The countertop devil: Confessions of a bitchy kitchen designer


Fact: This kitchen design business is hard work.

Fiction: Designers make loads of money.

Of the past couple months I've handled a kitchen install that turned completely upside down and backwards because of one particular part of the installation - the countertop. The cabinetry went brilliantly, they looked great for the 75 square foot kitchen that it was. The off-shore quartz was selected by the client because of price, it wasn't my suggestion, but it was an option presented, based upon the recommendation of "head office", that was half the price of the better quality quartz surfaces. Overall, the client was happy.

But to sell this job I had to commit countertop sins. That should have been my first warning.

During installation, the countertop fabricator said to me in front of all the trades people and client "Corey, why do give me such small jobs! I want big jobs to make lots of money! Don't give me small jobs like this." The complete insolence, un-professional behavior, and the damages that the fabricator did during the installation were enough for me to loose my cool and write about it.

Below is the Punch List (edited) that was created from this single project as a result of the poor workmanship during the countertop installation:

  1. A wall cabinet was damaged roughly 80" from the floor
  2. Another wall cabinet was damaged 60" from the floor
  3. A base cabinet top rail was completely scraped of it's finish
  4. Drywall was punched through and scrapped gouged very deeply
  5. The sink was not under-mounted, despite my Purchase Order and Specifications
  6. The linoleum floor was punctured through to the sub-strait in three separate locations
  7. The refrigerator door wouldn't open and hit the countertop - locking in all the food during countertop installation
  8. The dishwasher mounting plate was completely missing, although they claim to have provided it
  9. End-splashes were not installed in the bathroom, despite the Purchase Order and Specifications

NINE FREAKING ITEMS FROM ONE IDIOT! I don't care if he was new, what trade does this any single home in under an hour?!

When I called the countertop fabricator about this Punch List they claimed no responsibility and, in fact, they argued with me to the point that I actually yelled back for them to "Shut up." What was the point of the Purchase Order and the Specifications if the fabricator doesn't read it? I am so unbelievably pissed right fack-waggened off about this whole situation and I need to stop apologizing to the client. I had sold my soul to the countertop devil and I was paying the price for it.

The design business is built upon referrals. Not only have I lost all my profit on this project because of someone else's stupid dumb-head errors, I lost a future project in the house as a result. How many more referrals did I lose from this one client because of the fabricators screw ups? By my calculations:

$5,000 gross profit per job X 5 future referrals X 3 designers = $75,000 per year

So the next question would be, how much profit did the countertop fabricator loose from the entire team I work with?

2 jobs per week X $1,5000 gross profit X 3 designers X 52 weeks = $234,000 per year

Is there an economic impact for sub-standard workmanship? Hell yes! Message received, loud and clear. I'm sure I will find other clients, and I'm sure the fabricator will find other work, but that was a built-in referral system that they will never earn back.

Ninja-designer tips for selecting countertops

1. Beware of a "Tail-gate Warranty" - Just because the price is right doesn't mean that the price will be right all the way through. Purchasing discounted countertops, or products, from a countertop fabricator (who has a shop in his garage) has it's disadvantage: Once they leave the job-site with your money you will never see them or hear from them again. Warranty ends when the tail-gate of the truck shuts. The fabricator MUST have a warranty for their installation to cover errors and omissions for the homeowner. (Thanks BFF for constantly reminding me.)

2. Low-budget ≠ Savings - It's hard making a living, I know, but when selecting a low-budget option because the price is "too good to be true" it usually is. Other eventualities, such as damage on the job-site due to installation, can add substantial costs so you might as well hire the professionals with the YEARS of experience. If it doesn't fit the budget then you need to really ask yourself if you should be doing the project to begin with.

3. Low-grade vs. life-time - The line is grey between becoming a low-grade/budget sensitive option and a product that has a short life-cycle. Your counter surface should last your lifetime, or offer a lifetime warranty, There is tremendous value in that and a countertop choice should not be a "disposable option." Adding up the future replacement value should always be at the forefront of your sensible mind. There are many counter surface options that are a low-grade option to fit the budget.

4. Reputation and quality - If the fabricator is any good, they will list every single detail of what they cover and what they don't on their website/literature so you can creep from the comforts of your undies and ice cream. But seriously, good fabricators will answer the phone when you call, they'll help you solve problems, and have a warranty to cover their workmanship, in addition to the surface material, for years to come.

5. Trust your instincts - Don't dismiss them to the back of your head because you're saving money. Mistakes cost money after you've saved money, so why not trust that little voice that tells you everything anyway.

There is a silver lining in all this mess. Even though I cheated and committed countertop-adultery, my very excellent fabricator and supplier is helping a broke designer out with a favor - end-splashes are coming for the price of what little profit I have left.