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Kitchen- Up House

In a recent issue of the Globe and Mail author Ellen Himmelfarb made clear the real cost of design. And not just design in the sense of “wallpaper and paint,” but the real thought behind how design helps people live better on a day-to-day basis. She presented an interesting quote from the CEO of Jaguar who said, “If people think that good design is expensive they should really look at the cost of bad design.”

Which is a really interesting way of approaching what design is. Design is not just adding color and frills to a project. It’s thinking about how people inhabit the space how the spaces contribute to the enjoyment of their lives. It also has to do with things like the location of light switches the swing of doors as well as the durability of finishes that stand up over time.

What we find is that even though clients initially look at the cost of design as a frill (and leave it to a builder or a trade) they realize that after the projects done if they would’ve spent more time upfront with the designer on working out where a wall should be located or outlets or windows they would save them self a lot of time and money when the projects done.

Now obviously I am not saying that these professions don’t do design, but when we approach a project we bring a different mindset to the outcome. Sure we think about the most cost-effective way to for instance construct a skylight, but we also consider that there will likely be a lot of warm moist air that will collect near the top of that skylight that could cause some of the finishes to degrade. We think about the cause and effect and do some quick cost-benefit analysis taking into account what we heard from you as our client to figure out if this would be something worth pursuing.

In the case of the skylight over the kitchen we installed channels at the top of the drywall to direct away any condensation as well as installing a return vent for the heat recovery ventilator to pull warm moist air out of the skylight and use the heat to put back into the heating system. [And yes, the client absolutely loves that even in the winter they often don’t have to turn on the lights at all during the day.]

One of the challenges that we face as designers is that with the number of design shows on TV they make people believe that design is a simple as picking finishes from the showroom floor. In fact between my partner and myself we have over 25 years of experience in design working on both residential and commercial projects.  That’s in addition to the over six years of education that’s required to graduate.
We find that the best ways to approach a project are collaboratively with our clients. On a recent project we had a meeting with the clients that resulted in several solutions that neither of us could’ve come up with on our own. What makes the process great is that we can suggest ways of doing things which the clients didn’t think of and then they can reflect on those approaches and see how they would work in their life. We can then apply good design to make sure that the final product not only works for them but is beautiful and will be long lasting.

Here are some ways to save yourself money and hassle when you’re working on a design project.

  • Think about your goals for your project. Is it to add additional space? Is it to provide a better connection between the inside and outside? What is the number one driving force for doing the project?
  • Consider your budget for the project and then subtract 20%. This will be your actual budget for the project as there are many complexities in a custom project that likely would cause the cost to rise.  Since what’s your building has never been done before in exactly the same situation there are often areas that can cause the cost to escalate.  One of the things that as designers we try to do is make sure everyone is on the same page for communication. If I had to pick a reason why projects go over budget, communication gaps would be at the top of the list.
  • Think of your time horizon after you complete your project. Would it be a few months or is it going to be for the long term? The time you’re going to spend after will often determine how the project is approached.
  • Think about the amount of your time that will be involved in interfacing with the contractor. Is this the best use of your time?
  • Finally one of the ways that we suggest clients come to a project is doing research on sites such as Houzz so they can see with their own eyes with what is possible and what resonates with their personal style. This is a great way for them to save time and some money in the design part of the process.


We really want our clients to be happy with not only the project they get at the end but also that they’ve played a part in the process and gotten the project they really wanted.
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  1. Dear Jeffrey:

    A very well written note on design guidelines. I would like to add just one more point:

    Many times the client does not know how a particular design parameter (say, the space usage) is going to happen after we propose a design, that we think would serve their best interests. In that case, we at PoleVault usually give the customers sufficient time to understand the physicality of the design so that they can come up with their questions and queries regarding the same, and are at the same page before the contractor is involved to execute the work.

    I am a great fan of Incite!

    Vinay Mehta

    • Jeffrey Veffer

      Vinay – Great way to make sure your client is kept in the loop and understands the process.

      We also try to keep their perspective in mind so that we can best represent their interests. We find that a client that is well informed is more likely to be on board when it comes time to make decisions.



So, what do you think ?