Whether your kitchen needs a minor face lift or a complete gut job, soliciting help from a certified kitchen designer can be well worth the investment. The rule of thumb: If a kitchen project costs more than a few hundred dollars, it may be time to call in a pro. Not only do kitchen designers have access to planning tools and technology that most homeowners don’t, but they have the inside scoop on trends, new materials, building codes and technical quirks. And their kitchen remodel expertise can save you a lot of time, money and frustration. Use our tips to help the process flow smoothly from start to finish.

Know the different types of kitchen designers. If you're ordering cabinetry and more through a national chain or other retailer, there likely will be designers on staff who can help you plan. The main advantage: Often, there's no additional cost for their services, although some charge a percentage of the total sale or work under another fee structure. Other designers work independently at an hourly or per-project rate. Because they're not affiliated with a particular store or brand, they can sometimes be more objective about materials. Note the ups and downs of your existing space. Perhaps your kitchen operates just fine, but the finishes are long past their prime. Or maybe you're planning a soup-to-nuts renovation and have no idea how to retool the space. Be prepared to share with the kitchen designer what you like and what you hope to change to give a firm place to start.

Do your research ... Your initial meeting with the designer will go more smoothly if you have a general idea of the look, flow and equipment you want. Browse decorating websites and magazines for kitchen design photos that speak to you, and show them to your designer. A picture can communicate clearly what you may struggle to capture in words. But stay flexible. The kitchen designer may spot holes in your wish list or nix materials that won't work for you no matter how much you love them. Conversely, he or she may introduce you to options you'd never considered. And he or she will keep you from sacrificing function for beauty, which is a recipe for misery down the road. Be open to suggestions — after all, expertise is why you recruited a designer.

Know your budget. Have a firm idea of what you want to, and are able to, spend to avoid a disconnect between plans and reality. If you have the means for pro-grade appliances and high-end finishes, your kitchen designer can work those into the scheme from the beginning. If you don't, make it known upfront. Although miracles may not happen on a shoestring, a designer has the experience and the know-how to stretch your dollars as far as they'll possibly go. Settle on a time line and a number of draft plans. Kitchen designers don't expect to nail it on the first try — some back and forth is usually built into the process. Agree upon how many drafts of the plan you'll see before you sign a contract and part with any cash. You should also confirm a time line for the work, though circumstances beyond anyone's control can throw even the best-orchestrated jobs off schedule.

Keep changes minimal. Depending on how far along in the process you are, change orders can be anything from a mild nuisance to a major issue. Not only will they hold up progress, but they'll also put a dent in your wallet. That said, if there's a change that must be made for you to enjoy and use your revamped kitchen the way you intend, it's better to speak up than to end up dealing with the flaw on a daily basis. Be patient. A good kitchen plan takes time to create, and so does bringing it to life. Putting in effort on the front end, from choosing finishes to thinking through the work zone, will pay off in the long run. And the last thing you want is a rushed construction job, so don't hurry the contractors — no matter how anxious you are to put your new kitchen to work.

You’ve decided to remodel your kitchen. Now what? Not knowing where to start, many homeowners fall into two camps. Some start by looking at appliances. Others start by collecting inspiring kitchen photos. Some decide they need more room. Others simply want to upgrade their current kitchen. Homeowners may find themselves in this exploration stage for a year or longer before they start interviewing kitchen designers or general contractors. Once you’ve pondered long enough and you’re ready to green-light a kitchen remodeling project, then what? We’ll start with the first 9 steps and we’ll get into the nitty-gritty details under specific steps as we move through the complete kitchen remodel workbook.

Step 1: Think about what you need in your kitchen remodel, this step is all about how you use your kitchen, and finding the layout and features that fit your household’s lifestyle. Get ideas from every resource possible, including guides and photos and kitchen showrooms. Think about your priorities: how many people will be cooking and gathering here, and how they’ll need to move around in it. Do you need an addition? Or can you work with your existing kitchen footprint? If you haven’t already, start saving photos of kitchens with features that suit your style. Your collection can be organized and beautiful like a scrapbook or it can be filled with random, unorganized images. I actually prefer the latter, because I like to randomly stuff images into my folders and ideabooks and go back to them later on for edits.

Step 2: Research and plan, ready to green-light that project and take the plunge? The best place to start is by formulating what’s commonly referred to as a scope of work and figuring out your preliminary budget. Both of these may be subject to change, so don’t feel like you have only once chance at this. Budget and scope are intertwined and often change many times during the kitchen design process as you become more educated and able to reconcile what you want and what you can afford. As a homeowner, you’re not expected to walk into this knowing what everything should cost. Remember, this is an educational process.

Step 3: Find the professionals you will need, even if you’re going the DIY route, unless you’re building your own kitchen cabinets and doing your own electrical and plumbing, you’re going to have to work with a professional at some point. It may be as brief as leaning on your salesperson to help you in selecting and ordering your appliances or cabinets, but it’s something to plan on either way. Some people start by visiting big-box stores or cabinet showrooms where they can see everything. Many homeowners get referrals from friends or colleagues and start by hiring an architect or designer. Still others might work on their own with a builder or contractor. Pros are available to help you with everything from contracts and permits to space planning, budgets, choosing finishes and fixtures, shopping, ordering products, helping you set up a temporary kitchen, and managing your project from start to finish.

Step 4: Schematic design, this phase includes sketches, space planning, preliminary floor plans and elevations showing the layout and cabinet sizes. I try to keep my clients focused more on layout and space planning, even though the temptation is to talk about what the kitchen will look like. But I find that getting caught up in the look too early can distract from the space planning phase. Plus, you need a plan in order to figure out what materials will go where, and how many square feet you will need, and ultimately how much this will cost. I like to begin the contractor interview process early and give them a preliminary drawing packet and scope of work so we can get some ballpark construction numbers. At the same time you can be sending out drawings for estimates on some top choices of kitchen finishes and fixtures.

Step 5: Fixture and finish specification, throughout this process, and probably long before, you have been saving photos of kitchens you love into your ideabooks and folders. You’ve found your kitchen style, whether it’s modern, classic, traditional, cottage or a personal style in between. You probably know if you want a white kitchen, a natural wood kitchen, or some color. Now you need to make your final selection of finishes and fixtures. This usually includes: Cabinetry construction type, doorstyle, finish and color, Countertop material, Refrigerators and other appliances, Kitchen sink and faucet, Light fixtures, Flooring, Backsplash, Decorative hardware

Step 6: Work on design development and construction documents, this is the stage when you finalize the design and prepare final floor plans, elevations, details and, if applicable, mechanical and electrical drawings, lighting switch plans, and exterior elevations. This is where your final permit set or Construction Drawings (CDs) come into play. It’s important to have finishes and fixtures selected at this time, since this is what will be considered in the final pricing from the contractor. You’ll submit drawings for permits. These have a lead time, so check the timing with your local village. You’ll need an architect, designer or licensed contractor signed up to finalize the paperwork and pick up your permits, so get ready to hire someone in the next step. I often find that we’re submitting for permits around the same time or a little bit after we’ve placed the cabinet order, due to similar lead times.

Step 7: Get contractor estimates, if you don’t already have a licensed contractor on your project, your next step is to find one to carry the project through. I always recommend to my clients to get at least three different contractor estimates. I like to do preliminary walk-throughs with the contractors once the schematic designs are done so we can get some ballpark estimates and find out if we’re on the right track or need to pull back some to fit the budget.

Step 8: Get ready for demo, the big day is upon us, most likely something like 4-8 weeks from when you submitted for permits. Time to get that schedule firmed up and plan on cleaning out the cabinets, putting what you don’t need in storage and — if you’re living in the house during construction — setting up a temporary kitchen so you don’t lose your mind! You may be moving out of your house temporarily, but most homeowners white-knuckle it and try to live in the house through construction. Preparation and organization can save your sanity. Discuss the logistics ahead of time with your contractor. Will you meet once a week for updates? Will you have to be out of the house for certain tasks like demo or flooring? What about debris removal and dust? Are there any family allergy issues? What is a typical work day for the crew? Getting all this on the table beforehand can set expectations and make for a smoother ride.

Step 9: Surviving the dreaded punch list, once construction is over, well … almost over … there’s always this annoying little list of items that are missing, wrong, or simply forgotten about. A missing light switch plate, a caulk line that shrank and pulled away from the wall, paint touch ups — small things like this, and sometimes bigger things like the hood doesn’t work, or there’s a big scratch in the newly refinished floor. Sometimes the homeowner does the punch list. It can be as informal as an emailed list of items that need to be fixed or finished. I like to use a little form I put together that identifies the item to be fixed or finished, the responsible party and the date of completion. I send it to the client for review, changes and additions, and then off to the contractor. It’s inevitable that the contractor may have to make multiple visits back to the house to finish these items; prepare yourself for more than one visit and you’ll be fine. The best way to approach this is with a Zen attitude. Things happen, little things get missed. It’s sort of like making a list for the grocery store and still forgetting some key ingredient. We all do it. Most people spend a year or two planning a kitchen. Sarah Robertson spent 10. She’s been designing other people’s kitchens for the past decade, but during that time, she was filing away ideas. She got the chance to put those ideas into action about a year ago and recently completed the kitchen of her dreams. Here’s what 10 years of professional kitchen design planning looks like.

Kitchen at a Glance, who lives here: Designer Sarah Robertson of Studio Dearborn; her husband, Bruce, who works in private equity; their sons, ages 13 and 15; and Misty the cat, location: Mamaroneck, New York, size: About 375 square feet (35 square meters), including a bar area.

Backstory. The house in Mamaroneck, New York, was built in 1926 and belonged to the grandparents of the designer’s husband, Bruce Robertson. They bought the home in 1940, and Bruce and Sarah bought it from Bruce’s parents in 2010. Natural light. Sarah relocated the kitchen to what was formerly a bathroom and Bruce’s office. She chose this location because it has windows on three sides, offering leafy views of the backyard and lots of light. She also installed the largest windows she could find, which required steel supports to hold them. “It was well worth it to get a few more inches of light,” she says. Symmetry. For symmetry, Sarah put the sink in the middle of the back windows and added tall cabinets on both sides.

Metal panels. Sarah covered the toe kicks and refrigerator with metal laminate panels to mimic the look of aged zinc at a more affordable price. She also removed the oven door and sent it away to be powder-coated to match the fridge. Range. Sarah didn’t want a range hood breaking up the view, so she added a ceiling unit. She says grease on the windows hasn’t been an issue in six months of use. “I’m pretty neat when I cook, and if it’s splattering, it’s usually on the front burner,” she says. “It might splatter all over the floor, but that’s easy enough to clean up.” Cabinets. Sarah wanted light-colored cabinets but didn’t want pure white or gray. She found the right balance of beige and gray in Light Pewter by Benjamin Moore.

Island. Sarah had a wood-topped island in her old kitchen and loved the look, feel and durability. This top is stained walnut. Floor. With dark countertops, dark windows and other dark accents, she decided to go light with oak flooring that was sanded, bleached and stained with a pale stain. Backsplash. Carrara marble tile matches other marble in the house. Sarah chose to go with long, slim tiles — “it’s not a shape you see every day,” she says — and dark grout for a statement. Primary prep station. Sarah’s main design decision was to create a primary prep station at the island that would have everything she needs close by — knives, cutting boards, oils, and pots and pans. When cooking, she’s most often found standing at the island in front of the drawers, with her back to the range.

Below her prep station, custom stained walnut drawer inserts offer a place for every utensil. “These are something I really try to talk clients into doing,” she says. “You don’t think about how often drawers are open in the kitchen. You’re in and out of them all the time. It’s such a beautiful touch to have inside drawers.” A drawer with custom dividers elegantly stores skillets and sauce pans. A slim drawer holds baking pans and cookie sheets. A custom walnut-fronted pullout stores cooking oils near the range and prep station.

Perimeter countertops. Sarah, pictured, wanted a low-maintenance natural stone and fell in love with honed Jet Mist granite years ago. “It looks like soapstone and is very forgiving,” she says. The designer is known for her thoughtful storage additions, such as the paper towel holder that’s recessed over pullout trash bins. Tall cabinets. Sarah likes to use tall countertop cabinets in kitchen corners because she thinks that countertop space rarely gets put to use. Here, the cabinet stores spices and oils near her prep station, as well as more commonly used snacks and foods. Lighting. She had trouble finding the right lighting for the small space above the windows and ended up working with an artist she found online to create custom wall sconces out of gunmetal and solid brass.

Appliance garage. A walnut-accented appliance garage stores the microwave next to the fridge. Below the microwave is a walnut organizer for tea and coffee. Hardware. Sarah says more brass finishes are on the market today than when she began her search for cabinet hardware more than a year ago. She searched high and low for solid brass pulls and eventually found them while on vacation in London, in a hardware store next to her hotel. She stripped off the lacquer to allow an aged look to develop over time. Bar. A bar area features characterful walnut cabinetry with a “few knots and imperfections,” she says. It matches the nearby island countertop.

Floor plan. This image shows the original floor plan on the left, with the kitchen in the center and a bathroom and small office at the top. The new floor plan, on the right, shows how Sarah removed two load-bearing walls and the bathroom to create an open kitchen with windows on three sides. Maybe you’re dreaming of a full kitchen remodel someday (but that day is a long way off), or perhaps you like your current kitchen but want to change a few components. If this sounds like your situation, a kitchen refresh could be just the thing. Even without reconfiguring the layout of the space, there’s a lot to consider, from small items, such as new cabinet hardware and lighting, to major changes, such as new counters and appliances. And whether your budget is $100 or $10,000, it can be a challenge to decide what to prioritize and what to put on the back burner.

Use this kitchen refresh plan as your starting point, and customize it to work with your space and budget. If your budget is around $100: Change the wall color. Between cabinetry and appliances, kitchens generally have limited wall space — which means it won’t take much paint to cover it. If you do the painting yourself, your only costs will be a gallon or so of paint (check this guide, or ask at the paint store to get the right amount) and basic painting supplies. If you have cash left, use it to pick up a new art print and pop it into a ready-made frame to decorate your freshly painted wall.

If your budget is around $300: Change the wall color, put up a new art print and then swap out a light fixture. One swap for tired lighting can make a huge difference in how your kitchen looks and feels — and there are so many great budget lighting options available you don’t have to break the bank to get an on-trend look. If you have more room in your budget, replace all of the kitchen lights, or splurge on a fancier pendant over the island. If your budget is around $500: Paint, hang art, get new lighting and add open shelves. Open shelving certainly has its fans — and its critics — but one thing is certain: It does wonders for small spaces. Even replacing one small upper cabinet with a set of open shelves can make your kitchen feel more spacious and provides an opportunity to display favorite dishes and accessories.

If your budget is around $700: What’s next? After the fresh paint, art, lighting and open shelves, consider springing for a new faucet. Replacing a kitchen faucet costs less than doing the whole sink (that’s next) and can be a DIY job for handy homeowners. If your budget is around $1,000: If you have more wiggle room in your budget, splash out on a new sink to go with that new faucet. Keep in mind that if your new sink is a different style than the old one, you may face additional installation costs to fit it properly into the cabinetry and counter. If your budget is around $1,500: Paint, art, new lighting, open shelves, a new sink and then a makeover for your cabinets. Brand-new cabinetry is one of the higher-cost items in a kitchen remodel, so if you can avoid it, do! If your cabinets are in pretty good shape, repaint them, following the necessary steps to preparing them for their new finish. Then replace the old cabinet knobs and pulls. Know that if your cabinets need to be refaced — which involves replacing rather than just repainting the doors — the cost will be significantly more.

If your budget is around $5,000: Along with updating the cabinets, installing new counters is one of the biggest-impact changes you can make to your kitchen. There’s a wide range of options when it comes to great-looking kitchen counter materials — there’s a huge cost difference between, for instance, maple butcher block from Ikea and marble — so hunt around until you find something you like that fits your budget. If your budget is around $10,000: Paint, lighting, open shelves, a new sink, refreshed cabinets, new counters … what’s left? If you have more room in your budget, it’s time to choose new appliances. To avoid extra installation costs, select appliances that fit in the same space the old ones occupied.

Who doesn’t crave more space, particularly in the kitchen? My husband would like to implement the “one in, one out” rule in our house, but fortunately for me, he hasn’t managed to enforce it. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a kitchen designer, it’s that you don’t always need to add more cabinets, or throw out half of your small appliances, to create more storage. Often all that’s needed is some clever thinking and hardworking cabinets to make the best use of the space you already have. 1. Suspend it overhead. This U-shaped kitchen is cleverly laid out with lots of counter space and undercounter cabinets. However, there is very little wall space against which to position upper cabinets.

No wall? No worries! Here, a row of shelves hangs from the ceiling above the counter, providing additional storage in an innovative way. Keeping the shelves open instead of putting doors on them helps maintain an airy feeling. 2. Reach high. When horizontal space is restricted, go vertical. The upper cabinets in this kitchen extend to the ceiling, making the most of every inch of space. The higher shelves are the perfect place to store occasionally used items, such as holiday platters, birthday cake pans and those bulk packages of paper towels. Keep a small step stool close at hand to make access to these cabinets easier. If space allows, store the stool in an undercounter cabinet or the lower part of the pantry. 3. Incorporate a secret drawer. A kitchen can never have too many drawers. And what better place to fit an extra drawer than inside another? This well-organized cutlery and utensil drawer makes fantastic use of space by having two separate drawers behind one drawer front.

One section can be used for utensils, while the other can store cutlery. Alternatively, the second drawer is a great place to store a second set of cutlery reserved for special occasions and celebration dinners. 4. Pull it out. Corner cabinets are often difficult to reach, yet they are essential to utilizing every bit of space. Building a wire pullout into a corner cabinet makes it much more convenient to use, and it facilitates additional storage. Pullouts are available for both L-shaped corner cabinets and straight corner cabinets, also known as blind corner cabinets. The wire pullout pictured here is attached to the back of the cabinet door. The front section pulls out as the door is opened, which in turn pulls the back section forward. This makes it possible to pack as much into the cabinet as possible while ensuring that everything is still easy to access.

5. Hide behind closed doors. When counter space is limited, it can often be difficult to find a place to put everything you need in your kitchen. This clever pantry cabinet serves multiple purposes and makes the most of the space it occupies. Counter space concealed behind pocket doors can be used to store small appliances, such as a kettle, toaster and coffee machine. This space even includes a small prep sink. The shelving above is the ideal place to keep tea and coffee canisters and cups. The cabinets below and above can serve as pantry storage for dried food or as storage for dishes, glasses and containers. 6. Fit it in. Here is another great example of making the most of nooks and crannies with cleverly designed cabinets. This traditional home boasts a beautiful old brick fireplace that is no longer used for its original purpose.

Building a cabinet to house the ovens, and putting additional storage drawers in the opening, not only makes optimal use of the space available in this room, but it also creates a stunning visual feature. The well-placed island provides counter space on which to put hot roasting pans as they come out of the oven. A space like this could also be used for pantry storage. 7. Utilize a bulkhead. This kitchen takes the concept of using every available inch of space to a whole new level. A bulkhead is often essential above kitchen cabinets to conceal unsightly beams, air conditioner ducting, range hood ducting or plumbing pipes from upstairs. Sometimes it can be possible to steal back some of that space and use it as additional storage. Here, open shelves have been incorporated into the bulkhead area. Not only do they create additional storage space, but they also add an interesting design feature to the kitchen. The inclusion of a library ladder can be dangerous when young children are about, however. It isn’t essential, though, particularly if you have space to store a step stool or small ladder close to the area.

8. Move outside. When space in the kitchen is tight and already packed with essentials, it is sometimes necessary to look further afield for additional storage. These cabinets in a small outdoor kitchen area are a clever way to create additional storage space as well as a place to house a barbecue and outdoor sink. Use these cabinets to store everything you need for the barbecue, such as utensils, large serving platters, outdoor tableware and cleaning supplies. This frees up valuable storage space in the kitchen and makes barbecues more pleasurable. 9. Squeeze in a desk. Tight corners, oddly shaped rooms, nooks and alcoves can make designing a kitchen more difficult. The trick is thinking outside the box and figuring out what each space is best used for.

A recess in the wall next to this kitchen contains built-in cabinets to create a small study nook. The desktop is the perfect size for a laptop or even a full computer, while a small drawer underneath can keep unpaid bills and shopping lists off the kitchen counter. The open shelves add visual interest and can be used to display decorative items, store small boxes of paperwork or even keep cookbooks within easy reach of the kitchen. 10. Split it up. This character-filled kitchen works hard to maximize the available space. Incorporating a spot for a microwave into a kitchen design is essential these days. A microwave takes up a lot of valuable real estate, so it’s generally preferable to build it into its own compartment where it doesn’t interrupt counter space and workflow. This tall pantry is split into three sections. The top and lower sections cater to dried food storage, while the open section in the center creates the ideal space for a microwave and cookbooks. A second space-saving design feature of this pantry is its sliding doors. The pantry is in a corner right next to the main entrance door to the kitchen. Hinged doors would block the doorway when opened, whereas sliding doors keep the walkway free at all times.

When it comes to kitchen cabinets, most of us crave custom design. Whether it’s posh crown moldings or ingenious storage solutions, custom design is all about the details. Add a personal touch to your kitchen cabinets with these 12 ideas that bring designer style to the heart of your home. Crown molding. Few things leave designer fingerprints like crown molding does. It can bridge the gap between your wall cabinets and the ceiling, allowing for a seamless transition. In traditional kitchens, it can cap off the design with one final touch of detail. Matching ends. Instead of a flush skin, go with matching panels for your cabinet ends. Like decorative legs, they have a furniture-style look. This type of detail especially thrives in traditional or Mediterranean spaces. A matching end comes integrated into the cabinet or as a separate piece. You can install your own; just make sure there’s enough room first. Some panels are up to ¾ inch thick, depending on the manufacturer.

Decorative legs. From chunky to Mission style, table legs always catch the eye. Place them at the ends of your island or work them into your cabinet layout for a true furniture feel. In general, legs with detailing are better suited for traditional and rustic designs. Simple, straightforward legs work best with contemporary and modern designs. A splash of color. Neutrals remain the go-to hues to use for kitchen cabinets, so a stroke of green or blue is a daring design choice. It can be a risk that pays off. The effect is a bright and bold design with just the right amount of spice. Your neutrals will also pop, as they do in this contemporary design. Glass door fronts. Whether transparent, frosted or seeded, a glass door front sets the stage for a glimpse of fine dishware and dazzling decor, especially when there are lights involved. This type of display can make your kitchen design open and inviting, which lets you and your guests feel right at home. Corbels. Ornate, oversized and even plain corbels add traditional elegance to an island and kitchen cabinets.

Mixed door styles. If you’re stuck between two cabinet door styles, don’t be afraid to use both. Complementary styles can strengthen your kitchen’s overall look, while opposites can produce an attractive transitional design. This kitchen shakes it up with a mix of modern slab door fronts and Shaker-style cabinets. Beadboard. As timeless as black and white, beadboard is perfect for rustic, farmhouse or beach-style kitchen designs. It also adds a smidgen of detail without compromising the simplicity of your design. Use it as the finishing touch for your cabinet ends or find a door style that has it built in. Creative storage spaces. Don’t always settle for cookie-cutter storage options. A custom wine rack drawer is one way to give your cabinets a designer touch (and house a growing wine collection). Other popular options are spice rack drawers, peg pullouts for utensils, and tray dividers for baking sheets. Custom built-ins like these show personality and are a perfect marriage of form and function.

Wainscoat panels. Not to be confused with matching ends, wainscoat panels adorn the backs of cabinets. They can dress up the back side of your island and make it look like an authentic furniture piece with the help of decorative legs and matching ends. Fluted molding. Here’s where a little extra detail goes a long way. Put fluted molding on both sides of a cabinet (preferably at a center point, like a sink or stove base) to make a statement. Unique stains and glazes. An antique finish can add charm, and a custom glaze brings unparalleled character to kitchen cabinets.