Like mother, like daughter. The design team of Susan and Alexandra Knight keep it in the family when it comes to designing kitchens and baths. Susan started in the industry nearly 40 years ago when she opened her interior design firm, Korts & Knight, in the San Francisco Bay area in 1975.
“My background is in interior design,” says Susan, noting that over time, she transitioned into kitchens, then whole-home projects as clients began requesting design help beyond their living rooms. “Our specialties now are architecturally challenging jobs, and jobs that require creativity as well as custom cabinetry and design services, such as architectural detailing, space planning and interior selections for complete projects where multiple rooms are involved, not just kitchens. My background in interior design gives us an understanding about structure, color, scale and portion… which are all critical in today’s design world.”
While Alexandra grew up in the business – alongside her mother and father, Richard, as well as her brother, Spencer – she ventured outside of the family for a time, working in prestigious kitchen showrooms from California to London learning the tools of the trade that are necessary for entering the high-fashion world of kitchens. She rejoined the family business in 2011, opening an East Coast showroom, Korts & Knight, Kitchens by Alexandra Knight, in the New York Design Center in midtown Manhattan.
“Being multi-generational has been a boon to Korts & Knight continuing to thrive,” says Susan. “The new wealth in our country is being made by 35-45 year olds. Luckily, our children understand this group and are in tune with all aspects of how to make this business continue to be successful.”
Coastal and International Influences
With showroom locations on both coasts, the design duo offers clients a unique, coast-to-coast design perspective.
“Having showrooms on each coast allows us to blend styles from two sides of the country,” says Alexandra, who indicates that many of their clients either reside on both coasts or conduct business on both coasts, making showroom locations on each coast convenient for clients no matter where their life takes them. “We bring simplicity and crispness to our spaces that we see on the West Coast and infuse it with a pop of over-the-top finishes we see on the East Coast, combining the two for a perfectly designed space with exotic designs blended together in an understated way.”
Being deep-rooted on both coasts also exposes them to products and ideas they might not otherwise be familiar with. “I recently did a project with exotic lighting from Israel, which I was exposed to while in New York,” says Susan. “There are many niche products that a city as big as New York can offer because of the diversity of its clientele.”
Many of their clients have international ties as well, further exposing them to trends, products and ideas the world over. Recently, they designed a hood for a Russian oligarch in New York City that required extensive creativity for a design encrusted in jewels. “The world we live in is very internationally oriented,” says Susan. “These clients like to have their cultural aesthetics shown inside their homes, displayed in their choices of materials and colors. It’s important that we are sensitive to what life experiences will be represented in the hard goods that are selected to finish the interiors.”
The company’s willingness to take on very custom work, such as this hood, is one factor the duo feel makes them successful. So is their willingness to take on challenging projects. “We will do all the rooms in the house for both cabinets and architectural details, such as wall paneling,” says Susan. “And we will do the interior selections for complete houses, including plumbing, electrical layouts, hard surface material selections, paint and wall coverings. We will even provide furniture layouts and furniture selection as required by our clients.”
Surrounding themselves with a great design team, as well as supportive vendors, makes much of this extensive work possible. These relationships are important given the fact that much of their business is referrals. “We have been working with some of our same clients for over 30 years,” says Susan. “As our clients continued on their life journey with bigger and better projects, we were there to help them.”
Staying true to their philosophy is also important. “First and foremost, the process of doing a residential remodel or new build should be enjoyable for all concerned,” says Susan. “No mayhem and distress!”
They also focus on making sure the ‘bones’ of the home are in order. “If you continue to work around defects in the house, you won’t get the results you desire,” she continues. “The space should always reflect the clients, their dreams and wishes and their design aesthetic. Our job is to inspire them, to perhaps think outside of their comfort zone, as long as you know in the end that it will be something they will enjoy. We also strive to make spaces that are friendly, sociable and happy, with comfortable colors, whether that’s calm and sophisticated, or bright and cheerful.”
Changing with the times
They have also been willing to change with the times. Over the course of the company’s 39-year history, they have remodeled or built no fewer than 16 showrooms, with the latest being the Manhattan location which complements the studio showroom in San Francisco. The 2,000-square-foot New York showroom was built in just four months and includes a working kitchen, six displays and a private conference room.
They have also noticed a change in what clients ask for. “Our clients are demanding something more interesting,” says Alexandra. “As a result, the pendulum needs to move to something fresher.”
That ‘something fresher’ is what they have coined ‘post European,’ which is a move away from flat slab European ‘boxes’ towards a more highly designed product that reflects client style and taste. “It dissolves the age-old traditional or contemporary kitchen,” says Alexandra. “As people demand more from their kitchens, we are designing with more elements, rather than less. For decades, we heard the phrase, ‘less is more.’ As a result, kitchens have become undistinguishable. But a post-European kitchen brings high-style and high-fashion to our clients, to our kitchen designs and to the world of kitchens.
“As a designer, I don’t want to be limited,” she continues. “I try to incorporate textures, curves and bas-relief doors into our designs. I also try to introduce an eclectic mix of materials, like metal and glass, as well as more interesting structural elements. By paying close attention to these principles, I am able to create more fully developed kitchen designs. No boring kitchens!”