Is a Design-Build Firm Right for Your Kitchen Remodel?

A design-build firm is a one stop way to remodel your kitchen

Is a Design-Build Firm Right for Your Kitchen Remodel?

As you consider remodeling your kitchen, you probably think “design” and “construction” are two separate entities, but they do not have to be. With the design-build approach to construction, one company offers both and provides a one-stop way to take on a remodeling project.

Dream. Design. Plan. Build….

Instead of having a separate architect, a separate kitchen designer and a separate builder, a design-build firm is one company that does it all. In other words, a design-build firm combines the design side of your project with the construction side to produce a more effective, cohesive, client-focused process.

Design-Build Firms vs General Contractors

You will need a contractor to do the actual work in order to get your new kitchen. You can choose between a general contractor or a design-build firm.

A general contractor manages the construction part of a building project. You provide the contractor with the design from your kitchen designer. After that, he completes the physical work of the design. He will hire subcontractors to perform the carpentry, plumbing, flooring, tile, lighting and other specialty work. He has no input or participation with you when developing the design.

A design-build firm has the same responsibilities and must perform the same duties as a general contractor. However, the design-build firm oversees the entire project from start to finish. In other words, the design-build firm contributes to both the initial vision and design of the project to the final, completed project.

Contractors will send their clients to different showrooms to make product selections. Cabinets, flooring, backsplash tile, countertops, lighting, plumbing and appliances are all located in different showrooms. This means a lot of different designers and companies get involved in selecting and ordering materials. And, as a result, the chances for errors are increased.

Choosing A Design-Build Firm

When you hire a design-build firm, you are hiring both a designer and a contractor. Consequently, you should ask the same sorts of questions you would ask a kitchen designer, plus the questions you would ask a contractor.

On the design side, you want to hire someone whose taste is compatible with your own.For example, ask to look at their portfolio and visit some of their projects, if possible, if they don’t offer.

On the construction side, ask the same questions you would ask a general contractor. You will want to ask about the types of jobs they’ve completed. Further, ask about their experience in kitchen remodel projects. Additionally, they should be able to tell you how much work is done subs vs. employees.

What to Look For in a Design-Build Firm

Look for a design-build firm that uses computer modeling software so you can see every detail of your project on the screen. You will want to see every view, from every angle, and even walk through the space.

Certainly, you want a firm that takes a problem-solving approach. They should ask you what’s wrong with your present kitchen. This gives you the opportunity to say it’s not large enough, it doesn’t flow properly, it’s outdated, or whatever you wish to improve. A company that asks questions gives you the confidence that you are being heard.

Construction can be stressful and messy. However, it’s unavoidable, despite the best efforts of everyone involved. As a result, you want a company that provides whatever assistance is necessary to ensure you are satisfied with the final product.

Further, you want a team that is sensitive to your needs and is careful with your home and respectful of your possessions.

Most importantly, you want a firm that does its best to keep you and your family safe and sane throughout the process.

If you get the chance to visit or talk to any former clients of the firm you are considering, here are examples of some questions you can ask.   

  • What went well? 
  • Were there unexpected problems?
  • Was the cost reasonable? 
  • Were there cost overruns? why?
  • Are you pleased with the completed project?

Advantages of the Design-Build Model


The design is done by a builder who knows what everything costs. A budget target is established at the very beginning of your kitchen remodel. Further, your budget is respected throughout the process and the final price is negotiated to the satisfaction of both you and the firm.

As you and the builder develop the design, you will discuss the cost of various features. With the builder’s input, you can make educated decisions concerning the items you want to spend your money on.  An architect cannot do this. He can only give you approximate costs of a feature and cannot talk you through the pros and cons of various features. As a result, you get accurate information and answers with the design-build approach.

In addition, the design-build process avoids surprise costs at the end of the project. You know what things will cost at the onset.


The design-build approach to a project is collaborative. That is to say, all members of the firm work together as a team to provide their expertise and input into the project.

Simplified Process | One Point of Contact.

The remodel process from concept to completion is simplified with the one-stop shopping approach for both design and construction. You only need to explain your vision to one person, who then communicates it to the other team members.

There will be few, if any, change orders or upcharges related to unclear or incomplete plans and specs. If a change must be made, no need to discuss it with your designer and/or architect and then communicate it to your general contractor.

You have one point person throughout the entire project who is accountable for the timeline, the budget and delivering what you want.

Project Management Help.

Some homeowners want to be involved with their renovations. Others don’t. For those who do not want to be involved, a design-build firm is probably a good fit. Rather than the homeowner overseeing the design and construction phases, a design-build firm watches over both.

Guaranteed Synergy.

Working with a design-build firm basically eliminates the risk of personality clashes between architect/designer/contractor. Certainly, there will be no disputes over design errors or interpretations or the “right” way to build.

Faster Completion.

As with any major project, the less complicated it can be, the better. By choosing a company with in-house designers, planners and builders, everything is streamlined. As a result, design-build projects are generally completed faster than projects done in the traditional way.

Unexpected things can go wrong with any project and slow down the timeline, including one managed by a design-build firm.

Any changes you make can also be completed faster. Often with the traditional design-bid-build model, a change to your project will require back and forth between architect, kitchen designer and general contractor. They will need to look at what’s possible and determine the best way forward. As a result, this could hold up the project for weeks.

With a design-build firm, you have your designer and builder already working together and on top of the project.

Disadvantages of the Design-Build Model

No Checks-and-Balances.

No checks and balances exist with regard to contract negotiations, change orders and payment requests. Since there is no competitive bidding, costs could be inflated. No one is checking to make sure that the contractor is building properly and not cutting corners.

Less Control.

Working with a design-build firm means less control for you, which is great if that’s what you want. However, if you want to be hands-on with your remodel project, take that into consideration when choosing between design-build or the typical design-bid-build.

Less Choice.

Make sure the design-build firm you are considering can produce quality designs. Some design-build firms say that they design, but they subcontract the design portion.

In addition, you may have more design freedom and have more control over the finishes, products and fixtures if you use an outside designer and bring your own plans and specs to the contractor.

Fewer Objective Solutions.

Having the input of a separate kitchen designer, general contractor and/or architect can mean more ideas, observations and solutions to any problems about your project.

The Design-Build Process: Sequence of Steps

The following outline represents the sequence of steps in a typical design-build kitchen remodel.

1. Initial Meeting

  • Interview with firm representative in their office or in your home
  • Explanation of design-build process
  • Review firm’s qualifications
  • Introduction to in-house designer, including qualifications
  • Discussion to determine your preferred design style, priorities, budget and overall project goals

2. Second Meeting at Your Home

  • A representative of the firm will tour your home
  • They will offer broad conceptual ideas
  • More discussion of wants, needs, timing and budget ranges
  • Measurements and digital photos taken

3. Presentation of Preliminary Design Drawings

  • Meeting to present, review, examine and discuss 3-D plans
  • Make changes and revisions to the plans
  • Create photo-realistic interior views showing exactly what you will see
  • Create a scope-of-work list, detailing all the work needed to complete the project.
  • Identify issues such as zoning, structural, electrical, plumbing, HVAC
  • Prepare preliminary budget report based on the above

4. Construction Cost Estimates

  • Get estimates from suppliers
  • Discuss preliminary costs on project and compare to budget
  • Meet with designer to select products, materials and finishes. Product selection must be completed before filing the application for Building Permit.

5. Prepare and Submit Final Project Estimate

  • Finalize drawings, costs and scope of work
  • Final bids received based on final drawings
  • Determine final product selections

6. Apply for Permits 

  • Refine, revise, and create detailed plans for permit and construction
  • Schedule all county inspections and any other obligations for permitting

7. Contract Signing and Job Scheduling

  • Review the final design and scope of work
  • Prepare detailed cost summary, specification summary and contract
  • Provide fixed price contract, including start and finish dates
  • Sign contract documents
  • Make your partial deposit on the project <<LINK TO FINANCE ARTICLE>>
  • Establish start and finish dates for construction
  • Conduct site reviews with trade professionals and engineers

8. Pre-Construction Conference

  • Meet your Project Manager
  • Review scope of work in detail on site with the Project Manager
  • Discuss initial schedule, working hours, materials storage, hauling of debris, staging, etc.
  • Review Pre-Construction Checklist items

Pre-Construction Checklist

  • Security and access. Will there be a lockbox? Security codes?
  • Construction schedule – what to expect for the first 2-3 weeks
  • Additional work requests policy and procedures
  • Communication. What to do if problems arise. Contact information for Project Manager
  • Location for material storage
  • Trash location
  • Payment procedures – what is due and when
  • Start date
  • Estimated duration
  • Review your responsibilities during remodeling:
  • Keep alarm system off during the day
  • Remove wall hangings, furniture, computers, etc. near work areas
  • Empty cabinets and clear countertops
  • Cover belongings with plastic, close doors to other rooms, etc. to control dust
  • Keep children and pets away from construction area
  • Clear traffic areas to allow access to construction site – indoors and out

9. Construction

What happens during construction varies and is customized to your project. The determining factors are the scope of work, the design and the products selected for installation.

To clarify, the project begins with demolition and dust protection, ends with a final cleaning of the site.

The design-build firm will:

  • Provide dumpster and porta potty
  • Walk the proposed site with each trade
  • Relocate your existing kitchen items to a temporary space in your home.
  • Maintain on-site supervision throughout construction
  • Implement dust and finish protection plan
  • Arrange for skilled tradesmen at every phase of construction
  • Set up inspections by engineers for additional quality control
  • Assist in setting up temporary kitchen to help make process less stressful

Project Completion

  • Completion Punch List items reviewed
  • “Walk-through” meeting at end of project


When you sign on with a design-build firm, they will provide one point of contact, reduced costs and faster project completion because the bid process is cut out, disputes are limited, and solutions to problems are solved by a team.

Regardless of which way you decide to go on your construction — either design-bid-build or design-build — selecting who you work with is a crucial decision. Once you’ve made that decision, you have to give them your full trust.

Sources Used

KDP exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.