The Art of ‘Show Biz’
The most effective showrooms not only showcase products and
designers’ skills, they also create a complete, multi-sensory
By Janice Anne Costa
Everyone knows there’s an art to creating a successful business.
But this is particularly true in the kitchen and bath design
industry, where the business itself is that of creating art.
Perhaps nowhere is the art of kitchen design more challenging
than in the showroom, where dealers must take a host of disparate
products, materials, styles, design ideas and displays and turn
them into a cohesive whole without sacrificing the integrity of
The challenge becomes even greater as dealers battle a growing
consumer trend toward shorter attention spans and high-tech bells
and whistles. Yet, even as consumers demand bigger and better “wow”
effects, they also seem to be increasingly searching for home
environments that focus on comfort over drama soothing environments
that seem almost at odds with the fascination with gadgetry.
So, how do you create a showroom that seamlessly blends modern
and traditional, high drama and soothing comfort, full kitchen
displays and scores of sample boards, home elements and office
elements without either overwhelming potential customers or losing
While there’s no one “trick,” the successful showroom owner
knows that it’s essential to create a complete showroom
environment, rather than just a collection of products and that
environment should engage as many of the senses as possible. Great
showrooms reach customers on multiple levels, from visually
appealing designs and color combinations, striking curves and
angles, and tactile-enticing textures to soothing sounds and
Just as with any other form of show business, there’s plenty of
business sense involved in creating a beautiful, well-planned and
effectively laid out showroom. That means everything from
innovative lighting usage and carefully chosen backdrops which
might be ultra-dramatic or all-but-invisible, depending on your
preference to thoughtful signage, open pathways and creative use of
symmetry, or asymmetry.
On this and the following three pages, Kitchen & Bath Design
News looks at a host of innovative showrooms that are raising the
bar in the art of show(room) biz.
Granite and Marble Showroom Features International
ST. LOUIS, MO When it comes to world-class appeal, the St.
Louis-based Global Granite & Marble showroom has all of its
bases covered. In fact, the 5,000-sq.-ft. showroom not only boasts
a large variety of natural stone from all over the world including
Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Greece, India, China, Turkey, Spain,
Portugal and a host of other countries it even has a staff that
collectively speaks more than nine different languages.
One of the firm’s partners, Alex Habr, is a civil engineer and
resident of Mazraat, Lebanon, who “commutes” around the world for
Global Granite. And, the showroom’s recent grand opening was
celebrated with an internationally themed party.
The showroom part of the company’s 100,000-sq.-ft. headquarters
is open to architects, designers, builders, fabricators and
installers, as well as consumers who are working with industry
Managing partner Elliot Uchitelle explains that the showroom
“gives us the space to showcase various design ideas that
incorporate a multitude of colors, textures and finishes with
plenty of international appeal. Designers now have a place to bring
clients where they can see and experience the impact of natural
stone and appreciate the value it brings, whether to a family
kitchen, bath or fireplace surround.”
The extensive St. Louis showroom offers myriad granite, marble,
travertine, slate and limestone samples, while the company’s
warehouse inventory includes 60 varieties of marble, 160 varieties
of granite and more than 300 different colors of stone. “And we are
constantly importing new colors,” Uchitelle notes.
More than 35 different 10’x10′ floor designs and hundreds of
stone samples from around the world are on display in the showroom
itself, while the warehouse accommodates almost $3 million in
inventory, which includes more than 6,000 slabs of granite and
stone, plus 500,00 sq. ft. of natural stone tiles, Uchitelle
Finally, to complete the international feeling, the showroom is
designed to resemble an art gallery, with the richly hued stone,
marble and granite acting as the “gemstones” on display.
Fusion of Materials and Styles Powers
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA At the West Hollywood, CA-based Troy Adams
Design showroom, mix-and-match has taken on a whole new definition.
Whether mixing international influences, materials, curves and
angles or design styles, the showroom sets itself apart through its
ability to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its
In fact, “fusion” is a key theme for the showroom, according to
CEO and president Troy Adams, who states, “A lot of my work has
been in Guam, Bali and Hawaii, so a lot of my designs are inspired
by natural elements, trying to create spaces that really fuse the
indoors and the outdoors. I’m also fond of Italian design and
German engineering, and I like to combine that with Asian elements
and then ‘Americanize’ the design [to make it work for the American
The showroom’s recently added “Fusion” display sums up this
philosophy quite well, mixing design elements from all over the
world to create a warm, vibrant kitchen display. It combines Asian
elements, Italian-German elements and American elements in a
striking minimalist kitchen. “A lot of minimalist kitchens are
cold, so we created a lot of warmth with a lot of different woods
and textures,” Adams notes.
Other materials include bamboo, rift-cut wenge, glass door
fronts on base cabinets, stainless steel and an island with a
corrugated face in natural cherry and a soapstone countertop with
integrated soapstone sink.
Adams asserts that consumers want the streamlined look of
contemporary styling without losing the sense of warmth. To that
end, he believes that effectively mixing and matching textures,
materials and styles can best accomplish this objective.
The mix-and-match theme is used throughout the showroom’s
various displays, and this is particularly the case with countertop
materials. “A lot of our displays have three to four different
countertop materials in the kitchen, which is unique; most
designers don’t blend that many materials,” Adams states.
In fact, the showroom’s displays frequently blend materials,
though the overall effect is soothing rather than competing. “We’re
trying to create natural looks, subtle colors, nothing loud,” he
Another element that contributes to the showroom’s success is
the careful attention to detail, Adams believes, adding, “We not
only address aesthetics, we address ceiling details and a wide
variety of lighting sources and options, too.”
Adams further notes that the continued fusing of styles,
materials and design elements is key to the showroom’s success.
“This fusion design appears to be really appealing. People are
buying exactly what we have on display, or a variation of that.
Normally it’s not like that,” he concludes.
Plumbing Showroom Receives the Museum
HOUSTON, TX Many designers talk about showcasing their products,
but at Westheimer Plumbing & Hardware, everything in the
showroom is given the museum treatment.
Indeed, the whole showroom is designed to create a unique
“gallery” environment where one might expect to view fine art. From
spotlights and flood lights used to accentuate displays and framed
pictures of products decorating the walls to easily moved,
free-standing pods, everything in the showroom is moveable.
However, while the framed pictures of products on the walls
might be a bit unique, as v.p./sales Suzie Williford says, “To us,
this is art.”
When Williford and president Doug Hermance first decided to open
a new showroom, they began by visiting other showrooms to gather
ideas. “Looking at different showrooms, you learn what you don’t
want, and that’s the first place you start,” Williford explains.
“Then you get these visions of what you do want, and you start to
build on those. We’d ask ourselves, what would be the coolest thing
we could do? And then we’d try it.”
The showroom’s location in a wooded area 30 minutes outside of
Houston played a huge role in the design. “The showroom is very
fresh and clean, reflecting [the outside environment], with high
ceilings and lots of natural light. We began with a very cool,
neutral palette from creamy light taupe to charcoal grey. The china
products on display are all in white no color,” she notes.
Once clients walk in, they pick up on the open feeling. “There
are a lot of windows, and there’s an area that has limestone with a
24″ border of black slate that creates this carpet-of-stone effect.
It has a piece of standing art, with two freestanding pods in
semi-circles, and we have faucet blocks hung on these. When you
walk in, you start curving, and it takes you to the faucets.”
To continue the gallery environment, the showroom uses all of its
own pods and surrounds. “We showcase a lot of American Standard,
Porcher and Jado products, as well as other lines, but every one of
them is displayed on our blocks so you don’t see a mishmash of
blocks with signs. It’s more visually pleasing this way,” Williford
The showroom also makes extensive use of light, both natural
light and spot. “We have so many spots that it really does look
like a gallery,” she adds.
Vessel bowls, too, are placed on blocks to look like an exhibit,
and the result is definitely a “wow” effect, Williford
The showroom also has a working bathroom with working shower
Home-Like Feel Defines Kitchen Showroom
LIBERTYVILLE, IL While many showrooms resemble a retail
establishment with displays, at Liberty Kitchen & Designs,
manager Kay Hutmacher knows that there’s no place like home. That’s
why the 6,000-sq.-ft. showroom is designed to look and feel like
home, right down to the living room with comfy leather chairs and
The showroom also has a dining room that features meticulously
detailed architectural moldings, custom built-ins, wainscoting,
columns, mantels and paneled walls and ceilings, which conjure up
the elegant yet cozy sense of being in a house.
Four fully accessorized kitchen displays an Old World kitchen, a
traditional kitchen (which is also fully functional), a country
kitchen and a contemporary kitchen are also part of the mix.
“We worked to really create a design feel in each space. The
Wood-Mode European Heritage [Old World] display acts as a wonderful
centerpiece for the showroom, with a rich fireside on cherry finish
with a black glaze, and the intricate rope carving, classic fluted
columns and dentil molding,” says Hutmacher. “The country kitchen
is done in an antique pine with a custom-colored island, while the
traditional kitchen is Brookhaven with a two-tone island and the
perimeter in antique white.”
Each display is carefully finished and accessorized with
everything from appliances to spice drawers, roll-outs and
pull-outs, so prospective clients can see the myriad options
available to them.
“We also show different countertops in each kitchen, so that
people can see and touch them. This helps people to really get a
sense of what these materials look like in actual home settings,”
Hutmacher believes that a working kitchen is key to having a
home-like showroom. “It not only brings the showroom to life, but
for builder events, it [facilitates] catering,” she says, adding
that the firm is planning cooking demonstrations to help promote
The showroom also acts as the “design center” for Edwards Hines
Lumber Co., which recently purchased Liberty Kitchens & Design.
“Being bought by a larger, strong company has allowed us to expand
so much more, and offer more high-end products,” Hutmacher
While Liberty originally built its business primarily on
remodeling jobs, being purchased means the showroom now gets more
clients sent by builders and architects.
Whether building or remodeling, however, Hutmacher believes her
clients want a taste of home and her showroom provides it.
Showroom Details Offer Mass Appeal
MILWAUKEE, WI At the Milwaukee-based Colleen Horner Kitchen Bath
Tile and Stone, having a fabulous showroom means getting the
According to owner Colleen Horner, this begins when prospective
clients walk into her showroom, where they are greeted by an
associate “who is essentially a tour guide. Our products and
displays are so unfamiliar and extraordinary, they require the
expertise of a highly trained individual” to help clients fully
appreciate them, Horner says.
While this may sound like a bold declaration, Horner is
committed to providing customers with products they can’t find
anywhere else. Whether it is antique, reclaimed terracotta found in
Europe that was originally used as insulation in French and Italian
homes or a mini sink that can be located under a staircase in an
older home, Horner prides herself on offering the unusual.
In fact, offering clients something different is key to the
showroom’s philosophy. According to kitchen and bath consultant
David Lyon, who designed the showroom, “It’s imperative for the
dealer to take some chances [with displays]. You can always sell
off the display if it doesn’t work, but if you don’t take the
chance, what makes you different from the next guy in town?
Nothing. Then you’re just competing against price.”
Along those lines, the showroom features displays from
completely different ends of the design spectrum: a beautiful,
traditional line of Dutch Made cabinetry in hickory, maple, walnut,
chestnut and other woods, and a surprisingly contemporary choice a
clean, modern Sokee kitchen from Japan.
“People in the marketplace are looking for something different,
more exciting and creative, and we’re exposing them to what else is
available. We want them to say, ‘This is what I’ve been looking
I can bring this into a very traditional home,'” Horner
Additionally, the showroom offers air tubs, soaking tubs,
traditional tubs, whirlpools and commodes, as well as a huge shower
compartment containing numerous showerhead choices on both ceilings
and walls. “This compartment can even be filled with steam to
demonstrate [this] option to clients,” Horner notes.
Dozens of different types of floors are also on display, from
tile, stone and slate to glass.
In designing the showroom, Lyon tried to take “the merchandising
approach of the large retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s,
grouping the products together like a department store would.
You want there to be a method to having the customers walk
through the space so that it naturally takes them from department
to department. It makes it easy to sell if you can take the
customer through the departments in the order of how you sell the
While most showrooms accessorize their displays, Horner takes it
one step further: She offers a whole line of boutique items
including a wide selection of pottery, dishware, English towels,
placemats, candlesticks, tissue boxes, Italian robes, shower
curtains and more.
“When our customers come in, they are creating a whole room.
They’ll see some accessories that they want to bring into the
house, and all of these things help make the house a home,” Horner
explains. Allowing them to purchase them at the showroom is just
one more “extra” that sets the showroom apart from the
Both Lyon and Horner believe in the importance of working
displays, and, as such, the showroom has two working kitchens.
“These can be used for entertaining, for public relations, for
evening events and seminars, or just to show the depth of a
functioning kitchen for instance, how a sink area can be completed
with a lotion dispenser, instant hot water, etc.,” Lyon
To create a vibrant, exciting and memorable showroom, Lyon believes
that dealers and designers “should go as wild as their imaginations
can take them. In our business, people are buying the talent and
what they see. It becomes the opportunity to go beyond the box. If
they’re in a classic, conservative part of the country, put
something over-the-top contemporary in, and let it become the
jewelry of the showroom.”
As Horner concludes: “For our showroom I [wanted] something
out-of-the-box, something that became design and that had
creativity to it. And that’s what I got.”