Designer Works Outside the Box
authors Ashley Lapin Olian | April 30, 2017
GENEVA, IL — When you’re designing kitchens with a minimum price tag of $100,000, you not only have to do exceptional work, you also need to bring something unique to the table. For PB Kitchen Design, based here, that means combining creativity and technical expertise with elements that provide a truly personalized, one-of-a-kind touch.
Father-and-son team Dave and Dan McFadden have found success working with local artisans from outside of the kitchen industry – wood and metal craftspeople who bring a unique perspective that helps to add something special to their designs. From a stainless steel fabricator who worked in the dairy industry to a math professor who took up blacksmithing, the McFaddens have a knack for forging creative partnerships that add that “je ne sais quoi” to their designs, taking them out of the mainstream and into a realm of the truly exceptional – which their upscale clients have come to expect.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Dave McFadden began in the kitchen and bath design industry almost 30 years ago as a second career. He had worked for 29 years as a mechanical engineer when he was laid off from his senior management position. At that point, he was in his mid-50s: It was too early to retire, but a little older than normal to find a similar level job in the engineering industry. He had previously dabbled in woodworking, so when a neighbor asked him to build and replicate Smallbone (a high-end British cabinet manufacturer) for her kitchen, he took it on, transitioning into a brand new career.
Dave opened a custom cabinet manufacturing shop, but eventually realized his true passion was design, so he decided to sell his business and opened a small showroom for his kitchen design business, Past Basket, where he took on several custom cabinet lines. Not long afterwards, his son, Dan, who had just graduated college, joined him, as he wanted to learn all things kitchen and bath design.
“He saw that there was a movement back then toward a more fashionable kitchen, whereas up to that point the kitchen wasn’t really a fashionable part of the home,” says Dan. “I think from his entrepreneurial side, he felt there might be something here for the future, this might be a growth business. And obviously he was right.”
The McFaddens worked well together and their business flourished. Eventually, they realized they needed to add another designer, and went to a local community college where they asked the dean of the interior design department for her top candidate. Debbie Larson was hired, and has been working with the company ever since (20+ years). Dan is now the president of the firm (which was renamed PB Kitchen Design last year), but Dave, in his 80s, is still designing right alongside him and Debbie.
With a high-end clientele, PB Kitchen Design is committed to making each design special, and as such, the designers often incorporate custom elements from local artisans ranging from knife racks to support brackets to range hoods. Interestingly, many of these artisans had no initial connection to the kitchen industry.
Dan McFadden explains, “We try to find people who aren’t necessarily working within our industry, but who have some style and technical know-how in their particular craft and can translate that to what we’re trying to do.”
As an example, he notes, “We’ve worked with a stainless steel fabricator in Wisconsin who never did any architectural stainless steel. We approached him and, because he’d been doing stainless steel for the dairy industry and the food industry where the tolerances and finesse required was far more exacting than ours, he was able to [easily] flip over to doing architectural metalwork. He was literally making stuff for the dairy industry and we showed him some complex hood design and he said, ‘I could do that blindfolded compared to the stuff that I’m being asked to do.’”
Likewise, the firm has worked with a math professor who took up blacksmithing, and who creates unusual kitchen elements that range from hoods to island brackets to interesting hardware.While it might be considered an odd choice to seek out people from outside of the industry, McFadden believes this gives the firm a unique “edge.” He explains, “When you get out of the normal distribution channel, you find people [where it may] not be that evident that they are helpful, but they could have a talent to do something in a unique way and even bring something more to the table.”
Not only does this offer a new perspective, but it also gets the community more involved.
And community involvement is a high priority for the firm. Indeed, the company is active with its “Past Basket Cares” endeavors, explaining, “We believe it is our responsibility as community members to bring positive change to those around us, and we are always on the lookout for worthy endeavors to give a hand up.” The company hosts and supports various charitable events to help raise money for worthy causes. Dan also serves as the v.p. of programs for the NKBA’s Chicago Midwest Chapter, and in 2016 managed a project for ASID-IL’s “Gives Back Committee.”
Another thing that Dan feels sets PB Kitchen Design apart from other design firms is the fact that all three designers are senior and salaried, which allows them to collaborate on almost every project together.
“Some firms have some senior designers that are supported by more junior support staff. In some cases, the senior designer is all you get as the customer,” notes Dan. “We are a little bit different in that two of us – in many cases three of us – could be involved in a project. You’re not going to have two senior designers who are commission-based tag teaming on one project.”
With the team-oriented, custom approach that PB Kitchen Design takes with each of its projects, the firm finds that its average cost to complete a kitchen is $100,000 (including all components). Dan mentions that while he has thought about bringing down the firm’s price point for a full kitchen remodel, he doesn’t see it becoming a reality due to the limitations it requires.
“I don’t think that’s who we are because we put so much into our projects,” states Dan. “It just doesn’t fit with what we’ve built and the niche that we’re creating, which is to work hand-in-hand with our customers through the planning process. It’s required to get where they want to go.” ▪