It wasn't arrogance that made me believe that I would have a problem-free kitchen renovation; it was experience. I've paid attention to kitchen design for at least 10 years as an editor and have even written articles on new appliances, perfect floor plans and such. I thought I was as close to being an expert as you can be without having real, hands-on experience. After my husband and I bought an apartment with a small (10 by 10 foot), 1970s-style kitchen, I actually looked forward to knocking the whole thing out and starting from scratch. Even though I had strong ideas about what I wanted to do, I also knew I wasn't going to be able to do it alone. So I hired experts. But hiring the right people turned out to be the trickiest part of all. I want to share what I discovered along the way. Some of this might seem awfully obvious, but when I compared stories with my friends, we discovered we'd all made similar (read: hopelessly naive) mistakes.
My first piece of advice is one I initially chose to ignore. I had read that you should always hire an architect when embarking on a custom renovation. "Why?" I thought. My job is so small, so simple, I can just tell the contractor what to do. Well, after interviewing several potential contractors, I realized that to get an accurate bid, I needed an architect or someone else to draw a floor plan, a lighting plan, an electrical plan and so on. Life Lesson #1: Be sure you have a complete and accurate plan before you put your job out to bid.
I turned to Robert Marino, a good friend who's an architect, and asked if he could help. Usually I think hiring friends is unwise. It's sort of like dating your sister-in-law's brother: If it works out, great. If it doesn't, it's awkward forever. But I did follow a useful protocol here. I visited several of Robert's jobs. I spoke to some of his previous clients (many of whom were his friends before working with him and still are today--a good sign, I thought). I asked them if they thought Robert was responsive, available, quick, decisive, good at keeping on top of the general contractor, amenable to changes. This last point was critical. I didn't want to hire an architect who was design-proud, who would meet any request for a redesign with a pout. I also assessed whether or not Robert's taste and mine were compatible. I concluded that we were both Sensitive Modernists. But, more important, he was flexible and actually interested in hearing what I wanted. Life Lesson #2: Do your homework on any designer or architect. Look for compatibility in both taste and working style. Charm alone doesn't make someone easy to work with.