Qualified Remodeler

Social Media Spurs Designer’s Inspiration

A San Diego kitchen and bath designer uses social media to her advantage in finding high-end projects for a largely millennial clientele.

authors Ashley Lapin Olian 

SAN DIEGO — When it comes to high-end kitchens, the average age of the client seems to lean toward baby boomers, since they’re more established financially and tend to have more disposable income. However, in the case of Bonnie Bagley Catlin, principal designer and owner of San Diego-based Signature Designs Kitchen Bath, a large portion of her high-end clients are smack dab in the millennial range.

Despite the high price tag for her services, millennials are coming in droves – and their design demands are a little more outside of the box.

To meet their needs, “We have to be a little more clever with our selections and our materials,” Bagley Catlin says.

SOCIAL MEDIA ALLURE

When asked why she attracts such a young demographic, Bagley Catlin believes at least part of it comes from the amount of online marketing she does. She notes that 90% of her business is generated from online sources, and she is an active user of Houzz, Facebook and Instagram.

“From my understanding, [millennials] are driven by what’s online, by the content and how they can find you,” she explains. “They say that your website has to be mobile-friendly and your content has to relate to them.”

In addition to using social media as a major marketing tool, Bagley Catlin has also adapted her communication methods to cater to a younger crowd. She brings up a recent client who, while living in Japan, undertook a remodeling project in San Diego. In order to choose the appropriate products and involve the client as much as possible from afar, they used FaceTime to make all of the selections without ever meeting in person during that phase.

Another draw for Bagley Catlin’s firm is the wide variety of design options and styles that she offers, which is reflected on her website and social media pages. She credits this ability to adapt to a client’s tastes to her first design job at Neil Kelly Design Build Remodeling in Portland, OR.

“What’s interesting is that, in the last six months, people call me and say ‘I love your stuff because nothing is the same. I may not want that project, but I can tell that you have definitely catered to the client because everything is so different,’” notes Bagley Catlin. “At Neil Kelly, I worked under six to eight different designers and each one of them had their style and they had their specifics of how they work. I think that gave me such a good footing because I am really able to move back and forth between design styles to accommodate the client.”

A-HA MOMENT

Originally from Portland, OR, Bagley Catlin started out her career in retail fashion and cosmetics. At 25, as a mother of two young children, she decided to go to college. Her first husband worked a night shift, so he stayed home with the kids during the day while she pursued her communications degree. However, when she took her first design class, her life took a completely different turn.

“It was like somebody had opened up the sky and it was an ‘a-ha’ moment. I knew that’s what I should be doing, so I changed my major from communications going in the paralegal direction to interior design,” she says.

While Bagley Catlin always had a passion to express her creativity – in her free time she would do arts and crafts, and sew – once she found a career in design, she no longer felt a need to do these extracurricular activities; her job was enough.

“I think that my career has fulfilled that desire, that drive for creativity,” she mentions. “I think that must have been what I was seeking and I didn’t even realize it.”

After she got her associate’s degree in interior design, a job as an assistant at Neil Kelly followed. She then moved to Seattle to work for Norsk Design & Remodel, also doing a stint on her own for several years.

In 2010, she and her second husband moved to San Diego, because he “couldn’t stand the rain in Seattle.” For two years, she worked at Jackson Design & Remodeling, which allowed her to create several award-winning projects. In 2012, however, she struck out on her own for a second time, starting Signature Designs Kitchen Bath.

A STANDING OVATION

A project that stands out to Bagley Catlin is a kitchen remodel she did with two challenges: the location of the kitchen and the client’s expensive cabinet preference.

“[The client] had me out to her house, I looked at the space and I said, ‘I can remodel your kitchen and I can give you a nice kitchen. But if we don’t move this kitchen, I can’t do anything with it,’” she explains.

The original kitchen was converted into an alcove dining nook and the kitchen was moved to the center of the house, taking over the family room.

With one problem taken care of, Bagley Catlin had to face a second issue: Her client had her heart set on a specific line of high-end contemporary cabinets, but felt the cost was too high. Looking for an alternative, Bagley Catlin looked at Ovation Cabinetry, even though the semi-custom company was best known for its traditional design. However, she was in luck: The firm was looking to expand and break into contemporary style.

“The majority of the companies out there that are semi-custom will tell you no [if you ask for something outside of their wheelhouse],” she mentions. “The reason I took on Ovation as a line was because they said yes. That’s what was appealing to me about them. For [the client], it was getting her the cabinetry she wanted at a good value.”

Bagley Catlin used Element Designs back-painted glass fronts on Ovation high-gloss lacquer flat-paneled cabinetry. Along with intricate mosaic tiles the homeowner chose for the backsplash and Sub-Zero/Wolf appliances, Bagley Catlin delivered a dream kitchen to her client at the right price.

SOCIAL INSPIRATION

With an average kitchen project ranging from $75,000 to $150,000, and bathrooms ranging from $40,000 to $125,000, Bagley Catlin finds it difficult to cater to a limited budget when designing. She has strategically chosen to target higher-end projects by participating with Luxe Interiors + Design magazine as a branding initiative.

“I really struggle and have a hard time doing budget projects,” she says. “It’s not my forte, so I wanted to make sure that I’m targeting $100,000+ kitchens, just because that’s where I really excel – to be able to pull those unique items in.”

In addition to using social media to market herself, Bagley Catlin also uses it for inspiration. A recent example comes from Instagram. She had found a hood on Grothouse’s Instagram account that she fell in love with. On a trip to Denver, she happened to stop by a design studio that not only had the exact hood, but was, in fact, the actual showroom she had seen in the picture on Instagram.

Inspired and excited by her “exploration shopping trip,” once back in San Diego, Bagley Catlin was able to immediately incorporate the hood into one of her upcoming projects because her client loved the photo as well.

“I love to get things in that manner,” concludes Bagley Catlin. “I think social media can feed you in many ways.” ▪

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