Don’t charge for design if you can’t design

Kbbreview award-winning kitchen designer, Diane Berry, believes that if you’re a good designer you should charge for the service you provide and suggests why she’d happily contribute to a scheme where projects can be star-rated by an industry judging panel

Architects train for seven years to be able to charge for their knowledge. In fact, that’s all they’re charging for, as the cement, bricks and mortar are all sourced from elsewhere.

If they are handling the whole project, it is transparent and they get a set percentage of the works for the whole contract. The client can clearly see the costs and the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) sets and controls this practice as best they can.

A structural engineer is the same, they are paid for their expertise and don’t make their wages on the RSJs.

So yes, I charge £2,500 for my design work. I haven’t been to college or university, but my goodness I know kitchens. I’ve worked in this industry since I was 16 and some 36 years later I am still honing my craft. But I respect my clients and this payment comes off the cost of their kitchen. So is it a design fee or is it a partial deposit?

Almost all the clients that have paid me a fee upfront have proceeded with their kitchen installations, so they are simply confirming at our initial meeting that they are buying.

Two have chosen to just use my expertise for their designs – one went to a flat-pack warehouse and always told me that is what she would be doing; the other moved house, as her dream property came on the market.

Where does this leave me on the whole design fee or not conversation? Firstly, no one should charge for design if they can’t design! I know, that’s stating the obvious. Nor should they charge a small figure, as this also does damage, as people truly believe paying John Lewis £50 gives them an expert and would cover the designer’s time, fuel and paper. So really this isn’t a design fee it’s a ‘sort out the time-wasters payment’, isn’t it?

I’ve never seen a kitchen design I can’t improve. You’ll all think me arrogant, but it is true. So, if you’re designing a kitchen for a client before you present it, ask yourself – is it really the best you can do? If you had to send this to your teacher for marks out of 10, or be graded on it for your degree, would it be going out as you have drawn it? I bet most of the kitchen people out there know that they rarely present their very best work. What they do so often is the easiest option, or the quickest to fit, and prefer not to ‘rock the boat’ with change or daring ideas as they need the sale.

So who is driving this situation? The directors, who insist on sales figures and margins and don’t give a hoot about what is right for their client? Or is it the designers, for lacking the confidence to talk to the client and work out what is best for them within their budget?


I know where I stand on this. I prefer to sell less and never compromise on content and design. I watch my local competitors compromise time and time again, selling the same colours they always do, repeating one design as though cut-and-paste constitutes design.

I travel all over the country because people ring me to say they’ve been to three or four people and no one listens or creates anything unique. So the market for designers with an open mind and the willingness to be bold or daring is huge. And yes, it can be profitable, too.

I hear so many times from my clients, ‘I’m so glad you pushed me, as I love the room and always will’. Time and time again I get recommendations based on the design work I do – the total vision I had for the space. Trust me, lots of people in our trade can do what I do, if they choose to prioritise their client and not take the easy route to money in the bank. I like to look at all my clients as if they were my own family. I ask myself what would I want a designer or supplier to do for, say, my mum? Yes, I’d want them to listen and then do their very best.

So are you a good designer who listens to your clients brief and produces a layout? Are you a better designer, who listens to your client’s brief and produces a design with a few suggestions to enhance the layout? Or are you a fantastic designer, who will listen to the client’s brief, ask questions and push their client to embrace change that will enhance their lifestyle?

I know which I am. I do my best to encourage others to be better. I enter design awards to demonstrate that good design is not only good for the client, but brilliant for business, too. I fill my website with hundreds of client kitchens, so all designers have access to a huge library of works to click on to idea-hunt. I’m so open, as I’m always happy to see good design. And, every time there is a good design, our industry can be proud and avoid being tarnished with a direct sales mentality. This industry has given me and others an amazing living. Isn’t it time we all raised the bar and made design top of the requirement and not sales figures?

Maybe we can create a qualification for people in the industry? Every year we could all send in 10 finished projects, showing plan, visuals, photos of the end result and the consumers’ comments. These could be marked and star ratings allocated. The designs wouldn’t need to be high-end, flamboyant or unique, they simply need to be the best they can be, given the space and budget limitations. I would happily contribute to the cost of an organisation to do this – or maybe the KBSA could?

Even McDonald’s staff get star ratings and they achieve this while working, so why don’t we? Consumers could then ask designers to show them what star ratings they’ve achieved over the years.

I always want to remind people, when they see me charging for design and winning awards, that I have a tiny, 1,000sq ft out-of-town studio with four displays squeezed into it. I don’t have a huge emporium on a high street that wows people with fancy this and that, so design is my weapon and it does me and my amazing team proud.

I only sell Alno furniture, so we are not wowing people with unique, fancy woods, just simple German quality with fastidious attention to detail, coherent design and the attitude to do the very best we can for every client.

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