Illustration: Kristofor L. Kvarfordt
It seemed like a simple request: Give my space a "cottage by the sea" feeling. That's what Christine Flynn said when describing her dream kitchen to Kathy Marshall. Marshall is the kitchen designer charged with transforming Chris's dated space in the upstairs apartment of the two-family house that is this season's renovation on This Old House television. Marshall is doing double duty: She must also design a kitchen for Chris's niece, Liz Bagley, who owns the downstairs apartment and wants her kitchen to look like a contemporary loft.

That may not seem like much to go on, but for a designer, turning vague descriptions into fully functional dream kitchens is a daily challenge. A homeowner who's new to the process, however, has plenty to learn. Marshall's designs didn't appear overnight—the three women put in months of back-and-forth, with meetings, drawings, mock-ups, and more drawings. Every designer needs this time to truly understand what the client wants. "You can take the same space and get ten completely different kitchens," says Dana Jones, a kitchen designer from Long Beach, California. "So when people say 'Give me a nice kitchen,' I say, 'Which nice kitchen?'"

One Footprint, Two Kitchens
The house featured this season on TOH TV is a two-family. The kitchens in each apartment started out with almost identical footprints. However, the homeowners have entirely different tastes.

Chris and Liz's kitchens are good case studies in the homeowner-designer relationship. Both rooms started out with similar footprints and ended up reflecting individual tastes. "I realized that Liz's 'modern' wasn't stainless steel and high-tech," says Marshall. "It was really about minimalism, neatness, and storage." With Chris, "cottage" was not just about white beadboard, but plenty of natural light.

So how can you get your kitchen designer to find meaning in your musings? Here's a 9-step plan that will help you get the most out of the designer-client partnership, turning your time, money, and ideas into the kitchen you've always wanted.
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