Anyway, I thought I'd give a couple of thoughts about the whole renovation process, in case anyone else is thinking about doing this any time soon. I think, for us, this is the last major project that we'll hire out, except for new flooring upstairs, but I wouldn't call that major, just a pain in the ass. :-)
So, in case you are looking for advice, here's some for you:
Go with a company whose representatives you trust, with whom you have a good rapport, and that has a good reputation. We interviewed three different companies, and we ended up choosing Case Design because they have been around a long time, and I really liked the kitchen designer with whom I worked. He wasn't put off by some of my more quirky ideas, but also knew when to edit and/or jump in with his experience of what might work and what might not.
Also know that the kitchen designer you worked with will not be the one overseeing the project. So you also need to trust the Project Manager who is assigned to your project. You should meet him at least once before you sign the final contract. But also know, at least in our case, the Project Manager will not be on site every day. Ours was very responsive if we had any questions or concerns (I had his cell phone number and his email, and he was always very prompt in replying). So, that being said, you also need to like the crew that's going to be in your home on a day-to-day basis, but unfortunately, you're not really going to be able to choose them. The guys who were on our project were really great guys, were very efficient and knew what they were doing, for the most part. I'll get into what "for the most part" means in a bit.
Go over every part of the contract and the design very carefully, even if you keep it for an extra couple of days before you sign it. Just because you talked about something or another, doesn't mean it will actually make it into the contract, so go over every detail to make sure it is exactly how you discussed. Case in point: we discussed using a tinted (light gray) grout for the backsplash, but when they installed it, the grout was white. I asked the guy doing the tiling, and he showed me the part of the contract where it specified white. Turns out that, while we discussed it, neither I nor the kitchen designer confirmed that with each other, and he specified white in the contract. They were going to come out and make it right, of course, but we decided that we preferred the white, so it all turned out for the best in the end, but just keep that in mind.
Also, I found it really hard to make decisions about stuff based on little samples (squares of this and swatches of that), so part of you just has to trust yourself and your vision (or your designer's vision). That is why it's important to look at lots of pictures of kitchens (or other style inspirations) so that your kitchen designer knows where you are coming from. I found Pinterest to be enormously helpful for putting my ideas and inspirations in one place so I could look at everything together, and our kitchen designer joined Pinterest so he could see my kitchen board and get a feel for my style. Another thing I liked about David, our designer, was that, when he came to our house for an interview, he asked to look around the whole house, to get a sense of what our style was and how we lived (which would have seemed like "pig pen" style on the particular day he was here, but he's a professional and had vision). :-)
Now, a word (or two) about specific design elements and installation:
For us, because we had chosen cork flooring, which is kind of softer than other types of flooring, I should have insisted that the floors go in as late as possible, perhaps with the painting done as soon as all the electrical and wall prep had been done. Also, to have someone there to put the appliances back in place as the floor was installed underneath, but before it was put in the rest of the room (to minimize scratches and scrapes from moving those heavy pieces). As careful as our crew was, there were still nicks and dings to the floor, and some small paint drops here and there, but because of the texture of the floor, it was hard to scrape away. It's a little disappointing to pay for a brand new floor, just to have it "worn in" before you even get to move your stuff back in. The Case crew touched up the nicks in the floor, but I contend that it's easier to touch up the paint on the walls than it is to fix scrapes on the floor or paint drips.
Under-cabinet or task lighting is a big thing in kitchen design, but I'll tell you one thing to keep in mind: those lights get really warm if left on for very long -- to the point where the bottom of the inside of the cabinet got warm. Because of that, and where I chose to put my spices and oils, I've turned off about half of those lights. If I had known that, I would only have put task lighting in on one bank of cabinets, rather than all, which would have saved some money. I hate paying for things I won't use.
Now, for the minor details. The one thing I was disappointed about was the lack of attention to detail in the installation phase. One of the reasons we chose Case was because they've been around a long time and (I thought) had every aspect of the design-build process down pat. And they did, for the most part, but it was the little things that bugged me: a new outlet that obstructed our pocket door (they actually caught that themselves before I said anything, but I did notice it right away after they had left that day), a phone jack that didn't work, sloppy caulking, exposed wiring to our cabinet lights (which you could easily see, because it's right at eye level) a crooked switch plate, a finishing nail that pierced through the back of one of the cabinets, rough edges where they had to bore holes through the cabinets to run wires, a leaky pipe under the sink. I also contend that the moulding used at the top of the cabinets is a different color and finish than the cabinets, but I'll get the opinion of our designer when he comes out in a week. None of these were big deals to fix (except maybe the leaky pipe and the outlet), but I think should have been caught if the crew had done a more careful "once over" before the project manager came out for the final walk-through. Perhaps there would have been more things wrong if we had gone with a different company, so maybe my expectations are set too high, and I realize that they can't get everything perfect the first time. That being said, our crew is very concerned that we are happy with the work and have said to call them whenever we discover something that needs to be corrected, and (more importantly) they follow through. I don't think we would have gotten that level of service with, say, Home Depot.
Now, understand, we've never done this type of project before, and we have no other frame of reference to compare Case to, so I am willing to concede I'm being very exacting and nit-picky. Would I recommend Case to others? Definitely! Are they the best company compared to everyone else? That, I can't say, because I only have the interviews to base that on, not the execution, so it's impossible for me to say that Case performed better than another company's crew would have.
All in all, I would consider this a very positive experience, and we are definitely going to enjoy our new space for a very long time! And for that, I am grateful for the staff at Case Design. :-)