Home Away from Home
authors Kim Berndtson
It used to be when people visited a kitchen and bath showroom, they knew exactly where they were, identified in large part by the array of samples scattered about for everything from cabinetry and countertops to backsplashes, hardware and more.
But these days, showrooms tend to be much more sophisticated and inspirational. Kitchens and bathroom displays are designed and styled to look like actual kitchens and baths one would find in a home environment. In fact, given the popularity of fully functioning displays, it’s often difficult to make the distinction. Coupled with a trend toward including lounge areas and living rooms, as well as closets and laundry and mudrooms, visitors may just be tempted to move right in.
This month, KBDN asked designers to share their showrooms and what makes them special.
GERMAN KITCHEN CENTER (See featured image above)
18 LOCATIONS NATIONWIDE
With 18 showrooms across the country – including multiple locations in New York as well as in Greenwich, CT; Washington DC; Chicago, IL; Miami, FL; Atlanta, GA; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO, and Seattle, WA – German Kitchen Center brings European kitchen style to the U.S. in a big way, according Mayan Metzler, owner/CEO. The locations highlight multiple brands of kitchen cabinetry, as well as closet systems, in spaces that range from a relatively petite 1,500 to an expansive 10,000 square feet.
“We offer multiple brands to cater the right product to each project in terms of style and price point,” he says.
Displays are designed to ‘wow’ with beauty and function in mind, with the latter being showcased in appliances that are ‘live’ and often used in demonstrations and showroom events, and in cabinetry that features lighting and electric hardware.
“The German and Italian brands we represent are world leaders in electric cabinets that open with a touch,” he says.
Technology is also showcased in the Team 7 flagship showroom, which features a variable height island. “It moves up and down between table and buffet countertop height as needed for users of different heights,” he says, adding that, in general, all of the showrooms feature cutting-edge, modern design ideas for visitors.
The 2,000-sq.-ft. Puustelli showroom, which opened last summer in uptown Minneapolis, brings a bit of unexpected Scandinavian design style to Minnesota’s fairly traditional market.
“We offer a very unique look for this area, with more modern, contemporary slab doors and clean lines,” says Björn Freudenthal. He notes that the inclusion of other northern European design influences, such as thin profile countertops, offers further differentiation from the more traditional looks people are accustomed to seeing in the area.
To promote a familiarity with the relative unknown, showroom visitors are encouraged to interact with products featured in the displays, which include five kitchens, one bath and an ‘in progress’ mudroom. A lounge area, which offers seating near the entrance and features a two-sided fireplace, is also part of the showroom and provides for an inviting experience designed to emulate an actual home kitchen/great room environment.
“We offer a very unique cabinetry system,” Freudenthal explains. “To truly grasp all of its features, prospective clients, friends and industry partners need to be able to see, touch and feel. It can be difficult to understand unless they can physically experience it by opening doors and drawers.”
Visitors to the showroom can also experience an array of fully functional plumbing fixtures and appliances – including some that are not commonly available for testing in a showroom environment such as dishwasher and refrigerator drawers – which are showcased in two ‘live’ kitchen displays. Freudenthal indicates that these live features are essential to the showroom’s mission.
“We wanted to create a comprehensive kitchen environment…a place where we can show clients how to use an induction cooktop or a built-in coffee maker,” he says, noting that fully functional kitchens also give them the ability to host client presentations, which are oftentimes accompanied by traditional Nordic fare such as gravlax, as well as planned cooking demonstrations and events throughout the year. “We wanted to create a showroom focused on function, rather than just beauty.”
TROY & WIXOM, MI
Dream big. Serve bold. Deliver beautiful. These core values identified by E.W. Kitchens for its internal organization are the same ones that drive the mission of the two metro-Detroit area showrooms it shares with the public.
“We want to provide our clients with a variety of options – budget wise and design-style wise – so they are better able to imagine their dream spaces, and we are better able to serve them and deliver a beautiful final product,” says Jim Eathorne, president/general manager.
To accomplish that goal, the company displays four cabinet lines, showcasing each one in a different style in both showrooms, which are approximately 2,500 square feet each. The Wixom location serves as the company’s headquarters and warehouse and features five kitchens, two bathrooms, one closet and an outdoor kitchen. Soon a wine room will be added. The Troy showroom, located in the Michigan Design Center, features three kitchens and one bar.
“Some clients come in unsure of all the bells and whistles available to them when redesigning their kitchen or bathroom space, so we ensure our displays are equipped with the utmost in technology and storage solutions,” he continues. “For example, seeing the built-in K-Cup drawer, drawer organization unit or pull-out spice rack in real life, versus in a catalog or online, can help a client better understand the functionality they’re looking to get out of the their new space.”
While technology and storage options are popular with visitors, many seem to gravitate toward the cabinet comparison wall which showcases installed base and wall cabinets side by side so visitors can see and feel the differences between ‘good,’ ‘better’ and ‘best’ quality in the lines E.W. Kitchens offers.
Both showroom locations also feature detailed displays in the company’s conference rooms, where designers often meet with clients. These spaces are equipped with a large-screen TV so designers can create in real time with 2020 Design software.
Visitors will also find working refrigerators, which are ideal for keeping cold refreshments available for sharing. The Troy showroom also features an espresso machine. To see additional appliances ‘live,’ the firm has partnered with an independent appliance distributor that offers cooking classes for clients as they go through the process of selecting appliances. “The distributor will also send professional chefs to a client’s home after the kitchen is complete,” Eathorne says. “This is a big draw, especially for clients who are familiarizing themselves with new appliances.”
E.W. Kitchens regularly collaborates with local interior designers. “We have made a significant effort in cultivating and maintaining relationships with interior designers, which has helped us become the go-to design firm when catering to clients with cutting-edge design interests,” he says.
To stay ahead of trends and better service clients, E.W. Kitchens’ displays are updated about every year or two. Currently, renovations are underway to create a smaller showroom showcasing cabinet lines that are part of the company’s sister company, Michigan Discount Cabinetry, geared toward DIYers and flippers. “With these lines, we are still able to provide a high-end customer service experience to clients more sensitive to price,” Eathorne concludes.
GILMANS KITCHENS + BATHS
4 LOCATIONS IN/AROUND SAN FRANCISCO, CA
With four showrooms located throughout the San Francisco Bay area, there is always something new happening somewhere for Gilmans Kitchens + Baths. Recently, it was the opening of its fourth location in San Mateo to complement the original/flagship location in San Francisco and the San Rafael and Mountain View locations, which serve clients to the north and south, respectively.
Opening a new location gives the company the opportunity to showcase a fresh approach to displays. “I used to design a display that would illustrate a strong story about how someone could feel in the space, as if it was their own kitchen or bath,” says Joyce van den Dungen Bille, CKD, showroom coordinator/designer. “Now, instead of showing a 14’x16′ kitchen with a decorative hood, one door style and an island, in that same space we’re featuring a number of vignettes with a variety of looks that coordinate with one another, yet give a different design aesthetic. Displays aren’t full kitchens, but they are more than samples.”
This concept provides a greater opportunity to show more, thereby inspire more, she explains. “We can get more bang out of our square footage,” she says. “We can show more door styles, more countertop finishes and more design solutions.”
The San Mateo showroom also showcases the company’s relatively new design/build services.
“Initially, our company was based on design and sales of product and cabinetry,” she notes. “With the addition of our general contracting division, we are now able to offer clients installation, full interior design and architectural construction. It has been a great complement for clients who may not be working with a contracting firm, or who may have a contractor who doesn’t want to install cabinetry.
“We have become more of a one-stop-shop where we can provide an additional level of service that can help close the deal,” she continues. “A design/build division is also a benefit when it comes to installing displays in our showrooms because, with our own team, we can focus on the details we want to feature and show our clients.”
While the majority of ‘new’ has currently been concentrated on San Mateo, all showroom locations receive periodic updates, including the addition of live plumbing to several of the kitchen displays that now feature water filtration and ozone systems.
All four locations also showcase an overriding focus on details. “We want clients to understand the details, such as how transitions work between a countertop and cabinetry, or between cabinets of different heights,” she says. “We show them solutions for undercabinet lighting, and alternatives for locating electrical outlets in an island. We also show different accessories, such as trash units, blind corners and servo-drive lift doors.”
She adds that each showroom features a ‘Hall of Fame’ as well, which illustrates cabinet construction for the product lines the company carries, and notes that this area is especially beneficial “for clients who may not understand the differences between frameless, inset, full overlay, etc.”
KITCHEN & BATH DESIGN + CONSTRUCTION
WEST HARTFORD, CT
With a relatively modest footprint of 1,600 square feet, Lorey Cavanaugh’s showroom has been given a lot of thoughtful consideration to ensure she makes the most of each display, including three kitchens, two bathrooms, a bar and a mudroom, along with a conference room, offices and consultation spaces that feature cabinetry such as a cabinet comparison wall.
“I don’t have a ton of space, and I want to be sure to show the maximum number of options in terms of cabinets, countertops, sinks, faucets, lighting options, etc., all in a put together look that shows a mindful mix of materials with overall continuity,” she says. “That takes some doing.”
For example, her largest kitchen display features a wall of cabinetry and a large two-tier island with seating. “It looks like a completed kitchen,” she says. “However, the wall cabinetry has inset doors with exposed hinges while one face of the island has inset doors with concealed hinges. On one end of the island, we feature cabinets with frameless construction and melamine interiors and on the other end we show frameless cabinets with a wood interior so people can see different ways to build a cabinet.
“Plus, there are two countertop choices with two edge treatments and two finishes,” she continues. “I have also included a beautiful custom copper hood along with downdraft ventilation. While we would never include both in a residential kitchen, people want to see options. When they first see the display, they have no idea everything that is going on. Our goal isn’t just to create a visual, but to also create talking points.”
Additionally, with design/build capabilities, her showroom is as much about showcasing craftsmanship as it is about presenting product.
“We also sell design services, so I’m trying to show a bigger picture than just materials,” she notes. “People need to see spaces they feel they can live in, rather than displays that simply show cabinets.”
As such, Cavanaugh displays a variety of material choices, options and price points to help clients develop budgets. “We show modestly priced materials right alongside more expensive materials so we can demonstrate how good design can influence a space and make less expensive materials still look very elegant and high quality,” she explains, noting her premium kitchen sits side by side with her more modestly priced display. “It also makes it easier to show people the extra details and craftsmanship that can make certain selections more expensive.”
Cavanaugh focuses on maintaining a ‘clean’ showroom that minimizes clutter. “We keep the displays pretty tidy so there aren’t a lot of distractions,” she says, noting that all samples are kept in a selection room. “I don’t have a lot of samples hanging on walls or lying on countertops because we’re trying to create spaces people can relate to as if they were their own kitchens.”
There are many reasons why designers choose to relocate their showrooms. For Stacey Walker, co-owner, it was a fairly straightforward need for more space.
“Our previous showroom was only about 450 square feet,” she says. “It was nice, but all we had was an island and some built-ins with a TV screen we used for live design. It was definitely a multi-use space.”
Making the move to a restored, circa-1928 building in uptown Shelby gave Walker the opportunity to increase that square footage more than 10-fold to 5,000 square feet, which provides plenty of space for three kitchen displays, one of which is ‘live’ and features a 5′ Galley work station with Sub-Zero/Wolf appliances. The wet bar/beverage center is also fully functional with hot/cold filtered water as well as a Sub-Zero coffee maker, wine refrigerator and ice machine.
“It’s not a big display, but it shows a lot of different features,” she says. “It’s probably the most used area in the showroom since everyone needs coffee and ice!”
Other displays include two working bathrooms, four freestanding bath vanities, a laundry room, a closet – which is fully stocked with clothing, shoes and accessories – and a living room, in addition to five selection areas and a conference room. The inclusion of displays beyond kitchens and baths supports the company’s desire for whole-house design.
“About half of our business is new construction,” says Walker. “We want to show that we can do built-ins, entertainment centers and even other spaces such as laundry rooms.”
“We’ve always been focused on cabinetry,” she continues, noting that emphasis remains. “But now we can also show lighting – which is increasingly important since it can get complicated quickly – tile and more hardware and countertop options. We can better communicate that we are more of a one-stop shop, which is important, given our location between Charlotte and Asheville.”
A major mission for the showroom’s overall design was to make it feel like home. “Initially we were going to have more open, vignette-style displays,” she explains. “But that changed when we met with our business coach from the SEN Design Group, of which we are members. He suggested that we make it feel more like home and less like a showroom.”
As such, when visitors walk through the entry doors, the reception area melds with the living room, which features a fireplace, paneled walls and built-in shelves. As guests move through, they pass the larder pantry then transition into the wet bar, working kitchen and beyond.
Since moving into the space last fall and celebrating a grand opening in February, Walker has enjoyed a lot of positive feedback.
“People tell us they have never seen a place like this,” she says, “not even in Charlotte or Asheville.” ▪