Blue Arnold has an enlightened take on the role of home technology in a kitchen and bath industry that’s witnessing a relentless stream of high-tech innovation, a rapid evolution in lifestyles, key new trends in residential design and a demographic shift toward a younger, more tech-savvy client.
According to Arnold, a CMKBD and owner of Jarrettsville, MD-based Kitchens By Request, integrated technology that’s at once intuitive, personalized and practical may be polarizing in some quarters of the design trade but, like it or not, it’s here to stay – an increasingly in-demand feature for today’s kitchens and baths.
Arnold’s real-world perspective is reinforced in spades by the findings of an eye-opening new report by the National Kitchen & Bath Association, which finds that innovations in home technology are changing the way both designers and their clients think about kitchen and bathroom design, with an expanding new cohort of “digital natives” – millennials from 26 to 41 years in age – leading a relentless charge toward expanded technology usage.
Particularly noteworthy, according to the NKBA’s Kitchen Tech & Millennials Report, is the finding that millennial homeowners represent not only a growing percentage of today’s client base but an important cohort that – unlike its Baby Boom predecessors – harbors no fear of technology, utilizes it in nearly every aspect of their lives, and firmly believes that it’s essential to modern-day kitchen and bath design.
In other words, cutting-edge technology – from smart appliances, touchless faucets and voice controls, to charging stations, lighted cabinet interiors and remote monitoring – is no longer a design component that’s considered optional for a growing number of homebuyers and remodeling clients. In contrast, it’s rapidly becoming mainstream, a value-added feature that kitchen and bath clients are increasingly demanding.
Of equal significance, the NKBA points out, is its finding that design professionals are apparently only in the “very early stages” of incorporating personalized, easy-to-use technology into their designs – with only about 30% of kitchen projects currently integrating such technology, and fewer than 10% of today’s designers utilizing the services of a technology integrator, a specialist with expertise in product selection, connectivity, network security and other key issues.
In light of all this, it seems obvious that kitchen and bath designers will have to adopt a far more enlightened approach, and an entirely new skillset, if they’re to successfully navigate today’s changing market.
Among the best practices endorsed by the NKBA are:
- Inject credibility into client interactions by citing your success in integrating technology into prior projects, as well as your knowledge of brands that stand behind their promises.
- Build a team of “technology partners” who can utilize their collective expertise for each component of a project, including product specification, infrastructure requirements and network security.
- Equip yourself by integrating technology into your own home, as well as your showroom, becoming comfortable and fluent in the language of hi-tech, while enabling clients to experience how it functions.
- Stay attuned to emerging trends by attending relevant trade shows, educational conferences, CEU programs and webcasts.
- Be prepared to expand the footprint of your business – and differentiate your capabilities from those of competitors – by offering design services digitally, since millennial clients overwhelmingly expect virtual meetings and are more likely than their predecessors to handle an entire project virtually.
Now is the time to prepare for the flood of integrated home technology and tech-savvy clients that will doubtless reshape the kitchen and bath market in the years to come.
Success will mean remembering, first and foremost, that technology, like intelligent design, starts and ends with an understanding of client needs, values, lifestyles and budget. Designers must leverage the same skills they use to understand their clients if they’re to understand the role that home technology should play in tomorrow’s kitchens and baths. ▪