You need a degree to design kitchens…

Jo Buckerfield (pictured), design director of Your Space Living in Glamorgan, says it’s a ‘jungle out there’ with any ‘Tom, Dick or Harry’ able to set up as a kitchen retailer. She believes a degree qualification shows clients the designer’s commitment to their craft

In the 15 years I’ve been working professionally in the KBB industry, I’ve met barely a handful of qualified designers. I’m shocked by that fact. When I graduated from Kingston University in 2000 with a degree in furniture design, I was expecting to be one fish in a tidal wave of graduates flooding into the KBB industry. How wrong I was.

I’ll lay my cards on the table from the start. I believe that anyone designing kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms or any home furniture renovation in return for financial reward must have a relevant formal qualification to at least degree standard.

I realise that’s a controversial statement and for the kitchen retailer who wants to lecture me on how ‘30 years of experience in the trade beats any degree on the planet’, allow me to interject.

If you do have 30 years of experience creating stunning interiors that send your clients weak at the knees, add value to their homes and enhance their lives for the better, then fair play, I salute you. But if you have 30 years of experience selling boxes on walls that aim to barely satisfy your clients’ uneducated expectations and maximise profit over value, then your business is in serious jeopardy.

If you are running a business that falls somewhere between those two extremes, I believe you need to consider the qualifications of your designers. Design does matter and good design matters more than ever. A relevant degree-level qualification sets a standard that is universally recognised and helps clients understand the commitment a designer has made to their craft.

The world is changing fast. People communicate in ways we never thought possible 10 years ago and the referral you get from your client means more today than it ever has in the past. Add to that the endless images that get posted on Facebook and Pinterest, and you’ll understand why I feel there’s simply no room for shoddy design, poor installations and a substandard service.

For 99.9% of UK homeowners, the house they buy is the biggest investment they will ever make. The architect who designed it will have a string of letters after their name, as will the solicitor who helped push the sale through a complicated legal process. Then, through a combination of budgetary limitations and pure ignorance, the unsuspecting homeowner lets all hell break loose by allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry through the door to put their stamp on it. At the end of the day, it’s an unregulated jungle out there and when it comes to home renovation, buyer beware! Unfortunately, when you only buy one or two kitchens in a lifetime, you just don’t have the experience to make a truly educated decision.


Is regulation the answer? I personally don’t think so. There are simply too many opinions and vested interests to ever make regulation viable. When it comes to gas, electricity and structural engineering, there is some degree of consensus. But in the realm of interior design, at least from a visual perspective, you’ll never get any agreement that could lead to a set of satisfactory standards. On top of that, who will regulate the regulators? It’s likely to be the companies with the deepest pockets who will ‘guide’ the industry in a direction that generates them the biggest market share and highest profits. Ultimately, regulation would stifle creativity and encourage the cookie-cutter retailers who already dominate the industry for all the wrong reasons.

Let me explain why a traditional design degree is so important. A degree in the arts starts at an early age, long before the concept of financial reward enters the consciousness of the student. Genuine talent will be picked up in the classroom and an artistic child will be channelled through art GCSE and A Levels before taking a general art foundation degree and then select a suitable Batchelor of Arts degree. That’s potentially nine years of artistic study before entering the professional world. And let’s not forget an art and design degree is very different from academic subjects. My degree required a seven-days-a-week and 14-hours-a-day commitment with 90% of that time on campus and in workshops.

We now have a Kitchen Design Degree available at Bucks New University. On the surface, this is a great step forward, but I do have my reservations. For one, the course is part-time over three years. A degree of any standing should benefit from full-time access to lecturers and university resources. On top of that, the modules are too niche for a youngster who is still pondering the wide career options that await them in the professional world.

I feel that more general degrees, such as product and furniture or interior and spatial design, are the way to go. Courses that offer the full depth and breadth of design principles and history in practical and academic modules create a more solid grounding.

So, is a design degree the end of the educational line? Absolutely not. Three years’ full-time will still only scratch the surface. Designers should continue to develop and grow throughout their career. There’s product development, understanding trends, technological advancement, relationship building, project management, business development, marketing, costing. The list of skills that need continual development is vast. A well-rounded designer with a degree qualification and a desire for continuing personal development is a truly valuable asset to your business.

Unfortunately, very few kitchen retailers truly understand the value of a qualified designer. So much so that they offer the ‘design’ service for ‘free’. If you are genuinely offering free design, then by definition you are not a professional. If you are claiming to offer free design, but actually hiding a design fee in the furniture cost, you are deceiving your client and that’s never going to end well.

This leads me to my ultimate conclusion. We are part of an industry that is flooded with people who have no formal training claiming to be something they are not. Knowing your way around CAD packages does not make you a designer.

Regulation will be impossible to enforce and that’s not what my clients want anyway. My clients would much rather have a great design that they love and that suits their needs. They want to know they’ve received a top-class service and the best value from a company that cares about the result.

That’s what I attempt to deliver for all my clients and, regardless of the direction the KBB industry goes, I’ll continue on a path that I’m qualified to say is right for me and the people I serve.

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