5. Think structure, not just finishes
Kitchen designers know about more than countertops. They are trained to know how to work with flow and traffic patterns and room proportions. They might be able to make you see a space in a whole new configuration by moving doors or walls, so you need to be open to rethinking your layout.

Dana Jones says that what often keeps people from thinking about structural changes is budget concerns. But when a kitchen is already completely torn out, sometimes the added cost of moving a door or window is minimal. A kitchen designer can help you figure out the most efficient and least costly way to make footprint changes within the scope of the work you're already planning to do—and might even save you money if a new configuration means fewer custom cabinets and odd-size appliances.

6. Be smart about scrapbooks
Most designers recommend clients clip photos of kitchens they like. But there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. Jones says that all too often, "a new client will pull out five different kitchen photos and say 'I like the faucet' in every one. Okay, I get the faucet."

A better strategy is to collect pictures showing a range of preferences. One might have your favorite sink/island combination, even if you hate the cabinets; another could have the cabinets you've always wanted, but a refrigerator you don't like. Collect photos with an eye to details like lighting, backsplashes, and hardware.

Some people don't know what they like about a picture until prodded—and that's where the designer comes in. Lindquist recalls a client with a stack of seemingly unrelated kitchen pictures who couldn't verbalize what she liked about them. "Finally I realized they all had thicker-than-standard countertops," she recalls. "When I mentioned it she said, 'You know, you're right; I like the beefed-up look.'"

7. Ask for a walk-through
Designers are very good at taking a paper drawing and understanding how it will look in 3-D. But if you're not the kind of person who can translate lines on a page into ­real cabinets, consider asking for a full-size mock-up, a rendering in cardboard of your kitchen's structures. There will be a fee for this, but it gives you a chance to walk through everything and test out placement, sizes, traffic flow, and clearances before everything is permanent.

Just after the walls came down to make a bigger space for Chris's kitchen, she had a small panic. She had grown up in the apartment and immediately missed her childhood kitchen. So Kathy Marshall and TOH general contractor Tom Silva made her two mock-ups—one with everything she wanted squeezed ­into the old space, and one that conformed to the new drawings. "In the old space, everything would end up becoming smaller," says Marshall. "Her banquette area wouldn't exist, the island would be tiny, and, because of traffic through the back door, it would be in the middle of everything." It didn't take long for Chris to see the light.

8. Spend money to save money
There may be times when a homeowner feels he or she has overwhelmed the designer with info. But that's actually good—the more the designer has to go on, the better.

Which is why, if there are any parts of the design that aren't working, speak up now—and avoid correcting a mistake down the line. It's worth going back to the drawing board until it's all perfect, even if it means more money in design fees. "You have to feel one hundred percent well and good about every decision," says Gaylor. "If you have any hesitation, ask the designer to change it, get a variation. It might cost a couple hundred dollars, but it's worth it."

9. Move on if it's not working
Then there are the times when, no matter how much discussion you have, the design just isn't gelling. "If a designer keeps coming back with something that doesn't work, then there's a point where you have to stop giving them the benefit of the doubt," says Jones. "Cut your losses and move on." After all, it's your ­vision, and you need someone who can give you that kitchen you've always dreamed of.
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