Kitchen & Bath Design Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a kitchen and bath design program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a bachelor's and associate degree and potential careers.
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Studying Kitchen and Bath Design: Associate and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Kitchen and bath designers have expertise in cabinetry, fixtures, appliances and electrical and plumbing solutions. They work with architects and builders, specifying materials and producing floor, lighting and construction plans. Certificate and associate degree programs, but not bachelor's degree programs, are available in kitchen and bath design, so if you want a 4-year degree you could consider interior design with a kitchen and bath emphasis.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects interior design jobs to grow by 19% from 2010-2020, and by 27% during that time period in specialized design firms. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) the kitchen and bath industry brings in revenue of almost $200 billion annually. This industry may be cyclical, so a degree and industry certifications could help you find work during lean times. The NKBA provides internship connections and beginning-through-advanced certification options. Nearly 50 proprietary and community and 4-year colleges are accredited by NKBA to provide kitchen and bath design training, either at the institutions themselves or through NKBA online courses.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want an entry-level position in a kitchen and bath design field Individuals interested in comprehensive training in interior design with an opportunity to specialize in kitchen and bath design
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Assistant interior designer ($34,000)*
- Kitchen designer, cabinet industry ($34,000)*
- Retail zone manager (DIY store) ($41,000)*
- Interior designer ($40,000)*
- Project manager, interior design ($51,000)*
- Small interior design business owner ($119,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 4-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Typically 60-70 credits, including major area subjects and liberal arts core requirements
- Studio projects
- Internship
- Approximately 120 credits
- Studio projects
- Charettes
- Internship or co-op projects
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Rare Hard-to-find to non-existent

Source: *PayScale.com ( June 2012 figures).

Associate Degree in Kitchen and Bath Design

Associate degree programs are available onsite at some community and a few 4-year colleges. You'll learn to use software to plan kitchens and baths. You may also study materials, products and appliances. Training could include business-end topics like budgets and estimates, public relations, marketing and promotions. Some schools may offer design-build associate degrees specializing in kitchen and bath for contractors.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Credits may be transferable to a 4-year program
  • Internship and co-op opportunities available
  • Provides more immediate return on investment

Cons

  • State licensing as an interior designer may not be available with an associate degree
  • Not immediately eligible without additional training and work experience for NKBA certifications
  • Advancement in some organizations may require a bachelor's degree

Courses and Requirements

Besides general education and business management course requirements, you'll learn to use design programs like AutoCAD and software programs like Adobe Creative Suite as well as traditional drawing tools. Schools may teach you how to present your ideas to clients. Schools might offer design-build study in kitchen and bath topics that could help both designers and contractors. These courses may be typical:

  • Presentation standards
  • Construction and mechanical systems
  • Materials and estimating
  • Business practices
  • Computer-aided drawing

Online Course Options

Though fully-online programs may be hard to find, schools may offer a portion of the program virtually. Some schools may offer online courses through arrangements with NKBA, including entry-level certification review courses. Online course requirements are the same as courses on campus, but course materials and activities would be available to you at any time.

Standing Out with This Degree

Some programs might prepare you to take the Associate Kitchen and Bath Designer (AKBD) examination and meet AKBD experience requirements through a combination of part-time work or internships. You might consider joining a student chapter of NKBA, or applying for their scholarship programs. Your school may offer competition or field trip opportunities. Attending the annual Kitchen and Bath Industry Show and Conference might help you make contacts.

Bachelor's Degree

Kitchen and bath design bachelor's degrees are rare to non-existent, but you could complete an interior design or similar program affiliated with NKBA. These schools may have the resources to permit specialization. In a bachelor's program in interior design, you might complete design studio projects, enter design competitions and learn how to make effective sales presentations. You'll learn fundamentals of space planning, schematic design, residential and commercial building codes, environmental systems and electrical and mechanical plans. To sell your ideas, you'll need good communication and presentation skills. Programs may incorporate courses that could help you launch your own business.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You could qualify for state licensing as an interior designer
  • You can tailor your education to kitchen and bath design through elective courses and internships
  • Training through field experiences and internships could qualify you sooner for NKBA certification
  • Certifications and training could lead more quickly to higher pay; i.e., an average $87,000 per year as a NKBA-certified designer, $76,000 as an employee of a kitchen and bath distributor, or $118,000 as a kitchen and bath dealership owner*

Cons

  • A general interior design program may have less focus on kitchen and bath design
  • Bachelor's degree holders may still be required to complete training experiences before qualifying for positions
  • Highly competitive and cyclical field

Source: *2008 NKBA/KBDN Salary Survey.

Courses and Requirements

Depending on your school, you may need to apply separately to the program after completing two years of core curriculum with some prescribed courses like statistics, elementary chemistry or public speaking. Besides design fundamentals, you'll learn 3-D modeling and rendering. Interior design programs often involve collaborative studio and charette processes. Charettes are intensive design workshops with participation from all stakeholders. Programs often require internship or co-op experiences, so you might want to intern with a kitchen and bath design firm.

Bachelor's program courses might include:

  • Kitchen and bath design
  • Mechanical systems for kitchens and baths
  • Interior materials and finishes
  • Lighting designation
  • Illustration and presentation methods
  • Residential building codes

Online Degree Options

Partially online degree interior design programs incorporating kitchen and bath design may be available, but fully online programs are not. You may find it advantageous to spend time on campus because face-to-face collaboration in studio classes and group design projects are important parts of most programs.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Students may want to consider part-time employment or internships to build hours toward future certifications and employment prerequisites. You might further specialize in fields that may grow, like accommodations for disabled or elderly clients. You could become active in a NKBA chapter on your campus, or start one, or win a NKBA scholarship or the annual charette design competition sponsored by NKBA and GE Consumer and Industrial Appliances. Study tours to visit showrooms or retailers or foreign internships that could broaden your perspective might be available.

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