Recently, I’ve been working on a large-scale residential renovation project here in Melbourne. I was engaged by my clients to provide full architectural services for the project – that is from concept design right through the permit process and construction documentation and then on to contract administration during construction.

The only part of the project that I was not engaged to design and detail was their new kitchen. During their travels the clients had seen a new brand of imported kitchen in a nearby showroom and fallen in love with it. So they engaged a “kitchen designer” from said showroom as part of the team.

Although my ego was a little bruised by the clients’ rejection of my abilities, I dusted myself off (as architects always do) and looked into their proposed alternative. Although ridiculously overpriced, I have to admit that it was a pretty swanky looking kitchen! Having worked with interior designers and other design-based consultants before, I wasn’t concerned by the prospect of a new team member. But I did expect that they would document and co-ordinate their part of the project to the same high standard as I had with the rest of it.

Sadly, I was wrong. Their progress was slow, documentation unclear and their service became very disjointed from the rest of the project. To the point where I had to re-document much of their design into my documentation to ensure the information was correctly conveyed to the builders on site.

Since this situation arose, I have thought some more about why? Why was their kitchen design service so different from the kitchen design service I offered to the clients? Essentially, we offer the same service – to design and document a kitchen. But the big difference is that they are not just designing and documenting a kitchen, but also selling the client the limited range of products that they represent.

As an illustration of that: to highlight the exclusive nature of his imported European product, the kitchen designer/salesman told the clients that the material that was to be used for their benchtop was not available in Australia. In reality, it was a material I had already specified on numerous other projects. Yep, that actually happened!

As an architect, I do not sell products. I help my clients find the right products and fittings that best serve their needs, not mine. I design the kitchen based on what is right for the client’s lifestyle and budget – wherever it comes from, not with a limited palette of ideas and options.

The clients also benefit from a fully integrated design response. You see, the kitchen design also impacts on other parts of the design – the walk-in pantry, the open-plan living and dining areas, external parts of the building – window and door locations, electrical, lighting and sometimes even on the locations of other spaces like the garage and laundry.

With one person responsible for integrating all those ideas, clients are sure to gain a much more unified and fluid design response. Additionally, the client has one point of contact to co-ordinate the design and documentation and does not have to manage the liaison between multiple designers and their architect.

Now don’t get me wrong, the kitchen designer in this case did a great job of selling their design and representing their product to the client, and I hope the install all goes according to plan (subject of another post perhaps??). I do not intend here to denigrate their skills. But as I was engaged to design their new home, the clients would have achieved a more cohesive design result if I had been allowed to include the kitchen in that scope of work. They would have saved themselves time, money and the angst of controlling the separate design components. My architectural design skills are not limited to just one part of the house or one product.

The moral of this story is not that architects are better than kitchen designers. But rather, that as architects we need to help our clients and potential clients understand all the ways in which we bring real value and expertise to a whole project.