Celebrating Women in Design
authors Janice Anne Costa
March marks Women’s History Month, making it a perfect time to reflect on the tremendous influence women have had on the kitchen and bath industry over the years. From Ellen Cheever, who wrote the book on kitchen design (quite literally, as for decades, her original 1970s textbook was considered the basis for design education across the industry) to Mary Jo Peterson, who was essential in bringing Universal Design into the mainstream, and Suzie Williford, who went from “helping out” at her father’s plumbing and hardware showroom to becoming president of NKBA, and then its executive v.p. of industry relations, women have plenty of history to celebrate in this industry.
And, indeed, women continue to be an essential force in driving the industry forward today, in areas ranging from design to social media, education to showroom strategies, manufacturing to technology and so much more.
But it wasn’t always that way. Many long-time female industry pros can still relate tales of the not-so-good-old days, where they battled challenges breaking into, moving up in or being taken seriously in design, business, manufacturing, construction and management.
In fact, I still remember one of my first industry profiles at KBDN where we told the story of a woman who took over her husband’s kitchen and bath firm when he unexpectedly passed away…and all of her employees quit on the spot, refusing to work for a woman. Learning to run a business while replacing an entire staff was an act of courage – or insanity, she joked at the time – but her ability to persevere, rebuild and flourish spoke not only to her own passion, talent and determination, but to a changing industry that increasingly embraced women as business owners, making way for those with talent to rise to the top, regardless of gender.
While the notion may seem antiquated, this wasn’t always a given.
In this month’s Trend Spotting, Jamie Gold interviews several female movers and shakers in the kitchen and bath industry about their path to success, the challenges they faced and how they and the industry have evolved over the years (see story).
Interestingly, even as women struggled to be taken seriously as decision makers in the design industry, female consumers were driving demand for home design products and services. And many argue that women’s ability to connect emotionally to the home – and to the needs of homeowners – is part of how that evolution came about.
Indeed, in her DPH Perspectives column, former Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association President Sarah Jenkinson shares how she learned to redefine luxuries as necessities for her clients by keying into their emotional response to the items (see story).
While one can argue that selling through emotional connections is not a uniquely female ability, it’s clear that when women bring their own voices, perspectives and ways of doing things to the industry, they broaden its scope and create new opportunities for all.
Interestingly, in recent years, things have flip flopped a bit; even as women are increasingly seen heading up design firms, manufacturing companies and associations, men are becoming more involved in the decision-making process for kitchen and bath remodels, putting their own imprint on these spaces through everything from technology to therapeutic amenities to preferred color palettes.
And men and women continue to redefine not just design, but business, and what the home means, and how our industry will continue to evolve.
A lot has changed over the past few decades, but one thing is certain: A woman’s place is most definitely in the home…or at least the home design industry!
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we salute all of the women in this industry who have worked hard to forge their own path, even in the face of adversity…and all of the men who have shared that journey with them. ▪