CHICAGO — Great kitchen and bath design encompasses a number of different elements – beauty, function, style and, maybe most importantly, the personality of the person it reflects.
Those same concepts led designer Denise Butchko, principal of Butchko and Company in Chicago, from her roots in marketing and image consulting to closet design and education.
Well known in the kitchen and bath industry for her speaking engagements about closet design, Butchko frequently partners with kitchen and bath designers on master closet projects, translating the organizational and storage concepts that are so cleverly used in kitchens and baths into equally well designed and organized closet spaces.
Her interest in the field grew out of her work in image consulting, and she notes, “Image consulting consists of cultivating a wardrobe style for a client that takes into account coloring, body type, personal style, and their energy and lifestyle.” While she loved her work, Butchko soon realized that it was hard to make a good living at it.
Realizing that people will pay for the structure of the closet, she turned her attention to learning what should could about designing closets, with the intention of combining it with image consulting. “I haven’t woven in the image consulting, and ended up staying with closet design,” states Butchko, a Certified Storage designer through the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals.
Honing her craft meant learning first about general unit cabinetry and then custom work, where she learned in-depth techniques about wood and woodworking. “I learned from a millworker about cabinets and the difference between boxes, i.e. cabinets, and parts, i.e. closet systems – where one worked well and where the other didn’t – and how I could be making design mistakes if I was trying to use just these parts in a home office that really needed to be cabinets,” she notes.
LEARNING AND GROWING
Beginning her business as an independent closet designer in 2007 turned out to be a greater risk than first thought, as the housing bubble was about to burst. But, Butchko had chosen not to manufacture, which made her firm more flexible, allowing her to maneuver the rocky economic path and survive.
“The vast majority of closet companies start with a manufacturing business model and build out sales and design from there,” she explains. “I was doing the opposite, with design as the primary focus.
Butchko and Company specializes in custom closet and storage solutions, and the primary clientele is fellow business partners such as kitchen and bath designers, interior designers and architects. “I collaborate with them and their clients to create these designed solutions,” she remarks.
She will often do a design for a professional who’s in another part of the country. “They then take the design I create, do their own field measurements for verification and work with their own manufacturer to get the closet fabricated and installed. It’s a great way to work,” she says.
Most of her designs are contemporary, per request, and she channels the simplicity and organization of a contemporary minimalist style into her designs, while still adapting to the overall style of the home.
It works especially well in the Chicago market, where she does most of her work. “This market demands total space maximization,” where every possible inch vertically and horizontally needs to be used.
Butchko and Company doesn’t carry any product lines, and all projects are manufactured in a custom shop on a job by job basis. The firm also uses a lot of closet accessories from Hafele, Rev-A-Shelf and Sugatsune.
While she has a set footing in closet design, Butchko works with any and all types of custom storage projects. A recent notable project was one she called “Channeling Frank Lloyd Wright,” which incorporated the home’s craftsman style into a custom library and reading room.
SPEAKING AND EDUCATING
Butchko has become well-known in kitchen and bath design circles for her educational marketing and closet design webinars, sharing her storage and design techniques and showing professionals how to move beyond the mainstays of the kitchen and bath.
She is a pilot speaker of NKBA’s Chapter Education program, with seminars such as “Closet Design Beyond Measure,” “Boutique Inspired Closet Design” and marketing topics like “Beyond The Selfie – Using Pictures and Video to Leverage Your Brand.”
Butchko has also started an on-demand course, “Learn Closet Design On Line,” where she shares her knowledge of closet design. The course includes three recorded modules, all accessible online. A few times a year she runs the program live online and interacts with the students on assignments.
The first module extensively covers the evolution of the closet industry, as well as how to work with the business model the student is working from. She explains that kitchen and bath designers or cabinet manufacturers working on a closet design will be working from another set of standards, so she set out to clarify closet and custom storage design standards.
Her later modules cover larger projects, including master closets and walk-ins. “The bigger the closet gets, the more options you can mix in,” she says. “So many more people are wanting higher-end and more beautiful looks now, so designers need to learn how to capitalize on the trend and make more money from it – and enjoy the process as well, of course.”
“Designers are already in the home, with people that trust them and are willing to give them a significant amount of money to help them with their homes,” she says, adding, “A great closet helps [resale value] so much!”
Butchko has also authored several books, including two for the business-to-business market: Closet Design Beyond Measure and How to Design a Walk In Closet, as well as The Consumer Guide to Closet Design. All of her books focus strictly on how to design a functional closet.
Her goal moving forward is to expand into teaching and create educational tools for the design industry, moving away from designing. “I’m still doing closets and I like designing closets very much,” she stresses. “It keeps me creating new content, and helps me be able to train and teach people because I am up on what’s going on in the industry.” ▪