Working as a Kitchen Design Professional is an exciting and rewarding career.  It is also a career that can compensate well.

The average reported salary of Kitchen Designers in North America is just over $50,000.00 per year with many top designers making $100,000.00 plus per year.

There are several paths you can take to realize your dream of becoming a Kitchen Design Professional.

Here are four different types of kitchen professionals, the skills they need, what they do, and where they can be employed.

Kitchen Stylist

The Kitchen Stylist consults with clients on the finishing touches in their kitchens.

This is a great place to begin a career in kitchen design. The Kitchen Stylist can become familiar with kitchen design solutions, trends and materials while styling the room, and gain experience in the world of kitchen design before tackling more complicated projects.

This type of work does not require trades people such as plumbers, electricians, or contractors. It is work that entails furniture arrangement, accessorizing and styling of the room.

It is work that requires a preliminary plan for the styling, shopping for styling products and then a day on site for implementation.

Examples of potential clients for the Kitchen Stylist include:

  • People looking to refresh their home through the eyes of a professional.
  • Homeowners or realtors wanting homes staged for resale.
  • Professionals such as Kitchen Designers, Home Builders/Renovators, Interior Designers or Architects needing their finished projects staged for a photo shoot.

Typically, a Kitchen Stylist would have their own business offering this service or would work for an Interior Decorator, an Interior Designer or a Home Stager.

In some cases, the position of Kitchen Stylist would fall under another position as a responsibility of the job. An example of this would be an employee of a Design/Build firm that has full-time responsibilities in the company such as a CAD specialist, but would occasionally be brought in to style a finished kitchen project.

Kitchen Decorator

A Kitchen Decorator is a professional who would update an exiting kitchen.

They would consult on things such as:

  • Painting existing cabinets
  • Adding details to cabinetry
  • Choosing new decorative hardware
  • Switching out appliances
  • Updating decorative lighting
  • Changing out countertops
  • Installing a tile backsplash
  • Replacing window coverings
  • Specifying a wall treatment such as wallpaper
  • Installing new flooring

The Kitchen Decorator knows kitchen design trends and how to best advise their clients on colors and updating materials.

They need to be aware of kitchen theories and guidelines to ensure they do not suggest modifications or additions to an existing kitchen that would compromise the safety or functionality of the room.

The Kitchen Decorator needs more skills than the Kitchen Stylist because they will deal with products.

Something as simple as switching out existing cabinet handles with new ones, requires the Kitchen Decorator to be able to accurately measure the existing drilling pattern and pick a new handle that will work with the existing holes.

Replacing appliances requires the same skill. Existing appliance spaces and cut out dimensions will need to be measured and checked against the new appliances to ensure they will fit and function properly.

To accomplish the work of the update, the Kitchen Decorator would need to have access to specific trades to undertake the work to be done.

This group of trusted trades people would include individuals such as a carpenter, a painter, a tiler, an upholsterer, a floor installer, an electrician, a plumber, and a handyman (or woman).

In most cases the Kitchen Decorator would direct their work based on the kitchen upgrade being undertaken but in some cases, the Kitchen Decorator would require the services of a general contractor if the upgrade was more involved, becoming a mini renovation.

To practice as a Kitchen Decorator, it will be up to the individual to decide if they will only specify the products and have the client tackle the install or offer a complete design through implementation service.

Typically, the Kitchen Decorator that purchases products at wholesale and resells them to the customer would make more money per project than a design only provider. If you choose to go this route, keep in mind you will have more administrative needs and insurance responsibilities within your business.

Examples of clients who would hire a Kitchen Decorator include:

  • Homeowners who are happy with their existing kitchen layout but would like to update the look of the room.
  • Persons listing their homes for sale and need to upgrade the look of their kitchen.
  • Homeowners that have sustained some damage in their kitchen and need assistance in the repair.

Here is where a Kitchen Decorator would find employment:

  • As an independent Kitchen Decorator
  • At an Interior Design or Interior Decorating firm
  • At a Design/Build firm
  • At a Big Box Home improvement retailer
  • At an Independent Home improvement retailer

You could also be employed by companies that supply products for kitchen renovations such as:

  • Countertop Fabricators
  • Flooring Showrooms
  • Tile Showrooms
  • Plumbing Showrooms
  • Appliance Showrooms
  • Lighting Showrooms

The demand for kitchen upgrades is growing. The kitchen industry is predicting even more homeowners will be interested in upgrading their kitchens after spending months at home during the 2020 COVID pandemic.

The services of the Kitchen Decorator will be in high demand in the future making it a great career choice for a Kitchen Specialist.

Kitchen Cabinet Designer

A Kitchen Cabinet Designer is a kitchen professional that specializes in the layout of the cabinetry for a kitchen renovation or new home build.

In most cases, the Kitchen Cabinet Designer will also supply kitchen cabinetry.

The skills needed to become a Kitchen Cabinet Designer cover the Art, the Science and the Business of Kitchen Design. These professionals need to understand all aspects of the kitchen design process even though they may only be providing the drawings and cabinetry for the kitchen project.

Here is a list of the key knowledge areas a Kitchen Cabinet Designer requires:

  • Kitchen design theories
  • Kitchen Layouts
  • Kitchen Design Guidelines
  • Kitchen Storage Recommendations
  • Kitchen Cabinet Types and Styles
  • Cabinet Door Styles and Finishes
  • Cabinet interior accessories
  • Cabinet Hardware
  • Sizing of sinks and appliances

This is a list of additional skills the Kitchen Cabinet Designer would need:

  • CAD and/or drafting skills
  • Expertise in kitchen design software
  • Knowledge of kitchen décor styles
  • Knowledge of kitchen materials
  • Knowledge in local building codes
  • Needs assessment skills
  • Accurate measuring skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Sales skills
  • Cabinet ordering ability

The Kitchen Cabinet Designer is a very detail-oriented person. The drawings they produce are the blueprint for implementing a kitchen project.

They need to enjoy researching the details. For example, it is imperative that the appliances that are chosen for a kitchen project fit seamlessly with the cabinetry.

It is often the responsibility of the Kitchen Cabinet Designer to ensure they have all the appliance specifications and that they order the proper cabinet to integrate with the appliance.

Built-in wall ovens are a good example. There is a specific cut-out dimension that each manufacturer provides in their wall oven appliance specifications. Even if a client purchases a “standard” 30” wide wall oven there is no standard cut out size for North American ovens.

The Kitchen Cabinet Designer is often employed in a Kitchen Cabinet Showroom selling cabinetry interacting with a larger team involved in the kitchen project.

Due to their specialized skills they will work with allied professionals including renovators, builders, contractors, interior designers, and architects. As stated above their drawings will provide the blueprint for the team to implement the kitchen.

Examples of people who would contract with a Kitchen Cabinet Designer include:

  • Homeowners purchasing kitchen cabinetry
  • Allied professionals purchasing kitchen cabinetry
  • Architects designing a new home or renovation
  • Interior Designers overseeing the design of a kitchen project
  • Builders or contractors overseeing the build of a client’s new home
  • Builders or contractors building a spec home
  • Renovators overseeing the renovation of a client’s kitchen

A Kitchen Cabinet Designer can be employed many ways including:

  • At a Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturer in front end sales
  • At a Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturer in the ordering department
  • At a Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturer in the R&D department
  • At a Kitchen Cabinet Showroom (multiple lines of cabinetry) in front end sales
  • At a Kitchen Cabinet Showroom as a support person in the CAD department
  • At a Custom Millwork Shop
  • At a Big Box Home Improvement Retailer
  • At an Independent Home Improvement Retailer
  • At an Architectural firm as a specialist
  • At an Interior Design firm as a specialist
  • As an Independent Kitchen Cabinet Designer

The Kitchen Cabinet Designer is a specialized role that will always be in demand.

These trained professionals branching out into “Ghost” Kitchen Cabinet Designers for other professionals. For example, an Interior Designer may hire a Kitchen Cabinet Designer to work out the technical aspects of the kitchen design they envision.

In some cases they are providing the technical drawings for the allied professional and/or producing 3-D renderings for the project. This is a growth category to watch in the future as it could become a specific career path in the Kitchen Design Industry.

Residential Kitchen Designer

When most people think about a career in Kitchen Design they usually are thinking about becoming a Residential Kitchen Designer. This is a professional who oversees the entire kitchen project.

The Residential Kitchen Designer will have the skills and knowledge of the Kitchen Stylist, The Kitchen Decorator and the Kitchen Cabinet Designer, but will also need to be proficient in the following:

  • Space Planning
  • Home Mechanical Systems
  • Home Construction Systems
  • Project Management
  • Interpersonal Skills

A High level of product knowledge is also very important for the Residential Kitchen Designer. They need to know the following categories:

  • Cabinet Door Styles
  • Cabinet Finishes
  • Custom Millwork
  • Cabinet Trim
  • Decorative Hardware
  • Appliances
  • Plumbing Fixtures
  • Lighting Systems & Fixtures
  • Countertop Materials
  • Backsplash Materials
  • Flooring Materials
  • Wall Treatments
  • Ceiling Treatments

The Residential Kitchen Designer guides their clients through the entire new kitchen process from concepts through to final installation.

This individual is a highly creative person who is constantly researching kitchen design and product trends allowing them to bring new and innovative solutions to their client’s projects.

They often are the lead on a kitchen design project with all kitchen related decisions running through them.

Clients that would contract a Residential Kitchen Designer include:

  • Homeowners building a new home
  • Homeowners renovating their home
  • Contractors building a custom home for a client
  • Contractors building a spec home
  • Architects designing a new home or addition for a client needing a specialist
  • Interior Designers needing a specialist

Residential Kitchen Designers can find employment in the following areas:

  • As an Independent Kitchen Design Business Owner
  • As an Independent Kitchen Design and Product Supply Business Owner
  • At a Full-service Kitchen Design showroom
  • At a Design/Build New Construction company
  • At a Design/Build Renovation company
  • At an Interior Design firm
  • At an Architectural firm
  • At some Big Box Home Improvement Stores
  • At some Independent Home Improvement Stores

To become a successful Residential Kitchen Designer it is important to keep up with industry trends and innovations. This position in the Kitchen Industry will typically be the most highly compensated position but it requires the most knowledge, skills and responsibilities.

With the kitchen being the most expensive room in a home to produce, clients need kitchen professionals as part of their team. All of the above Kitchen Professionals can play a role to meet specific customer needs and are all great Kitchen Design industry positions.

If you are interested in starting your career in kitchen design, VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN offers the course “A Beginners Guide to Kitchen Design”. This course covers everything you will need to know to have the confidence to start pursing a career as a Kitchen Designer.

If you are currently working in the Kitchen Design Industry and you want to gain more knowledge in specific areas such as Small Kitchen Design or Designing for a Baker, check out our ICON courses.

And if you are an experienced Kitchen Designer you will want to enroll in a PILLAR course. Our latest offering introduces the Kitchen Designer to the world of Mouldings & Millwork and shows you how they can be a new revenue source for your business.

Always remember I am here to answer any questions you may have in the area of Kitchen Design. You can contact me through this link.

Jan Rutgers, Founder and President of Vestabul School of Design
Jan Rutgers B.Sc. H.Ec.

Jan Rutgers is a professional Kitchen Designer with more than 25 years experience. She is the founder of VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN, where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: