Product Partnerships

authors Kim Berndtson | May 3, 2016

Product selection is an essential element as to how well any kitchen or bath looks and performs. However, sometimes finding that perfect product can be challenging, while at other times, the right product might not seem to exist.

Every designer has had that moment when he or she wished for a certain product that simply wasn’t out there. At the same time, manufacturers are also looking for inspiration to create products that will satisfy consumers’ wants and needs and give designers the tools they’re seeking to design fabulous spaces.

To overcome those challenges, some designers in the industry have partnered with manufacturers to develop new products that will fill the gap, meeting functional and aesthetic needs that are not currently being met.

This month, KBDN asked several designers who have partnered with manufacturers to discuss those partnerships, including what it takes to have a successful relationship, how these relationships benefit them as a designer and what benefits the manufacturer gains from the partnership. In addition, they also offered some advice to others who may be interested in embarking on a similar adventure.

Richar Living, Annapolis, MD


As part of its #HowDoYouPerlick design contest, Perlick invited designers to create a vignette highlighting the company’s refrigeration and beverage dispensers. Four finalists’ creations were built and featured in Perlick’s booth at KBIS 2016. Attendees voted for their favorite, with Anuszkiewicz collecting the most votes for his ‘Cart before the Horse’ design.

Inspirational influences: “As a designer, I love to push the boundaries of what design is and how we can think differently. As it relates to this project, as in all my work, I wanted to explore the idea of furniture styling. I was also inspired by the idiom of the ‘cart before the horse,’ which suggests that something is done contrary to the norm, so I integrated the cabinetry and refrigeration into a bar cart in a way that was different, adding the mural of a horse behind it.”

Designer benefit: “In the design world we all like to be creative, so this was a really exciting opportunity for me. Another huge benefit was being able to have a presence at KBIS.

“Having relationships with companies and brands also gives a level of legitimacy, a platform to showcase your abilities as a designer.”

Manufacturer benefit: “Partnerships are really a win/win. We get to influence product, serving as a direct link to clients who are manufacturers’ community of purchasers. We know what people are looking for in products and to be able to express that to a brand, and have them create a product…that is a powerful relationship with a lot of potential.

“Designers are also problem solvers, and when there is a relationship between a designer and a manufacturer, companies can learn more about how to improve products. Everything gets better!”

Advice: “What has worked best for me is to network…get out and shake hands. Any brand relationship I have had has been sparked by networking and my involvement with NKBA.”

De Giulio Kitchen Design, Chicago, IL


As a pioneer in manufacturer relationships/product development, De Giulio has worked with kitchen and bath design companies for more than 25 years to introduce a number of new products, including the BeauxArts line of cabinetry with SieMatic and the Mick De Giulio Sink Collection with Kallista.

Inspirational influences: “True inspiration can happen out of the blue, like when you’re just walking down the street and the light bulb goes off. I’ve been designing for so long, I think inspiration happens without any specific prompt.

I think most of the best ideas come from identifying challenges and knowing which ones are most important to address. In the case of designing sinks for Kallista, the need was to try to improve storage below a sink – which is always lost – and to put more functions around a sink, such as a knife sharpener, or a place to hang a dishcloth. When I initially proposed ideas for the BeauxArts cabinetry to SieMatic in 2003, I felt the traditional or classic cabinetry offered by manufacturers was far too ornate and it was time to turn the page.”

Designer benefit: “The benefits are endless. First, we’re getting products we need for our projects. Secondly, it’s nice to be able to create something that reaches beyond the local market, to places all over the world.”

Manufacturer benefit: “Manufacturers are getting someone who works directly with clients. As designers, we are in the trenches and have a pretty good sense of which product ideas are good, and which will be accepted. We recognize what our clients need, and the challenges that need to be overcome. For example, in the case of designing a sink, we automatically know which sizes will work best, and understand the potential plumbing issues and cabinet restrictions. A designer who is not engaged in this kind of work every day might have to research all of that information first.”

Advice: “Identify the challenges first – and hope to partner with a manufacturer who is open to innovation.”

Corey Klassen Interior Design, Vancouver, Canada

Meredith Heron Design, Toronto, Canada

Kitchen Design Network, Hamden, CT

Regina Sturrock Design, Toronto, Canada

Susan Serra Associates, Huntington, NY


For the past two years, DXV by American Standard has collaborated with its design panel consisting of these designers – as well as several others from across North America – to create bathroom and kitchen settings that inspire as well as express their unique personality, originality and vision while incorporating the DXV portfolio of products.

Inspirational influences: “So many things can affect your inspiration when there are no parameters,” says Klassen. “Environment, ego and even one moment can spur on an entire creative flow.”

Designer benefit: “Creating with the brand has offered me a big voice to clearly express through my craft the power of insightful and inspired design,” says Sturrock. “The message is reinforced by their products that are guided by the same mantra. It’s refreshing to collaborate based on artistry rather than on formulations. It allows me as a designer to articulate my style and passion for the art.”

“Prior to 2014, I was a one-man trunk designer working out of my living room,” says Klassen. “And now…my firm has grown to a brick-and-mortar location. I have employees, large-scale projects and a strong business that I continue to shape.”

“This partnership has been transformative, both professionally in terms of recognition, and in how I approach design on a personal level,” says Heron. “I think much bigger than I did previously and I seek to include more luxury products and elements in the bathrooms I design. My work has elevated to a new level as a result.”

Manufacturer benefit: “To launch a new product collection by selecting designers who have complete artistic control brings a compelling air of rich design and authenticity to each product used in all of the designs,” says Serra. “This partnership also serves as a successful example to the kitchen and bath industry that moving out of a brand’s marketing comfort zone elevates the brand to a whole other level, adding authentic passion and emotion to the brand’s message.”

“Designers can offer a wealth of research through their years of working with and understanding the needs and wants of their clients,” says Sturrock. “We are on the front lines and through our unique perspectives and vision, we can help a brand develop relatable and meaningful products. To create enticing spaces around the brand can further captivate because it allows the audience to dream the products into their homes. It unites the wants with the needs.”

Advice: “First and foremost you must be established enough to have a clear and direct viewpoint that you are offering to others,” says Heron. “Emulating the work of others is not enough…you have to have something to say that is distinct and unique. This may mean spending more time cultivating your own design direction. Don’t rush the process. It took me 15 years to be able to describe my own aesthetic, but once I was able to do so clearly and distinctly, I found others sought me out because it was recognizable as my own. Spend the time honing your craft and, when you are ready, when you are creating your own work, it will show and others will take notice.”

“Make sure you have the time necessary to invest in the project to maximize your potential,” says Reynolds. “Deliver your best work for the brand, enjoy the experience and build new relationships. Lastly, determine if the benefits to the brand and your own business are cohesive and beneficial.”

Drew McGukin Interiors, New York

Casey Design/Planning Group, Toronto, Canada

Denise McGaha Interiors, Dallas, TX


As members of Silestone’s Trendspotters, these designers – along with three others from across North America – collaborated with Cosentino’s research and development team to develop several new quartz colors for its Influencer Series. Aquatint and Ink made their debut in January at KBIS.

Inspirational influences: “There are many quartz products that focus on emulating natural stone as much as possible,” says McGukin. “While I like that idea, I came to the table thinking, ‘let’s run with the fact that we didn’t quarry this product…we made it.’ I wanted to bring inorganic patterning to an organic product. Sometimes, when we aren’t bound by what’s happening naturally, we can be more contemporary.”

Designer benefit: “The benefit to me is huge because of the exposure it gives me to the Cosentino family and to how products are developed,” says Casey. “I was impressed with their openness and willingness to jump outside the box. With this experience, I have also met other designers and architects who have shared their points of view. That enriches me as a designer because sometimes we work so hard, we can be in our own bubble.”

“It’s a great way for us to learn about the inner workings of companies and to understand the design process,” says McGaha. “I also now have wonderful relationships with other designers, and creating those strong relationships with others improves our industry. Years ago, the old school thinking was to keep everything secret. Fortunately, it isn’t that way anymore. Also, as designers, we are salespeople. We sell what we design and create. How better to sell a product than to tell a story, and how better to tell a story than to have experienced the product?”

Manufacturer benefit: “Manufacturers get information and feedback straight from the horse’s mouth,” says McGaha. “We aren’t shy. We say what we think will and won’t work. Working with designers who are confident and dedicated to creating something new is invaluable. Cosentino listened to us. They paid attention to what we see, what our clients want and the projects we are working on.”

“We bring a freshness,” says Casey. “Manufacturers have the know-how, but we see the industry. As designers and artists, we are ahead of the pack and we bring that information to them. We bring them the future. That’s a benefit to everyone because anytime you do something new and exciting, it brings everyone along. It forces everyone to step up their game to look at new ways to approach things.”

Advice: “Be honest and open,” says McGukin. “Maintain a high level of participation. Look for companies that love design and are working at a high level, in an honest way. There are a lot of people out there who want to make a buck and undermine some part of the interior design process by doing it faster and cheaper. I don’t want to be involved with that. I want to be involved with companies that believe in the industry, in designers, in the quality of design and the value of having a trained expert in the industry work with you on your product and your kitchen.”

“Make sure it’s a good fit philosophically,” adds Casey. “Know how the company works. This industry is about relationships. Being a great designer is just a small part of it. You will be hunkered down in a think tank so you want to make sure you have kindred spirits in the room.”

Matthew Quinn Collection and Design Galleria Kitchen and Bath Studio, Atlanta, GA


Quinn has been partnering with a variety of kitchen and bath manufacturers for a decade, beginning with the introduction of the Intarcia tub for MTI Baths in 2006. The freestanding tub design fulfilled the need for a modern design that was lacking at the time.

Inspirational influences: “I am typically inspired by the frustration of not being able to find a product in the market that creates the solution for a particular issue on one or more of my projects. My latest product launch, the SocialCorner, is the very first corner sink intended to be installed at the corner of an island, which solves many space planning issues and promotes more interaction in two-cook kitchens. Sometimes, the inspiration is creating something unique, or adding more depth to a manufacturer’s product line. My Moderne hood collection for Francois and Co. was created to give their clients more hood offerings for transitional and contemporary kitchens.”

Designer benefit: “I can specify products that perfectly represent my own aesthetic, solve design dilemmas and further my brand as an innovative kitchen and bath product designer. Most of my licensed products utilize a combination of materials, metal finishes and colors so the designer or homeowner can customize the combination. That way, the end result becomes less about incorporating my aesthetic into their home and more about creating something unique to them and their environment.”

Manufacturer benefit: “Manufacturers benefit from the co-branding of the product and the reputation of being a manufacturer that takes new, exciting and innovative products seriously, which translates into greater market share and added sales. Additionally, there are many products out there that are not designed by people who work in this industry day in and day out. They don’t understand the challenges we face each day. I know where the gaps are in the market and I am fortunate to collaborate with manufacturers that allow me to fill those gaps with my own designs.”

Advice: “Seek out a manufacturer you have experience with and from which you consistently specify products. I highly recommend visiting the factory before any designs are even conceptualized. Use an attorney for the licensing contract and seek a design or utility patent for very unique designs. Above all, the motivation for licensing products should not be to make a lot of money, as the income is rarely worth the effort. There is a lot of time that goes into developing a product, including meetings, travel, promotion, etc. Satisfaction comes from creating a product with your signature and expanding your brand.”

Laura Kirar Design, Brooklyn, NY


Kirar has been licensing products for nearly 17 years and currently holds 14 different licenses with companies ranging from tile and bath fixtures to seating, lighting and accessories.

Inspirational influences: “I typically approach a collection from two different standpoints. I evaluate what designers and the public need…what is out there, and what isn’t available yet. And there is also a more romantic side…what is influential and inspiring in my life and work.

“My most current collection with Kallista brought both together. I felt like I wanted to bring a sense of nature into the design. Nature has been a big part of my life the last couple of years as I have been spending a lot of time learning about the Mexican culture and its landscape. That corresponded to what I found was missing in the marketplace.”

Designer benefit: “These partnerships make me a better designer. I’ve always been an artist and I am especially interested in three-dimensional form, having worked in the realm of sculpture. When I started working with bigger companies, my idea of three-dimensional form took on more of a daily mission. I think it’s important to create art that people use every day. That, for me, is exciting, and I might not have come to this place had I not developed partnerships with companies that think about people every day.”

Manufacturer benefit: “Manufacturers have their heads in the engineering and technical aspects of making things. It’s our job to be the big dreamers. I often come to an initial concept meeting with very big ideas and loose sketches. Part of the dialog I have with them is to ask if something can be done, and I think the best products are developed when their answer is, ‘We can try.’ It’s the designer’s job to push the limits, to come up with the crazy ideas. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. But the great thing about the process is that, oftentimes, when working together, we come up with a better concept than either one of us thought about in the beginning.”

Advice: “I relate these partnerships to being in a relationship. It’s very much like dating, and you have to be aligned for it to be profitable and successful. I have been working with Kohler for 12 years and I design for all four brands. But they didn’t all come about at the same time. Kallista was the first one…we had a good first date and it has evolved from there.

“Also, be careful going in. It takes a long time for a partnership to be successful and profitable. It isn’t a get-rich-quick situation. I’ve been licensing for about 17 years and it didn’t feel like a successful business until 10 years in. It’s a long-term process.” KBDN

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