Design: Beyond the Triangle

Rather than be part of the “good enough” majority, why not make a push to move up? 

March 02, 2016
Why remodelers should strive for better design

Before joining Professional Remodeler, I worked for a magazine that served the swimming pool industry. There are big differences between pool contractors and residential remodelers, but there are similarities as well. One that I think bears mentioning is the role that design plays in both industries, and how I believe that needs to change. 

From my observations, 75 percent of pool contractors build acceptable but uninspired-looking projects. Another 23 percent are more special; maybe they took a couple of design classes and have a stronger visual sense. But it’s only about 2 percent of pool builders who know how to use shape, color, proportion, and the water itself to design amazing backyard environments. Instead, the vast majority of exceptional projects are the brainchild of landscape architects. 

The remodeling field functions much the same way. Projects we feature in the magazine that get a lot of positive attention mostly are conceived by architects. Even the majority of design/build firms’ work that I’ve seen falls into that 75 percent segment, meaning the projects are adequate, but no better.

Too often in this industry, great design takes a back seat. Yet, the projects that a remodeler puts into the world are an integral part of his or her legacy. Recently I was in a friend’s kitchen that was redone 15 years ago. The browns and golds, granite backsplash, patchwork stone floor, and vaguely Tuscan styling were all very dated. And that’s understandable. 

When she remodeled, my friend had wanted an of-the-moment kitchen, and that’s what she got. But now the design looks not just outdated, it’s clear that it lacks imagination and could have been seen in any higher-end Marriott hotel from that period. There’s no thought to the light source, no sense of sightlines, and nothing to relieve the cookie-cutter feel. 

So, rather than be part of the “good enough” majority, why not make a push to move up? There are so many great resources for designers, including classes, articles, and perhaps the best teacher of all: examples of projects that get it right. 

There’s a difference between a remodeler who designs and a designer who remodels. Why not be both? 


 Erika Taylor is chief of content for Professional Remodeler. Reach her at or 972.369.9212.

About the Author



I couldn't agree more regarding the amount of uninspired work I see in this industry.  My company has been at the forefront of both inspired design and much better materials used in our projects for the past 26 years.  Our clients come to us for solutions that actually transform their homes and their lives.  We've been fortunate to work for clients on many projects over the years and have been referred to their freinds and family and it's due to our passion and professionalisim with every project no matter how large or small.  You can see our work at



Thanks for the kind words! I will certainly check out your link.

I read the article expecting something of actual use.  The percentages identified apply to just about any human endeavor.  What specific area, or areas, do you suggest be included in this search to break out of mediocrity?  Beyond the ergonomics of 'the triangle', what aspect(s) should be looked at to avoid Melba toast design?

Thanks for your feedback. While I agree that it can be hard to avoid "melba toast," the purpose of the column wasn’t to provide visual tips. Instead, my intent was to discuss a need in the industry to place design in a more prominent position. We have published stories that examine your specific questions such as how to create a vintage looking kitchen that doesn’t feel like a theatre set, or providing visual excitement with contrasting shapes, textures and colors, or orientating the shape, size and placement of widows for maximum effect. Thanks again for commenting!


You are not factoring in that most customers don't want to spend the additional money that pays for the additional time and product that make an out of the box kitchen. Don't say that the "designers" are not creative enough when their hands are tied by cost restraints. This statement is just not fair. I think most if not all designers would love to see their creation on the cover of a magazine, but it is only a handful of us that have customers willing to allow these creative juices to flow.

Erika,  It seems you've poked a hornets nest with a stick!  I wanted to point out that design and budget are two different variables; throwing a lot of money at a project doesn't guarantee design success, nor the converse. Some of my best designs went through serious "value engineering" to get the budget down.  Having judged numerous local and national remodeling awards programs, I will tell you the projects the judges are hungriest for are good, LOW -budget remodels, whether they be whole-house, kitchen, bath, basement, or whatever. They are out there, but many remodelers are understandably  intimidated by going up against high-dollar projects. So look for competitions that have price ranges, and go for it. Pick one or two of your recent best, have them professionally photographed (not nearly as pricey as it used to be!) and put them up against all comers in the upcoming PR Design Awards. You may be pleasantly surprised, but even if you don't come out on top, you'll learn from the experience and from studying those projects that did win.  

Thank you Doug, and I agree completely with your sentiments. Sadly, the reverse is true as well. Just the other day I was walking through an expensive project from a local remodeler and the lighting plan seemed to be designed for a completely different house. I actually thought, “I’m glad Doug isn’t here to see this!” The lighting choices had nothing to do with price, and everything to do with a lack of education and/or careful planning.

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