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Buy a few pocket folders, and start saving photos, product catalogs, and clippings that can help your hired professionals understand your taste and needs. Check out Web sites that offer kitchen and design products, and if there’s a kitchen design center near you, spend time window-shopping. You want to get an idea of what’s available and what it costs. If you arm yourself with this information ahead of time, you’ll have a better relationship with your professionals and a better chance of getting just what you want. How can you get the kitchen that really fits and pleases you? Try these suggestions for starters:

  • Be a savvy spender. Your first wish should be a kitchen that doesn’t break the bank. Yesterday’s conspicuous-consumption “status kitchen” is out, and today’s deftly designed, personal-style kitchen is in. So start by asking for the most kitchen you can afford on your predetermined budget. 

  • Nail the essentials down first. If you have to choose, you’re better off spending your money on top-grade design services rather than on upgraded materials. If you invest up front in a design that gets the floor plan and essential elements right, you can always upgrade to luxury surfacing materials later. For example, make sure the kitchen island with outlets is in the right place now. You can change that laminate countertop to granite later, as you can afford it. It is a much costlier challenge to relocate the island and change the wiring later than it is to merely resurface. At the same time, you should buy the best products your budget can afford, especially if you have no plans for moving in the next five years. 

  • Look at how you really live. The best kitchen is a functional kitchen. Make sure yours fits how you really live. If you and your partner love to cook and entertain, don’t settle for one oven, one sink, and no place to sit. If “Martha Stewart doesn’t live here” is your motto, don’t bother with two ovens and a six-burner restaurant stove. If your kids are at the do-it-yourself age, go for a roomy, top-of-the-line microwave installed near the fridge. If you come home from work late but still like to cook seriously, you may want to have a microwave installed near the stove for quick defrosting before cooking.

Ryan, Mary Wynn.  “How to Design a Kitchen”  29 September 2006.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/how-to-design-a-kitchen.htm&gt;