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How to work with a kitchen designer

Houzz_Weaver_235631_0_8-0848-contemp-kitchen.jpg

 (Houzz/Weaver Custom Homes)

Whether your kitchen needs a minor face lift or a complete gut job, soliciting help from a certified kitchen designer can be well worth the investment. The rule of thumb: If a kitchen project costs more than a few hundred dollars, it may be time to call in a pro.

Not only do kitchen designers have access to planning tools and technology that most homeowners don't, but they have the inside scoop on trends, new materials, building codes and technical quirks. And their kitchen remodel expertise can save you a lot of time, money and frustration. Use our tips to help the process flow smoothly from start to finish.

Know the different types of kitchen designers. If you're ordering cabinetry and more through a national chain or other retailer, there likely will be designers on staff who can help you plan. The main advantage: Often, there's no additional cost for their services, although some charge a percentage of the total sale or work under another fee structure. Other designers work independently at an hourly or per-project rate. Because they're not affiliated with a particular store or brand, they can sometimes be more objective about materials.

If you choose an independent professional, ask for recommendations from friends and others in your community, and browse the Houzz professionals directory or the National Kitchen and Bath Association website for reputable designers in your area.

In any case, request to see examples of the designer's previous work and ask for client references in order to ensure that he or she is a good match for your needs.

Note the ups and downs of your existing space. Perhaps your kitchen operates just fine, but the finishes are long past their prime. Or maybe you're planning a soup-to-nuts renovation and have no idea how to retool the space. Be prepared to share with the kitchen designer what you like and what you hope to change to give a firm place to start.

Do your research ... Your initial meeting with the designer will go more smoothly if you have a general idea of the look, flow and equipment you want. Browse decorating websites and magazines for kitchen design photos that speak to you, and show them to your designer. A picture can communicate clearly what you may struggle to capture in words.

... but stay flexible. The kitchen designer may spot holes in your wish list or nix materials that won't work for you no matter how much you love them. Conversely, he or she may introduce you to options you'd never considered. And he or she will keep you from sacrificing function for beauty, which is a recipe for misery down the road. Be open to suggestions -- after all, expertise is why you recruited a designer.

Know your budget. Have a firm idea of what you want to, and are able to, spend to avoid a disconnect between plans and reality. If you have the means for pro-grade appliances and high-end finishes, your kitchen designer can work those into the scheme from the beginning. If you don't, make it known upfront. Although miracles may not happen on a shoestring, a designer has the experience and the know-how to stretch your dollars as far as they'll possibly go.

Settle on a time line and a number of draft plans. Kitchen designers don't expect to nail it on the first try -- some back and forth is usually built into the process. Agree upon how many drafts of the plan you'll see before you sign a contract and part with any cash. You should also confirm a time line for the work, though circumstances beyond anyone's control can throw even the best-orchestrated jobs off schedule.

Keep changes minimal. Depending on how far along in the process you are, change orders can be anything from a mild nuisance to a major issue. Not only will they hold up progress, but they'll also put a dent in your wallet. That said, if there's a change that must be made for you to enjoy and use your revamped kitchen the way you intend, it's better to speak up than to end up dealing with the flaw on a daily basis.

Be patient. A good kitchen plan takes time to create, and so does bringing it to life. Putting in effort on the front end, from choosing finishes to thinking through the work zone, will pay off in the long run. And the last thing you want is a rushed construction job, so don't hurry the contractors -- no matter how anxious you are to put your new kitchen to work.

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Lisa Frederick is an Atlanta native, who spent several years as an editor for Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles magazine before making the leap to national publications and websites such as Houzz, Better Homes and Gardens and Southern Accents.

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