Here’s How to Know Which Pro to Hire for a Kitchen Reno

published Feb 25, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Minette Hand

When planning for a kitchen renovation, there are a lot of decisions to make. There are also a lot of people who can assist you or even make those decisions for you. Perhaps you’re remodeling your kitchen and you want to rethink how the whole layout works with the other rooms on the floor. Do you hire a kitchen designer, an architect, a contractor, a handyman, or all four? 

There are a lot of gray areas involved when it comes to whom to hire and what you trust them to take on. Many factors play into it: the scope of work, the legality of obtaining permits and plans, your long-term goals for the space, and your budget. Let’s break it down.

Credit: Samara Vise

The Handyman

If you’re inspired to make some surface-level design changes (i.e. hanging a pegboard for pots, pans and plants, adding a fun backsplash, installing cabinets or an upgraded appliance), you might call a handyman to do those things for you. You’re not making any structural or floor plan changes, you just want to make sure the changes are safely done.

“A good handyman can be used to do almost anything that does not require a permit,” says Nick Lewandowski, handyman in Jersey City, New Jersey. “I don’t change water heaters or replace toilets, because you have to have a permit, so you would need a proper plumber.”

He says his jobs range from hanging artwork to fixing leaks to wall repair. “If you have a dimmer switch that needs to be put on or a new light fixture that does not require a permit because you’re not changing any configurations, then a handyman is just fine,” Lewandowski adds.

Maybe you have an excellent (insured!) handyman and the more work they do for you, the more ideas you have about how the space could be better. The gray area comes in when the task you’re asking the handyman to do for you—which they might be capable of, but that’s beside the point—requires a permit from the city. That’s when you need to hire a contractor.

Credit: Mint Images/Getty Images

The Contractor

“A contractor is typically the company that will perform the hands-on work,” says Kevin Anundson, MCR, CKBR, and Director of Business Development at NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry). 

There are different types of contractors (general contractors, contractors, design/build contractors, remodeling contractors, and contractors with specific licensing such as mechanical, plumbing, electrical, etc.), but the important thing is that they are licensed by the state, and have the capability to pull work permits from the city.

So if you’re doing any work that requires a permit (i.e. changing or adding to the structure of your existing home), you’ll need to hire a contractor. This might include any work that would require you to move plumbing or electrical lines, as well as any work that would require knocking down or adding walls. The contractor is not necessarily personally doing all of this work; they will hire their trusted sub-contractors to perform each task—demolition, construction, plumbing, tiling, etc—to make sure the whole project stays on time and on budget.

“Design/build contractors are unique in that they provide the design services for the projects they are going to construct, so that service avoids the necessity of finding an independent kitchen designer or architect,” says Anundson.

That’s where it can get confusing. It doesn’t mean the contractor you hired is dreaming up kitchen designs in their spare time; it means that’s a service they can provide if they are part of a design/build firm. If you are using a general contractor, then you might consider hiring a kitchen designer.

The Kitchen Designer

I love scrolling Pinterest for beautiful, sleek open-concept kitchens. Does that make me a kitchen designer? Quick answer: No.

To be a Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer (CKBD) with the NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association), you need five years of experience (two years of full-time residential bath or kitchen experience and three years of other related-experience or college education), and 60 hours of NKBA education. You must be an expert on NKBA guidelines, as well as know all local building codes, safety regulations, consumer health standards ,and you must go through mandatory continuing education of new products and equipment, as well as pass a rigorous two-part exam. So it’s a bit different than scrolling Pinterest.

A kitchen designer will work with you to select all the countertops, cabinetry, color palette, lighting fixtures, backsplash, tiles, flooring, appliances, and map them out in a way that is not only reflective of your style, but in a way that functions efficiently for you and your family.

“Lastly, after all the selections are made, the details in the dimensioning and ordering are similar to advanced levels of calculus and the opportunities for errors are limitless,” says Anundson. So, again, it’s a lot more than just having a love for design images. If you are rethinking your whole floor plan, or making considerable structural changes to your home, you’re going to want to hire an architect, as well.

Credit: Minette Hand

The Architect

The rule of thumb: If you’re going to move walls, hire an architect. They’re the ones who can safely figure out how to rearrange load-bearing walls.

“Architects have training in design and aesthetics, so we can help people re-envision their space,” says Dawn Zuber, FAIA, of Studio Z Architecture out of Plymouth, Michigan. “If someone wants to take out a wall and put in a beam, then an architect is the person for that.” Architects can also help with long-term goals for your space. Zuber has a pair of clients that are awesome DIYers, and she’s helping them make a master plan for their space.

“We’re sitting down with them and saying ‘what do you want your house to look like in ten years?’, so we’ll draw it up for them and they can pick little pieces of it that they want to work on at a time. They’re planning to do a lot of the work themselves,” Zuber says.

Architects deal with the structural design of the home, and they’ve been through a lot of training to do so. Licensed architects have a degree in architecture, have completed a three-year internship, and passed a rigorous days-long exam.

When mapping out a renovation, an architect’s plans would usually come first, then the kitchen designer’s plans after. Sometimes that’s where the architect’s job ends, but every architect is different, and Zuber prefers to be more involved throughout the renovation.

Zuber said she made a drawing for a project once and envisioned it one way (cabinets on one side of the kitchen, window on the other), but happened to be on-site and see that the designer’s renderings had scrapped the cabinets (perhaps they didn’t need the extra storage? We can’t imagine!). It was still early enough in the project that Zuber was able to update her original drawings to add additional window where the cabinets no longer were to achieve a more aesthetically-pleasing look.

There are a lot of choices when it comes to your kitchen renovation, and who you hire—a kitchen designer, architect, contractor, or handyman—is up to you, but hopefully you can now make that choice a little more confidently now.