The Innovators: RO – ZI

by Ashley Lapin Olian
innovators of kitchen and bath

Sam Rose, Ferguson

Sam Rose

Ferguson executive spearheads successful, nationwide ‘omni-channel’ showroom experience

Sam Rose is v.p. of showroom-builder business for Ferguson, responsible for overseeing the strategic direction for Ferguson’s 270 showrooms nationwide. For more than 25 years, he has presided over the growth of Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery into a nationally recognized brand, evolving the business to meet the changing needs of both the trade professional and end consumer.

“Our goal is to transform what can be an overwhelming process of selecting new products for the home and make it a fun and rewarding experience, while also being the best path to market for our vendors and a valued partner to the trade community,” says Rose.

Ferguson showrooms are known for their knowledgeable product experts and innovative approach to servicing customers in a world-class retail environment. It’s this combination that enables Ferguson to continue gaining the confidence of the kitchen and bath design trade nationwide. In particular, Rose has helped refine Ferguson’s showroom training program, balancing product knowledge with leading customer-service training. He also helped spearhead the showrooms’ recent upgrades in technology and merchandising in which product is displayed the way customers buy. With an eye on the future, Rose is currently working to expand and diversify the showrooms’ product offering and provide customers with a seamless “omni-channel” experience.

Peter Salerno, HGTV Kitchen and Bath Designer

Peter Salerno, CMKBD

Renowned artisan redefines the luxury market with limitless vision

In the kitchen and bath industry, Peter Salerno’s name is synonymous with luxury. The Wyckoff, NJ designer’s richly appointed creations have redefined the high end of the market with unique applications of upscale products and new ideas that are anything but “safe.”

When a client wanted a design with two carved trees wrapped around a refrigerator, Salerno took it in stride. A stainless steel island with legs and drawers riveted together to look like the skin of an airplane? Absolutely!

“I get excited when I see a client who truly wants to do something different and artistic,” he says, citing projects ranging from a shadow box displayed in a countertop to a bar area with a 1″-thick glass floor that doubled as the ceiling to a wine cellar below, viewable from the bar – and lit with the touch of a switch.

Having done projects from the U.S. to Canada to Moscow, Salerno’s uniquely artistic vision takes him all over the globe, and often into new territory – including a sideline in upscale wine rooms that grew out of his passion for wine collecting.

An HGTV Featured Kitchen and Bath Designer who began his career in his father’s custom cabinet shop, Salerno believes “It’s all about the extraordinary.”

Eric Schimelpfenig, Sketch this

Eric Schimelpfenig, AKBD

Designer and technological guru is a voice for the expanding digital age

Eric Schimelpfenig is a young man on a mission: to spread the word about how kitchen/bath design professionals can enhance their client-engagement skills in an age when sales presentations are undergoing a revolutionary change with the advent of powerful new digital tools.

Schimelpfenig’s expertise – as well as his burgeoning reputation – lies in educating dealers and designers about how to leverage cutting-edge technologies and sales presentation strategies aimed at a new generation of kitchen and bath clients, including the young, digitally savvy consumers impacting the market. His presentations, highlighted by a key role in Kitchen & Bath Design News’ annual eight-city seminar series, focus on ways that design professionals can utilize a rapidly expanding palette of software, smart phones, mobile devices, new apps and other digital tools to smooth the path from initial client contact through final contract.

The founder of, Schimelpfenig himself has utilized 3-D technology throughout his career as a Massachusetts-based kitchen/bath designer, educator and consultant. He’s also taught Sketchup 3-D modeling software at trade shows and other events, while serving as a technology columnist for KBDN.

Maria Stapperfenne, Tewksbury Kitchens & Baths

Maria Stapperfenne, CMKBD

Designer serves the industry through association involvement

Innovators don’t just create, they also lead. That’s clearly the case for Maria Stapperfenne, a 25-year industry veteran and 2015 NKBA president who continued her commitment to serving the trade as an NKBA Board member and association ambassador. She works on projects ranging from conceiving Voices of the Industry programs to working with her local chapter to raising scholarship money for architecture and design students.

The manager of Tewksbury Kitchens & Baths is always on the go, currently doing volunteer work and promotion for the Living in Place Institute where, after receiving her certification in 2016, she does presentations to designers and showroom personnel.

She’s also trying to bring into NKBA a greater focus on the living-in-place aspect of design, explaining, “One of the tenets of NKBA’s mission and vision statement is safety, and we believe it’s one of the things that separates us as an association.”

Education remains a priority for her, and she believes, “It’s our job to entice new talent into the industry and create more awareness to entice millennials,” with programs like the NKBA’s “30 Under 30.”

She is passionate about using design to “help people find their happy place” and is a huge fan of collaboration, joking that, “inter-professional collaboration is the new black!”

Alon Cohen, Houzz co-founder

Adi Tatarko, Houzz co-founder

Adi Tatarko & Alon Cohen

Houzz co-founders offer conduit of prospects, leads and design ideas

 Beginning in 2010, the wife and husband duo of Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen took a side project and turned it into Today, Houzz has more than 40 million monthly unique users, 90% of whom are homeowners – and more than 1.5 million home professionals use the platform.

But the impact of Houzz is perhaps better understood by the volume of project leads driven and the high average spend by consumers who visit the platform. Houzz users spent $60,400 on average on home renovations in 2016, more than three times the national average. And, in 2016, Houzz drove $4 billion in gross revenue to paying professionals with Houzz pages.

The genesis of Houzz? “It was the frustration felt by Tatarko and Cohen by the lack of resources and inspiration available to help them articulate a vision for their home and to find the right professionals who could help them,” says Houzz spokesperson Alison Brady Gervis.

In what is traditionally a local business with showrooms as the key selling environment, Houzz offers a larger regional or even national platform where great photos and online consumer interactions are the new pinnacle.

Joseph Wheeler, Virginia Tech Center

Joseph Wheeler

Research co-director re-imagines the future for kitchens & baths

Joseph Wheeler thinks he’s seen the future, and if reality mirrors his crystal ball, kitchens and baths will assume an exciting new dimension.

Co-director of the Virginia Tech Center for Design Research, Wheeler is the driving force behind “FutureHAUS,” a revolutionary prototype that’s providing a preview of how digital technologies, cutting-edge products and smart building design may soon unite to make homes more efficient, sustainable and affordable.

Unveiled in four phases, Wheeler’s research project, partnering faculty and students with industry supporters, proposes an alternative to conventional construction: a pre-fabricated delivery method for assembling inexpensive, energy-efficient, high-quality housing. FutureHAUS would see kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms assembled as pre-finished, pre-plumbed, pre-wired, plug-and-play “cartridges” that are then delivered from the factory to job sites.

Virginia Tech’s kitchen prototype demonstrated ways that smart technologies can assist with a wide range of daily tasks. The bathroom prototype integrated fixtures, technologies and materials to help control water and temperature flow, monitor energy and water consumption and accommodate working heights for multi-generational users.

Wheeler’s team plans to construct a complete FutureHAUS at a local research complex. The concept itself, he predicts, could one day be arriving in homes.

Jim Williams

Jim Williams

CEO redefines the distributor as a business partner

Jim Williams has been a leading light in the Great Lakes Region for nearly 50 years, building the Grand Rapids, MI company he serves as CEO into a distribution powerhouse known for its service to customers in the kitchen and bath, heating and ventilation, plumbing and related markets.

As a full-service distributor to dealers, builders, contractors, interior designers and architects, Williams Distributing recognized early on that traditional two-step distribution in an increasingly sophisticated market involved more than simply providing an inventory of competitively priced, ready-to-ship cabinetry, plumbingware and other products. An early champion of customer training, education, marketing and relationship-building, Williams’ firm succeeded in a market whose product mix, distribution channels and specifier needs have undergone profound change since the company’s founding in 1968.

Williams himself has a lengthy record of community service, including as board chairman of the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids and president of the Gerald R. Ford Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

He was named the Michigan State University Business Person of the Year in 2004, and was recently honored by the Cascade Community Foundation with its annual Claude and Marion Robinson Community Leadership Award, honoring a person who has demonstrated a commitment to improving the community.

Karen Williams, St. Charles of New York showroom

Karen Williams

Popularity of kitchen design leads to service that finishes the space

The Architects & Designers Building in Manhattan is home to the St. Charles of New York showroom, and it’s where you’ll find Principal Karen Williams creating luxury designs for homes around the world. With St. Charles for 38 years, Williams has witnessed a great deal of change with regard to kitchen design.

“When I first started with St. Charles, kitchens were not popular,” she reports. But during her tenure, kitchens have moved from being one of the least significant rooms of the home to one of the major spaces.

The growing importance of the kitchen inspired the launch of Curated by St. Charles, created for the company by Lindsey Katalan. Curated is a luxury service that procures the finest crystal, tableware, barware and culinary accessories needed to finish a design. Through Curated, St. Charles can complete a space by providing the ideal cutting boards, bowls, pots, spices, knives and other desired elements. “We offer three styles – soft contemporary, modern and soft transitional – and the packages have the basics, but can be customized to the client’s needs,” offers Williams.

In addition to Curated, Williams has expanded beyond the kitchen and bath to now include interior design services in her portfolio. “It is a natural extension, really,” she states. “A master bathroom often leads to a master bedroom design. And the kitchen, because it’s expanding into the other rooms, becomes part of one design concept.”

Vasi Ypsilantis, the Breakfast Room ltd.

Vasi Ypsilantis

Designer expands expertise to move beyond the kitchen and bath

Designer Vasi Ypsilantis opened her kitchen and bath showroom, “the Breakfast Room, Ltd.,” on the prestigious north shore of Long Island in 1999, some 15 years after beginning her career in kitchen and bath design.

“I had a passion for kitchen design early on since it allowed me to develop my talent in two key areas,” says Ypsilantis. “It was important to be able to use my architecture and space-planning skills, since kitchen design is not just about decoration. The kitchen must also incorporate function – ergonomics combined with aesthetics.”

Through the years, her designs have been published in national and international magazines, and her work in show houses and historic homes has garnered attention and earned her two Notable Designer of Distinction awards as well as a first place honor in the Sub-Zero Wolf contest.

But working as a kitchen and bath designer led to some frustration for Ypsilantis. “I learned that, no matter how talented you are, your work will not be represented properly in the hands of an unprofessional or untalented contractor,” she offers. “Since good contractors were hard to come by, I had many bad experiences.” She believed she could do it better, and decided to make the additional leap to licensed contractor in 2004.

Since then, she has added an interior design and build firm. “Now, I’m creating interior styles that flow throughout the entire essence of the home,” she explains.

Alan Zielinski, Better Kitchens Inc.

Alan Zielinski, CKD

Prominent designer helps to assure the success of KBIS

Alan Zielinski’s ascendency to national office at the National Kitchen & Bath Association coincided with a pivotal time for the NKBA and the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS), the association-owned trade show.

Zielinski, an accomplished designer whose company has served the Chicago market for six-plus decades, was instrumental, as 2012 NKBA president, in helping guide the association through a critical negotiation which allowed it to co-locate the then-foundering KBIS with the similarly recession-challenged National Association of Home Builders’ International Builders Show (IBS). The decision has been widely credited for reversing the fortunes of the industry’s two most important trade shows.

Zielinski, whose Niles, IL-based Better Kitchens Inc. was established in 1956 by his father Ed – a founding member of the American Institute of Kitchen Dealers, forerunner to the NKBA – has also seen his design projects grace the pages of multiple publications, and has been associated with a litany of celebrity chefs, including Martha Stewart, Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali.

He is also an accomplished commercial pilot, certified flight instructor and Federal Aviation Administration-designated examiner who has piloted single-engine planes, corporate jets, vintage aircraft and hot-air balloons.

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