Design Fee for a Kitchen Job

Cabinetmakers discuss how to charge for design work on a new custom kitchen. November 19, 2005

I have to give a client a price to design a kitchen from the floor up. This includes the location of the cooker, refrigerator, sink, and even outlets. There is an architect and a GC who are waiting for the client to figure out what he wants so they can draw the relevant permits. As the client has no time to deal with this, he has asked me to come up with a few designs and he will basically pick one he likes. I have designed cabinetry to fit in an existing kitchen before, but never had to design the entire room from tiles to ceiling, paint and even appliances. I will be building the cabinets (or subbing it out) once the remodel is done. My question is… how do I bill for the interior design work? Anybody been in this boat before?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor T:
I charge 10% of the budget for the entire kitchen. This would cover all of my expenses like field trips, measuring, meetings with contractor and all other vendors as well as all drawings, so the 10% is a neat all-inclusive package with no extras to haggle over.

Example: the kitchen will be budgeted at $40,000 for cabinetry and tiles, tops, lighting and other design accessories. Note: I do not charge a fee for the purchase of appliances and any other materials supplied and hooked-up (by others). So my total fee would be, in this case, $4,000 US. If I present the design and the client likes it but wants more or ups the budget to $50K, then my fee goes up accordingly to $5K.

From contributor H:
What is the architect and GC actually doing here? If the client does not know what he wants and does not have the time to discuss it with you, I would go in high on the estimate and ask for a 1000.00 dollar design retainer, part of which is applied to the order of the cabinets. Otherwise I would politely decline the great honor of working for this guy for free.

From contributor E:
Comment about responsibility of architect/GC is right on the money. Seems this client is just trying to avoid paying for his kitchen design. Where I work, kitchen design sometimes is provided by the architect, but more often is the responsibility of GC or k/b dealer.

From contributor R:
I charge a minimum of $500.00 for designing retainer. You have no guarantee that you will ever get the job, so you must make sure that you get paid for all your time spent designing, including field measuring, etc. I don't believe in charging more than the time you spend plus a reasonable profit. A percentage for the total job is good. The most important thing to me would be to get money up front! I have been stung a few times by insincere customers who I delivered designs to and never got paid for, not to mention the cabinet job.

From contributor M:
Do you at least know the size of the kitchen you are working with? If not, how do you design a kitchen without knowing the size? Also, you will need to know the size of the budget you are working with. I do this all the time - it's pretty easy (tile, paint, window placement, appliance placement, etc.). Once you have talked to your client (and make sure the wife is there) to get a feel for what they want, i.e. a wish list (the wife has these answers), the rest should only take a week or two.

A 10% rate is about right for jobs that are around $50/60,000 or more. Less than that, I have a minimum rate of 1,500 for up to $10,000, $2,500 for up to $20,000, etc. For those rare times when the design work is over $100,000, I drop the rate to 8%. The fee is always paid in full and in advance.

One more thing. Every once in awhile, you may have to make a house call during the install (this applies also when all you are doing is the design). Make sure your client understands there is a fee, i.e. day rate. For me, that's $350/500 per day. This seems high, but you would be surprised at how far you have to go for work these days. Did you see the cost of gas these days? The day rate really is not so high anymore.

From contributor T:
Yes! Positively! Absolutely! Get your fee up front. No ifs, ands or buts and never leave your chair without a retainer. I always have said that the amount of retainer is not the issue. The issue is that the client is willing to reach into their pocket to produce the retainer for you to go to the project site to get the job going. I never go anywhere without a cash retainer and I have never lost a job that way and you will not either.