Design Firm Grows By Capitalizing On Team
By John Filippelli
CHICAGO As president of Smartrooms, Inc., based here, James W.
Livingston, CKD, wears many hats. Not only is he a busy kitchen
designer and dealer, he’s also a consultant and teacher to his
clients and employees. But as many things as Livingston is
responsible for, he still insists that the success of his firm is
not just about what he does. As he explains it, “There is no ‘I’ in
team.” In fact, capitalizing on the team concept is the best way to
create a successful business, he believes.
For Livingston, this approach has enabled his firm to specialize
in unique and functional designs that incorporate the needs and
desires of its upscale clients. He states, “Each project is handled
by a team of professionals, not just one designer. All of our 13
design staff members have an education and background in kitchen
and bath design, and have over 75 years experience combined.
Therefore, whether it be large-scale condominium projects or unique
individual residences, [we strive to meet] the different needs and
tastes of each homeowner.”
Livingston believes his firm’s business philosophy helps to
attract and keep clients.
“Our business philosophy is simple,” he notes. “Treat each
customer [as if each is] special. Listen to their needs and help
them visualize and realize their dream home.”
Not coincidentally, he notes, this philosophy has also earned
the firm the national number one ranking in sales volume among
dealers of Wood-Mode. Even more impressive is that it’s the fifth
time in the past six years the firm has received this honor this
year becoming the first dealer ever to reach more than $10 million
But ,while Livingston certainly has had a lot to do with the
growth of Smartrooms, Inc. he joined the firm eight years ago when
it was only number 25 on that list he believes the firm’s continued
success is due several key factors.
“We’ve been able to earn these achievements because ours is one
of the best-equipped firms in town to accommodate residential,
development and high-rise properties,” he says. “We have a large
design and project management team and a [new] 5,000-sq.-ft.
showroom [on tap]. Not only are we able to handle large projects,
but we can manage multiple large projects simultaneously.”
The firm’s 13 design professionals offer full-service design, as
well as consultation services.
The company’s current
4,000-sq.-ft. showroom is based at The Merchandise Mart, the home
to interior designers, architects and the building/remodeling
community in the Chicago area, Livingston notes.
“Our showroom offers an opportunity to meet with what I consider
to be the most talented kitchen designers in the industry. Each
designer is specially trained to design and engineer Wood-Mode
cabinetry into their spaces, creating unique and individual
kitchens or rooms that becomes an extension of the client’s living
style,” he says.
“We make sure that we offer a friendly, relaxed and welcoming
atmosphere for our clients.” He adds that most of the firm’s
clientele are referrals from previous customers.
As Livingston explains, a great benefit of the showroom is that
it affords customers the opportunity to see available styles in a
Aside from Wood-Mode Fine Custom Cabinetry, the showroom offers
a variety of appliance, sink and faucetry products, as well.
“We pride ourselves in always having available the latest door
styles and colors to see in our showroom. Our specialty is our
ability to produce custom colors and finishes that are new and
fresh, meaning customers won’t see their kitchen anywhere else,”
Of course, change is growth frequently means change, and
Smartrooms, Inc. is no exception. To that end, the firm’s showroom
which currently features 16 displays, including kitchens, bath
vanities, offices, libraries and entertainment centers will be
replaced in September when the company relocates into its new
5,000-sq.-ft. showroom, complete with an expanded 20 displays,
according to Livingston.
The new showroom, like the old one, will feature Wood-Mode Fine
Custom Cabinetry designed with a variety of stone, sinks, faucets
and appliances, depending on the clients requirements.
Livingston notes that when he started managing Smartrooms, Inc.
in 1995, he began designing what was then considered
traditional-style Wood-Mode cabinetry into all styles and tastes.
He would incorporate trims, moldings and little-used materials into
styles ranging from contemporary to Old World. As a result, his
designs garnered notice in design magazines and earned him several
But, despite his personal accomplishments, it is his team of
designers that Livingston credits with Smartrooms, Inc.’s success.
“I feel that we have dedicated and experienced staff members who
really enjoy what they specialize in,” he proudly notes.
Continuing education is another key ingredient to the company’s
success, and Livingston offers seminars and in-house training
programs for both customers and employees.
All of Smartrooms, Inc.’s 16 employees also attend Wood-Mode
School, an intense four-day educational seminar at the
manufacturing facility in Kreamer, PA to gain a better
understanding of the products they sell, Livingston adds.
Adding to the full-service approach of the firm, Smartrooms,
Inc. also participates in a variety of charitable programs and
organizations, including the Home Builders Association of Illinois
and the Spirit Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps
child-care facilities, assisted-living centers and shelters for
survivors of domestic violence.
For Livingston, this doesn’t just make Smartrooms, Inc. part of
the community, but, more importantly, part of a team.
LOCATION: 1356 The Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL
PRINCIPALS: James W. Livingston, CKD/pres.
HOURS OF OPERATION: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Mon.-Fri.; 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.,
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 16
SPECIALTIES: High-end residential projects; full-service design and
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: “Treat each client [as if each is] special,
and listen to their needs. Help them to visualize and realize their