Our problem hasn't really been communication between the two of us. I'm pretty easygoing on most issues and (given that I am absolutely terrible at visualizing results based on drawings) I'm pretty much willing to go along with whatever she wants. I think the problems were between us and the designers. As you say, they tend to want to do what they want to do rather than what you want to do. The first three we worked with were dropped for that very reason. No matter how we tried to tell them that we wanted to maintain the spirit of the house (a Mediterranean built in 1931 and characteristic of a type you find in our neighborhood), they all seemed to want to make it into a 2012 type of house. I'll admit that we hamstrung them to some degree with our unwillingness to part with our breakfast nook and to move exterior walls out, but we want what we want. It got to the point that we were convinced that all we could do was keep the same floor plan and just redo the counters and cabinets. Then Mardi saw an article in a remodeling magazine on a kitchen in Berkeley that had many of the same problems we have. She contacted the guy who did that house and he came out and started working with us. I think he was close to quitting a couple of times but he kept going with it and finally came up with a really neat design completely different from what anyone else came up with. It moves the kitchen more to the back-center of the house rather than the front-center. The space where the kitchen is now becomes a smaller butler's pantry/bar with room for bottles, barware, stemware, etc. This plan also solves a bunch of problems with the family room at the back of the house, partly by moving the downstairs bathroom. The kitchen we get out of it will be slightly bigger but much better in terms of usable space.
We don't need to worry about contractors. We have one we picked out a while back as well as a cabinet maker and someone who'll help with interior decorating.