Free Kitchen Design Advice? Yes, Really.

Worker Demolishing a Kitchen Sink 1500 x 1000
Worker Demolishing a Kitchen Sink. CC-Licensed; Flickr User Mary Clark

When you're looking to renovate your kitchen, the first order of business is to come up with a good design. The reason why designing a kitchen is different than designing, say, a living room is because so many factors are involved, and many of these factors are unchangeable (i.e., electrical code requirements, plumbing code, cabinet sizing, etc.).

So it helps to get professional advice, and free is better than paid, right?

Here's The Secret

Big-box home improvement stores like Lowe's and The Home Depot offer free kitchen design advice as a marketing "come on" to push product lines and attract customers, in general, to the stores.

The savvy homeowner interested in a full-scale kitchen renovation can use these free kitchen design services to their advantage--without necessarily going with that company.  See the Tips section below for details.

The Ethics Of Product Come-Ons

This article is easily the most reviled, hated one that I've written.  Not hated by homeowners, but hated by kitchen designers.  The main complaint is that it's not considered ethical to take free advice with no initial intention of buying through that company.

My view is that stores know that people often come to them for kitchen design advice, without the initial motivation toward purchasing through them. That is the cost of doing business. But they are also smart enough to know that homeowners who were deadset against hiring them as designers may eventually hire them.

Businesses have come-ons, freebies, low-cost items called "loss leaders" (products sold at a loss to attract customers).  Have you ever eaten a food sample at a grocery store?  Gone to the car dealership because they had free hot dogs and hamburgers?  Accepted a free box of shampoo or detergent in the mail?  

Tips

Using these services is a bit like playing with fire, so keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Contracts:  Unless you are contractually obligated to proceed with the kitchen renovations with that company, then the service is free. Did you sign anything to this effect?
  2. Solicit:  Ask the kitchen designer for ideas. The main thing you want to do is work out the kinks and find solutions to problems: how does that sink fit in that corner, how can we get three cabinets in that space, can a kitchen island fit in there, etc?
  3. Limitations:  As one commenter on this article points out, "...you need to understand that free kitchen layout services are not done by design professionals but by salespeople." As such, you should treat any kitchen design ideas coming from them as rudimentary.
  4. Drawings:  Realize that you may not get a lot of paper evidence of the kitchen layout. In other words, these free kitchen designers are not going to hand over a blueprint for free. You may get a few 3-D renderings and some dimensional drawings of your kitchen. Count yourself lucky to get these items.
  5. Electronic Versions:  Ask for items to be emailed to you, if possible. This way, if you go to another kitchen design company, you can easily forward items to them. And they will not be bothered if the design says "Home Depot" on it. They can roll with it.
  1. How Good Is The Advice?  Realize that these free kitchen design services are somewhere between the work of creating your own design with kitchen design software...and the cost of using a full-service, fee-based kitchen design firm.