San Francisco — Like many kitchen and bath professionals, Bay Area designer Nadja Pentic came to the industry from another field. Prior to entering the world of kitchen and bath design, she spent over a decade working in the garment industry. Pentic, who originally hails from Croatia, got her start in kitchen and bath design close to 20 years ago, when she got a call from her father.
“He was running a dealership for [an Italian kitchen company] in Croatia and was really close with the family who owned the factory. At some point…they found out that he had a daughter who lives in San Francisco and was doing business here. They suggested that I start the West Coast representation for the factory,” Pentic recalls. “So Dad called me up one day and said, ‘Hey, you want to start a kitchen business?’ and I was like, ‘Sure!’ You know, I had no idea what I was getting into but really, that’s how I got my start.” After Pentic and her father opened their first showroom in 2000, she began to learn the ropes of the industry under the tutelage of her father – “through the school of hard knocks,” as she puts it.
European flair, American twist
For the better part of a decade, Pentic and her father operated two Italian import showrooms. With the retirement of Pentic’s father and the advent of the recession, it became clear to Pentic that she needed to explore other business models. During her time working in Italian kitchen showrooms, she gained an understanding of not only European minimalist style, but also the needs and idiosyncrasies of the American market. “I started looking for ways to interpret the Italian kitchen here so that I wouldn’t have to import European products,” Pentic explains. “I ended up working with a custom shop here in the Bay Area and basically learned from the ground up how to build custom kitchens here.”
She recalls how her first partner in the business “took it upon himself to [help me] understand the construction, the hardware… how to spec [an American product] to make it look European.”
In 2012, Pentic hung out her own shingle – Knocknock – and set out to bring her European take on American kitchen and bath design to the Bay Area. Her penchant for clean and ergonomic European design combined with her appreciation of American craftsmanship and customizability have since enabled her to become a unique and innovative voice in the industry.
With her location in Oakland, CA, Pentic is perfectly positioned to attract clients who are drawn to her distinctive Euro-American style. “The two coasts are much more inclined to have more modern clients than the middle of the country,” Pentic believes. Through conversations with industry colleagues located throughout the country, Pentic explains, she has learned that it is far more difficult to create modern cabinet lines in the middle of the country, where people are still drawn to a more traditional or transitional aesthetic.
So what does a typical Knocknock client look like? According to Pentic, her typical clients are affluent families, many of whom are quite young. These clients are often well-educated and enjoy traveling, and have the means to gather design inspiration from all over the globe. These clients are generally very active on social media and inspiration sites such as Houzz and Pinterest. In fact, Pentic credits Houzz with garnering approximately 30-35 percent of her clients. “When people get on Houzz, that means they’re actually ready to remodel. It sort of weeds out the people who are just randomly looking versus people who are actually planning a remodel sometime in the next year.”
For Pentic, building relationships with local craftspeople is a necessity in order to create custom cabinetry or source quality modular products. To a certain extent, Pentic credits her previous career as a production manager in the garment industry with teaching her how to cultivate productive relationships with new vendors and craftspeople. “Being able to just go out there and talk to factory owners and review the facility and understand how we can collaborate together – I think that’s priceless,” she remarks.
Positive relationships within adjacent industries have also benefited Pentic. “[A portion of my business] comes from colleagues in the industry like architects
and contractors – people I’ve worked with in the past who have had a good experience with me and they don’t necessarily specialize [in kitchens and baths]. I have friends who are amazing at designing the whole house, but they really don’t want to figure out where the forks [are supposed to] go. And they also know I’m kind of a cabinet nerd because of my industry experience. They just tell me, ‘Well, here’s where the kitchen is. Go figure out the details and then I’ll take it from there.’”
Of course, organically building client connections is also key. “Probably another 30 percent [of my business] comes from old clients referring me to new clients,” she says. “So word of mouth is always huge because these are big, expensive projects, and people want to trust somebody they’re working with. Getting a referral from a neighbor or a friend or somebody who has had a bit of experience working with me is always huge. And it creates a level of trust before you even sell yourself to them as a potential professional.” ▪