Why Are Kitchen Designers’ Fees Horribly Scary? 5 F-A-Qs

Why are kitchen designers' fees so high? Why?

We Can’t Afford To Pay A Kitchen Designers’ Fees!

Kitchen Designers’ fees can be frightening. “Sticker shock” is not uncommon for homeowners. So I’ve answered five frequently asked questions about how much a kitchen designer may charge you for their services and how they calculate their fee.

Questions about kitchen designersHas This Happened To You?

You do a Google search for “Kitchen Designer Near Me.” You get a list and call designers to help you with your kitchen remodeling. They tell you their fee is “X” amount per hour, but you don’t know how much you will pay them in total.

They may say that their fee starts at $2,500 and goes up. Or they’ll let you know their fee is a percentage of your investment. It’s confusing and frustrating.

Ask how much they typically charge to design a kitchen like yours. If they can’t answer, or if their fee will be a high percentage of your investment, they’re not the right one for you. If you’re thinking of spending only $20,000 to remodel your kitchen, you probably won’t be able to find someone to help you.

The first question will help you decide how you want to proceed with your project.

#1: “Do I Need Someone To Help Me Design My Kitchen?”

Who can help me design my new kitchen?You may not need a kitchen designer if you’re:

  • Thinking about freshening up with a new color scheme
  • Painting your existing cabinets
  • Installing a new countertop and backsplash
  • Installing new flooring

A contractor can accomplish these types of projects without a designer. But they cannot advise you about the color and style, other than their personal preferences. So you’re on your own to make these decisions. Or you’ll have to hire a decorator.

The second question is a good follow-up:

#2: “Can I Hire A Decorator To Help Me?”

Not necessarily. Unfortunately, most homeowners (and many contractors) don’t understand the difference between:

  • Decorators: People who can help with colors, furniture, window treatments, and accessories. They do not have the education, training, and experience with building systems to draft plans and specifications. They need specific technical knowledge to make the best recommendations for you and your budget.
  • Designers: People who have education, training, and experience. They can draft plans for a project. But they may not have the specific knowledge of products and codes to prepare detailed plans and specifications for your remodeling project.
  • Kitchen-Bath Designers: People with education, specific training, and experience related to remodeling. They can draft detailed plans and prepare contractors’ estimates, permits, and specifications. Some kitchen-bath design specialists have become certified to prove their knowledge and dedication to helping you. Get more information about these designers at the National Kitchen & Bath Association website.

#3: “When Do I Need A Kitchen Designer?”

Kitchen plan by Diane PlessetYou should hire a professional kitchen designer if you want to:

  • Do more than freshen up — new cabinets, appliances, plumbing fixtures, etc.
  • Change the layout within the same footprint.
  • Enlarge your kitchen.





It’s reasonable to pay a kitchen designer to help you if your target budget for a completely remodeled kitchen is $45,000 or more. Why? You’re going to need someone to:

  • Help you select the right products for your budget and lifestyle.
  • Create detailed plans that follow building codes. Design plans should show all your decisions.
  • Create specifications for all the products you’ve selected.
  • Refer you to qualified contractors and suppliers.

The fourth question will help you refine who to hire.

What is a kitchen designer going to cost me?#4: “Okay,” you say, “I get it. But what is a kitchen designer going to cost me?”

People ask the fourth question most frequently. It’s frustrating because there isn’t much specific information about fees. But keep reading! You will need more information to understand how designers calculate their fees. There are three basic systems that designers use:

  • Hourly rate
  • Flat fee
  • Percentage of the project cost

$ Hourly Rate
Jill Geisdorf of Chic on the Cheap was quoted on houzz.com, “No two projects are the same, and no two designers charge the same.” Bob Vila says, “Most independent kitchen designers charge by the hour with rates ranging from $65 to $250 an hour, and $125 to $150 is typical. If your designer charges by the hour, you’ll want an estimate of how many hours the designer expects your project will require.”

$ Flat Fee
This system gives designers the most flexibility because they can charge whatever they want for every project. You must know:

  • When the designer will expect payments.
  • What percentage of the fee they’ll expect you to pay for each interval.

$ Percentage Of The Project Total
The percentage system is a percentage of your total investment. The problem with this fee structure is that it’s in the designer’s best interest to increase your investment. Who’s going to be your advocate? Unfortunately, it will be you.

There May Be A Hidden “Gotcha.”

There may be hidden gotchas when you hire a kitchen designerSome decorators, designers, and kitchen-bath designers may charge a lower fee. But they’ll want to sell products to you so they can mark up how much you pay for those products. Also, they may receive referral or finder’s fees from contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers. Selling products and receiving finders’ fees increase their bottom-line income.

You have a right to know how much the designer makes on products and referral fees. Of course, you should get a written agreement that states:

  • What services they do include for the fee they charge.
  • What services they don’t include for the fee they charge.
  • Describe how they calculate their fee for what they do.
  • Show their maximum-not-to-exceed total fee.
  • How they will invoice you for the services they’ll provide.

Now, the fifth question:

Why are kitchen designers fees so secretive?#5: “Why Are Kitchen Designers’ Fees So Secretive?”

I understand your dilemma. Everyone cites a range, but no one publicly wants to be locked into a specific fee. I hear your frustration. But there are two reasons for the secrecy:

  • Kitchen Designers do not want their competition to know what they charge homeowners.
  • Months or years after submitting a proposal, someone may demand that fee, creating a potential dispute.

Call candidates to gather information, including how much they charge so that you can make an informed decision. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what and how they charge and be able to write it down on a comparison list? I will give you a free chapter from my award-winning book to help you! You can get a copy of the chapter immediately by simply filling out the request form below. Filling out the form will also subscribe you to my informative Newsletter filled with remodeling hints, tips, and special offers.

Variables That Will Drive Up Your Kitchen Remodeling Investment

How much you invest in your kitchen and pay a kitchen designer depends on the complexity of the project. Here are some examples:

Variables may add to your bottom-line kitchen remodeling investment

  • Non-standard cabinets loaded with storage accessories.
  • Imported appliances, plumbing fixtures, and tile.
  • Custom backsplashes and tile layouts.
  • Unique architectural features include a vaulted or barrel-vault ceiling, angled walls, or non-standard windows and doors.
  • Change your mind after the designer has finalized your plans.

Up-front, honest communication about expectations is the best way to prevent problems. For example, if a kitchen designer has quoted a maximum fee based on what you’ve told them, you may have to re-negotiate their price if your project becomes more complex during the design phase.

Ethical, Honest kitchen design with integrityYou Ask For Total Honesty and Transparency. Here It Is!

Here are the guarantees you get when I work with you. I will:

  • Never sell products. Never! My responsibility is to help you find the best value for your products.
  • Help you select all the products for your remodeling project.
  • Never receive or pay referral fees.
  • Be transparent about what you’re paying for my services and provide a detailed written proposal immediately after meeting with you.
  • Recommend contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers to you who I know are honest and ethical.
  • Be available to you every day during the process! Yes, from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., I’ll be available to answer questions and reassure you. Yes, we always answer the phone — unless we both happen to be in the middle of a call already.
  • Reply to your email within 30 hours.
  • Provide detailed plans and specifications that include all of your decisions.
  • Create Virtual-reality “photographs” of your finished project starting early in the design process, so you can make informed decisions about how it looks, feels, and functions.
  • Send detailed invoices every four to six weeks, calculating my fee to the nearest 15 minutes. You’ll pay only for the time I devote to your project. My total fee remains the same unless you request more services or change the scope of your project. My goal is to help you achieve your goals.

How do I calculate my fee? After seeing your home and talking with you, I derive my total fee from other similar projects I’ve had recently. My hourly fee is $125 multiplied by the number of hours your project will require. Here is a project that’s a great example:

A Kitchen that’s 250 square feet (15.5′ x 16′) with the following features:

Remodeled kitchen designed by Diane Plesset









  • Minor changes to the layout
  • New appliances (range, hood, refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave oven)
  • Quality plumbing fixtures
  • New custom-painted cabinets loaded with storage accessories
  • Stone countertops and custom tile backsplashes
  • Dimmable LED lighting
  • Ventilation that complies with current codes
  • Wood flooring

My proposal stated a total maximum-not-to-exceed fee for all professional services of $4,875 at $125 an hour. By the end of the project, my clients paid a total of $3,750 for all the services I provided.

Virtual-reality perspective created by Diane PlessetDuring the design, I provided homeowners with multiple virtual-reality perspectives to help them make informed decisions about the layout and cabinet details. See Before and After photos, and a project description in my portfolio.

Get information about how my creative design process can help you.

Call me today if you still have questions or want to talk with me about your project.

In Conclusion

How much you pay a professional kitchen designer will be essential to your total investment. Their fee is only one aspect of your decision about who to hire. Your relationship with your designer will last from the day you meet until after finishing your project. The best collaborations include:

  • Mutual trust and understanding.
  • A common goal and a commitment to teamwork.
  • Top-notch communication.

Call other designers and ask questions about how they work and charge for their services. Will you get truthful information? Maybe and maybe not. Do they understand (and care) about your situation? Maybe and maybe not. Will they have similar guarantees to reassure you that you’re getting the best value? Maybe and maybe not. So why take a chance? Call me today and discover the positive influence I will have in your home and your life!

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Diane Plesset professional kitchen designer for over 38 yearsDiane Plesset, CMKBD, C.A.P.S., NCIDQ is an Advocate who specializes in helping homeowners with remodeling and addition projects. She has been the principal of D. P. Design since April 1984. Diane is the author of the award-winning book “THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling,” the recipient of many design awards, and a regular contributor to Kitchen & Bath Design News (Planning & Design column).

© 2022 D. P. Design – All Rights Reserved

3 Terrific Kitchen Remodeling Tips For Today

Case Study: Kitchen Remodeling Project During Pandemic

I’ve got 3 Terrific Kitchen Remodeling Tips to help you! 

But first, a question: Why is kitchen remodeling a mystery for most homeowners? There are two logical reasons:

    • Millions of print and online magazines show kitchen remodeling results. But few articles outline how professional designers helped their clients.
    • Kitchen designers use the rules and guidelines we’ve learned. Unfortunately, they’re a boring list of items about Function and Safety for homeowners. But not for us!

The National Kitchen & Bath Association 31 Kitchen Guidelines is essential information for designers. But, is it necessary for you to know? No, especially if you’ve hired a kitchen designer.

Surrounded By Too Much Information

You’re living with pandemic challenges every day. Are you tired of reading and hearing about them — not because you don’t care. Do you feel helpless when the media overwhelms you with sobering statistics?

There’s nothing we can do about product and labor shortages, either. We see pictures of loaded container ships waiting to dock and unload their cargo. Reporters talk about how much more we’re paying for everything compared to 2019. Often, they end the report about how bad it’s going to get in the next year. On and on.

We get it! Until these issues affect us personally, it’s easy to think that the media examples are somewhere else, happening to someone else. So I’ve decided to share what’s happened with a recent client, how the pandemic affects her kitchen remodeling project, and what we’re doing about it.

Terrific Kitchen Remodeling Tips

As you read Mary’s case history, keep these tips in mind:

Tip #1. Plan ahead. Wa-a-a-y ahead. The days of immediate gratification may never return. Answer the following questions:

        • When do you want your kitchen remodeling finished?
        • What are your specific goals?
        • How much do you want to invest?
        • What products do you want to use?
        • What tradeoffs are you willing to make?

Tip #2. Plan and do what’s needed — NOW! :

        • Get your total investment ready;
        • Hire a kitchen design professional and a contractor (or a design-build firm);
        • Make decisions about everything ASAP;
        • Order all products and store them until your contractor is ready for them.

Tip #3. Handle setbacks and challenges with grace and compassion. Remember that we’re all in this pandemic together. Avoid the “blame game,” if possible.

Pandemic Case History

Mary has been living in the same home for 25 years. Before they bought the house, they knew that the 190-square foot kitchen needed remodeling. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the money to update the kitchen immediately.

Instead of moaning and groaning about the circumstances, Mary decided to update the kitchen:

      • First, she painted the dark-brown kitchen cabinets a soft off-white and replaced the old “belly-button” knobs with new pulls.
      • Then she covered the laminate countertops with tile that looked like a professional did the job.
      • Finally, as they could afford it, Mary and her husband bought white appliances.

Original Builder Created 5 Major Problems

Her D-I-Y kitchen began showing its age three years ago. She knew that the original builder created function and safety problems that no one could resolve without completely remodeling the kitchen:

  1. Base corner cabinets that need her to get on her hands and knees to find what she vaguely remembers storing months before;
  2. Wall cabinets adjacent to the windows that have the same problem as #1 above;
  3. Only 3″ of countertop space between her ovens and cooktop (wide enough for a tasting spoon);
  4. Painted wall cabinets on both sides of the 30″ cooktop are scorched and peeling from exposure to heat and moisture because the builder only allowed room for a 30″ wide hood;
  5. Nothing but air between the top of the wall cabinets and the ceiling;
  6. One incandescent fixture in the center of the kitchen;

Do these problems sound familiar? In the 1970s, builders didn’t understand the importance of kitchen function and storage! They didn’t have access to the 31 Guidelines (and if they did, they wouldn’t use them anyway).

Every Kitchen Remodeling Problem Has At Least One Great Solution!

Here are specific solutions for each of the problems listed above:

  1. New base corner cabinets will have accessible swing-out lazy susan units.
  2. Angled wall corner cabinets will make storage and accessibility much more effortless.
  3. The oven cabinet will move towards the patio door, allowing generous room for a pull-out base pantry with a new wall cabinet above. Mary will have about 15″ of usable countertop space between the cooktop and ovens.
  4. A new 36″ wide hood will protect the new wall cabinets.
  5. New wall cabinets and tall cabinets will close the gap and give Mary more usable storage (even if it’s for items used only once a year).
  6. Mary’s new kitchen will have dimmable recessed LED fixtures for general lighting. In addition, there will be dimmable LED strip lighting under the wall cabinets for task and mood lighting.
  7. BONUS! Moving the oven cabinet required the elimination of a bookcase that Mary uses frequently. I’m happy that we came up with a great alternative: install a built-in bookcase in a wall adjacent to the eating area. There’s still room for a narrow phone counter on the side of the oven cabinet!

Quest For A New Kitchen

Mary embarked on her quest for a new kitchen in May 2021, hoping for completion when her son will be visiting for Christmas. He loves to cook and bake and asked to be involved in the kitchen redesign.

She knew that a complete kitchen remodeling would address all the function and safety challenges. But she couldn’t decide between the aesthetic options available:

Should she get a new range and install a microwave-convection oven – OR –
     Get a gas cooktop and install a double oven with a microwave-convection oven at the top?
Should she stay with off-white cabinets and white appliances -OR –
     Opt for wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances?
How would white appliances look with wood cabinets – OR –
     Would stainless steel appliances look better with off-white cabinets?

She visited houzz.com and saved pictures to a project folder. But none of the photos showed the options she needed and wanted to see. Time slipped by. So after she hired me, I created photorealistic renderings of how her kitchen would look with the different options. Here are the options I showed her:

Virtual Reality Renderings showing options

Photorealistic Renderings: White cabinets with varying options of appliances

Photorealistic Renderings of wood cabinets and appliance options

Photorealistic Renderings: Wood cabinets with different options of appliances

Move Ahead, Then Stop. And Wait.

Mary made decisions so we could plan for construction that her contractor scheduled to start in mid-October. But we ran into the snag that the media has been reporting: product delays. The appliances may be available, but freight and delivery charges will be a budget-buster. Cabinets won’t be ready for delivery until the second week of December at the earliest.

Last week, I suggested that she put off starting her kitchen remodel until early 2022. She was disappointed but understood that working in her old kitchen with her son would be better than having everything in total disarray during his visit. So Mary gets gold stars for following Rule #3!

Case Study how homeowner used 3 Terrific Kitchen Remodeling Tips to help

Homeowner is excited about how her remodeled kitchen will function and look!

Collaboration About Function, Safety, And Your Style

The pandemic has forced us to shift our priorities and rethink our lives. The NKBA 31 Guidelines remain the foundation for Function and safety, essential parts of every kitchen. But there’s nothing in the Guidelines about kitchen appearance. That’s when our collaboration gets the results you want, how you want your kitchen to look. When we start with the best kitchen function and safety possible, you can have any style you desire! I’m delighted to use both hemispheres of my brain to help you like I’ve helped Mary and hundreds of other homeowners. 

You’ve read about Mary’s Case Study that’s ongoing. Now read a Case Study about one of my favorite finished projects.

Do you recognize familiar problems that you’re having with your kitchen? Do you have other kitchen remodeling problems? Call me, and let’s chat about the things that are bugging you! In 37 years, I’ve discovered that most challenges have multiple solutions. It’s a matter of finding the right solution for your needs, your budget, and your unique lifestyle.