The specialist skills a designer needs

Grant Hughes, a young graduate at Herbert William Kitchens in Hampshire, reflects on how kitchen designers are having to get involved in many others parts of a project and learn new skills

Kitchen design is starting to require more knowledge of a variety of design disciplines. Not only this, but we also have to keep up on technical specifications of the latest appliances, worktops, furniture… The list goes on.

As part of a rounded kitchen design, we are often asked to think about, or relate to, other finishes and textures in a room. We also get asked for our opinions on light fittings and the clients often expect the latest CGI visuals or professionally drawn perspectives. We are also occasionally being asked to help on wall colour, and even the selection of stools and benches.

To cut a long story short, modern kitchen designs, with any style, are very complex, they also take an expert level of skill to pull off well.

Is kitchen design now about far more than just the kitchen? Or should we be reining in our propositions to avoid having to embark on a wider learning curve?

If the answer to the first question is yes, we may all have some extra homework to do. And which skills will give us the edge in this new competitive market?

With the likes of B&Q becoming supply-only, Howdens supplying to the trade level and Wickes dealing with the DIY buyer but with the inclusion of installation, where do we as independents sit? Is it worth trying to compete with Wickes and Howdens or should our speciality be in designing more than just the kitchen?

The next stage would be exactly how our businesses evolve to encompass this bright new horizon. Should independent kitchen companies be hiring an in-house interior designer? Should we also be splitting the workload a little more and have dedicated CGI technicians rendering the designers’ work? Perhaps software will one day allow all of us to achieve interactive VR kitchens.

Lastly, should we still call ourselves independent kitchen specialists or should more of us take on the title of interior architect? However, I personally feel this title steps on the toes of architects. My own idea would be to change the strap line of the company to ‘Kitchen and Interior Design Studio’.

The alternative is for us as kitchen designers to take on some of these extra skills and outsource the parts we cannot do. Would it hurt for all of us to have a good knowledge of interior design and a working knowledge of building works outside of the kitchen? Through necessity, a great many kitchen designers already do.

As a company, we often take on light building work as part of the project, such as taking out a wall or putting in ceiling lights. These requests are already throwing us into the realms of project management.

As for myself, I am always expanding my horizons because I can basically never sit still. I have been learning 3D modelling and game programming, I’ve dabbled in photography, colour theory and even investigated sales psychology.

I do see these skills starting to seep in and enhance my kitchen design work.

Why rely on my knowledge of the working triangle and zones to dictate my design when I can introduce the rule of thirds? How useful is it to be able to justify a choice of colour to help a client pick? If my CAD package doesn’t have a model to represent what I am looking for, how useful is it to simply make one?

I am even considering using the skills I am slowly learning in game development to create a couple of architectural visualisation videos using the latest game engine Unreal 4.

Personally, I don’t see this as overkill at this point. However, in a perfect world, I would rather have a studio filled with these various professionals. The downside to this is that many companies would have to expand greatly and may not be able to make such an investment.

Would it hurt for all of us to have a good knowledge of interior design and a working knowledge of building works outside of the kitchen?

In order to cater for this market, we may need to become the conductor organising these professionals from different trades. As an alternative, potentially we could employ a dedicated project manager to coordinate the different professionals. This member of the team would be speaking to the local architect, interior designer, etc. They would also accompany the client on these visits to help them through the jargon and put a single mind in place to coordinate everything.

This project manager would also give out design briefs to the various designers. Is there room for that kind of professional?

I sit firmly on the side of ‘why not?’. I’m constantly striving to improve my designs anyway. With all these new aspects to research and incorporate, I can improve almost endlessly. One day it would be nice to be able to split the load on each project – much more like in other industries. But for now, I am very happy to learn these new skills and become the Swiss army knife of kitchen design.

Who knows, perhaps this approach will attract a whole undiscovered market of business. One where homeowners want their renovation, big or small, to be handled by one person who is coordinating the different design disciplines from the kitchen studio seat. Then they wouldn’t have to go to four different studios to get what they need.

Home > Opinion > The specialist skills a designer needs