These days, there’s a seemingly limitless number of places where consumers can go for design inspiration. Given the vastness of the internet and captivating websites such as Houzz and Pinterest, combined with an abundance of TV shows dedicated to home renovation and new construction, one might question where kitchen and bath showrooms fit into the modern design world.
But the reality is that the internet is a far cry from the in-person experience, and there’s nothing that beats seeing design live, where the ability to touch and feel, see and hear, and mix and match is not only allowed, but encouraged.
This month, KBDN asked several designers to discuss how they inspire visitors who come to their showrooms looking for ways to create their own unique and beautiful spaces.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
It’s been just over a year since the doors were opened to reveal the new – and what has become, in a short amount of time, award-winning – 18,000-sq.-ft. Empire Kitchen & Bath showroom. From the start, it was created to be a leading venue for kitchen and bath design in North America.
“We see ourselves as a premier destination because people can come and see everything related to kitchens and baths in one place…everything from cabinetry and appliances to plumbing fixtures, tile, hardware and lighting,” says Kevin Mullen, president. “From the moment you walk through the door, you know you’ve walked into someplace different than anywhere else in the city, or maybe even the market in general.”
At the entrance, visitors are welcomed at a reception desk and seating area that is impeccably adorned and purposely open and spacious to give them time to absorb their surroundings, as opposed to overwhelming them with an abundance of product at their very first steps inside. However, it quickly becomes apparent there is more beyond.
“As you look down the vista of our showroom, you know there is much more to be explored,” he says.
As a start, nine kitchen displays, seven of which are full size, highlight a variety of design styles, including the full spectrum from contemporary to traditional to transitional. Each one is also staged to feel as if the client is walking into an actual residence.
“We have decorated the showroom like it is someone’s home,” he says. “It’s all encompassing of a particular look or style.”
One kitchen is also fully functional and has been utilized for CEU events, company training and product display events for Empire Kitchen & Bath, as well as other organizations.
“The functional kitchen is a great place to throw events and entertain with guest chefs and caterers,” he says. “Ultimately, for any company, when people see the showroom, it influences and inspires them to think about their own spaces.”
The showroom also includes multiple full-size bathrooms and smaller bath vignettes as well as two closets, one of which is a 16’x22′ full-scale display with lighted cabinets, marble floors and inlaid mosaic tile. A detailed raised ceiling echoes the shape of the oval island below, which features back-to-back bench seating tucked between each curved end.
“We added closet displays because people are focusing more on these spaces and are investing as much into them as any room that has millwork,” Mullen adds.
Separate corridors lead visitors to rooms filled with extensive collections of lighting, plumbing and tile, all displayed in gallery-style settings.
While inspiration is an overriding consideration for the showroom, so is the health of visitors and showroom staff.
“When we built our new showroom, we wanted to make sure we were inspiring customers by creating displays that incorporate all the key aspects of a project, including the cabinetry, countertops, tile, plumbing, lighting, etc., so they can make their homes beautiful,” he says. “We also built the showroom to a healthy standard…meaning we were focused on eliminating as many harsh chemicals and VOCs as possible to provide a healthy space for everyone.”
Seven design centers in Michigan and Ohio
An overriding mission of any KSI Kitchen & Bath design center is to ensure an exceptional experience for everyone who walks into any of its seven locations. The firm accomplishes that goal via everything from its displays to designer/client interactions to technology.
“We understand that when it comes to remodeling an existing home or building a new one, it can be overwhelming for people to visualize and make material selections with confidence,” says Colleen Flynn, v.p. of marketing and sales. “There are a lot of decisions that go into a project, and it is our goal to offer guidance and provide tools to make it as easy as we can.”
That process begins by showcasing a variety of styles and products in an array of finishes and colors in kitchens and baths, as well as in other displays that range from bars and offices to laundry rooms, butler’s pantries and even boot benches.
“At every design center, we show everything from traditional to contemporary to rustic,” she notes, adding that displays are updated often to stay on-trend and reflect the local market, such as the loft and mezzanine in the Ann Arbor (MI) location that offers a hip, urban feel, and the office display in the Macomb (MI) design center that features currently popular wood barn doors and tongue-and-groove shiplap. “There is something for everyone,” she enthuses.
Several of the kitchen displays are fully functional, allowing the company to host events and show homeowners first-hand how an appliance works. Many kitchens also include islands – in a variety of shapes and sizes – to encourage conversation that naturally happens when people gather around them.
“The kitchen is the heart of the home,” says Flynn. “We try and make our displays full kitchens instead of smaller vignettes so homeowners really feel like they’re sitting in a kitchen. We are very hands on with visitors and we like to sit with them, encouraging them to explore by opening drawers and standing in front of ranges to evaluate their height. We also try to include a lot of storage options and accessories so homeowners can experience them as well.”
As the design process progresses, selection centers in each location are designed as work stations where homeowners can pull samples to create their own unique story, which can be turned into a storyboard wall that shows a project from concept to completion.
“It’s about engagement and interaction,” she continues. “We provide the tools and designers are available to assist and offer guidance along the way to create a space in which the homeowner feels comfortable.”
The design centers utilize technology as well, such as large-screen monitors that allow customers to view their designed space in 3D.
“This is huge for customers…and not just because it’s on a big screen, but also because they can actually see everything they have discussed with their designer,” she explains.
Visitors can also download the company’s Define My Style app, which helps them identify their design style. The resulting information can be printed, shared with their designer or posted on social media. The company has also created several ‘how-to’ YouTube videos for tasks such as measuring spaces and adjusting hinges. The firm’s My Inspiration Collection app, which is similar to Pinterest, allows visitors to select images from the KSI gallery and save them to their Inspiration Collection, which can then be shared with their designer or friends on social media.
Oklahoma City, OK
Jo Meacham, principal designer, Urban Kitchens, has worked in the kitchen/bath design business long enough to know what her clients want, and for her, that isn’t an expansive showroom with a vast array of elaborate displays. Rather, what works for her is a relatively petite 1,550-sq.-ft. design studio in the city’s historic commercial district. She shares the space with two other industry professionals, including Castle Rock Countertops, which supports her clients by maintaining an inventory of hundreds of quartz samples they can peruse.
“Our design studio is right in the middle of the city’s historic district neighborhoods on Western Avenue, which runs from the downtown, then north through the neighborhoods and on to Nichols Hills, a beautiful city-within-a-city with rolling hills and historic mansions,” she says. Meacham notes that the location affords them the opportunity to take advantage of Oklahoma City’s revival, which has spread from downtown to its historic neighborhoods over the past 20 years.
Meacham’s path to her current location began with some shared similarities…a small showroom in the historic district. However, that original showroom ended up simply being a place to answer phone calls and schedule home visits. Next, she partnered with a lumber company where she enjoyed a large showroom, but experienced little traffic. This prompted her to move her business to her home, before transitioning to a 2,000-sq.-ft. showroom with eight displays on a busy street.
“But even when I opened on Saturdays, I could never get that much traffic,” she says, noting that after about six years, she moved to an office building before relocating to her present location. “For whatever reason, Oklahoma City homeowners are not inclined to visit kitchen showrooms. I have tried multiple times, in different locations, and traffic was so slow, I never felt I benefited from the amount of investment I put in. It would be nice to have great displays again, but it has been my experience that the traffic here is so limited, it’s hard to make them pay off.”
Working in a smaller studio with just three displays, Meacham chooses to concentrate more on people by designing a space that makes them feel at home.
“We are here to welcome people into the studio,” she says. “We encourage them to sit down in a comfortable chair and tell us their ideas. It’s like coming to our living room and having a cup of coffee. We talk about why they are thinking about a project and what they hope to accomplish. I guess I feel more comfortable getting to know our clients first, before we start opening drawers and showing them pull-out trash cans.”
Meacham indicates that this approach helps build relationships, which are important for her continued success.
“I believe that trust is the most important thing we can establish,” she explains. “People buy from people they like. I want our potential clients to know us enough to like us so we can move on and have a better chance at being hired.”
What’s next? That question was a guiding premise behind the design of Western Nevada Supply’s new 8,000-sq.-ft. INSPIRE kitchen and bath showroom, opened in 2016 to complement the company’s two existing showrooms in Truckee, CA and Carson City, NV.
“We wanted to entice visitors [to think] about what’s next…about what is just around the corner,” says Jeff Mecca, showroom manager.
That concept starts with displays that feature high-end decorative kitchen and bath plumbing fixtures that are visible from the street through the large glass windows that fully flank two sides of the building.
“We often have people tell us they were driving by on the main boulevard, saw the vignettes and wanted to stop in to see more,” he says. “That’s where it starts…with the ‘wow’ factor displays and street exposure.”
The anticipation continues once visitors open the door and are greeted at the front reception desk with beverages and snacks before they are encouraged to continue further into the showroom, which has been designed for comfortable flow and easy navigation. At its heart is an array of displays, including at least 25 tubs, 30 toilets, 200 sinks and 20 vanities. Some faucets are presented in illuminated ‘cases’ that make them seem like jewelry in a jewelry store. Many of the products are displayed sans brand name to encourage a greater focus on form and function rather than manufacturer, and to promote a cleaner visual with less of the clutter often associated with brand advertising.
Several displays are also ‘live,’ such as the one that showcases 50 operable showerheads and handshowers controlled by a Crestron system.
“Customers can walk in and test any of the showerheads,” he says. “Without a doubt, those fixtures are tested every day.”
Another popular ‘live’ display that receives daily attention and use features 25 kitchen faucets, including those with touch and motion-sense technologies.
“We want customers to be able to feel the handles and pull out the faucets, just like they would in their own kitchens,” Mecca continues.
The showroom also features several operable jetted tubs that can help customers understand the differences between air and whirlpool jets. Chromatherapy and aromatherapy options for tubs and showers are on display as well, as is BainUltra’s Vedana care unit, which combines thermotherapy, chromatherapy, light therapy, aromatherapy and sound therapy into a single unit for the shower.
“It’s one of our showcase pieces,” he says, in reference to the Vedana. “With a showroom of this size, people expect to see ‘wow’ pieces. Regardless of whether or not someone ultimately chooses a high-end product such as this one, it can draw people into the showroom and help start a conversation that goes beyond asking, ‘Can I help you?’ which usually results in a, ‘No, I’m just looking’ response. It can open up the opportunity to have a more meaningful discussion,” he explains.
Technology is also an important part of the showroom. Four 55″ TVs are positioned throughout, one of which also includes a table and chairs for meeting with clients and reviewing specifications. A second Crestron system controls lighting and music, which plays continually in the background. Visitors are also encouraged to test how ‘smart’ features controlled via smartphones – such as steam showers, chromatherapy/aromatherapy options, etc. – can fit into their lives.
“We designed the showroom to inspire, thus the name… INSPIRE,” Mecca concludes.
Palo Alto, CA & Miami, FL
When it comes to finding local design inspiration for European cabinetry, there aren’t necessarily a lot of choices for homeowners who live in northern California, says Jenn Virskus, marketing manager for the European Cabinets & Design Studios California location. She indicates that the showroom is one of only a handful in that area of the state that represents the European market, and it is the only one that is a distributor for Italian cabinet maker Aran Cucine.
But when visitors step through the door of the 5,000-sq.-ft. West Coast showroom, they are welcomed with plenty of design suggestions showcased in five complete kitchen displays…along with an offer to enjoy a cup of traditional Italian espresso. The company’s ‘sister’ showroom on the East Coast features six kitchens in its 2,500-sq.-ft. location, notes Victor Tulchinsky, president of the Miami branch.
With an unmistakable emphasis on modern/contemporary design, the kitchen displays highlight innovative and comprehensive design solutions, clever cabinetry and storage options – including touch-to-open upper cabinets with vertical bi-fold doors, unique pull-out corner accessories and shelving units and built-in undercabinet lighting – and modern technology, all with an emphasis
“Homeowners can certainly purchase cabinetry as it is displayed,” says Virskus, “but the showroom is designed to be inspirational so people can order exactly what they want for their own kitchens.”
The displays were also created to highlight space optimization, which is an important consideration in many of today’s kitchens, notes Virskus.
“One of the goals of the showroom was to optimize the space as much as possible,” she adds. “That goes hand-in-hand with how we design someone’s kitchen.”
Both showrooms also highlight an array of bath vanities representing several European manufacturers as well as multiple closet displays. In fact, one of the California location’s newest displays showcases a walk-in Pianca custom closet with 20″ shelves and a variety of modular solutions accessed via an impressive Casali sliding glass door, she notes.
In addition, visitors to both showrooms can work with designers to specify countertops, which lean heavily toward quartz and engineered stones, plumbing fixtures, hardware, high-end appliances and even glass furniture and interior doors, staircases and entry doors, all of which represent European design and manufacturing. ▪