In many ways, kitchen design software has evolved considerably in
the past few years. Photo realism has achieved a beautifully
detailed level. CNC link machines have greatly facilitated cabinet
manufacturing, at least on the stock and semi-custom levels.
Programs have expanded to include overall administrative functions
such as scheduling and invoicing.
So, why do so many designers not computer-phobic in other areas
of their business resist the trend? Software manufacturers admit
some challenges remain with their products, and in addition to
adding new capabilities, they are dedicating considerable resources
toward eliminating those problems.
A Middle Ground
It used to be that software was divided into two categories
pro-level programs that cost thousands of dollars, and very simple
consumer-targeted programs for under $50. And, many designers saw
neither as a good fit the inexpensive programs were generally
viewed as too simplistic to be of any value to a professional
designer, and the very expensive ones were often more of an
investment than designers were willing to make for something they
were still uncertain about committing to for the long term.
But now, several manufacturers have introduced moderately priced
professional versions that can do much of the work of the
higher-end programs one of the creative solutions offered by the
burgeoning design software industry.
AutoKitchen is a program with photo-like rendering capabilities
and an AutoCAD engine, explains Miguel Merida-Nicolich, general
manager of MicroCAD Software Inc., in Tenafly, NJ. “We took what we
think is the best of AutoCAD, which is the power and the
flexibility, and then we took what’s not so great the complexity
and we tried to make [our program] very easy to use,” he
elaborates. An icon-based approach simplifies matters, he adds. “If
you sit down for a couple of hours, you end up with a very decent
idea of what icon to pick to do what.”
The user can work in 2D and see the design in progress in 3D at
the same time, Merida-Nicolich notes. The price of the program
ranges from $500 to $2,000, with the higher-priced version
including the capacity to add, modify and edit catalogs.
Similarly, Chief Architect’s updated program is available in
several versions with price points ranging from $50 to $500,
explains Scott Harris, v.p./sales and marketing for Chief
Architect, in Court d’Alene, ID. The professional program “is a
very robust product, it’s great for visualization if you’re doing
kitchen and bath design,” he notes. “We have a fairly extensive
library of cabinet doors and other furniture and fixtures.” The
programs have progressively more complex but compatible features,
so someone lacking in computer savvy can start with the most simple
program and work their way up to the pro level, he adds.
AAWorldSales.Com has also come up with a new product, DecoTech,
which sells for $400 an economical price point enabled by the fact
that the software’s pricing module doesn’t include manufacturers’
catalogs, reports Ted Knudson, manager of AAWorldSales.Com.
However, Knudson notes that this has always been a problematic
area, with many designers preferring to do pricing by hand. The
program has other advantages, such as a convenient way of putting
in islands and peninsulas without first installing an invisible
wall, Knudson adds.
Cabinet Solutions XP, by Extreme Software Products, is an
easy-to-learn custom cabinet manufacture program for under $1,000,
Software programs are also expanding to other parts of the
house, for instance, closet design, notes Harris. In short, the
market now offers several ways for a designer to get their feet wet
in the software market without a huge investment.
Bells and Whistles
For those who’ve already taken the plunge with a full-blown,
high-end program, manufacturers continue to improve the process.
For instance, KCDw, a program geared to the custom cabinet maker,
has recently added custom lighting to enhance its photo realism,
notes Leslie Murphy, sales representative for KCDw Software, in
South Yarmouth, MA.
Twenty Twenty’s software now sports a business manager function.
“It’s a miniature ERP for kitchen and bath dealers,” reports Louise
Chartier, v.p./sales for North America for Twenty Twenty
Technologies, in Laval, Quebec. “It could do your scheduling,
purchasing, and invoicing; it connects to Quick Books [and] the
Internet, and it comes with a template for our customers to go and
create their own Internet Web sites.”
CADKIT, recently purchased by DesignSoft, includes an ordering
function that can tie into another program, ProductionKIT, which is
widely used among manufacturers whose catalogs CADKIT supports,
notes Noelle Meade, manager of support for CADKIT, in Denver, CO.
“Our program has full AutoCAD functionality, which is daunting in
that the learning curve is a little longer,” she adds. “But we
believe the ability and capabilities [make it more than worth the
time investment to learn the program].”
A recent merger of Cabinet Vision into the Planit group, now
titled Planit Solutions, has caused that company to target its
products Planit, Autograph, Cabnetware, and Cabinet Vision to
different sections of the market, explains Roger Taylor, president
of Planit Solutions, in Tuscaloosa, AL. Autograph is “an
entry-level product geared for the builder market,” says Taylor.
“It’s more about repetition and speed and how to quickly produce a
design, not necessarily high end.” Planit Millennium is geared for
more advanced design, while Cabinet Vision bridges the gap between
the two. The company is also focusing on making its products more
readily available with Planit Online; additionally, it is looking
at developing a consumer-grade product to install in kiosks at home
“The arms race in software features is over,” says Taylor.
Today’s challenge is, “Does the software meet the needs of the
Problems & Solutions
Ask anyone who uses kitchen-specific design software and two areas
for improvement will inevitably be mentioned. First, designers tend
to mistrust the pricing function of the programs. So, even those
who love the programs’ vastly improved 3D photo realism a dramatic
shift from the “cartoon” look the renderings had only a few years
ago often use the software to prepare client presentations, but
continue to price by hand.
“We hope that they’ll let go of their adding machines and trust the
labor intense work that the manufacturers put in,” says Chartier.
She adds that with 20-20, “we do not send out real data a cabinet
manufacturer is ultimately responsible for releasing accurate
pricing to his or her dealer base.”
Chartier believes that this method can result in 100% accuracy
for stock lines, but admits, “semi custom manufacturers, where we
start adding in built-in factory added modification then you’re
looking at compounded pricing formulas. If the end user mixes it
up, it could have a large bearing on the pricing. [And] the greater
risk comes with the full custom lines.” For instance, she notes,
“If an accessory is not meant to go into a specific [cabinet], and
the end user does it anyway, then it could have an impact on
pricing. This is a struggle that we’ve been up against since day
one. But, by every account, everybody’s growing their business with
Taylor believes that his company’s multiple software lines which
employ a common data catalog also provide a more efficient way to
ensure accurate pricing. “I think the tools we’re utilizing today
are becoming more sophisticated, and our ability to maintain
manufacturers’ data has been a priority of a long time,” he
elaborates. “We’re going to be utilizing electronic data from the
manufacturer, downloaded from their [internal] ERP system and
transferred directly into the common data model.”
Meade believes that manufacturers are becoming more cognizant of
the importance of the design programs, the same way Web sites were
once viewed as optional, and are increasingly being viewed as a
necessity by businesses.
Other programs have taken a different route. Chief Architect’s
set up “does not include an ordering function, but does let you
draw up a bill of materials,” says Harris. “You can get
manufacturer-specific, so if you’ve imported Kohler fixtures in
there, you can make a plumbing schedule. But we don’t actually tie
that into [the program].”
Knudsen believes part of the problem lies in the methodology:
comparison pricing brand vs. brand instead of each brand vs. the
same generic price schedule. “Every brand has certain nomenclatures
that don’t cross reference,” he explains. The new idea is to use a
generic table, then cross reference with a particular
manufacturer’s catalog. Updating the catalogs will always be a
problem, he believes, so a less expensive program with just design
capability and another method of pricing is an alternative.
Photo realism was improved by drop-in libraries of 3D,
brand-specific manufacturers’ products to give a rendered kitchen a
more realistic look. But, many manufacturers haven’t recognized the
value of producing the libraries, which can be both time consuming
and expensive, and designers complain that the libraries available
are inadequate and don’t include the more exotic products.
“We’ve been a little disappointed that a lot of manufacturers
don’t have 3D representation of their product out there,” admits
Harris. “We keep our library separate so we can add new content. We
have a creation program,” which enables designers to take a generic
symbol and personalize it to be brand specific, then store it for
Meade notes that CADKIT is “looking for [program users] who have
a lot of exotic symbols that they’ve built. We’ll probably harvest
those and put them in a CD, and distribute them to everybody
A seemingly effective method of obtaining new symbols
downloading them off a manufacturer’s Web site hasn’t been widely
adopted, but remains a future option for distribution of
But overall, Chartier believes manufacturers are catching on to
the value of contributing to libraries, and sees this as an area
that will continue to improve. KBDN