Knowing what to charge for your design services is an important aspect of becoming a professional kitchen designer.
As with most things, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
The most important thing to remember is that the kitchen is a complicated room to design, and however you are compensated for designing it, it needs to be adequate to cover your time.
In this VESTA post I’ll look at the different ways kitchen designers can charge for their services.
Every professional kitchen designer needs to have a strategy on how to want to be compensated for their design expertise.
The services offered by kitchen designers vary with several options available.
Below I have categorized the options under Kitchen Designers Working for Firms, and Independent Kitchen Designers.
Kitchen Designers at Firms
A free design is a service that can be found in the marketplace and some firms will use it as a sales lead generator.
This type of “kitchen design” in reality, is a free quote.
To be successful with this strategy, the kitchen designer needs to have a process that allows them to quickly develop a layout and produce a quote for the consumer.
They also need to be affiliated with a retailer that will provide a commission or a salary for the kitchen designer.
You can’t survive doing free quotes!
In this scenario, the consumer is typically responsible for providing the measurements or blueprint of the space and the kitchen designer uses this information to produce a basic layout and a quotation.
It is rare that a designer would invest a lot of time to fully interview the consumer, offer multiple options, design the final kitchen, gather all the appliance specifications, produce the drawings and specify all the products with no commitment from the consumer.
This type of design philosophy rarely brings innovative solutions to the process and relies on basic kitchen design layout solutions.
Ideally as the designer using this approach you will want to give your client a price range to qualify them and hopefully allow some flexibility in their final choices once they have committed to you.
Kitchen designers just starting out often use “Free Design” to get experience in designing kitchens.
As a long-term strategy to becoming a sought-after Professional Kitchen Designer, it is usually not the best way to go.
The saying “you get what you pay for” is often applied to free design and it is probably not what you want to be known for in the world of kitchen design.
A popular approach to kitchen design fees at professional kitchen design studios, is the design retainer.
This can be something presented at the beginning of the design process or can be the next step after the free quote.
A design retainer is an agreed upon sum of money that the consumer (now client) pays the designer or the designer’s firm as a deposit on their project.
The amount paid will be deducted from the purchase price of products provide by the kitchen firm if the consumer decides to proceed with the proposal.
If the client does not proceed with the project, the design retainer still stays with the firm to cover the work done by the kitchen designer.
This sum commits the designer to the client and vice versa, throughout the design phase.
It should be an amount that will cover your time to truly explore and produce a professional design, but also an amount that allows the client to walk away if the results are not what they are after.
The design retainer can be an excellent way to work with clients.
The kitchen designer should however have a written “deliverables” document that covers what they will be providing at this stage.
In most cases, the retainer should cover a full client interview, a site measure if applicable, preliminary sketches, a final design, product selection and a final quotation.
The Design Retainer is a great option for designers working for a firm that sells product.
The designer’s compensation could be this retainer, a percentage of this retainer and/or a commission of the products sold.
As stated above, this approach is good for kitchen designers working for a firm that sells kitchen products such as cabinetry.
It is a good strategy for kitchen designers that focus on designing with the products they represent.
This form of charging for design is often found at Design/Build firms.
Design work is charged out as a percentage of the overall budget for the project.
The design of the kitchen falls within this category.
The contract with the client and the design/build firm typically begins with a rough estimate for the project.
There is then a retainer paid by the client to start the design process.
As the design is developed and final construction and material costs are estimated, a percentage of this number is charged for design.
Determining what this percentage should be is often based on the experience of the Design/Build firm and geographical location.
The kitchen designer may be part of the Design/Build team and compensated based on the company’s policies, or they could be an independent kitchen designer that agrees to contract with the Design/Build firm and is paid a percentage of this percentage.
Independent Kitchen Designers
As an independent kitchen designer, there are a few more options for compensation.
These strategies could also work at certain kitchen design studios.
Hourly Design Fee
Charging an hourly fee for design services is a very common way of doing business in the Interior Design profession and recently an option being used by kitchen designers.
As with any type of design service, when deciding what that hourly fee is going to be, you need to consider your experience and your geographical location.
Your fee could be a set rate for everything or a few different rates for specialized work.
For example, you may charge less for CAD work and travel than for concept development and product specification.
When working with my coaching clients, I walk them through an exercise to determine what this hourly rate should be.
It is important when you are presenting your hourly fee to a prospective client that you also give them an indication of the work involved in designing their kitchen, along with an estimate of the hours you anticipate spending.
This lets the client know what to expect and can eliminate billing issue disputes in the future.
Once the client agrees to the fee, most designers will take an initial retainer and then bill at regular intervals.
The hourly design fee approach works well for designers that offer a wide range of kitchen design services.
This would work for the kitchen designer that is doing a small makeover of a client’s kitchen or a full-scale kitchen renovation that includes an addition.
One thing to keep in mind is that hourly billing requires more administrative work on your end.
Every hour needs to be tracked and justified.
Hourly billing is good for extremely organized designers that tend to work regular hours or do projects that have wildly varying scopes.
Project Design Fee
Project Based Design Fees or Fixed Contract Fees are set fees that the designer charges for a kitchen design.
This is my recommended strategy for most independent kitchen designers.
The fee is based on a specific set of deliverables for the project.
For example, a basic offering might include a floor plan, a set of elevations and a specification sheet.
A more in-depth offering might include additional construction drawings, mechanical drawings, color perspective drawings, VR renderings and physical samples.
Project Design Fee is a great way to cut down on the administrative time needed for billing hourly and consumers love it because they know upfront what their design fees will be.
The key to this strategy, however, is to provide your client with a very specific document on what is included in the set design fee.
As the designer, you also need to know how long it typically takes you to do a project.
Therefore, the Project Design Fee strategy usually is employed by designers with some experience.
They know how long it is going to take to get from point A to point B and charge accordingly.
The Project Design Fee option works well for most consumers.
It allows them to know what the design is going to cost them at the beginning of the project.
There is no surprise design bill as the project is completing!
As I said, this approach is great for the experienced kitchen designer but designers just starting out could work under a fixed fee contract.
This is a process I teach to my coaching clients and one that I use with my personal design clients.
Also, many designers offering project-based designs may also offer additional design work not in the initial scope for an hourly fee.
Fee by Mark-up
Some designers choose to be compensated by purchasing products at wholesale and then re-selling them to clients at a mark-up.
The designer can receive their payment as a percentage from the client or as a commission from the supplier.
This is very popular with Interior Designers but can work for kitchen designers.
An independent kitchen designer could mark up products they design and sell to their clients such as cabinetry, countertops and backsplash tile.
This relationship needs to be a transparent one with no “kick-backs” happening behind the scene.
It is very unprofessional to receive compensation without your client’s knowledge, and if a client finds out you are receiving extra money behind their back you may lose them as a client.
Having said that, if the client is aware of how you are being compensated it can be a good working relationship.
Since the designer is purchasing the products at wholesale, the client is still receiving good value on the products and professional design advice.
This is not the typical way that kitchen designers work but can be an option if the designer has established strong relationships with suppliers in the marketplace.
I have kitchen design collegues that successfully use this process.
Hourly or Fixed Contract could be your main way of charging for design fee services with Fee by Mark-up providing additional revenue.
As shown above, there are a variety of ways to charge for design services.
As you begin your career as a kitchen designer you will need to narrow in on the best one for you.
As your career progresses you may want to try some different approaches.
In the whole scheme of things, you are a professional, and your talent and experience has value.
Make sure you remember that when charging for your exceptional kitchen designs!
I will be presenting a webinar in the near future that will show you how to easily get a design retainer prior to beginning formal kitchen design work for a client.
Make sure you are subscribed to my mailing list to be notified of time and date.
You can do that here:
In the meantime, let me know your thoughts on kitchen design fees in the comments below.
Jan Rutgers has been designing for over 25 years. Developing functional layouts for every area of the home is her passion. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens in her career, 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.