Who to hire first for kitchen remodel?

Genni Low
7 days ago

I just bought my first home and it needs a lot of love. The biggest challenge is definitely the kitchen (see some of the attached photos to get an idea). I want to remodel it completely by opening up the wall between the living room and kitchen (as seen in that first picture) and bringing all the cabinets and sink out of that little corner room into the bigger area, for a whole new layout design (which I definitely need help figuring out!)

I've started talking to various people and companies, but I'm having a really hard time figuring out who I'm supposed to be working with first: designer, architect, contractor? Obviously, getting a design-build firm with everyone working together in the same company would be the easiest way to go, but if I end up needing to put the "team" together myself, what should I do? I've talked to a couple contractors and interior designers who always ask me if I'm working with an architect (especially for the wall, to get permits), which makes me think that I need an architect first, but then when I've looked up architects for permit drawings, it seems that they want the designs to be finished first, and/or they do the designs themselves?

So, should the steps be:

1. Hire an architect to design the space and draw up the plans for permits

2. Hire contractor to carry out the plans


1. Hire a designer to design the space (maybe cheaper than having an architect do the design?)

2. Hire an architect to take the design and draw up the plans for permits

3. Hire contractor to carry out the plans


1. Hire a design-build firm to get it all done at once.

Is this correct that these are my options? Which is the smartest and most economical way to go?

Thanks in advance for the advice!

Comments (21)

  • pittsburrito
    6 days ago
    last modified: 6 days ago

    Another homeowner perspective here:

    I think it really depends on how involved you want to be in the project. My experience with a design-build team was that their strong pre-existing relationships trumped mine, and I felt unheard during their haste to get my project into production. Fortunately, I had not gotten too far into the project yet to be able to act upon my desire to be a more active coordinator, rather than a passive role as a client to be served. We parted ways after their initial design (before any revisions were made).

    It took a year before I worked up the courage to try again. This time, I hired a stand alone kitchen designer, unattached to any construction company. Together, we created the design I wanted. The KD recommended contractors she'd worked with in the past. I hired the cabinetmaker first (as that work needed the most lead time), who recommended a GC in my area he'd worked with on other projects. (All the GCs the KD had recommended were booked too far out for my desired timeline.) I also hired a countertop fabricator recommended by the KD, but unknown to the GC. So, I really was the one in charge, coordinating all 3, since none of them knew all the rest. It was a level of involvement that I wanted, and it was a positive experience for all.

    So, long story short: With design-build, I'm sure the kitchen reno would've been lovely, but I'd have felt like it was being done TO me. Design-build is less time-consuming -- just one hire and you are done! However, if you would like a more active participant role in the process, hire a KD. That person can connect you with the contractors you'll need, just remember to do due diligence for each. Personally, I greatly prefered the KD route, as I felt much more in control of the project.

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  • PRO
    New Collective
    7 days ago

    Hi there,

    Congratulations on your new home! You're not alone - it is confusing to know where to start with a project because remodels and new builds take a village to achieve! You have a few options...

    1. As you mentioned, work with a design build firm who has contractors, architects and interior designers in house.

    2. Work with an architecture firm with interior designers on staff.

    3. Work with an Architect + a Designer + a Builder. This may be your most affordable option because you are coordinating the job and defining each party's scope. If you go with this route first have a chat with each party about what you're looking for, be sure you're comfortable with their fees, get them on board, then schedule a kick off call with all of the above parties. During the kick off call (or better, a team walk through), you can define together who will be doing what, when.

    If you go with the 3rd option you may like the Architect's portfolio and design aesthetic enough to not need to hire an Interior Designer in addition.

    Good luck with the project! Let me know if you need any additional insight.

    Genni Low thanked New Collective
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    Things that have to be accounted for: Home protection from dust and dirt.- Plastic curtains, zip walls,ram board, cardboard, lots of air filters, rosin paper, HEPA air scrubber and HEPA vacuum. An after construction professional cleaning. Averages 1K+ on my jobs. If it’s not listed, it doesn’t happen. No one wants a filthy house. Demolition and debris removal and disposal.- Cabinet removal for them to be used again adds a day, and expense. You’ll need a dumpster, and a place for it to sit on your drive that the neighbors don’t get upset. Portapotty has to be considered for siting too, unless you’ll furnish a bathroom for them to use. Dump fees have to be paid, and in some locations, that’s a considerable fee. If you’re doing floors too? That’s forever and filthy. And extra money. Then the subfloor has to have prep. Rough Electrical- for added lighting, under cabinet lighting, new appliances, appliances being moved, added circuits. Adding box extenders so the outlets will pull out to the right depth after the backsplash is done. Rough plumbing- the plumber has to show for a disconnect before the demo occurs. Cut the pipes off and cap. Then any moving done. New shut offs, drains, supply lines. Wall repair and paint. All the new lighting, and the demo, makes for lots of repair. If you’re doing things like popcorn or wallpaper removal in the demo phase? Lots of repair. Floor prep and floor install. Floors are never level. They have to be made so. Tiles are getting larger. Wood is being done. It’s not a 1 hour linoleum install after 1 bag of leveling compound any more. Cabinet install. WAY harder and longer than most people think! A box has 6 sides. All 6 have to match up with all the rest of the ones in the gang. Walls and floors are never straight. Supports for counter overhangs have to be installed. Holes for the DW hose and electrical. For the MW, or vent hood. Install by itself is usually 20-30% of the cost of the cabinets. More, if they are doing built in appliances like wall ovens, and the install of the rest of the appliances too. Counter install. See above. The better the cabinet installer is, the easier this goes. It still won’t be perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. Backsplash install. That means trying up the wall. Hopefully, the GC got the drywall guys to do that when that was done. If he didn’t, that still has to be done. Finish electrical. All of those lights, outlets, and everything else get placed. Any hardwired appliances not connected via plug. Finish plumbing. Garbage disposal, Faucet, Flanges for both. Water for fridge. Faucet. Dishwasher. Appliances. Anything not built in or hardwired still has to be installed. And that’s not counting for any expert design advice do you know where the lights should go, and what kind of counter support you need, or how far from the corner the fridge has to be for the door to open. And that’s why I think the quote is low. Ask what’s missing.
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  • PRO
    7 days ago
    last modified: 7 days ago

    Any excellent independent KD will have an equally excellent contractor and or architect in her quick dial. A skilled and experienced interior designer will as well. Neither can DO their job without "their" team, whether direct hire, or simply on speed dial.

    If I enter a home, and the owner says I want to refresh the living room, but I am standing in a kitchen disaster ?? I'm "pushing" for that kitchen FIRST.....before all else. Bones before decoration : )

    Genni Low thanked JAN MOYER
  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes
    7 days ago

    Hi, Genni,

    Teams that work together well usually do so based on working relationships developed over a number of successful projects. You might get lucky when assembling a team of independent services providers, but a better project outcome is more likely if you hire a team that's already established.

    With respect to design, I think you've got it backwards, which is fairly common. Most of the intellectual capital invested in the design phase is when the options are being sorted through and creativity counts the most. That's where architects shine. By contrast, "drawing it up for permits" is a more technician function. If you draw it up on graph paper or a $50 CAD program from Lowes (which can be great fun) and hand it to the architect to "just draw it up," you've relegated them to the position of draftsperson. That said, make sure whomever you hire to design your kitchen knows their way around one. Architects and designers who cook are more likely to produce a kitchen that's great to work in than one focused on creating a neat photo for their portfolio.

    Best wishes for a successful project.

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  • PRO
    Patricia Colwell Consulting
    7 days ago
    last modified: 7 days ago

    I agree that a good independant KD will have a crew they work with so plumber, electrician , contractor .etc. IMO what you need first is to find out if that wall is load bearing and how much it will cost to open it up I will say I do not like kitchens open to LRs , DRS yes . Then you will need a good interior designer ( if you are lucky the KD could be both) since it sounds like this is going to be a job carried over into other parts of this house you need a good overall plan and that comes from working with a good ID who can make sure things get done in the proper order. IMO you do not need an architect unless you are adding on or up. As for actual design if you can post a toscale floor plan of the whole floor with all windows doors plumbing etc marked clearly also all meausrements clearly marked and a plan that can be enlarged here you will get some pretty good free help .I will say I have not encoutered many architects that design good kitchens.

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  • kaismom
    7 days ago

    These are pros talking. i am giving you an advice from a home owners perspective that have done multiple remodels over 20 years and own multiple homes.

    personally, I think you need spend 'enough' time to plan if you have just moved into the house. if you have already done so, then pardon my presumption. You should have a really firm idea of what you like and dislike about the current house, and what you want to achieve from the remodel. That takes time to get to know your current house. The kitchen remodel is never really a just the kitchen. It has to integrate into the current house functionally and aesthetically. You should really have a long view of what the total house could be once everything is done!.

    if you have the budget to hire someone to handle everything, then hire a good design/build team . If you are not sure and it your budget does not permit someone to handle everything: ie contractor fee is 25% minimum these days. (They deserve that fee if they are truly doing everything!)

    I have known many people over the years that have run out of money while they are in the middle of their projects.

    Be honest about your budget. Once you have a budget, then go talk to your neighbors/friends that have done similar budget remodel.

    Do not hire anyone until you have talked to multiple designers and architects. The first consultations are free. Then find someone that you trust and have great references where you have actually looked at their work and talked to the owners and verified the quality of their work.

    i don't think it really matters what type of team you hire as long as there is trust, quality work, and good work record and references. you may be able to save some money but the unknowns of the cost (due to unforeseen things as you open up the walls), make it all hard to predict about the cost.

    If you are moving load bearing wall, doing structural changes, adding square footage etc then you may need an architect to really look at the whole house and see what the vision can be. A good experienced general contractor can get you the permits, hire the architect/structural engineer by the hour to get the work done necessary to move the wall.

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  • julieste
    5 days ago


    I am curious if your KD also got a cut for selling cabinetry. As one who wants to use IKEA cabinets, I have found that many KDs have their own lines of cabinetry they recommend and get a commission for.

    As a homeowner, I too agree that if possible (even though the house needs lots of work) you just live there a while, even if a semi-camping out scenario if necessary. That will give you so much insight into layout problems that need to be addressed. And, it will also help you maybe figure out that some things you thought needed changing you can live with.

    Genni Low thanked julieste
  • jane__ny
    5 days ago

    I'm so glad to see this post. I am stuck in the same dilemma.

    I want to gut my kitchen and move a wall. We moved to Florida from NY where I did a kitchen reno without problem (in NY). I had a contractor I loved and had used many times for some major jobs. I handled all the buying and choosing the design, cabinets, etc.

    Now, in Florida, I cannot find a designer without being connected to cabinet companies. I've tried offering them private pay to help with design. I want to choose cabinets, and have the say in some of the design.

    I tried calling KD's on this site and all are connected with cabinet companies and contractors. I've asked if they worked privately and none do that.

    I want my own contractor, I want to shop for my cabinets and appliances, floors. I do not want to hire a 'whole company' who takes over my kitchen.

    I'm following this post. I'm hoping this is not a State issue as I had no problem putting a kitchen together in NY with my contractor and a private designer. Or, maybe time has changed.


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  • pittsburrito
    5 days ago
    last modified: 5 days ago

    Julieste, the KD we hired was not connected to any cabinetry lines at all. For our project, she recommended 3 local cabinet makers by first name. We chose the one who used the materials we desired (CARB II compliant, real wood throughout, low-VOC finishes, etc.). The artisan made the cabinetry for us himself, no factory involved, and we paid him directly. No cut went to the KD, whom we'd previously paid for her services.

    I'm sure she wouldn't have minded if we wanted to use IKEA. Her business structure is not set up on client choices -- only for her time & expertise. Keep looking for an independent KD.

    ETA: I just went to our KD's website, and must admit that I did not realize how unusual she is! I found this explanation of exactly what you describe, julieste:

    "how is our firm unique?


    That interior architecture and design services should be independent of specific products or vendors is the founding principle of this company. We offer independent design services that allow us to partner directly with you, helping you find exactly the right products and materials for your needs. Before starting emma delon, we had many experiences with clients who wanted to work with us but our product lines couldn’t meet their needs, constraining our ability to provide the best service.

    On the invoices of traditional kitchen, bath, and furniture showrooms, along with many interior design firms, the costs of cabinetry, furnishings, materials, and other purchases you make include the costs of design services. This situation creates conflict in both directions: for you working with a particular designer or firm, it means having to buy the cabinetry or other products they offer, whereas for designers, working with a particular client or project means selling you on the product lines they carry.

    From these experiences we saw an unmet need, knowing it was time to make a change: we would sell interior design services independent of the influence or necessity for the sale of any products. This was a new, unique experience for us, our clients, and our collaborators. We still occasionally run into skepticism from other design professionals, especially as an independent firm. Working with and within an industry that has historically been sales-driven and inventory-based, the design is often an afterthought or is a value add, not the primary purpose."

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  • julieste
    5 days ago


    We have exactly the same situation! We to just bought a Florida place, and we want to gut the kitchen and move a wall. Every kitchen planner/designer I contacted in Florida operated the same very strange (to me) way. The client signs on with them and then is limited to their lines of cabinetry. And, the client signs on not even knowing if that designer has a line of cabinetry the client wants. The only other option I have found is to basically design the kitchen yourself and then find a contractor who you hope will be able to carry out your vision. That's the route I have decided to take. I think Florida is just different from many other states.

    I also have to add in here that I am not completely sold on many of these people who are designers or who are affiliated as designers with design/build firms. When we remodeled our basement in our home in the north, we came up with a much better design than the firm's experienced designer. She drew the plan up so that the few windows that are in the basement were located in a closet.

    Genni Low thanked julieste
  • HU-102901294
    5 days ago

    I agree with those that say you should take more time To think. I also agree with the one comment about the design build team taking over and not really having much involvement from the client. some people like this and some don’t. Figure out what would make you happy as far as level of involvement.

    If i were you, while Thinking about what to do with your kitchen, I would take out the wall. Find out if it is load bearing, some contractors might be able to do this but a structural engineer would definitely be able to. Then have it knocked down and the flooring and ceiling fixed up.

    The reason I say this is because we left our wall in that we always planned to knock down for our remodel. If I had done it 4 years ago I would be much happier and I would be better able to envision the space and how to remodel our kitchen without the wall there. We will still knock the wall down, but what a difference it would have made. All that being said, if you have cabinets or pantry against that wall then you’d have to sacrifice storage until your remodel, and that just isn’t doable for some people.

    I also just want to say that design build firms on average gave me quotes that were almost 50k higher than general contractors. Granted that included materials, but like the other commenter, I wanted more choice and options to keep my costs down, so a contractor was a better fit.

    Genni Low thanked HU-102901294
  • A S
    5 days ago

    I think it fully depends what you want and how much change you are planning. When we did our last house we gutted the main floor. We needed a structural engineer and one drawing for permit. We made it with the engineer and he signed off on it. No designer needed as we knew what we wanted. We found a contractor who would manage the project and he organized the flow but we purchased everything we needed and did all the design ourselves.

    We decided to go with Ikea for the kitchen and use their design and install team too. It was well worth it and the space came out great!

    Genni Low thanked A S
  • Genni Low
    Original Author
    2 days ago
    last modified: 2 days ago

    Edit: @A S - This is what I'm leaning towards, too! So, you didn't hire an architect at all?

    Thank you for all of the great answers and other insights into home remodels! This has all helped a lot. After considering both my budget and how much control I want over this project, I've decided to forgo a full kitchen designer and primarily design it myself, perhaps with a consultant KD.

    I have a follow-up question, specifically related to opening up the kitchen wall (which may be load-bearing): Who do I need to hire for that? Is it architect, engineer, and GC, or can it be just an architect and GC? Engineer and GC? If I'm doing the design myself, can I just have a drafter do the drawings for permits and an engineer do the structural calculations?

    Thank you again!

  • PRO
    Beth H. :
    2 days ago
    last modified: 2 days ago

    structural engineer will tell you what to do if it's a load bearing wall. He will know what kind of supports will be needed (is it a two story?)

    But, a good general contractor who does home remodels will also be able to tell you. I don't think you need to bring an architect into the picture unless you're redesigning the overall structure or design of the house.

    If you just want to take down one wall to open up the kitchen, a GC can tell you if it's load bearing. If it is, and it's supporting an upper story w/a heavy roof load, then you can talk to a structural engineer about the correct supports needed once the wall is removed. A gc can file permits for you

    Genni Low thanked Beth H. :
  • julieste
    2 days ago

    I have a follow up question for AS. Your process is exactly what I am thinking of. I have been debating about having the contractor or IKEA do the cabinet install. Why did you end up with the IKEA installers rather than using the GC to install your cabinets?

  • A S
    2 days ago

    In our area, the third party company, that does the ikea work is so fast and amazing. They are efficient and know the product. They have so many great ideas to make it better and tricks too. In about 2 hrs they had built all the cabinets for a 10x10 kitchen. It was fabulous. Their design team is also really good at working with the ikea product specifically.

    We used them once on a remodel. So our contractor and his team had to get the demo completely done and the drywall ready. We also used them for our new house for the suite. In that case we had to have the flooring and drywall done. Also all wiring for lighting etc.

  • A S
    2 days ago

    And sorry yes we had no architect. We moved one load bearing wall with the engineer signing off on our plan and it was all permitted. We reconfigured they kitchen layout as a result. But all other work we did was remove old and replace with new.

  • julieste
    2 days ago

    Thanks for all of the clarifications. I was thinking that perhaps it is wiser and more cost effective to hire the people who deal with IKEA cabinets non-stop to do the assemble and install. Sounds as though this was pretty much your experience.

  • A S
    2 days ago

    Yes it was.

  • PRO
    Sabrina Alfin Interiors
    2 days ago

    The answer is, it depends. :-) I'm a certified interior designer and can stamp my own permit drawings here in California AS LONG AS there are no other structural concerns that need sign off. But even then, if my plans call for removing a load bearing wall or enlarging a window, for example, I work closely with structural engineers who will provide the structural drawings for permitting. Really, the only time you need an architect, IMO, is if you are significantly changing the building envelope, e.g. the roof line, the foundation, building an addition, moving stairs, or starting a new build from scratch.

    So, if you are only remodeling the interior, I'd advise hiring people in this order:

    1. Designer (+ engineer, if necessary)

    2. General contractor (using the new plans to get solid bids

    Now, you might want to contact GC's ahead of hiring a designer to get some ballpark figures on construction costs in your area so your designer is working with realistic budgets.

    Design/build firms are fine, but you don't get to pick your on-staff designer. They assign designers based on workload and their aesthetic and yours may not be a great match. (I used to work for one, so I know how they work.)

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  • acm

    depends so much on the specific people. for example, I had a designer at Lowes who was honest and creative and improved my designs every time. now he's retired, and I find myself pushing other designers up hill or battling the "cabinet salesperson" orientation. I also have contractors who are happy taking my choice of materials and finishes and making them work, but some contractors will worry that they're going to get stuck with choices that get them in a bind because the client doesn't know what to anticipate, so you need to know your own skills/limitations as well as what you want the other side(s) to provide.

    I like to go (1) contractor, to talk about how the project might work, general things I might or might not be considering, and how their process works. (Sometimes I can get an estimate too, but there's likely to be a lot of handwaving about unknowns.) (2) kitchen designer or cabinet designer, to sketch out an initial kitchen layout. (3) back to GC, to nail down the logistics, pricing, and the rest. I don't order cabinets until the kitchen has been gutted and wall boards are up, because somehow inches seem to come and go during that process, but before they touch a stud, the contractors know what appliances are coming, where the lights and plumbing will be, and all the rest. I also don't start a THING until I've picked all the finishes -- tile or wood, counters, cabinets, backsplash, so that nothing comes as a surprise and everything can be made available at the right time...