We’re DIYers from waaay back (and when I say “we” I actually mean Dan and his brothers, cousins, and friends). We’ve been renovating our house room-by-room, and floor-by-floor since we moved into the two-bedroom, 1.5-bath classic ranch 19 years ago.


July, 1997

Many tens of thousands of dollars and lots of blood, sweat and tears later, and we now reside in a 2-story, four bedroom, four-bath house with a finished basement.



It helps that Dan is an electrician and we have a family full of skilled tradesmen who can do everything from pouring concrete to setting trusses to plumbing to hanging drywall.

There are just three things we contract out — plaster, brickwork, and carpet.

We do all the rest ourselves, often without much of a plan. When we did the second floor, we built the entire structure with only a vague idea of what we were going to do with the space. Once the outside walls and roof were up, then we walked through it with some 2x4s and laid out where the rooms and windows should be.



But, when it came time to do the biggest, most important, and most expensive room in the house—the kitchen, I insisted on having it professionally designed. It was one of the best home improvement decisions we ever made.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s free. Kitchen stores  almost always knock the cost of design services off the cabinets that you buy. So, it’s free. Most do, however, require you to pay some sort of fee to take the plans out of the showroom before you actually buy cabinets. In our case (at South One Supply), it was $250.  When we ordered our cabinets, that $250 was deducted from the total cost.
  2. A kitchen designer will design a personalized kitchen. Designers will ask you about your cooking and dining habits. Is an overhead hood important to you? Do you need space for a big dining room table? Do you like to buy in bulk and need more storage space? Do you like to host parties? The questions help the designer build a kitchen that fits you and your family’s needs (while also keeping re-sale value in mind).
  3. They know all the rules and codes. Home improvement projects require permits and inspection to be sure they are following the building codes. Did you know that all counter top outlets must be GFCI (Ground fault circuit interrupter?) and the distance between counters must be at least twenty-four inches (or whatever it was)? The designer knows all the rules and will be sure the kitchen is designed to code.
  4. They know kitchens. When we went through our kitchen plans, the designer pointed out why every set of drawers, cabinets, and closets were in the space they were. They know that the spice drawer and pan racks should be near the oven, the broom closet and garbage/recycling cans should be away from the pantry, the cabinets above the dishwasher for dishes and cups, and the utensils drawer next to the oven.
  5. They will make use of every available inch. They have the resources and vision to make the most of the space that you have available to you. If I had to pick one reason why I insisted on a designer — this would be it. I wanted to make the most of our available space and did not have the ingenuity, experience or desire to spend hours and hours trying to figure out what would fit where.
  6. They can offer suggestions. I’m overwhelmed by too many choices. Designers can help you narrow things down quickly. They know what looks good together, they know what materials will work for your kitchen, and they get to know you and your personal style pretty quickly.
  7. They will work within your budget. You may think a designers job is to steer you to the most expensive materials or build catalog-quality kitchens, but they will work within whatever budget you give them. When we got our first designs, I told my designer it was more than we wanted to spend and asked her how we could reduce costs without sacrificing the quality of the cabinets. She went over the price of every piece with us and offered options that were within our budget. For example, we opted to build our own coat closet instead of buying a pricey set of locker-type cabinetry.
  8. They will help you if you screw it up. If you do any DIY projects at all, you know that they never go as smoothly as planned. There will be problems, and when they occur, your savior is just a phone call away and can offer options or solutions you may not have thought of. Or, if nothing else, she can order your husband another damn sheet of toe kick.

Two other notes:

  1. Kitchen designers can help you with any space, big or small  — mudroom, bathroom, basement storage, playroom, garage — where you need cabinetry. Our designer is currently giving us a price on a wall of cabinets in the basement to store craft/scrapbooking supplies, photo albums and more.
  2. Go local. I’d suggest you use a designer at a locally-owned kitchen/bath or other home improvement/design business because it will be a much more personal and less frustrating experience than working with random people at a big-box home improvement store (Ever tried to special order anything from one of those places? I couldn’t imagine doing an entire kitchen through them). Also, it’s good to support small businesses in our area (or soon we’ll have no choice but to deal with the impersonal big-box stores).

Who did we use? After talking with a lot of friends and getting a lot of recommendations, we went with South One Supply. We took so long between design and actually ordering cabinets that the designer we started with (Joey) retired and we got a new designer halfway through the project (Liz) and both were equally fabulous and helpful.

Here’s the finished product. Though, you may note that I’m still missing trim around the door because something about the door having to be removed and “built out”…I don’t know, whatever. He’ll get it done eventually, right?

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