Kitchen Aid

Before Antoinette Fraser designs a kitchen, she considers her client’s personality, family life, art interests — even spiritual concerns such as Feng Shui — in addition to cooking habits. "These cues affect decisions that enhance comfort and efficiency," she says, noting that the kitchen, as the heart of a home, should accommodate the owner’s lifestyle.

Fraser, 47, launched her business 20 years ago and worked out of her home. She has now opened her own showroom, St. Clair Kitchen & Home (, in South Orange, New Jersey. Fraser offers these tips to bear in mind when considering a redesign:

Know-how Kitchen remodeling is not a do-it-yourself job. Kitchen designers must understand plumbing, electrical wiring, and furniture design. They must know how to measure an undefined space, control expenses, vent a room, and "recognize the inherent tendencies of [specialized] materials" like cherry wood, which gets substantially darker within two years.

Project Planning Fraser’s kitchen tabs range from $65,000 to $300,000, the going market rate, she says. She has completed jobs in New York’s Trump Tower and in Toms River, New Jersey, where the cabinets alone cost $200,000. Cabinetry and labor costs claim the lion’s share of a kitchen design budget because of the high demand for scarce woods such as maple.

Fraser advises homeowners to establish a budget of 10% to 15% of the home’s value. Select appliances first, then build around your needs. Websites such as and put useful insights at your fingertips.

Sean Ruck, manager of editorial services for the National Kitchen & Bath Association (, a nonprofit that promotes ethical business practices and provides resources for consumers and professionals, says a client should always "visit the designer’s showroom or view the portfolio; request referrals from past clients; establish one file for all contracts, receipts, and warranties; [and be mindful that] insurance liability and license requirements vary from state to state." NKBA also offers associate, certified, and master designer levels of certification. Although not required, certification "offers a guideline for consumers and assures a level of education was acquired," says Ruck.

Trend Watch Designs requiring fewer wall cabinets and more open shelves — a trend since the late ’90s — lower cabinet costs and show off clients’ collections. Another popular choice is built-in functionality: Silestone, the leading quartz countertop surface, contains mold- and odor-fighting Microban. Fraser keeps abreast of trends by attending shows such as the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show & Conference (, which presents new design ideas and offers professional development courses, and the Kitchen/Bath Showcase of the annual Remodeling Show (