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  • Writer's pictureKW

Who's First, Contractor or Designer

Lately, during my 15-minute ask me anything discovery call, I have had the same question asked: Where do I start? Do I work with a designer first or start with the contractor?  

My response: it depends, and in some cases, it could be both.  

Generally speaking, if you are looking for an idea of cost or feasibility, as in: 

Can I move this wall to have a kitchen island? Or is adding a bathroom possible, given the location of the sewer stack?

These questions help determine whether you want to pursue a project and should initially be directed at the contractor. 

Meeting a contactor at this stage of the game is an excellent opportunity to start the interviewing process, should you move forward with your plans. Do you like their approach? Does what they are telling you make sense? Are they listening to your ideas or dismissing them? 

However, contractors can only give you a firm price if they see a floor plan with all the details and specifications. Most contractors want to avoid being brought on to a job to help you figure out what to do and will suggest you work with an interior designer. They are not designers and would rather stick to what they do best: constructing the final design and managing the trades/project. 

The contractors we work with and receive referrals from know there are many factors outside of construction that must be considered when designing a space and a successful project.

For instance, using a kitchen remodel as an example. Questions such as: How do you like to cook? How often do you entertain? What are your storage needs? What do you prefer for materials? Do you even know what your preferences are? And so on.

When planning your space, you want to work with an interior designer as early as possible. An interior designer brings the vision. They will be the ones who start the process by diving into these questions. Winsweiler Design has a kitchen questionnaire we developed and give our clients that can take quite a bit of time to complete. It is so in-depth because we are trained in the design principle that "form follows function." We determine the objectives (the functions part) by asking you the important questions. Then, we design around it (the follows part).

After our objectives and dream scenarios are determined, we move to the visual process by measuring the space, creating drawings, and finding examples of ideas to illustrate our design further to get the ball rolling. We provide our clients with floor plans and 3-D concept drawings so they can understand and be part of the design process.  

Seeing different options for your kitchen will help you move forward with the next round of decisions. It is priceless to imagine what your kitchen could look like with the wall removed and what you would be gaining or losing before it is demoed. Imagine if you didn't like it or if it didn't provide you with the space you thought it would. This is why the concept stage and the 3D views are so important. They provide insurance that you will get what you want because you can change things at this phase - before construction and not after the wall has been demoed or the cabinets have been ordered. Can you imagine the cost of changing that?

After our concept presentation, we usually know our favorite option, or sometimes it can be a combination. We also have a general sense of where we are going with finishes. Will it be stone counters or manufactured quartz? Painted or wood-stained cabinets? Tile or wood floors? Etc.  

If a client has yet to talk to a contractor after this concept presentation, this might be where they begin. If they do, they will have the concept drawings in hand so the contractors can see the ideas clearly. However, they are still conceptual, and many details must be developed. But for purposes of the initial meeting, it is enough to give a range in costs since materials have yet to be determined at this point.  

Getting a range in costs can be helpful for some homeowners, as it helps them decide how to allocate their funds on materials, whether to spend more on certain items, such as countertops, and less on others, such as backsplash tile.  

After the concept phase, we start the Design Development and Specification Phase. This is where we combine everything we want, from the concept drawings to one design, and start refining it.  

We review the cabinet placement and what inserts, if any, would be helpful. We review the size of the cabinets, doors vs drawers, etc., which you might consider in the design. We start to select materials, too, and go over the details like edge details on countertops, tile layout, transitions in materials, etc.  

The final decisions are noted on the floor plan, elevations, 3D renderings, and product specifications. Once the client has reviewed the final design, we print paper copies and email the digital PDF for bidding.  

Having a solid plan means that you can give it to multiple contractors and receive an apples-to-apples quote since everyone will be bidding on the same materials. This eliminates the guesswork for bids since everyone's bid should include the same things, making it easier for you to compare.

The drawings become the roadmap. Also, they give the contractor a visual of the final kitchen and all the pertinent information regarding construction.

Winsweiler Design does offer construction support, which is part of our third phase. Questions inedibly arise during construction; when they do, we can help answer them quickly or find a solution to a new development. This is especially sought after for clients with busy work schedules who are not readily available or want an expert to check in and guide them when needed.

Whether you start with your contractor or designer first, you must have a plan. When you walk into that new kitchen and it makes your heart sing, you will know it was well worth it.

Do you have a remodel in your future and need help figuring out where to start? Winsweiler Design offers 15-minute discovery calls to discuss your project. You can book a time here.


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