From Streetscapes to Kitchens
authors Kim Berndtson
BIRMINGHAM, MI — Barbi Stalburg Kasoff has spent the last decade focused on designing kitchens and baths for clients in Southeast Michigan. And while her heart currently resides in the residential market, her path to the present wound through a rather atypical past.
After graduating with degrees in architecture and urban planning, Kasoff worked for corporate design firms, most recently for an architectural firm in downtown Detroit. Over the course of her first career, she specialized in mixed-use and urban infill, gaining extensive knowledge in urban design and project management, both of which have proven applicable to her second career in that she can readily see a project on a larger scale, easily visualizing the end. And because she routinely bid projects, she can walk into a space and effectively estimate costs, with minimal surprises at the end, while being sensitive to a budget.
“I was working in a much larger scale,” she says. “I was traveling the country helping people revitalize downtowns, and helping them to understand that residential is a base to any successful city or urban area. You can’t have only restaurants and office buildings. You also need schools, municipal buildings, libraries and grocery stores. And, you need people living there. They are the heart of a city.”
Within this capacity, Kasoff discovered a commonality amongst people. “From traditional small town main streets to larger urban infill projects, one common theme remains: People want to feel a sense of belonging,” she writes on her website’s bio. “People want to feel a sense of ‘ownership’ and pride over the spaces in which they reside.”
Kasoff also discovered something about herself…a strong desire to help people create better spaces to call home. So, building upon a career of working on the outside of people’s homes, Kasoff changed course and opened Stalburg Design in 2007.
“Now I focus on the inside of people’s homes, rather than creating the space outside of their homes,” she says. “Both are actually very similar. What I’ve learned is that design is design. You can design a neighborhood or a kitchen. When I design a kitchen, the elevation isn’t much different than a streetscape. It’s just a different scale. Both need to have proper flow and movement with ease of access, and both need to be functional, and feel good.”
Kasoff admits that early on in business ownership she thought residential design was more preferential and less socially responsible. “But I’ve learned over time that it’s a gift to be able to create someone’s private haven,” she says. “My clients are very high-profile. They come home after a day of operating or trying cases and they want a space they feel safe in. They want a space where they can feel authentic. That’s what design on a smaller scale is all about.”
In addition to high-profile clients, Kasoff routinely works with builders and developers, creating kitchens and baths for spec homes where homeowner interaction can happen at any phase of a project. In cases where the home is not sold before completion, Kasoff is challenged to design it top to bottom, creating spaces that are interesting and aesthetically pleasing as well as sellable and appealing to the market.
When a sale occurs before the construction process is complete, she serves as a transition between the builder and homeowner, helping match material selection to lifestyle and needs.
“I am also working with a client who hasn’t even designed their house yet,” she says, adding that the project is in collaboration with a design-build firm. “They brought me in early so I am sitting in on meetings, helping to create spaces based on their growing family. Getting in on the initial phase of projects like this allows me to shape the space, rather than design within it.”
Kasoff also works within a realm of repeat business. “We develop relationships with clients,” she says. “We’ll do a bathroom, then a kitchen, then an addition. I take a lot of pride in repeat business, and I take my reputation very seriously.
“My clients all know each other,” she continues. “Detroit is a very tight knit community. People who are in a position to hire a designer know each other. They work together and socialize together. They attend the same events and parties.”
Kasoff has chosen to build and develop her business without a showroom or affiliation with any specific product lines. “Because we are on construction sites so much, or we meet with clients in their homes, we work out of my house,” she says. “We’ll bring samples to clients or meet them at granite yards or product showrooms. A showroom isn’t appropriate for us.”
Independence gives Kasoff the ability to create unrestrained where she needn’t design within a certain brand of products or materials. She maintains that it also keeps her true to her design/business philosophy of never pushing her own agenda.
“It’s important to take time to understand who your client really is, and to develop a relationship with them,” she says. “Then the design becomes a collaborative effort. Every single one of my projects looks different. That’s because they aren’t my designs. They are designs that happen by creating a space with a client, for a client.
“People often ask me during the design process, ‘What would you do?’” she continues. “My response is, ‘Don’t ask me…I would make your house Moroccan and turquoise with hanging plants and lanterns!’ But that isn’t what people see on Houzz or on my website because we are creating spaces for our clients. It’s important to never push your own agenda.”
Kasoff has also built her business on hard work and a refusal to give in to fear, doubt or anxiety. “There are no excuses,” she says. “And there is zero room for ‘what ifs’ or second guesses.”
While Kasoff’s focus is on the residential market, she still gives a nod to her past by taking on a few commercial projects, such as “those projects where clients want to go a little ‘funky’,” she says. In the past year, she also branched out and added interior design to her services list.
“It allows us to continue working with a client after we’ve done the hardscape, after we’ve designed a kitchen or bath,” she says. “Now we’re designing bedrooms, too. I used to think that it didn’t matter what color a couch was. But now I see that it’s a comprehensive approach to design.” ▪