kitchens: why you need an architect

We’re going to take a little trip to historic preservation land today, because as an architect I’m always interested in buildings new, old and otherwise – the touch, the smell, the ambiance, etc. This naturally lends to me spending way too much time looking at real estate listings and touring homes for sale and being exposed to the HORRORS that are kitchens in older homes. So, I want to take a minute and give you a few reasons on why you need an architect to help you properly design and renovate your older kitchen. And there are three main reasons that I want to touch on – Function, Materials and Future. Here we go.

Function:

kitchens have to relate to and work with most other spaces within a home.

In Jacksonville, the majority of our historic homes were built between say 1902 and 1940 (history lesson – the Great Fire of 1901 had a little to do with this). Many of these homes are what you would call Bungalows, or 2-3 bedroom homes bisected down the middle with a dividing wall between public and private spaces. This is a residential tradition extremely popular pre and post World War I and II. You can find the same themes in most major cities all over America.

Now, it’s important to note here that how a family functioned in the early 20th century is NOT how a family functions in the early 21st century. At least, I would hope that we’ve changed a little in more than 100 years. That being said, you can not simply take an existing old kitchen in an old home and make it new by adding shiny appliances, granite counters and new stone tile floors. It will still be an inconvenient kitchen because it’s not designed for the way we interact and cook in the 21st century. By at least consulting with an architect/designer at the beginning of your project they (by “they” I really mean “me”) can help identify and postulate how you, as a family, will most use your kitchen space and then outline basic design ideas in order to achieve that design in an affordable and beautiful way.

Materials:

i get a little sick every time I see cabinets like these. :-\

This is where the phrase “lipstick on a pig” most often comes to mind. Not all products are created equal. Lets just get that out of the way. There is a reason for the expression “you get what you pay for”. In our modern age, modular furniture and casework has come a very VERY long way. Nearly gone are the days of requiring custom built cabinetry in order to get good quality, well designed casework  and millwork for your kitchen project. With the popularity of IKEA and others like them, good quality, affordable and (most important) contemporary designs are readily available mostly without even leaving your couch. But, again, make sure you read the fine print. It’s important to read HOW the product is assembled and WHAT it is assembled of. Simple things like making sure your sink cabinets are constructed of plywood instead of particle board can save you insane amounts of frustration and woe down the road. And why should you care about this? Well, go to Home Depot or Lowes, buy a small piece of particle board and take it home, splash some water on it then come back and tell me how much you suddenly care about what your sink cabinets are made of. :-\ This is another area where your architect/designer can offer guidance based on their education, expertise and training.

Future:

damn. that’s hot. 🙂

Lastly, when planning a new kitchen design most people don’t think about future needs. In our “now now, I want it now” society, we seldom think  much further forward than next payday. But when consulting with properly trained architects and designers on your kitchen remodel, I guarantee at least once in the first or second meeting they’ll ask “so what are your future plans for this space?” And by that they mean, what happens if you have extended family living with you? Or an elderly parent? Or those fertility drugs REALLY worked and you’re in a Dugger Family situation (it happens, trust me)? These are things that can be anticipated and designed for in the early stages of the process though not built or detailed until necessary.

The bottom line – your home is the largest investment you’ll ever make in your life, and the kitchen is the one area of the home where most of us spend the most time and the most money to renovate. Why would you trust that kind of investment to anyone other than a educated, experienced and trained architect or designer who will spend all their time worrying about your project and your budget? Seems like a no-brainer to me, but then I’ve always been a bit abby-normal (10 points to the first person to guess that movie reference).

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11 thoughts on “kitchens: why you need an architect

    • Good post. Although, IMHO, Ikea cabinets are not quality cabinets. Melamine/veneer applied to particle board (typical construct of an Ikea cab), does not hold up well to the rigors of an actively used kitchen. In addition, one small nic on the ‘candy coated’ surface can lead to peeling rather rapidly. 

      Again, this has been my experience with Ikea. I’m upfront with clients on this and let them make their own decision. 

      • I mostly agree. If you’re banging around your kitchen constantly bumping/hitting/gouging your cabinets you need something much more sturdy – preferably solid wood with an enamel coating. Or ceramic if you’re extra destructive. But then most cabinets that are commercially purchased would not stand up to the same test.

        I have had fairly good success with IKEA products. For the money they are well designed and of sufficient quality that I would use them on a client’s or even my own home.

        Thanks for the counter opinion! It’s nice to keep dialogues going. Cheers.

  1. im an architect and i am about to design for my first independent residential interior project.And starting pt will be kitchen,obviously.So i was just thinking about all the aspects,and i totally agree with all you have said here! 🙂

    • That’s awesome! Much congrats on your first solo gig! You’ll do great, I have no doubt. 🙂 Feel free to send me some links to plans, rendering, and photos along the way. I’d love to see the progress.
      Cheers.

  2. Good post. One other good point is the architect is not biased to the design elements. A kitchen designer working for a kitchen supplier will have a bias to sell you more than you need so they sell more. They talk about gadgets and the details, but can’t get the overall architecture down. It’s not an intellectual shortcoming, but a limitation on their education and role in the industry. However, too many people go to a kitchen cabinet supplier first like people go to a contractor first when they want to build. We live in a backward society.

    • Excellent point. I hadnt thought of that angle. But you’re right, when going to a big box retailer or even a cabinet house, they’re looking at it from a sales perspective not a design perspective. If all you needed to do was replace what’s existing without changing the layout, I’m sure this would be the best option. Otherwise you need a trained designer on your side to ensure quality over quantity.
      Cheers.

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