Getting Help: Working with Contractors and Designers

By Andrea Julian, AAA Countertops – March 26, 2020

Once you’ve decided on the scope of your kitchen remodel, you’ll have to figure out who is going to execute the work. There are several options: The most important part of any remodel project is deciding how the work will be executed.  We briefly went over these in the last article:

  • Do it yourself.
  • Hire a designer
  • Hire subcontractors
  • Hire a general contractor

A good first step is understanding the definition of each of these professions:  

  • Subcontractor – A specialized tradesman who is hired to perform a specific task. Examples of subcontractors you might hire for a kitchen remodel include a carpenter, plumber, stone mason and tile setter. It is typical for several contractors to be involved on a single remodel project.
  • General Contractor – Prime contractor of a project who is responsible for the day-to-day oversight of the construction site. A general contractor will manage subcontractors oversee the communication of information to all involved parties throughout the project.  They will also be responsible for getting any needed permits and making sure all work is up to standard and code.
  • Interior Designer – An interior designer is trained in the art of creating functional, safe and beautiful interior spaces. Their training requires them to read blueprints, understand the various building codes and inspection regulations.

Who you need to hire depends on several things:

  • The scope of your project
  • Your timeline
  • Your budget


If you are planning on doing the work yourself, you probably already have a good handle on home improvement projects. Whether you plan on doing all the labor yourself or plan on hiring subcontractors, you’ll just want to make sure you plan and execute the work in the best way.  Without proper planning, you may find yourself having to re-do work, or worse, hiring a professional to fix your mistakes. In parts 3-6 of this series we will discuss what you need to consider for the execution of a kitchen remodel.

Hiring an Interior Designer

Why hire an interior designer?

  • An interior designer will work with you to create a space that both suits your needs and reflects your aesthetic. If you are unsure of what is possible with your kitchen, or just want to see what is possible, a designer can be a huge help. A designer will also provide you with a complete plan, so even if you decide to do the project by yourself you will have a blueprint to work with.

What can you expect from working with an interior designer?

  • During an initial consultation, an interior designer will look at your space and talk to you about how you use or intend to use it as well as your budget. From that meeting, your designer will work on a general layout and design scheme with you. Their deliverables to you will usually not include construction drawings but will have enough detail to either a) do it yourself or b) pass off to a general contractor or contractors.
  • Many interior designers can also act as project manager for the construction part of the remodel. They will work with a general contractor or team of subcontractors to ensure the project is fully executed per their vision and plans.   

What is the cost of an interior designer?

The cost of an interior designer depends on their individual fees as well as their scope of work. A typical design can cost from between $1000 – $2,000. Hourly rates can range from $75-$200 an hour. If you decide to have your designer act as project manager of the remodel, they could either bill you the entire project cost or work on a cost-plus model. We’ll discuss these two models in more detail below.

Hiring a General Contractor

Why hire a general contractor?

  • A general contractor will oversee the entire project from start to finish. When you work with a general contractor, they will hire additional contractors as needed, pay them, and make sure they adhere to the schedule. General contractors typically have solid relationships with their subcontractors and vendors and can ensure quality work done on time.

What can you expect from working with a general contractor?

  • The point of hiring a general contractor is having them do the project work for you. Construction projects are notoriously tricky, with a tendency to go off schedule and off budget. You are paying a general contractor for their experience and industry knowledge so that your project will go smoothly. If you are working with a quality general contractor, you can expect timely updates, and for your project to stay on schedule and budget.

What is the cost of a general contractor?

  • The cost of a general contractor will depend on two things – the scope of the project and how the general contractor is billing your job. This will be something you’ll want to understand up front and negotiate prior to starting any type of work.  Most general contractors bill one of two ways to bill – Cost Plus or Fixed fee.

Which brings us to our next topic…..

Billing and Fee Structures

Cost Plus

  • A Cost Plus fee structure is also sometimes called a management fee. In this model a general contractor or designer would bill you a set percentage of the cost of allowable expenses. This transparent method of billing allows you to understand the cost of each aspect of the project, including material and labor costs.
  • A typical percentage for project managers, general contractors and designers is 20-25%. If your contractor bills cost plus, you can expect to receive a bill with itemized expenses with a line item for their management fee at the bottom.
  • With a cost-plus fee structure, your general contractor or designer will give you an estimate based on what they think the project should cost. The actual cost may be different. The management fee will be based off actual costs, not estimated costs.

Fixed Price

  • A fixed price, or fixed-price contract, billing structure does not depend on resources used or time expended. In this model, you will receive a fixed estimate for the work, which will include built in project management fees
  • With a fixed price bid, you are locked into a price for your remodel. If the actual costs end up being more than was estimated, it will be absorbed by the contractor and not passed on to you. The only exception to this is when there is a change order, or a change in the scope of the project. This is any work that needs to be done, or you choose to have done, but was not included in the original estimate.

Now that we’ve covered the design, planning and labor options involved in a kitchen remodel, we will start digging into the mechanics of a kitchen remodel. In the next part of our series, we will start talking about the first stage of a kitchen remodel – demo and tear out.