While most people think Kitchen Design is all about creativity and the Art of Design, the truth is that the Kitchen Designer spends a lot of time on the Science and the Business of Design.

I belong to multiple Facebook Designer Groups where I see a lot of posts asking how to tackle a Kitchen Design Contract from scratch.

The Designers asking this question may be new to Design in general or may be new to Kitchen Design specifically.

Many of their questions ask:

How long should it take to produce a Kitchen Design?

In this Blog Series I will break down all the steps the Kitchen Designer needs to go through to design a Kitchen from start to finish!

I will use a Kitchen Renovation Project to walk you through the “To Do List” of the Kitchen Designer’s responsibilities.

I will also assume as the Kitchen Designer you have access to a showroom with displays.

If you don’t have this, modify the steps outlined to best fit your situation.

The process of providing a client with a new Kitchen will be divided into 4 sections:

  1. Pre-Design
  2. Design Development
  3. Product Contracts
  4. Installation & Follow up


1. Attracting a Client

Before you can begin designing a Kitchen project you need a client.

All Professional Kitchen Designers will need some form of marketing to attract customers.

Marketing can be in the form of individual promotion by you the Designer, or marketing by the company you are associated with.

Either way, it does take time to post on social media, maintain a website, advertise and network, so it needs to be scheduled into the Designer’s work week.

My blog “Marketing Your Kitchen Design Business” will get you started with an idea on how you can differentiate yourself and Website Design Strategies- 5 Tips for Kitchen and Bath Designers will provide you with some tips for your website.

I recommend you schedule 1/2 hour per day on your individual marketing efforts to keep attracting new clients regularly.

2. Educating the Client

Educating the client at the beginning of the relationship on timelines, payment schedules, product options and design processes is critical.

Most people will do a major kitchen remodel once, maybe twice in their lifetime.

They do not know what you know, and you need to educate them on what to expect.

We all know that the HGTV version of a Kitchen Renovation is not reality, so letting consumers know cabinet lead times at the beginning of the relationship will avoid disappointment.

If you have a showroom you can do this through a specific showroom tour.

By developing a repeatable showroom tour that covers all the basic “educating” aspects of Kitchen Design, you will be able to easily move on to the next step in the process.

Use your showroom displays and samples to illustrate what homeowners need to know when it comes to purchasing a new kitchen.

With a well developed showroom tour, you should be able to complete this step with your client in about 30 minutes.

3. The Sales Pitch

Once your client is ‘educated’ on purchasing a new Kitchen, it is time to sell them on working with you.

I recommend you have a practiced script for presenting yourself and your design abilities.

In most cases this would entail presenting your portfolio and your design process. Including past client endorsements is an excellent addition here.

Convert your portfolio into a presentation that, preferably, you can show on a big screen in your showroom or on your laptop or tablet.

By putting some time into developing this presentation you will have it ready to go at any moment.

By the end of the “sales pitch” you will want to get commitment from your prospect to move forward with the Design Process.

Kitchen Design is offered many different ways including free design, design retainer and design fee. You can read more about these options in my Blog post, “A Complete Guide to Design Fees for Kitchen Designers”

For this example I will use a Design Retainer.

Once your prospect has said yes to working with you, have them sign a Design Retainer agreement and provide the deposit to get the process started.

This Design Retainer Agreement needs to spell out the deliverables of your design service along with the financial commitment of the client.

In an ideal situation, the “Sales Pitch” would take an additional 1/2 hour, bringing your first meeting with the homeowner in the showroom to 1 hour.

If the homeowner is not ready to commit you will need to follow up with them so add another 1/2 to 1 hour to do this.

4. Client Needs Assessment

Once you client is committed to working with you the first thing to do is a needs assessment.

It is best to have an in depth survey of questions you need answered by the homeowner to allow you to understand all their needs and wants.

In the course “A Beginners Guide to Kitchen Design” I cover this process and provide a survey form to get you started.

As part of the needs assessment, you will also want to review any inspiration your client has for their project: Pinterest Boards, Houzz Ideabooks, Instagram Likes, Magazine Clippings, Photos etc.

By gathering this information up front, you will be much more efficient in your design of the space.

Needs Assessment on average should take about an hour. It is a good idea to budget an additional 1/2 hour for some follow up questions.

5. Appliance Choices

Early on in the process you need to have your client choose the appliances they will have in their new kitchen.

With the chaos of choice in appliances these days they need the time to wade through all the options and make decisions.

I no longer start the design process without a strong indication on what appliances will be included in the final kitchen.

Most Kitchen Designers do not sell appliances but they are critical to the layout, function and aesthetics of the final design.

You should devote some time to guide your client through their appliance choices.

This could be a short meeting to go through the main appliance categories, appliance types and finishes available.

As their Kitchen Designer you can help guide them through the appliance decision by providing them information before they go out shopping.

In some cases you may even want to accompany them on their visit to the appliance retailer.

At a minimum you will probably devote 1/2 hour to pre-selection of appliances with a 2 to 3 hour commitment if you were to accompany them to the retailer.

In the New Year I will be presenting a workshop on everything Appliances. Subscribe to our mailing list to receive updates on this program.

6. Site Measure

In most cases the Kitchen Designer will visit the home to take measurements of the space and snap a bunch of reference pictures.

Ideally, schedule this as a specific task. Let the client know you will need to focus on measuring the space without interruption.

You will need to draw out the room in floorplan & elevation, measure the perimeter, check ceiling heights, note mechanical locations, and possibly check out adjacent rooms if you are thinking of expanding the kitchen.

For future reference you will want to take photos of the space with a focus on details that may impact the design.

Snapping a pic under the sink to show which way the plumbing runs is a great reference to have when you are back in your office.

Some Kitchen Designers may be very efficient at this process but I find you need to schedule about 1 hour to do this effectively. You also need to calculate your travel time to the site so let’s add another 1/2 to an hour to this step.

Pre-Design Wrap Up

So, now you have completed your Pre-Design work for your client’s kitchen and you will be itching to get at the creative part.

I think many of you will be surprised to know that you have probably invested 4 to 10 hours at this point in the project.

These are important hours to invest in the relationship with your client.

If you skip over these sections or leave some to chance, you could be setting yourself up for many more work later on.

  • Continuous marketing keeps your Sales Leads carousel full and helps prevent lulls in your sales.
  • Educate your client. It prevents confusion later on.
  • Effective selling of your skills increases your closing ratio.
  • An in-depth Needs Assessment minimizes the need for multiple design concepts and revisions.
  • Pay attention to appliances early on. It helps develop your rapport with your clients. Establishes your expertise. Sets expectations and reduces redesign work later on.
  • Measure the site yourself. It will highlight design opportunities and minimizes inaccurate dimensions.

Invest the time in these critical steps. it pays off later.

In Phase 2 of “What does a Kitchen Designer Really Do” we will explore Design Development.

This is where the fun begins!

Jan Rutgers B.Sc. H.Ec.

Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

4 Comments on “What Does a Kitchen Designer Really Do? Phase 1

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