There is little about Patricia Dunlop’s nearly 20-year design career that is conventional. Early on, the designer and principal of Fine Kitchens & Baths by Patricia Dunlop in Boise, ID, worked in commercial interiors and 5-star hotel design/project management in North America as well as overseas – mostly in southeast Asia, but also in Australia and New Zealand. This experience brings a unique perspective to her current work in residential kitchen and bath remodels, broadening her understanding of how spaces can work differently for different people.
“Living and working abroad taught me about how to reflect the culture of a hotel’s location while trying to appeal to a broad audience of people who stay there,” she says. “These spaces have to function, but at a 5-star level, they also have to be aesthetically appealing. It taught me there are so many ways to accomplish the same thing so now when clients come to me with an idea that is out of the ordinary, I am perfectly happy to explore it and look at all the angles to make it work for them. I know there are a lot of ways to approach things.”
The commercial environment, in particular kitchens, exposed her to the idea of designing in zones. “This concept has bled over into residential kitchen design,” she notes. “We’re moving away from the traditional triangle and into zones, such as a prep zone that is based on the refrigerator and sink. Cooking zones focus on ovens, ranges, etc. There can also be serving and clean-up zones, as well as baking zones and storage zones. Within each zone, there can be a small triangle, but having one overriding triangle in the kitchen is not necessarily applicable as kitchens have gotten larger. There’s also usually more than one person in the kitchen. People no longer work by themselves. Cooks want a space for family and guests to work, too.”
Dunlop complements her hospitality/commercial experience with a degree in interior design, gaining ASID certification that balances her CMKBD and CAPS accreditations. “My interior design background makes me more aware of the principles of design, such as balance, rhythm, harmony, proportions and scale,” she says. “It also helps me connect kitchens and baths with the rest of the home.”
With an ever-growing interest in and desire for universal design, being able to seamlessly incorporate accessibility results in a better space, she suggests. “Accessibility does not have to look institutional,” she stresses, “and it is appreciated and used by people of all ages and abilities. It’s another way I am able to offer my clients excellence and timelessness in design… beautiful spaces that function beautifully!”
Striking a balance
A focus on function and aesthetics is at the heart of all of Dunlop’s designs. “Function is important because a space has to work,” she says. “At the same time it has to look beautiful. There isn’t much point in having one without the other.”
Achieving that design goal is unique to each client, where the designer balances lifestyles and aesthetics with budgets to ensure a final project that reflects personal style. “It’s very much my clients’ kitchens and baths,” she stresses. “My role is to take their needs, aesthetic and budget and mesh them together to reflect their taste. I recall walking into a project one day that was only bare walls and studs. I could immediately tell who the designer was based on the style. I don’t have a specific style, but rather a diverse portfolio. I think it’s important that my clients don’t feel pushed into a certain style. I would much rather have someone know it’s my project because it’s a beautiful design that functions well, rather than because it has a particular look.
“I want to give my clients the best version of what they want,” she continues. “while making sure it functions well.”
A unique working kitchen
Like other designers, Dunlop welcomes clients into her showroom. However, her showroom is unlike others since it’s her own home’s kitchen. The designer lives in downtown Boise in a somewhat commercial environment so when the building where her previous showroom was located was sold, she decided to turn her own kitchen into her showroom. “It has really worked out well,” she says. “People love to see a kitchen designer’s kitchen!”
She designed her approximately 400-square-foot kitchen with cabinets and accessories in a variety of styles and finishes as well as four different countertops. “It’s an interesting kitchen from that perspective,” she admits. “It really is a working display.”
She maintains a separate office in her home where she keeps samples, but she also relies on manufacturer showrooms – including those with displays she has created – when needed. “I can also take clients to other kitchens I’ve designed,” she says, adding that referrals and word-of-mouth advertising is important to her marketing program, which also includes a Houzz profile and Facebook page in addition to her Web site. With limited paper advertising, she focuses on being a visible part of her community. “I’m involved in the local ballet,” she says. “I’m considering hosting some community events, such as the opening party for the ballet. It keeps me involved in the community so people know who I am and what I do.”