively.

Sign 7- You are getting frameless cabinetry and your designer hasn’t warned you about durability issues.

Frameless cabinetry looks best when your kitchen is a contemporary or modern slab door style. However, because there is not a front face frame on the cabinets the hinges, doors, and drawers are all attached to often only particle board sides. IKEA cabinetry is the most common example. Kitchens using this less durable style of cabinet construction need to be designed to minimize stress to the cabinetry. If your designer hasn’t mentioned this, then it is unlikely that they understand the limitations of the cabinet line they are designing your kitchen in.

8- Wall cabinet doors are NOT the same width on either side of your sink or cooktop.

Assuming that there are wall cabinets on both sides of your sink and cooktop it looks odd if the doors to the cabinets are different widths on each side. Good kitchen designers will be able to accomplish this when designing a kitchen.

Sign 9- All the wall cabinets align with the base cabinets in your kitchen.

This is a novice kitchen design error. Good kitchen designers know where symmetry is important and where it is not. Aligning all the base and wall cabinets usually means that your designer has only designed a few kitchens in their lifetime.

10- Your designer is placing great importance on centering tables and islands with windows.

This is another novice error. Since alignment can only be determined from a single perspective in a room, centering an island or a table with a window is usually less important that maintaining the correct travel space around it. Having light fixtures centered over the table and island will make them feel like they are in the correct position while leaving you the functional space you need for a well-designed kitchen. Many customers worry about this concept but when their kitchen is done, they are always grateful that the didn’t give in to their concerns and let space override alignment when designing their kitchen.

Traditional Kitchen in white

Kitchen design is a profession I love for many reasons including the creativity involved, the people you meet, and the sense of accomplishment when you do a good job. However, the biggest reason I love designing kitchens is that it is an incredible challenge. Read some design tips below:

Kitchen Design Tips Only the Pros Know!

Top 10 Tips for Remodeling a Kitchen in a New Home.

Hoping your designer is one of the best …

And of course …

Bon Appetit!


17 Replies to “10 Signs That You Need a Better Kitchen Designer.”

  1. val

    #6. Thank you for calling out the gimmicks for what they are. I’m probably in the minority of homeowners who abhors single-purpose cabinet units. But if anyone steps into a house of someone who has had new cabinets, the homeowner just can’t wait to show off their gimmicky cabinet unit. That’s what’s marketed to them by the cabinet-maker or the sales person. I had to repeat on 3 iterations of designs presented to me that I did NOT want a pull-out trash drawer, before the gimmicky space-waster was finally removed. Sheesh.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Val,
      The kitchen is in your home so you are the final decision makers on what you want. That being said, a double pull-out trash can would be a cabinet convenience that I think usually makes sense.

      I wouldn’t call that unit or a base Super Susan “gimmicky”. They are both almost staples in well-designed kitchen spaces. The ones I mentioned in the blog are less universal in their function and use and so they get used more often than they should by designers looking to wow.

  2. Kate Des

    One important thing that you left out – Communication issues. It is very frustrating not getting a text,email,call or visit to clear up issues or explain the timeline or logistics. I realize that designers have busy schedules,but making your client feel like she/he is not considered a priority of any degree and not honoring promises make for a bad experience.Not knowing the cost of things keeps me up at night. The kd making changes without enough explanation or input from the client, especially after certain styles,colors,etc…have been in the plan and mind of the client from the beginning. I am soooo burnt n on this remodel. I wish I would have just handled it all myself. It would have been done months ago and with less discomfort.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Kate,
      Not being responsive would be a bad sign for any profession. Not keeping appointments, the same. I would say that if you think you could have done better yourself that could have been worse than working with someone that is bad at their job. Researching to find someone that has a good reputation and works for a good company would be the best way to spend your time.

  3. Laurie O

    Regarding uppers on either side of a window above my sink: I have 21” on the left (butting up to fridge on the left) and 27” on the right (adjacent to a corner cabinet with bifold doors (11” each). Would it be best to do equal sized double doors on uppers on both sides of the window (each door would be 101/2”) with an additional 6” door on the right next to the corner bifold? Or better to do a 21” single upper on each side of the window with an additional 6” door on the right next to the bifold corner cabinet? Or single 21” on left and double (13.5” each) doors on right? Unfortunately can’t gain any additional space because to utilize because granite is in place. Would really appreciate your opinion!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Laurie,
      without a detailed floor plan I couldn’t tell you what the best solution to your design would be other than we almost never have two doors different sizes on either side of a window, and never leave the reveal between the window and cabinetry a different size on each side of a window. There are many different techniques to make this possible.

  4. Susan Drake

    Paul…I work w my clients in various ways depending on their needs. I have several lines avail to me at different prices.
    I have also had people ask me to do the design w/o selling them the cabs because they think I will be more impartial. To each his own. BTW I use Autocad. Sorry to be a snob but I think 2020 still looks juvenile and smacks of lower end.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Susan,
      AutoCAD does look better but if you can’t instantly price kitchens for customers like you can in 20-20 or Prokitchens you aren’t really serving the interests of customers that have budget and time constraints. Autocad is less expensive then the kitchen design programs and looks better but it is less useful to full time kitchen designers that sell cabinetry across all price points. Some people still draw kitchens by hand but they also are limiting the time and design change and pricing considerations customers get when working in the software designed specifically for kitchen professionals. And if you aren’t a dealer of the cabinet lines you sell you are adding a middleman to the cost your customers pay and that also usually isn’t in their interests.

  5. Tom Robey

    Good article. I only take issue with the “full-time” kitchen designer comment. A breath of experience keeps one from having “tunnel vision” when approaching a design challenge. Just my two cents!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Tom,
      You don’t have to do it full time at a given moment but it takes so long and so much experience to get good at kitchen design that if you haven’t done a lot of it you really can’t be that good. And some people will never get good at it no matter how much experience they have. Everyone thinks that they are good at it when they have been doing it a little while, myself included. It’s only after you work at it long and hard that you realize how truly complicated being good at it is.

  6. Tom Robey

    Good artical. I only take issue with the “full-time” kitchen designer comment. A breath of experience keeps one from having “tunnel vision” when approaching a design challenge. Just my two cents!

  7. Susan D

    All arguements you both make have good foundation. Have to disagree w the not lining table up w windows thing. And the part time thing. I currently do kitchens part time. It doednt negate my 30 yrs in the industry, my BA in int design, my yrs working for architects, or all the times I have been published.
    Lets Boil this down. Kitchen design is a POUP.A point of use principle of design.
    Usability and practicality first, but one doesnt have to abandon sitelines or arch or int des principles to do this.
    Wynton marsalis is one of the best in his field…made better by having a classical foundation. The BEST kitchen designers I have seen are the ones who have both the kitchen industry training and the design foundation.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Susan,
      If you are a CKD Certified Kitchen Designer as your email address suggests then I would certainly consider your experiences enough to qualify you as a professional kitchen designer. Although if you don’t sell cabinetry directly to the public and use 20-20 or Prokitchens software to design your kitchens then your customers could at least sometimes be overpaying for your services. Because whatever they pay you for design time they would have gotten for free if they were working directly with the designers at the point of sale. And if you sell only custom cabinetry from a small shop because you aren’t a dealer of several cabinet lines with different price points then you are forcing all of your customers into a cabinet line that at least for some may be over priced.

      I know a very good designer in Cherry Hill New Jersey that works this way. And the customers of hers that need and require custom cabinets are getting a good designer that serves their interests. However customer’s of hers that could be happy with a well made semi custom cabinetry would be better served working with a showroom or larger dealer that sells several cabinet lines and no middle man inserted into the mix. But, of couse if they ended up working with an unqualified designer there that could be even worse.

      And there really is no substitute for experience and working on designs every day. I know I am a much better designer today than I was just a few years ago and light years better than I was 25 years ago when I designed my first kitchen.

  8. Michael Rossman

    This is a completely narrow minded view of kitchen design. After doing this for 20 years, I can think of instances where each of these situations are acceptable. Frameless cabinetry has come a long way. If you are having issues it’s time to look at a product line other than IKEA

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      @ Michael
      These are just a few of the poor design choices I think kitchen designers routinely make.

      I give a talk called “Murder by Kitchen Design” that highlights all the dangerous designs we routinely see on TV, in movies and in design magazines. During the talk and power point presentation as I look out on the audience half the designers and contractors will be laughing at all the silly dangerous designs that designers create and even showcase on their own web sites. The other half of the audience looks like they are sucking lemons.

      A reporter predicted this before I first gave the speech. She said that she didn’t care how funny the speech was that some people would take offense at seeing their mistakes pointed out in a humorous way. She was right and the harder one half of the audience laughs the more sour the lemon looks for the other half.

      Here’s a link to TV shows with kitchen design mistakes:

  9. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

    The only thing Pete and I seem to disagree on is leaving your cabinetry to accumulate dust a few inches from the ceiling. So close to the ceiling without reaching it looks strange to me, and you better have small hands to get in there and not lose your balance trying to clean or calamity awaits. 1 or 2 inches away from the ceiling would be unsanitary collecting dust indefinitely.

    If you live in California I’m sure you could learn a great deal at the WestEdge Design Fair. Pete’s Proximity Kitchen brings fresh ideas to working in a kitchen. And while I don’t embrace all of the concepts in the Proximity Kitchen I do think that for a one cook kitchen most of these innovative ideas make cooking for the serious chef an efficient and seamless undertaking.

  10. Pete Walker

    I’m a designer of both kitchens and kitchen product (cabinetry, counter systems and other), a former kitchen dealership owner, cabinet shop owner and (briefly) a chef’s apprentice. I’ve worked for both bulthaup and SieMatic and seen both factories.

    The first problem with what anyone says here is the generalized nature of the commentary. You would never talk about a “gasoline car” or an “electric car” and say one is bad or the other is good, without some fairly detailed points being made in support of the overall comment. What make or model? What options were purchased? Let’s be specific.

    I make frameless cabinetry exclusively. As a cabinetmaker, I researched the hardware systems and how they were fixed to the cabinetry. What type of screw or other fixing method was used made all the difference in the world; at the very least it was equal to what material was being used. If the hardware manufacturer specified 10mm holes and the “cabinetmaker” decided 3/8″ is close enough, you’re going to get tear-out under any kind of moderately strenuous use. This kind of thing goes on all the time, and it makes a difference.

    I hear all the time “I want a real wood cabinet”…this is about the dumbest thing a client can say. “Real wood” warps, shrinks, twists and in general goes on living long after the tree has been killed. The idea of making a box out of it when engineered panel material is available is not only technically stupid, but environmentally brain-dead as well. The doors (and frames, if you insist) are another issue…

    As to the specific points:

    1. Fine with me.

    2. Fine with me.

    3. “cabinetry within 6″ of the ceiling”…I get the other points, and well-made they are, but not this one. Who cares? It’s an aesthetic issue, unless we’re talking about the accumulation of dust. In that case, take a stool and run a damp cloth across the top of the cabinetry, it takes about 10 minutes a week.

    4. If your designer suggests a side-by-side fridge, fire them. Worse, a French door model. Door swing is only one major issue with the side-by-side fridge. Width-to-depth proportion is also key. In any storage arrangement, you want wide and shallow as opposed to narrow and deep. This allows visibility and access. It doesn’t really matter how wide the fridge is, if you divide it vertically you’re destroying the client’s ability to see and reach their stored food. It’s just stupid.

    5. 21″ is the max door width we willingly produce. The reasons are:

    A) 24” doors are heavy and require an additional hinge at the top to properly support the “moment arm” weight of the door.
    B) 24″ doors swing well beyond the edge of the counter below, causing the client to have to “step around” them (see Mr. Zielinski’s comment). (this is just annoying to me personally, I find that when clients think about it they tend to agree)
    C) Doors this wide, given the nature of material used and various other factors, are more prone to warp.
    D) There are many design techniques which allow for the elimination of DOUS’s (see The Princess Bride for reference), mostly they are common-sense-based and work fine when using work-center based design.

    6. ANY kind of gimmicky cabinetry is generally useless. Do the math, comparing square inches of storage surface if you simply use drawers on either side of a 3″ x 3″ (dead) corner and any of the “Le Mans” or “Magic” corner “solutions”. First, let’s try designing kitchens without corners in the first place. Force the architecture to conform to your best design instead of just accepting the site as it is. Then, let’s consider the cost of the average “solution” – it’s 3-10 times the cost of shelves. Take a 24 x 24 x 84 unit “tricked out”, compare it, surface area of storage one to the other, of a 14 x 24 x 84 unit. The 14″ deep unit will perform better for total storage volume, durability and accessibility every time. At about a third of the cost.

    7. The use of the terms “Frameless” and “Face Frame” are about as useless as “conservative” and “liberal”…get specific and we can have a conversation. Direct your client to a high-quality box and use the hardware systems AS DESIGNED BY THE SYSTEM MANUFACTURER and you’re fine. I once removed a kitchen I had built and installed 10 years later, (the house sold and I was hired to renovate the “dated” kitchen. I’m happy to report the doors were hanging straight, no warping, no problems really, except for the Almond Formica finish…(hey, it was the late 70’s…so, sue me.) In general, the easier use and the cleaner look of the frameless will always be my first choice. However, I’m pretty selective about how things are engineered, and I have the luxury of producing my own stuff.

    8. This is only an aesthetic preference for symmetry. I happen to prefer things a little more…interesting, but I agree with Paul, if the client wants things to be “even”, if the designer can’t get that done, yeah, find someone else.

    9. I agree

    10. I agree, but I also don’t care if there is a 30″ bank of drawers next to an 18″ pull-out for recycling. I prefer the approach that lets the size or configuration of a given unit signal its use. This is the same as the “handing” of doors, the orientation of handles or pulls, etc. Having said that, I’m firmly on the side of function – my kitchens usually look pretty good, but I like things that call out their function. This can be a zester, a type of knife, a particular pan, whatever. From the driver’s seat of a car, the controls should be obvious in their use and function, easily understood and, in most cases, once the driver is even slightly familiar with the car, should allow for “drive by touch”. As is true of any well-designed object, the aggregate design of a kitchen should lead the user through it so their work is intuitive and flows freely. Items most often used closest to hand, workstations set up in sequence, etc.

    We’ll be showing product at the WestEdge Design Fair November 3-6, 2016, at the Barker Hangar, Santa Monica Airport. Promo code “Proximity2016” gets you free admission in the event you miss the October 24 “trade” deadline.

    Join us.

Join the conversation