Q & A with the Designer of our Best New Kitchen

Learn how to adapt kitchen designer Jennifer Gilmer's winning strategies to your own new kitchen design.
Robert Martin

For 25 years now, certified kitchen designer Jennifer Gilmer has created a slew of great kitchens and baths. Because her handiwork in this wonderful kitchen made such an impression on us, we jumped at the opportunity to find out more about her expertise and tips.

Q: Jennifer, what distinguishes a certified kitchen designer from an interior designer?
A: “These two professions get lumped together quite a bit, but they’re very, very different. It’s almost like the difference between a general surgeon vs. a heart surgeon.
Kitchen design is very technical and mathematical, along with requiring CKDs [certified kitchen designers] to have a working knowledge of architecture. Keeping up with the ever-changing world of appliances is crucial as well. Kitchen designers must be able to draft, either by hand or by computer, with great precision. It’s expected that we understand intricate cabinet engineering and structural details. I also like to point out that we focus on function first and then aesthetics later, which is a bit different from how interior designers work.
There’s really no degree required in order to become a CKD, even though seven years of job experience is required before a person can take the NKBA/CKD exam. You may want to refer to the NKBA Web site (National Kitchen & Bath Association at www.nkba.org) to find out more.”

Q: The magic workspace triangles that have been touted for years as essential for good kitchen layouts―what’s your take on them?
A: “Yes, they’re still very valid design tools. I find that it’s not just the triangle that is important, but how the three components (sink, fridge, and cooktop) are placed in that triangle as well. For instance, it’s best to locate the sink between the refrigerator and the cooking surface. Typically when cooking, the normal process is to gather items out of the refrigerator, prep at the sink, and then move to the cooktop. It’s also critical to make sure there is enough room between the sink and the cooktop because ultimately, this becomes the major workspace. If a kitchen is so large that the work triangle is more than 25 linear feet, then it’s critical to have a work triangle for the cooking in order to reduce the amount of movement from appliance to appliance and a separate cleaning area. Otherwise, the cook will be worn out at the end of preparing a meal.”

Q: Are there any particular elements that you try to work into your kitchen designs?
A: “The movable table with casters that you see in this kitchen―it’s this kind of unexpected feature that’s quickly becoming a signature design element of mine. I prefer this method of flexible dining rather than the conventional use of barstools at an extended counter. Balance and proper proportions, whether symmetrical or asymmetrical, are crucial as well. Likewise, lighting can make or break the space, so, making sure that a kitchen is properly lit is always key to a successful end result.

Q: Are there any tips you could give our readers who are eager to redo their kitchens?
A: “When you’re thinking about re-designing your kitchen, don’t get locked into picking one style over another. Keep an open mind and look at plenty of pictures [magazines are the best source for this]. You may surprise yourself, for example, in discovering that you really prefer contemporary instead of traditional or that you like painted finishes rather than wood finishes.
Also, if you’re revamping an existing kitchen, don’t let the need to relocate appliances or plumbing lines inhibit your ability to get the best design possible. The cost is never as much as you think, plus the joy that you get out of the best design possible is what ultimately counts.
Lastly, choose a designer with whom you feel comfortable. Many designers aren’t the best listeners, so make sure that you’re being heard and are getting an appropriate response. A great design is one where you successfully collaborate with your designer. So, be proactive, ask questions, and be honest about your likes and dislikes.”