Many designers new to kitchen design will want to dive into designing their client’s space as soon as possible. There is a lot to be said for enthusiasm, but you really need to sit back and formulate a plan. 

That plan begins with asking your client some questions. There are many questions that you may want to ask, such as, “What cabinet style do you want?”; “What finish do you want for your countertop?” or “Do you want a pro-range”, but these questions so early on in the process may not be the best way to start.  

With over 25 years in the kitchen design business, I have found that there are 5 key questions that need to be answered by your client at the very beginning, to have a successful project. And when I mean successful, I mean that you deliver a design that thrills your client but also contributes positively to your bottom line. 

Spending countless hours developing plan after plan because you do not have a real sense of the design brief, is not time well spent. The client will become frustrated with the process and you will not be moving the project forward.

So, let’s look at the 5 questions you should ask before designing your client’s kitchen and discover why I think they are important.

Question 1. “Why have you decided to renovate your Kitchen?”

Do not assume to know the answer to this question. There is as many reasons for taking on a kitchen project as there are kitchen designs. The client’s answer to this question can impact the design immensely. Here are a few scenarios that illustrate how a client’s answer to that question directed the overall design of the space.

Answer:  Our Household is Expanding!

The reason for the renovation in this case was that the couple meeting with the designer were in the process of combining their households. Where there had been 1 adult, 1 teen and 1 tween comfortably using the existing kitchen, there was now going to be 2 adults, 3 teenagers and 2 tweens sharing the space. 

This information is invaluable to the designer. It will get her thinking of solutions for a busy household. Maybe a way to make mornings easier for the new family. Maybe a designated lunch prep area could be planned, or a breakfast zone with an extra under counter refrigerator. The designer will also have to think about how to accommodate multiple cooks by ensuring that all aisle clearances are more than 48” not the standard 42”. Also, how to handle the extra storage for food in the kitchen. 

Without knowing the specific reason for the renovation, the designer may assume that the existing kitchen was used by everyone and that they just required an update.

Answer: To Honor Someone

In this case, the homeowner had recently lost her last parent and had received a modest inheritance. The client wanted to honor her mother by using the money to renovate the kitchen into a functional space that would allow all the family gatherings to occur at her home, producing wonderful memories for her extended family.

The designer could help her client by ensuring that there was specific kitchen storage for large family gatherings including extra dishware, serving ware, cutlery and linens. 

Without this information the designer could have easily missed these specific storage needs and ended up with an unhappy client the first time she had a family gathering in her new kitchen and the extra dishes were all stored in the basement!

Answer: For Re-sale

Not everyone is renovating their kitchen for themselves. If the answer to “Why are you renovating”, is because they are selling, you need to know this. In this example the homeowners were selling to move to a new city for work. The existing home was in a desirable neighbourhood, had been decorated very tastefully but the kitchen was original from the 1990’s. 

The best solution that the designer could present is one that updates the kitchen without spending money on unnecessary renovation costs. Since the kitchen was from the 90’s the layout is probably workable. The designer could suggest new products in a Contemporary design that would appeal to a variety of buyers. Using their unique skills, the kitchen designer would be able to guide the client to an economical solution that included “in stock” items that allowed the project to happen quickly so the home could get on the market. 

If this information was unknown to the designer and they produced a complex, beautiful design that would take months to complete, they would probably loose the sale or any referrals from that client.

Question 2.  “If money were no object, what would your new kitchen include?”

This is the “dreaming” question. Most likely your client has been thinking about doing this project for a while and has been dreaming about the possibilities. They probably have a Pinterest Board, a Houzz Ideabook or even a file of magazine clippings. You want to let them know that you appreciate their work on this and that you want to collaborate with them on this project. It is important to let them know that their ideas count! 

As their kitchen designer it will be your job to help them realize their dream within the realities of the project.

Here are some examples of how that question can produce the wining design.

Answer: I want the kitchen to feel like I am on vacation every day in the South of France!

When my client gave me this answer to the “dream” kitchen question I knew that I needed to produce a design that would work for everyday life but would always recall a place they loved. The home was a condominium apartment, so this décor dream was not the typical modern or contemporary design popular with many consumers in homes like this. 

Without having this answer, I may have assumed modern design and I would have been wrong.  I began to think of the little details that could make this a reality for the homeowners without going overboard. Presenting a design that had Mediterranean design “moments” as well as functional elements made for a winning project. 

Answer: I want to have all my stuff stored in the kitchen not all over the house!

One of my clients was building a new home and was known for her dinner parties. She had a tableware and table accessory collection to match that of most restaurants. When I asked her about her dream space, she confided that she had boxes of tableware stored in every nook and granny of her existing home and would love to be able to access it all easily. That would be her dream! The design solution for her space ended up including a walk-in pantry dedicated to dishware storage not food, and a custom unit in the dining room that included 8’ of specific tablecloths, napkins, placemats, candles and accessories storage.  The walk-in dish pantry was an economical way to store these items and allowed her to walk into the space and see everything. The custom unit in the dining room ensured all of the tableware was stored at-first-use and made for a very functional solution. Knowing that this was her dream allowed me to help her fulfill it.

Answer: I want to fill my kitchen with all the latest pro-styled appliances!

This may be an answer that you as a kitchen designer hear a lot. A visit to any appliance showroom will have most consumers drooling over the possibilities. I will be important for you to really understand your client’s motivation behind this. 

I have worked on many projects where we did have the space and budget to do this but for some it can only be a dream. As the designer it would be important for you to help the client make the best decisions on appliances for their kitchen. 

If the space is too small to accommodate large pro-styled appliances you could suggest smaller appliances such as a 30” pro-styled range instead of a 48” and to top it with a proportioned showstopper hood. The budget may not allow for a steam oven, built-in coffee maker, full height wine refrigerator and separate refrigerator and freezer but you can still bring some innovative solutions to the project. By suggesting a beverage area with an undercounter refrigerator and a free-standing cappuccino maker you could give the clients a special area in the space without breaking the bank.

Question 3. “What do you need in your new kitchen?”

After the “dreaming” question you do have to get down to reality. Asking this question next will get your client thinking about what the really cannot live without in the space. It will be your responsibility to ensure that you incorporate the answer to this question into the final solution.

Answer: I really need to have two prep areas in the new kitchen.

With more and more people involved with food prep this need is becoming a reality for many homeowners. The kitchen designer goal is to efficiently achieve this for their clients. A true dual cook kitchen needs to accommodate cooks moving throughout the space at the same time without crashing into each other.

In a recent project, I had this need expressed by my client. Her and her husband were both recently retired and found that they both enjoyed exploring new recipes and would like to cook together more often. What they didn’t like was the chaos that occurred when they attempted to work together in their existing space. By exploring this more, I was able to find out that the location of the refrigerator caused traffic jams and that the shape of the existing island was a hip banger! This was a pretty easy fix by an experienced designer. A more efficient layout was devised and as a bonus the new island was raised 2” to accommodate their 5’11” and 6’3” heights!

Answer: I need the kitchen to connect better with other spaces of the home.

Kitchens closed off from the action just do not work for most homeowners. This need to connect is one that is expressed by a lot of owners of older homes. The designer should not assume though that this means that the client wants to knock down multiple walls or that they want a great room layout.

With the popularity of bringing the outside in, the connection wanted by one of my clients was to the outside. Most of their entertaining was done during the warmer months and they wanted the kitchen to flow better to their outside entertaining space. There were accommodations made to open the space a bit to the dining and living areas, but the final design incorporated a large by-fold glass door that allowed for seamless access to the back patio.

Answer: I need to deal with the reality of recycling!

Changing norms can bring up new challenges for homeowners. In recent years, I have found that the reality of recycling has become a big deal for clients. No longer is it acceptable to include a trash compactor in the kitchen and call it a day! Also, a single pullout trash can under the sink is not the solution.

In the kitchen remodel that I am planning for myself, dealing with trash, compost and recycling is top of mind in the design process. The requirement for my area is to sort trash into 5 separate categories. To accommodate this, my new kitchen will have 48” of dedicated pullout recycling and a small non-recyclable trash bin under the sink. The existing space has a standard trash can under the sink with where to put the recycling a daily challenge. This is definitely a need for me in my new kitchen!

Question 4 “What is the investment figure for your new kitchen?”

I would never start a kitchen design without knowing the client’s investment figure or budget for the project. With so many options available today it would be difficult to design a project and hope that it miraculously meets the budget figure the client has in mind.

It is best to get an investment figure range. As the designer you need to do some homework to be able to guide this discussion and to receive an accurate range before you start designing. 

To begin with you need to know what the average kitchen costs in your area. If you work for a kitchen dealer that sells cabinetry this could be calculated by looking at the past 2 to 3 years of kitchen projects and coming up with some averages. You should also reach out to suppliers of products that you do not sell so that you have an idea of the big picture costs so that you can better work with you client to come up with the budget range.

You could also calculate an investment figure based on the value of the client’s home. 10% of a homes value is a good starting point for an investment figure for a renovation.

It is important at this stage of the process to understand if you can meet the budget of a client. If they tell you their budget is $10,000.00 for cabinets and your firms average cabinet costs are $20,000.00 you may not be the designer for them.

Budget is always a difficult discussion to have with prospects or clients, but it is important to have budget direction at the beginning to ensure that you provide the best possible solutions.

Question 5 “Who will be making the final decision on the kitchen design?”

Asking this question will help you plan presentations effectively. Again, this is not something that you can assume. It may be the single person you are meeting with or there may be a team involved in the final decision. 

It is not uncommon for the whole family to be involved with decision making on a kitchen remodel so you will want to bring the whole group together when you present the design. 

Other scenarios could involve an architect or designer that will be influencing the design so you will need to plan to have them at the table for presentations.

Knowing this up front can save many hours for both you and your client. You do not want to present individually to different influencers since motivations can be different for each person. It will be difficult to come to the perfect solution unless everyone is in the room.

My hope is that when you first begin a kitchen design project for a client, you will ask these 5 important questions. As discussed, the answers will direct your design and make you a much more efficient kitchen designer. 

I will be sharing many more tips and strategies in this blog on how to be a successful Kitchen Designer. If you want to receive my posts in your inbox please subscribe above.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you along your journey to Kitchen Design excellence! 

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