For one of my current residential projects I was brought onto the project after a good deal of design had been done by another designer (another post for another time). In addition to the original designer the client hired a certified kitchen designer as part of the team. I knew this going into the project, and having worked with interior designers and other consultants on previous projects, I wasn’t terribly bothered by the prospect and actually looked forward to perhaps learning a little about kitchen design.

As design progressed and we worked through the issues that were not resolved by the previous designer I began to ask about the kitchen designers role and when it would be appropriate to get in touch with them and begin to coordinate the home design and kitchen design. At this point I got a frustrated sounding sigh from the client at which point they admitted they weren’t happy with them due to a lack of progress and the impression that their project wasn’t terribly important due to other work load. Of course I offered to roll the design of the kitchen into my services to a) save time b) save money and c) get control over the entire design. The client agreed to allow me to submit an Additional Services proposal and I did – that afternoon – while on vacation. The emailed question that I received from the client in response to the proposal prompted this blog post:

“What services are you offering that a Certified Kitchen Designer wouldn’t?”

It was a great question. I love clients that ask good questions. But I’ll be honest at first I had a small twang of ego and wanted to mouth off. That’s obviously not the best way to handle anything, but I’m nothing if not honest. So, I took a minute and I thought about the question. I thought about the client’s point of view: They’ve already paid a retainer to this Certified Kitchen Designer (and I checked them out – they’re legit and have some impressive work) and have been expecting progress, which has not come, but the prospect of paying additional fee to an architect probably isn’t palatable. But the question suggests that they are interested in an honest interpretation of the varying levels of services one versus another. So I sat down and wrote this response:

“My services are identical to the services he is offering. The biggest difference is they are not just designing your kitchen but also selling you on a patented design philosophy as well as products they represent. I don’t represent any products. I design the kitchen that will best fit your lifestyle and needs rather than what fits into my own personal design philosophy and the products I have to offer. This means that, within the design, I will choose the products and appliances that will best serve your needs and budget. It also benefits you to have a single point of contact for all design work rather than having to mediate and coordinate between multiple designers and architects.
The kitchen design affects not just the kitchen but also the mud room, the pantry, the garage, the living area, the main hall and the exterior elevations. There are also mechanical and electrical concerns that need to be thought out. Any decisions made in the kitchen will ripple out and affect all those other spaces. I’m sure they are very good at designing kitchens and representing their product line. I’m designing and detailing your entire home. My services are not limited to any one specialty.”

When I went back over this and read it to myself, at first I thought it sounded a little arrogant or defensive and I was worried that my client might take it as such and perhaps be offended by it. In the end I sent it as you see it (italics are to protect the designer) feeling confident in my progress and work on the project thus far and even more confident in my abilities to best serve my client by having oversight over the entire project including interiors. The response that I received from my client was priceless: “Great answer. You’re hired.”

The moral of this little tale is not that licensed architects are better than certified kitchen designers (wink wink – sarcasm) but simply that too often it’s easier for us as architects to keep our mouths shut when an opportunity arises to really educate our clients and potential clients as to all the ways in which we bring real value and expertise to a whole project. In my response I could have just left it with the first sentence, letting the client truly believe that I have nothing to offer beyond what the other designer was bringing to the table. But instead I took the risk of offending or even pissing off my client to truly educate them about the value that I bring to their project. And the gamble worked. Now my client will have saved money and more than a few headaches, I get additional fee for additional services and at the end of the project the client will be happier with the end product, which is a beautiful home for him and his family. Winning!


Lisa Saldivar