Inspiration Spaces

authors Anita Shaw | August 20, 2015

Customers are changing, and kitchen and bath dealers are continuing to change with them – their design approach, their marketing strategies, and their creative spaces. While many industry pros are forsaking the showroom for other means with which to reach customers, others are expanding and recreating those spaces – placing more dollars and effort into showroom design for maximum impact.

Today’s showrooms provide an opportunity to reach the customer in a variety of ways. The days of simply walking through vignettes and rows of product are giving way to interactive experiences with large-screen televisions, iPads and talking kiosks. And, while hands-on interaction with products will likely never be replaced, showrooms that rely on that tactile experience alone will find themselves left behind by the visual feast these cutting-edge showrooms can provide.

On these pages, Kitchen & Bath Design News highlights four showrooms that offer fresh selections and approaches in reaching customers. Each has a unique style and philosophy, and each is experiencing success with its space.

Design Inspiration

Its location in the Architects & Designers Building in New York City reflects exactly what St. Charles of New York is – a true design company. “As a design showroom, we try to show great design inspiration,” stresses Karen Williams, ASID, architectural designer and principal for St. Charles.

The award-winning firm works on local high-end projects as well as ones across the U.S. and around the world. Kitchens, baths, dens, libraries – nothing is out of the realm for St. Charles.

The actual showroom, which encompasses approximately 2,000 square feet of the 3,000-sq.-ft. space, features about 12 vignettes – some full kitchens, some partial displays. “We try to do an entire room, rather than a one-wall vignette,” states Williams.

The main display is a full working kitchen that is used for events and guest chefs. It includes an oven, induction cooking, regular cooking, refrigerator and sink. The other working display is a pantry that functions truly as a clean-up space. “It’s a more traditional-type mahogany pantry, with a big working sink, dishwasher, wine storage and coffee maker,” she offers.

“We try to show great design inspiration by displaying exotic countertops, like semi-precious stone, as well as exotic veneers and other items that are very difficult to find. It makes the showroom worth the trip,” states Williams. “We try to source out something that you wouldn’t see in a standard showroom.” While she acknowledges that clients may not use these exotic pieces, they certainly offer design inspiration.

“We’ve made such an investment to select these really unique things that I think, without a proper designer to enhance your visit to the showroom, it’s hard to understand what these materials are and why they are as costly as they are,” she explains. “When people come and think they can just walk around by themselves, it’s not the same experience. We need to explain the products to them, that this piece comes from Brazil, or that piece is petrified wood from rivers in Southeast Asia. All of a sudden, it becomes much more exciting for them to walk around the showroom.”

Williams notes that all of the cabinetry in the showroom is custom. “We’ll take an ordinary cabinet and do very unusual things,” she notes. “It’s what makes us a design firm and not just a product supplier.”

The La Cornue island is one of the firm’s high-end specialty items. “It is pretty spectacular to have this great 8′ La Cornue island with the cabinetry around it,” she stresses.

Other specialty items include tigers eye and lava stone countertops, as well as an array of hardware sourced out from Williams’ trips to Europe. “It’s about showing very unique, elegant and exotic surfaces,” she comments. “These items are not what you can Google.”

She also notes that, when they find something of interest, they ask if it can be made in a different length or finish. “We’ll take a product that might be readily available and then customize it so that it meets the particular needs of the design,” she says.

There are 15 professionals on the St. Charles staff, and the showroom is staff designed. “It is the St. Charles design model,” Williams comments. “This is how we design. It’s our philosophy.”

Like most showrooms, St. Charles incorporates a large-screen television that showcases projects. However, instead of showing 50 projects, only about five projects are shown. “Particularly because we do business with architects and interior designers, it’s like a rollover of our current projects. You don’t have to wait for the next one to come around,” she offers.

More unique to the showroom is its photography wall that is displayed when a client first walks in. “We have eight great shots of recent or exquisite projects, and everyone stops at those photos to get a good look at the designs,” Williams notes. The still shots are about 24″x30″ and backlit for effect. “When they are backlit, they come to life,” she adds.

The projects are diversified and show the range of what St. Charles can do. “People can stand there and show a designer or architect what they like and don’t like about a project. Even when they don’t love it, they can appreciate the detail that went into the project,” she adds. “It’s something that really, really works well for us.”

Architectural Musings

A touch of Denver made its way to Kansas City, MO recently with the opening of the new Roth Living showroom in the city’s historic Skelly Building. The Denver-based Roth Distributing contracted fellow Colorado-based company Arch11, an architecture firm, to design the company’s newest showroom.

The “next generation” appliance showroom is a departure for Roth, which is the official supplier of Sub-Zero, Wolf, Asko and Best brands in 14 states. The 5,750-sq.-ft. space is an architecturally-driven, consumer-centric shopping experience.

“In the past, we used different kitchen and bath designers to design each vignette, and while the vignettes were beautiful, the space itself was fractured,” comments Denise Manu, v.p. of marketing for Roth Distributing. “We decided to go with an architectural firm this time because we wanted continuity between the spaces.”

In addition, since the building is from the 1930s, “it was a very challenging space to work in. We believed an architectural firm could handle the challenges of the space,” she adds.

Arch11 reconfigured the all-concrete showroom space into a loft-like environment. “Instead of taking the approach of multiple vignettes, we thought about how clients customize their spaces,” offers Manu. “We asked ourselves questions about how the customer wants to shop, and went from there.”

Three vignettes – Active Family, Home Chef and Urban Living – were developed, based on three of the most popular types of customers the showroom sees. All feature elements that will appeal to specific consumers.

Urban Living is a smaller, more high-end display that reflects apartment or similar living. Home Chef, with its more transitional design, offers a range of products that will appeal to a cooking aficionado. The third, Active Family, includes a large island to accommodate today’s modern family on the go.

In addition to the kitchen displays, Arch11 also designed a wine bar that incorporates multiple wine units. “It’s where the bartender sets up when they have events,” reports Clarie Jordan, senior associate for Arch11 and project manager for the showroom. E.J. Meade, principal and owner of Arch11, and Jeremy Ehly of Arch11 were also part of the project team.

In addition, a working coffee bar located at the front of the showroom includes a new coffee system. Appliances are also displayed along one wall of the showroom.

At the back of the showroom is an interactive gourmet demonstration kitchen that features a 21′-long, solid surface island that can seat up to 20 people. The area can expand and contract with a retractable glass panel wall that provides clear views into the space.

“They wanted to incorporate something new compared to what they had been doing in the past, so the culinary center is more user-friendly, with island seating,” offers Jordan. The area includes about 20 different working appliances, and Roth uses this space to demonstrate the appliances to clients.

“With our previous approach, people were a little too far away, so there was a disconnect with what was going on,” offers Muse. The distance made them more reluctant to ask questions, she continues. “With the island, it is a more intimate experience, and more relaxed and comfortable. People are more engaged, and more likely to interact [with our on-staff chef] during a demonstration,” she adds.

Arch11 also helped Roth develop a digital strategy called Muse Studio, “which allows consumers to come in and look at every variation of an appliance on an iPad or mobile phone,” explains Manu.

The Web-based program was customized to interface with designers and then into the space. Upon entering the showroom, customers can start creating their project at the Muse Studio table – which features laptops and iPads – and then visualize their ideas on a 16’x9′ video wall.

“You can pull up the appliances, as well as such items as cabinets and Caesarstone countertops,” says Jordan. “And, you can actually line up all of the appliances that you showed an interest in on the screen in a row, and they will be life-sized. You can pick and choose which products you like and create your own kitchen in the space.”

The last stop is the culinary kitchen, where the customer can see the products being used. “It’s really a progression of finding out what you really want to build [into] your dream kitchen,” Jordan remarks.

Fixating on Fixtures

The top names in luxury plumbing are the focus of the ESO Decorative Plumbing showroom in Pompano Beach, FL. Established in 1994 as the European Sink Outlet, the firm’s new 5,000-sq.-ft. showroom boasts hard-to-find upscale products from companies such as
Gessi, Zucchetti, Julien Home Refinements, Blu Bath Works, KWC and Littman Bros. Lighting.

The family-owned and operated luxury kitchen and bath showroom supplies Broward and Palm Beach designers, luxury home builders and remodelers, consumers and architects with high-end plumbing products for the kitchen and bath. The carefully selected manufacturers in the showroom represent a wide range of styles from contemporary to traditional.

In addition to the brands mentioned, ESO Decorative Plumbing also showcases faucets, tubs, shower systems, sinks, vanities, toilets and accessories for the bath from Robern, THG Paris, Sherle Wagner, Hansgrohe, Jacuzzi, Dornbracht, MTI Baths, Graff, Wetstyle, Rohl, Victoria & Albert, TOTO, Icera and Neo Metro. Kitchen products, including faucets, sinks, water filtration systems and accessories, are available from companies such as Franke, Blanco, Elkay, Environmental Water Systems and Waterstone.

In addition, lighting fixtures, lighted and TV mirrors and cabinet hardware are also on display.

“We sell from over 100 different high-design, high-quality manufacturers,” Adams reports. The showroom is also the only one in the Southeast that features Julien Home Refinements’ new high-tech, rotating kitchen sink display prototype.

“At ESO Decorative Plumbing, we believe that one of the best ways to show product is to display them in an actual bathroom environment, or a vignette,” comments Jason Adams, general manager for ESO. To that end, the large showroom features over 30 vignettes, as well as a newly completed working shower that displays more than 30 showerheads, hand showers and body sprays. “This working shower shows a multitude of different design options and is made up of the products that we have learned are the highest performing, as well as the most innovative, available on the market today. The shower area showcases everything from a 30″ flush-mounted square rain head to shower systems that include chromatherapy and sound systems with speakers, to more basic showerheads that can only be done justice by showing them working,” Adams notes.

In addition, a working steam unit provides the company’s design consultants a chance to educate clients about residential steam showers, as well as shower seats, niches and linear drains, all available for purchase at ESO.

“We have a beautiful selection of products on display – from clean and contemporary to stunning transitional to classic traditional, timeless elegance. You’ll find an exquisite collection of products, hand selected from around the world, all certified and approved for U.S. installation,” Adams states.

Designed by Adams and owner Bruce Albe, the showroom was organized to “create the best possible spaces for our prospective clients to view products,” comments Adams. Products are displayed to help customers visualize them in their own spaces, rather than grouped hanging from a wall.

“Not only will you see the vignettes built out beautifully that include many of our bathroom products, but you’ll also see a wide range of kitchen sinks mounted in a fashion that is similar to the end user’s application – whether it be undermount or farmhouse or even a more standard drop-in sink,” he continues. This concept applies throughout the showroom, which highlights high-end products along with more moderately priced items.

“While the showroom has an extensive selection, we have millions of products available to us that we can bring to the attention of customers as well,” reports Adams.

Comfortable Showcase

There is no scrimping on space for the fully remodeled, state-of-the-art showroom from Creative Kitchen & Bath. Housed in the 27-year-old company’s original location, the Lexington, KY-based showroom boasts 10,000 square feet filled with a wide selection of the most well-known names in the kitchen and bath product market.

The employee-owned firm, which is a cabinet installer and full-service provider of custom kitchen and bath design, has a second location in Louisville, KY. It is a subsidiary of 76-year-old Masters’ Supply, Inc.

“The new showroom is very functional and spacious,” reports David Wachtel, CEO of Creative Kitchen & Bath, “with 15 vignettes of kitchens, baths, appliances and lighting displays.” The newly renovated space also contains one working kitchen, as well as a working shower wall with 25 heads. The working kitchen features cabinetry from Mouser Cabinetry, as well as a selection of high-end appliances that clients are invited to come in and take for a test run.

Designed entirely by the staff of Creative Kitchen & Bath, the vision behind the showroom’s design was to “allow clients to feel comfortable – not pressured – and to experience the latest and the best selection of products for the entire home,” remarks Wachtel. “We encourage customers to interact in the entire showroom to visualize how designs/products will look in their own homes.”

“This new showroom features the latest designs in kitchen, bath and lighting needs for the home. It includes furniture, mirrors and all of the accessories the home will need,” notes Wachtel. “It has every room in mind – from the kitchen, bath, laundry, pantry, family room, den and outdoor patios.”

Consisting of two floors that showcase a range of kitchen and bath products, the showroom includes a wide range of products from industry leaders such as Brizo, Grohe, Elkay, TOTO and Mansfield Plumbing Products. In addition to Mouser Cabinetry, kitchen cabinet lines carried include Kitchen Craft, Dura Supreme, Wellborn Cabinet, Custom Cupboards, Dutch Made and Habersham. Bath vanity lines include Sagehill Designs, Fairmont Designs, WoodPro and Ronbow. Caesarstone, Cambria, LG, DuPont, Formica, Wilsonart and LivingStone supply some of the countertops. Lighting lines include Visual Comfort, Quorum, Tech Lighting and Justice Design Group.

In addition to the vignettes throughout the space, large-screen televisions showcase the company’s portfolio of work. “We offer a full service of design and installation,” Wachtel reports.

The bottom line for Creative Kitchen & Bath is, “we want clients to feel comfortable and know that we take a personal interest in their particular project, Wachtel concludes.

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