Profiles in Mentoring

In the design and remodeling industries – in fact, it may be said, in most industries – very few professionals are truly self-made. Even those who may not have had the benefit of a formal education very likely had at least one mentor to show them some of the ropes, or at some point received some solid advice. Truly, it takes a village to raise a successful kitchen and bath designer.

Mentorships in the kitchen and bath industry may take the form of an internship required for college credit, or an informal arrangement between a more experienced designer and a comparative newbie, or even a carefully cultivated online community. And, according to designers interviewed by KBDN, mentoring other designers isn’t simply an altruistic gesture – the mentor sees benefits as much as the mentee in the form of an overall elevation of the industry.

Heather Hill, whose design business is something of an encore career, now creates spaces that effortlessly blend classic and contemporary design elements.
Photo: Scott Hasson Photography

Practical information

When Jan Neiges, CKD, looks back on the early days of her career, she remembers a noticeable void where practical information was concerned. “I found what tends to happen in our industry is people are afraid to talk about how their process works,” says Neiges, a Highlands Ranch, CO-based designer. “They’re afraid to talk about how much they make, and they’re afraid to talk about how much they charge. And I was starving for that information.”

For Neiges, this meant accumulating information and experience on her own, through trade magazines, workshops and other means. A decade later, as an established business owner, Neiges resolved to become more involved with her local NKBA chapter and share her knowledge wherever possible.

“I started doing some presentations [at NKBA-accredited higher education programs]…and I started getting calls from some of the colleges saying, ‘Our students need 90 hours of intern work.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m open! Send them my way.’”

One such intern was Heather Hill, who was attending the local community college at the time in an effort to kick off an encore career as a designer. “I had actually seen Jan at the [Denver chapter] NKBA gala, where she was an emcee,” notes Hill. “I thought she was funny and very sharp, and I just thought that would be my dream internship to work with her. Especially being older, I wanted to be able to start my own business right away.”

For Neiges, freely providing the information she had to learn the hard way was a top priority. Hill credits this open dialogue with enabling her to hit the ground running in the industry. “[Jan] was the person to team up with because she’s so generous with information,” she says, adding, “Sometimes, especially in the design world, things can get a little competitive, and she has never given that vibe and has been nothing but supportive of everyone and what they’re doing.”

In addition to information, one of a designer’s most valuable assets is their connections within the industry, and Neiges is determined to share this resource with her interns. “[If I have a] contractor, a tile guy or a good showroom to take clients to…why should it be so unique to me? If I can introduce new designers, for example, to a showroom I always go to, [the showroom will] appreciate that because I’m giving them more business, and down the road [the showroom] might help me out if I’m in a bind.”

The benefits of this relationship for the mentee are evident – Hill, now an AKBD and an NKBA member, has launched her business, Heather Hill Interiors, and has already begun building her client base. According to Neiges, the mentor also sees a value return, particularly where technology is concerned. In addition to working extensively with CAD, Neiges’ interns have shown her many new and innovative ways of using social media.

Raising the bar

Christy Bowen, CKBD, UDCP currently has over two decades of industry experience and has found success as the owner of the award-winning Austin, TX design firm Twelve Stones Designs. But, like all designers, there was a time when she was new in town and newly returned to the business after an extended maternity leave, trying to compile a Rolodex of reliable vendors and other resources. It was during this time that she first met Patrick Lavery, who was then working with Kiva Kitchen and Bath.

Both Bowen, designer of this contemporary spec home kitchen with builder Moazami Homes, and her mentor Lavery believe that mentoring others elevates the entire industry.

Lavery, a designer and currently a co-owner of Troo Designs, in turn, had plenty of help as he was starting in the industry. “I had designers who helped me out when I was younger, people who tried to teach me the right things and lessons about roles in the design world that were just important, straightforward, logical rules,” he recalls. “And I really appreciated people taking time with me, so I’ve always felt it was important to pay it forward to those who were interested.”

In his capacity as a mentor, Lavery has advised many designers, including Bowen, on the everyday practicalities of running a design business, sharing his knowledge regarding everything from developing professional relationships to pricing projects. “[I work] to help designers make sure they’re paying themselves a living wage and [advise them on] how to build up,” Lavery says, noting that the designers that he helps are “at that in-between point where you’re starting off, and you have to build a clientele and a following to where you have enough consistent work that you start to make a real living. [I want to help them] to take it from the hobby stage to being a full-on interior designer that makes enough that they can make their own way, so to speak.”

For Lavery, his efforts to mentor other designers are not only about a personal obligation to ‘pay it forward,’ but are the key to keeping the industry viable. “It’s important that we work together and help each other because I frankly think that our trade world is…going through a real transition and it’s important that we elevate the people in our industry, not just for designers, but all the tradespeople and professionals,” he believes.

Bowen, who has since gone on to mentor other designers and industry pros as well, is of a similar mindset. “Mentorships really help set the bar for the industry,” she says. “For example, if you have competition, just making sure that the competition is competing in the same bracket as you [is valuable].”

She points to her work with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry as a good example of these efforts paying off. “We’ll sit down with young people coming into the industry and say, ‘look, we’re trying to create the standard in the industry so that we can set a precedent for homeowners so they know what they’re getting…If you charge what you’re worth, then we’re all on a level playing field and you’ll get paid more…’ Mentoring makes sure that your competition is on the same page as far as not undercutting you in service or product or performance.”

Mentorship for a new era

In this digital age, new forms of mentorship have begun to develop, aided by social media. One designer embracing technology to share her knowledge and insight with others is Cheryl Kees Clendenon, DGD, whose Facebook group, Small Business Think Big, currently has well over 750 members.

Small Business Think Big, which is aimed at those in the design industry and has been in operation since October 2018, is “about sharing best practices in an honest effort to help each other rise to the top and achieve goals with no nonsense discussions of business in general, retail operations and how this ties into the business of design, buying, selling, promotion and the nitty-gritty of day-to-day issues.” The group is extremely active, with members posting questions and answers daily and starting lengthy discussions about topics from useful apps to pricing advice, all led and monitored by Clendenon.

“I think [the group] began because I have a lot to say,” says Clendenon, who is the owner and lead designer of In Detail Interiors. “I found myself commenting in other groups and saw that many designers had more focused business questions that I was in a great position to answer and people were messaging me all day long – so why not do my own group?”

The group is, by design, tight-knit and carefully moderated. “Our group is a little different than others – it is more ‘led’ by me than just people having a forum to ask questions,” Clendenon explains. “I made an intentional decision to make this a very tight group focused primarily on business issues and marketing, etc. – and a little fun, too. That focus keeps it to fairly serious designers – not quite as many new folks, but more designers looking to level up, have a second opinion for questions from me and other senior designers in the group, or second-career people who have led fab careers but want to change or need help in that change, people who are busy but want to know more about hiring and growth and, of course, many who want to know more about sales and selling products.”

The community has developed its own style of lateral mentorship in which industry pros look inward to elevate one another while simultaneously broadening their own horizons.  “I wish I had this 20 years ago,” Clendenon concludes. ▪

Luxury Trends Spotlight Quality, Function

Kitchens weren’t always the hub of the home. In houses built before World War II, they tended to be utilitarian and relegated to the back. Bathrooms weren’t temples of sybaritic pleasure, either.

With the rise of the post-war middle class and the modern American suburb, homes grew larger, appliances became more convenience-focused and stylish private spaces for parents started to emerge. In the decades since then, kitchens and bathrooms have evolved from functional to fabulous showcases for good living.

This is where we find ourselves today. Budgets have grown so that six-figure kitchens are becoming more common, especially in high-cost markets, and master bathrooms often approach or exceed that level.

At the same time, a related trend has arrived: Products and features that were once restricted to luxury projects by cost and availability are “democratizing” into more mainstream kitchens and baths. Let’s look at each with four industry pros spanning the country:

Premium tile, lighting and fixtures are adding
to bathroom budgets.
Photo: Cheryl Kees Clendenon/In Detail Interiors

The luxury client

“The bulk of the luxury consumer for high-end kitchen and bath products still skews older – 50s, 60s and 70s,” observes Diamond, but he is noting the emergence of the next generations: “We are starting to see a younger demographic of 30s and 40s looking to upgrade to better design, quality and luxury with the influence of their trade professional or parents.”

Kitchen and bath pros have much to do with this, he says. “We are increasingly educating younger designers about luxury brands in this space.” What they’re all – designer and client alike – looking for, he shares, is product quality, function, design – and service. This means: “Quality of buying experience (knowledgeable sales staff, well organized and curated showroom selection), trust and reliability of showroom reseller and timely delivery of products with prompt response to unforeseen issues that arise after the sale.” As anyone who has ever spent 45 minutes on hold or been transferred four times on a call trying to get answers to a question knows, top-notch service is a differentiator!

Mulea confirms this: “A knowledgeable appliance dealer is paramount in making sure needs and expectations are met.” In his 35 years of designing upscale kitchens and baths, he’s observed that the mature luxury client has already experienced high-end brands at home. It’s his role to stay ahead and help them see new possibilities, he says. “While their former kitchen served the purpose, and with college tuition a thing of the past, these luxury clients and their kitchens have a new focus.” That can include taking advantage of diverse specialty neighborhood grocery options and new healthy cooking techniques.

His younger clients are interested in app-based innovations and technological conveniences for balancing family and work needs.

Clendenon, whose projects extend coast to coast and far beyond her Florida Gulf Coast community, says clients today are more design savvy and value conscious. “No one likes to feel like you are ‘getting into their pocket,’ so establishing value is of utmost importance. It speaks to the second-most important thing dealing with a luxury clientele: trust.” Consumers are getting design ideas from social media, magazines and TV, she notes, but want to work with an experienced professional to bring those ideas to life.

Fireplaces, wine towers and other amenities are boosting project budgets.
Photo: Kitchen Designs by Ken Kelly/Mario J. Mulea

Technology’s role

“The internet and social apps have changed the face of design, both good and bad,” Mulea reports. “While clients are armed with many choices from the pages they have saved, it is ultimately the designer’s job to reign in all these ideas into a cohesive design.”

When it comes to the products themselves, Diamond reports, “Technology has not been a significant driver for purchase in the luxury segment for kitchen appliances or bathroom fixtures. Manufacturers are still trying to figure how to apply usable applications with software to enhance their respective hardware.” He believes that monitoring service and performance, and the ability to upgrade software, are where the greatest value is now.

The luxury retail executive does see future potential as tech brands younger consumers grow up with – like LG and Samsung for example – introduce kitchen technology to the next generation: “Cameras in refrigerators and ovens, iPad connectivity, smart home and Nest integrations, TV and social media and internet access on appliance fronts acting as a media hub are all recent developments and might prove to be differentiators in the years to come.”

Not quite yet, though. These bells and whistles are less in demand for the luxury buyer at the moment. “I do not get a lot of requests for this,” Clendenon says, “but sometimes I have seen clients surprised when an appliance is not integrated. So maybe people now expect it?” She compares the evolution of connected appliances to high-speed internet replacing dial-up. “We expect fast now, and consumers are the same with appliances.”

Mulea is starting to see demand in his New York metro market. “In my experience, smart home or app-controlled appliances are just starting to take hold. Clients are becoming more confident and reliant on the technology. Pre-programmed cooking modes and QR codes, even on the smallest countertop appliance, are easing clients into a life of techno-cooking.”

Smart home technology is making its way into luxury bathrooms, too (see related Consumer Buying Trends, Page 12). Diamond says, “Custom smart mirrors with built-in lighting, entertainment/TV and internet connected for weather and news, built-in power outlets, cool storage (for meds and makeup) and USB connections to charge smart phones are becoming more standard.”

Expanding brands

One of the trends you’ve probably noticed as you visited KBIS and other trade shows is the emergence of new upscale brands. “The luxury offering for kitchen appliances is becoming increasingly crowded,” Diamond observes. “The Asian brands – LG, Samsung [and] Haier – have been the most aggressive by either acquiring legacy brands (Samsung-Dacor, Haier-GE, Monogram & Fisher Paykel) or segmenting their offering as LG has done with its new Signature collection.” This presents them a great opportunity to capture market share among affluent younger consumers who grew up with their technology products. These brands aren’t new to them, whereas some legacy kitchen and bath brands may be.

Newer luxury brands have also made their way into the bathroom, Diamond observes. These include Fantini, Gessi and Lefroy Brooks, to name a few.

Apron front sinks are now mainstream-friendly.
Photo: Lowe’s


Another trend finds more premium brands moving into the mass market. For example, while you might think Whirlpool when it comes to Lowe’s, you can now also find the manufacturer’s upscale Jenn-Air and KitchenAid brands available there, too. “Pioneering brands such as Grohe, Kohler and American Standard, once regarded as luxury, are now considered mainstream,” Diamond says. That’s not a knock; quality and good design still drive most bath categories.

In addition to brands expanding, more features commonly associated with premium brands are becoming widely available on more mainstream offerings. “Many appliance manufacturers look at super-premium kitchen brands to determine features that home chefs are looking for in their products,” Lowe’s Vagell says. “Over the past 18 to 24 months, we’ve seen the following features introduced to consumer products, including steam, sous vide and algorithmic cooking to help roast or bake food to perfection.” Induction is also growing in popularity, she says, as are connected appliances.

Democratization has come to other categories at Lowe’s, too, Vagell indicates:

With advancements in laminate cabinetry, customers can now get the look of painted cabinetry in stock assortments and price points. Previously, only thermofoil or wood-tone kitchen cabinets were available in stock.

Power-assist opening cabinets like trash/recycling cabinets and toekick drawers were previously reserved for luxury customers due to the high cost for electric and motors. Advancements in mechanical non-powered cabinets have brought these features to the mainstream.

Security in-drawer safes were custom fit for luxury cabinets, but are now available with biometrics restricting access. These are battery-operated and easy to use.

Farmhouse sinks were once considered a luxury item as they required truly custom cabinets to be designed to hold them. Now stock and special-order cabinets are sized to fit most popular models, allowing consumers to have access to the farmhouse style.

In the bathroom, you can now find bidet-style toilet seats and shower systems with multiple heads and functions.

“Customers see the value in mass-premium products, which can cost thousands less than the more expensive luxury brands,” Vagell says.


What are luxury clients spending on their projects? In her local Florida panhandle market, Clendenon places kitchens at “$100,000, including some minor construction.

“That figure was about $75,000 a few years ago,” she recalls. “Stuff is more expensive for sure – and only going up.”

This is certainly true in Mulea’s high-priced New York metro market. “The average kitchen budget can go as far into six digits as the client will allow,” he reports. All of the new must-haves – like electronic motorization, built-in cabinet lighting and organizers, specialized beverage dispensers, steam and speed appliances and exotic finishes – are contributing to the cost increases, but so are perceptions. “A decade ago, embracing a six-digit kitchen renovation was a much harder sell and clients were not sure of the value it would add to their home. Today, a renovated kitchen is at the top of a home buyer’s wish list,” he notes.

Master bathrooms have also grown in cost. “We have seen budgets increase five- to 10-fold, to sometimes $150 to 200K,” Diamond says of his affluent Southern California market. “A luxury home also separates the ‘his’ and ‘hers,’ so the master bath is times two for many luxury homes,” he adds.
Clendenon’s local bathroom projects are ranging from $75,000 to $100,000 she reports. Smart toilets, steam showers and premium tile are popular luxury items boosting costs, she notes. Mulea is seeing bathroom and kitchen projects approaching the same cost range, with finishes and fixture choices driving the bath budget increases.

Last words

While classic brands and new competitors, performance features and premium finishes are all commanding design dollars, perhaps the ultimate luxury is the client’s quality of life. In this respect, at every price point, expectations have clearly risen, along with an increasing awareness of what’s possible and how their homes can enhance their comfort, well-being and convenience. “I think that the luxury market is only different in that their spendable income is greater; the way you handle the sale and design for them really is not much different at all,” Clendenon concludes. Couldn’t agree more! ▪

Winning Details

While it’s important to understand the principles of good design, the best-designed spaces are generally anything but formulaic. Nor is there a one-size-fits-all design solution for every project or every client. Sometimes, the rules of design call for a clean, elegant space that’s exquisite in its simplicity, yet other times, bold drama is the watchword of the day – and still other times, breaking all the rules is just what’s needed to create a design masterpiece.

Like any art form, design is very personal, and the best designs meld not just function and fashion, but also the tastes of the homeowners with the creative vision of the designer. And, of course, the details are everything – because in design, the little things are often what matter most.

When all of the pieces come together, the result is a design that offers a win-win for both client and designer. And in some cases, there’s a third win – such as the 33 designs that were named winners of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ 2019 Kitchen & Bath Design Awards (see related Editorial).

The nearly 300 projects submitted were judged in 11 different categories: Best Kitchen Over $225,000; Best Kitchen $150,000-$225,000; Best Kitchen $75,000-$150,000; Best Kitchen Under $75,000; Best Master Bath Over $100,000; Best Master Bath $50,000-$100,000; Best Master Bath Under $50,000; Best Powder Room; Best Showroom; Best Universal Design Kitchen or Bath, and Best Specialty Project.

This year’s entries were judged by a panel of top design professionals, with projects evaluated on the basis of aesthetic appeal, functionality of the space, attention to detail, handling of unusual situations, originality, selection of colors and finishes and overall impression. Judges also took the time to provide valuable design feedback to all of the entrants.

Judges for the 2019 competition included: Jonas Carnemark, CARNEMARK design + build, Bethesda, MD; Cheryl Kees Clendenon, In Detail Interiors, Pensacola, FL; Gail Drury, CMKBD, Drury Design, Glen Ellyn, IL; Dan McFadden, PB Kitchen Design, Geneva, IL; Mary Jo Peterson, CMKBD, CAPS, CLIPP, Mary Jo Peterson Inc., Brookfield, CT, and Ebony Stephenson, CAPS, Designs by Ebony, LLC, Newport News, VA.

Design contests not only showcase beautifully and thoughtfully crafted spaces, they also offer insights into what’s trending. In the kitchen, some of the hottest trends identified by the judges this year included layered countertops and more built-up edges, designs that feature high contrast, warmer grays or taupe-y shades, a greater use of organic elements, more targeted storage, open shelving, fewer wall cabinets and more windows, a greater focus on ceilings, full tile walls, both darker and bleached wood cabinetry and an increased use of metal.

In the bath, large-format tiles, lots of eye-catching decorative lighting fixtures, no-threshold showers, a greater Moroccan influence, an increased focus on the spa shower experience, the use of shiplap and plenty of white, blue and gray tones were cited by judges as trends seen in many of the entries.


While each of the winning designs offered different elements, certain commonalities were prevalent, including dramatic details, contrasting colors, clever organizational details, organic elements and clean and well balanced designs.

For instance, for the first-place winner in the Best Kitchen $150,000-$225,000 category, Clendenon mentioned, “It’s just well put together, incorporating a cool trend with the black, but some nice contrast, and incorporating organic elements.”

In the Master Baths Over $100,000 category, Peterson commended the first-place bath, stating, “This is really well done – I like the drama.”

Stephenson also noted the functionality of the space, saying, “Two people can shower, two people can use the restroom, two people can do hair or make up. It just works really well.”

Likewise, in the third-place-winning bath in this category, McFadden noted, “I think the organization in this space is just wonderful. I like how they reserved the appropriate space for the tub. It’s a big win in space planning.”

In the first-place winner of the Kitchens $225,000 and Up, Drury was taken by “the many interesting details in the design,” while Klendenon cited “the shiplap and the dark beams that match the stools” as elements that won her attention, and Peterson fell in love with “all the natural materials” that gave the space “a very organic feel.”

Carnemark appreciated the dimensionality in the second-place winner, while McFadden praised the decision not to put cabinets on the wall.

Indeed, the judges agreed that sometimes, the best designs are as much about what’s not there as what is. For instance, in the first place winner of the Master Bathrooms Under $50,000 category, McFadden notes, “They let a space be a space without jamming something in there. A little goes a long way.”

And in the winner of the Best Universal Design category, Peterson noted that the Universal Design elements “look so good, you don’t know they’re there.”


Other winning trends cited by the judges included:

While different elements appealed to different judges, all agreed that the best projects showed a mastery of the details, balancing form and function, while offering a fresh take on today’s hottest trends.

See the links below for KBDN‘s expanded coverage of all the winning projects.


Best Kitchen Over $225,000

Best Kitchen $150,000-$225,000

Best Kitchen $75,000-$150,000

Best Kitchen Under $75,000

Best Master Bath Over $100,000

Best Master Bath $50,000-$100,000

Best Master Bath Under $50,000

Best Powder Room

Best Showroom

Best Universal Design Kitchen or Bath

Best Specialty Project

Artisan Kitchens

The artisanal kitchen is here. That means a space that oozes personality, embracing creativity rather than sticking to one formula or Pinterest board. And designers, who prefer thinking outside the box, love it.

“People are yearning for that personal connection,” explains Sharon Hanby-Robie, a designer and author in Lancaster, PA. “That’s true for the kitchen as well as other parts of life. We yearn for the human touch, perhaps in the form of custom cabinets akin to furniture, hand-forged hardware or well-loved collections. In my own kitchen, I have a revolving display of the paintings and watercolors that I collect. It always makes me happy.”

New York City designer Rob Stuart also finds that his clients want very personal kitchens.

“I consider it especially exciting that these days, clients often bring ideas to us,” he notes. “The tables have definitely turned, and I don’t think it’d be going too far to say that the kitchen is replacing the living room as a focus for self-expression.”

Hanby-Robie and Stuart both feel that today’s always-tech-
connected lifestyle contributes to people’s need for something uniquely personal. “Constantly updating the iPhone and conversing with Alexa are part of modern life,” remarks Stuart. “But it feels good to step back into the calming rhythms and patterns of a kitchen that honors craftsmanship and permanence.”

Back-lit glass panels reflect the wind and water elements of Taoism in this Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired kitchen designed by Thomas Trzcinski of Kitchen & Bath Concepts. The hand-forged, tree-branch-shaped refrigerator handle (at right) adds an artisan touch, while the stone columns surrounding the refrigerator continue the nature-inspired theme.
Photos: Craig Thompson

Defining Artisanship

But what, exactly, is meant by artisanship? Nobody could define it better than Grace Jeffers, designer, historian and member of the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s team of Insiders.

“In artisanship, one sees the hand of whoever made an item,” she explains. “And artisanship usually tells a story that is personal and moving. It’s ‘art thinking’ as opposed to ‘design thinking,’ and ‘art thinking’ is about emotion and atmosphere.

“One of my favorite examples of artisanship is a kitchen I saw in a bungalow in Berkeley, CA,” she continues. “On the property was an old black walnut tree that had become very sick. The owner had the tree cut down and hired a local cabinetmaker to make all the cabinets and countertops for the bungalow’s new kitchen from it. That tree never left the property and is still enjoyed daily by the family.”

Jeffers feels that people should touch at least one hand-made thing a day, be it an artist-made coffee cup or an entire interior. “Otherwise, I fear that we will lose touch with our humanity,” she says.

Artistry at work

Designing a thoroughly unique kitchen is a gigantic challenge, but Dan McFadden of PB Kitchen Design in Geneva, IL contends that this is also what makes it so exciting. He tells of one of PB’s particularly interesting projects, a kitchen designed in close collaboration with its owner, an accomplished artist.

“Her stamp is all over this kitchen,” explains McFadden. “The home is in a rural part of Illinois, but it’s international in scope. The La Cornue range, which presides over this kitchen, was customized in many ways, so it became as unique as its owner. But, in this space, it is only the start of eye-catching, special features. They include hand-made, dimensional tile behind the stove and the range hood covered by metal panels, but wrought iron plays a major role here, too.

“As it turned out, the owner had a friend who owned a foundry, and he hand-forged the nature-inspired hardware on the doors of the refrigerator and some of the cabinets, the chandelier and the table that’s part of the island. The table is special. Part of the communion dress worn by the owner’s daughter was embedded in that table top, creating a relief pattern and every day reminding the family of such a happy, memorable occasion.”

McFadden notes that the PB design staff treasures its relationships with local craftspeople. “The terrific thing is that, when we bring them a design, they often find a way to make it even better than we had envisioned because, of course, they understand their particular medium better than we do.”

Designed for an artist by PB Kitchen Design, this kitchen features a host of unique elements, including handmade dimensional tile and a hand-forged iron chandelier, table and hardware. The hand-forged iron table with a relief pattern is very special to the client, as the pattern was formed by embedding her daughter’s communion dress in the table top. The nature-inspired twiggy hardware on the Sub-Zero refrigerator adds another artisinal touch, while the customized La Cornue range provides an eye-catching focal point. Photo: Bruce Van Inwegen

In a recent project, PB had to shift focus from its Illinois roots. A client was building a vacation log cabin in Colorado and wouldn’t hear of anybody else but PB designing the kitchen. They honored the log cabin tradition with rustic custom cabinetry and flooring, all within a powerful framework of massive, locally felled and hand-hewn pine logs and ceiling beams. They then added some metal cabinets for an industrial jolt. The result is a kitchen that honors Western traditions, but also provides convenience and conviviality for a family of enthusiastic skiers.

Wright re-visited

In Pittsburgh, PA, Kitchen and Bath Concepts recently met a different kind of challenge: creating a kitchen for the owners of a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired house.

“The vibe of the structure was definitively mid-century modern and called for Frank Lloyd Wright’s celebrated aesthetic,” explains Kitchen and Bath Concepts President Thomas Trzcinski. “That meant nature themes and Japanese references, but first of all, it struck us that the house’s stone exterior should be reflected inside as well.

“So we designed the kitchen with stone accents: for example, surrounding the refrigerator with stone columns. And that refrigerator, a Sub-Zero, got the full ‘nature’ treatment. We designed it with mid-colored panels of quartered fiddleback Anegre, an African hardwood, and then honored nature and Asian themes with a handle shaped like a tree limb and strips suggesting the lines of classic Japanese gates. The tree limb handle is iron, handcrafted by a Pittsburgh artist. The material between the strips is quartered figured English Sycamore, and the stripping is Alder. The other cabinetry is crafted of mahogany. The five elements of Taoism – earth, wind, fire, water and metal – are paid homage, too. For example, a backlit glass panel behind the stove represents wind and water,” he explains.

Glass plays a major role in this Palm Beach, FL kitchen designed by Sura Malaga.
Photo: Chris Fay

Tile strategies

It’s hard to find a kitchen aspiring to artisanship that doesn’t feature tile. It’s timeless and trendy, say designers, as well as endlessly versatile, and it always requires a skilled hand to project its artistry.

In a banker’s New Jersey mansion, designer Sura Malaga used ceramic mosaics on the floor of a kitchen as intricate and ornate as anything you might encounter in her client’s native India. In fact, Malaga traveled to India to select the tile. The floor was designed in an exotic floral pattern. The same tile was used for the backsplashes, but was kept fairly simple. Still, their gleam of pink proved an effective counterpoint to black cabinetry.

“Even just setting tile on the diagonal makes a difference,” says Hanby-Robie. “And using tile trim and moldings can create masterpieces to rival art.”

Jeane Dole of A La Carte Design, in Denver, CO, loves both ceramic and glass tile. She used glass tile featuring earthy colors on backsplashes in several kitchen remodeling projects. In one, the tile was set horizontally from counter height to ceiling, but in another the tile direction was vertical, creating an entirely different effect. She also looks to tile to create colorful moments, including a kitchen backsplash hand-painted with a favorite greeting card motif.

Stuart is another tile devotee. In a New Jersey kitchen, he lined the walls with subway tile, seemingly a pedestrian product. In his version, however, it takes on drama, because he chooses a crackled version and black grout. “It creates an antique effect,” he says. “I echoed it with a mosaic of antiqued mirror on the wall behind the stove.”

Tile is always an element in the kitchens designed by Cheryl Kees Clendenon of the Pensacola, FL-based In Details along the Emerald Coast. “I rely on it to provide a wow factor,” she says.

“For a coastal aura, I often use tile patterns featuring vivid blues and greens.”

The hand-forged, tree-branch-shaped refrigerator handle adds an artisan touch in a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired kitchen designed by Thomas Trzcinski of Kitchen & Bath Concepts.

Custom all the way

Homeowners rarely know what custom cabinetry is supposed to be, Trzcinski believes. They just hear the word “custom” and presume the product is special, he says, but of course that isn’t so. There are inferior products out there billed as “custom,” so it behooves designers to understand the difference in order to offer their clients the best possible finished product.

“A true custom cabinet facility is one that has no boundaries,” he explains. “It can work with any wood species as well as metals, glass and more, and it can produce any design and finish. And then, of course, the designer should learn what true craftsmanship is. For example, a door finished by a master craftsman is refined and elegant, while a so-so finish tends to look like plastic.”

Range hoods also get showered with attention in artisanal kitchens and often become focal points. But the designers insist that you’ll never find a design repeated in their portfolios at PB, Kitchen and Bath Concepts, In Detail or Rob Stuart Interiors. Some unique examples include a zinc-finished domed hood designed by Stuart to produce an old world look; a curvy, oversized hood that helps PB establish a French provincial vibe, and a wood hood that Clendenon had faux-painted copper.

“I was convinced the kitchen needed a copper hood,” she says. “The client didn’t want to foot the costs of a custom copper hood, so I solved the problem with faux painting. It worked.”

Authentic elegance

Hand-crafted materials add up to eye-catching pieces in the kitchen, according to Dole. “It could be an island created from reclaimed wood or a live-edge countertop,” she says. “So dramatic, but even just designing cabinetry with feet rather than sitting on the floor works wonders. It takes on the look of furniture.”

In Palm Beach, FL, Malaga went all out creating a unique 1,400-sq.-ft. kitchen. Using sea glass, she designed one-of-a-kind backsplashes and also used glass, custom-painted with an abstract bamboo motif, to disguise a troublesome structural column. More glass, dramatically backlit, formed an island plus a retractable table for extra entertaining space.

“I was inspired by the home’s marvelous sea views and the owners’ fondness of Asiatic culture,” she tells. Consequently, in the adjoining pantry, she had a wall faux-painted in a dragon skin pattern. The color, of course, was mandarin orange.

A complete contrast was seen in a kitchen she designed for a couple enamored by everything streamlined and industrial. “We made sure this very contemporary home’s roof trusses became part of the kitchen design,” she notes. “Light-colored maple cabinetry contrasted marvelously with the dark trusses overhead.”

A ship’s antique figurehead becomes a unique corbel in this Florida kitchen designed by Cheryl Kees Clendenon of In Detail.
Photo: Greg Riegler

Collections count

Today, designers say, kitchens are often inspired by the homeowners’ collections.

“I loved the New York couple who collected art objects on their travels,” states Rob Stuart. “The objects weren’t necessarily expensive treasures, but they had meaning for them, and they wanted me to incorporate them in their new kitchen. So I designed open shelves that would hold these mementos. It made the kitchen unique.”

“Any collection will make a kitchen special,” adds Clendenon. “Some clients have beautiful plates or barware to die for or gorgeous cookware. By all means, incorporate it in the design. We remodeled a 100-year-old home for a couple of serious cooks. That meant a 48″ stove, a custom copper hood, backsplashes of classic Calcutta gold marble tiles and, naturally, their prized collection of cookware. We hung that collection from the ceiling, making it an appropriate focal point for the room.

“So good cookware is a natural kitchen accessory,” she continues. “But go for the unique, too. I once used a ship’s figurehead, an eBay gem, as a corbel for a kitchen island.”

Stuart agrees, stating, “I once saw an antique upholstered door. It was posh and interesting, so when I encountered a house that called for some yesteryear charm, I had a butler’s pantry door upholstered in black leather. This is the sort of thing that adds personality to a space. Remember, an artisanal kitchen may seem like a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to do the unexpected, and let the imagination roam.” ▪

Top Trends for 2018 and Beyond

What were the top trends for 2018? What is the kitchen and bath sector anticipating in 2019? This is the traditional time for our Trend Spotting department to wrap up the current year and look forward to the new one. Here are the thoughts of leading industry pros from around the country. These are the individuals who weighed in:

Kohler introduced a suite of voice-controlled products in 2018.
Photo: Courtesy of Kohler Co., available at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery

Economic trends

On the plus side, Houzz’s Sitchinava says, homeowners are spending again. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen consumer confidence reaching record levels, a near complete recovery in home equities and a larger share of current homeowners staying in place as opposed to moving.”

NARI president Pekel sees the same: “Business is strong. More and more homeowners are deciding to stay where they are and remodel. Overall, the biggest trend we’re seeing is people wanting to update space – either building in aging-in-place designs to accommodate accessibility and safety, or just building more beautiful environments.” He sees these trends continuing into 2019, with larger, barrier-free showers and more clear space in bathrooms and kitchens.

Homeowners are also spending more on their remodels, Sitchinava notes. “Our ‘Houzz & Home Study’ shows that the leading reason homeowners cited for going over budget was that they decided to buy more expensive products or materials.” That’s a choice designers, retailers, contractors and manufacturers can all embrace. “These trends bode well for home upgrades and customization, and we expect kitchens and bathrooms to continue to receive significant attention in 2019,” the Houzz economist predicts.

NKBA’s Gutierrez points to labor as the key economic challenge for the industry: “Unquestionably, worker shortages were the dominant issue for a majority of businesses in 2018. Difficulty of attracting workers, either professionals or tradesmen, was front and center throughout the year. With the economy quickly absorbing new entrants to the work force [and] the unemployment rate hitting record lows month after month, businesses faced difficulty throughout the year in filling positions.”

It’s hard for contractors to set those project schedules when they don’t have the tradespeople in place to execute, but they’re not the only ones dealing with labor shortage headaches. Designers and retailers also have difficulty filling openings to meet homeowner demand. “A side effect of the worker shortages is increased pressures on wages and salaries in order to attract workers,” Gutierrez notes.

Clendenon is definitely seeing that effect in her design projects, she says. “We have done bathrooms recently over $100,000 – and in our area, that is a ton of money. Labor is more expensive, and now so are some products with tariffs imposed – especially countertop materials.”

Mother Nature has played a role, too, Gutierrez comments. “Economic shocks, such as hurricanes, have a major impact on the kitchen and bath industry through the destruction, or major damage, to houses and buildings. But their impact is localized in specific areas, and they do not have a major national impact.”

Home technology trends

“Almost every manufacturer has incorporated smart home technology into their kitchen and bath products in some way,” declares Ferguson’s Fout. “In years prior, it was more for the ‘wow’ factor. Now, we are really seeing a shift to technology homeowners can actually use in their daily lives. Voice activation and integration with platforms like Alexa and Google Home is a good example. Many homeowners already use these platforms, so it’s not completely foreign to connect a shower, vanity or oven and control [it] through voice commands.”

Style and performance still outweigh tech features, she notes, and many homeowners are still somewhat leery of the new technology. “This is changing as manufactures continue to launch products that are truly smart and can save time for a busy homeowner.”

Appliance manufacturers continue to incorporate connectivity.
Photo: Courtesy of Jenn-Air, available at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery

Appliance trends

“Last year was all about making cooking easier through wifi connectivity, usually through the manufacturer’s app,” Fout notes. Looking ahead, she sees more voice control integration in the new year.  She sees more refrigeration appliances incorporating technology, but also flexibility: “It’s all about creating products that best accommodate lifestyles and intended use: for instance, instead of just a wine refrigerator, combining wine storage with refrigeration and freezer drawers with an automatic ice maker.”

Here’s what she’s seeing in cleaning appliances: “Smaller, more compact dishwashers were popular for urban areas. High-powered cleaning and noise level (the quieter, the better) were still a focus.” Looking ahead: “In 2019, thoughtful features are important. For example, a dishwasher with fan-assisted drying to eliminate the need for towel drying. Or a third top rack to clean even more. Connected dishwashers will also be a hot topic – monitor and adjust settings as well as download custom wash cycles through a manufacturer’s app.”

Fixture and faucet trends

Functionality was important this year, Fout says, with the workstation sink still trending. What she’s seeing, though, is more personalization in this category. “Farmhouse sinks are still popular, but [there’s] the ability to change the color and material of the sink on a whim for full customization.

“Touch and hands-free faucets have been popular for the last few years and widely adopted by the homeowner audience. We also saw a lot of black kitchen faucets that pair nicely with clean white kitchens.” This is what she’s predicting for next year: “In 2019, you’ll see manufacturers really think about what’s next for the kitchen faucet – how can it truly help the homeowner in the kitchen – special sprays for rinsing dishes, settings that deliver a precise set volume of water on demand, etc. We also think homeowners will start to adventure into new finishes like rose gold, warm brass and others that have been on the market a while but not widely adopted.”

Matte black is a popular finish for showers, faucets and hardware.
Photo: Courtesy of Sweeten

In the bathroom, “under-counter sinks for vanities were popular, as well as console sinks, [and] white still reigned supreme,” the Ferguson manager shares. “In 2019, we believe homeowners may start gravitating toward mixed metals [like copper or cast iron], texture or pattern, sometimes hand-painted.” On the faucet side, the Ferguson executive predicts that warm brass will trend in 2019. She also sees matte black faucets trending in the bathroom.

Toilets saw some interesting trends, as well: “In 2018, homeowners began opting for skirted one-piece toilets because of their seamless, easy-to-clean design. Self-cleaning toilets also began to gain traction. Looking ahead, we think toilets with integrated bidet functionality will continue to increase in popularity. A number of luxury hotels now include bidets in the bathroom,” she notes, “so customers want to bring that experience home.”

Freestanding focal-point tubs will continue their strong trend into 2019, Fout predicts, but with whirlpool upgrades, like “heated surfaces and air jets.” She also sees the styles getting more personalized. Along with shapes, “color options are expanding for freestanding tubs; we’ve seen everything from matte black to gray and even matte white finishes.”

Salvage and vintage are also making a comeback, according to Sweeten’s Brownhill. “Repurposed fixtures are a triple win: they’re eco-friendly, come with a back story and lend character to any space,” she notes.

Wood floors are the leading kitchen choice.
Photo: Courtesy of NARI/Karma Home Designs

Cabinetry and surface trends

“Countertops are the top feature to splurge on during kitchen renovations, and engineered quartz is now the most popular countertop material,” says Sitchinava, who sees transitional and contemporary styles taking the lead in urban and suburban areas. Farmhouse leads rural markets.

In her New York metro and suburban markets, Sweeten’s Brownhill observes, “Blue is the new neutral in kitchen cabinetry – we’re seeing it in city and suburban renovations alike.” She’s also seeing appliance garages, matte black hardware and a shallow shelves trend.

Clendenon predicts more personalization in 2019. “Everyone wants uniqueness to some degree. But mixing the wood tones for sure is on the way back in and multiple finishes on cabinets.” She dubs the look “refined rustic. We are doing four kitchens like this. We think the natural organic look with bright splashes of color is really the direction people are moving and we encourage it. We do not love the all-white and gray look, and we find more and more are saying the same. I think people want warm and not too industrial, and for sure not too sterile; we do not see much high-gloss laminate in the kitchen anymore.”

NARI’s Pekel also sees mixing colors in the kitchen as a continuing trend, and says about other surfaces, “Hardwood floors still outpace any other flooring options; engineered is popular for durability. In bathrooms, tile reigns supreme [and] textured tile will continue to trend. Clients are expressing themselves on a smaller scale, introducing wallpapers in smaller spaces. Examples include powder rooms or foyers.”

Bathrooms with open showers continue to trend.
Photo: Courtesy of NARI /CARNEMARK design + build

Lighting trends

“Over the past few years, kitchen pendants have grown to dimensions that make them a design focal point,” Ferguson’s Fout observes. “Although lighting fixtures in chrome and brushed nickel still are the mainstream, gold fixtures became very popular in 2018. The variation of gold hues is what’s really trending, from soft rose gold to a deep burnished gold. Circular shapes will also be very popular – from globes to orb-like pendants – and pairing with natural materials, beads and shading,” she predicts for 2019.

Voice control is trending strongly in home
automation, as seen in this U by Moen shower
with Amazon Alexa integration.
Photo: Courtesy of Moen Inc., available at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery

“LED bulbs now come in a variety of colors that shed less of the clinical blue light and mimic the warm glow from incandescent bulbs,” NARI’s Pekel says. Keep an eye on tunable or human centric lighting, which was featured strongly at this year’s CEDIA home technology conference, and seeks to mimic natural daylighting.

While light layering will still be popular for 2019 bathrooms, it will be even more dramatic, Fout predicts. “Backlit mirrors, LED dimmable and color-change lighting around the vanity itself or in the toekick. Homeowners will also start to add more visual interest by mixing finishes – for instance, matte black faucets with warm brass lighting fixtures.”

Last words

“Kitchen renovations are the top ticket item, followed by [the] master  bathroom,” NARI’s Pekel says about remodeling trends, which is certainly good news for the kitchen and bath industry. If you’ve already tapped out your client list in both spaces, you can look beyond for new sales opportunities with existing clients, the contractor says. “For those fortunate homeowners who have completed all interior renovations, garage remodeling has grown in popularity.” ▪