The Passing of an Industry Icon
It is said that upon seeing a group of Nobel Prize Laureates at dinner one evening, President John Kennedy observed that there hadn’t been such a glittering assemblage of talent in the White House dining room since the evenings when Thomas Jefferson dined there alone.
In the context of the kitchen and bath design trade, the same could be said about Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, CLIPP, whose transcendent talent and matchless contributions as a designer, educator, author, showroom consultant and business leader impacted the lives of countless industry pros.
The kitchen and bath industry lost an irreplaceable voice, and major industry presence, with the untimely passing of Cheever, who died last month at her Wilmington, DE home. Kitchen & Bath Design News also lost a longtime colleague and cherished friend.
Those who’ve been part of this industry for any length of time have long been keenly aware of Cheever’s extraordinary gifts: her peerless design skills, her passion for the residential-design trade, her intellectual curiosity, her aptitude as a teacher and mentor, her quest to constantly raise the bar for an industry to which she devoted her entire professional life. We should be equally aware of the legacy that Cheever forged across five decades as perhaps the most influential figure in the industry’s modern history, a bona fide icon whose contributions cannot possibly be overstated.
Her resume alone speaks for itself.
A member of the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Hall of Fame, and widely recognized as the industry’s leading design expert, Cheever – her creative talents honed by years of managing design/build projects – was the author of 20+ textbooks that serve as the foundation for the current standards in kitchen and bathroom design.
But there was more to Cheever’s stellar career than that alone. Far more.
In addition to heading her eponymous, award-winning residential design firm, Ellen Cheever & Associates, Cheever created and presented CEU programs, seminars and symposiums on kitchen/bath design, business management, sales, showroom design and related topics to audiences throughout the world – all while leveraging her expertise to produce training and marketing programs, launch new products, design retail, distributors’ and manufacturers’ showrooms and create trade show exhibits for corporate clients. For nearly two decades, KBDN’s readers benefited from her contributions as a writer and mentor to literally thousands of seminar attendees, for whom she provided valuable insights on space planning, product specification and project management.
Even in semi-retirement, she continued to design, consult, write and present live and online programs on a wide range of topics. She also collaborated on residential and commercial projects with the team at the Wilmington, DE-based Giorgi Kitchens & Designs, and most recently led a design team in re-imagining the family kitchen centers at the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware.
Then there’s the human side to all of this, the side Cheever displayed to those lucky enough to have traveled in her orbit: her attentiveness, humility and grace; how buttoned-down, professional and dependable she was, always giving fully of herself, always taking time to answer questions, follow up on requests, share her knowledge and make everyone around her better.
In many ways, the arc of Cheever’s career coincided with what could be considered a “Golden Age” for kitchen and bath design, a five-decade window during which high-end, multi-purpose kitchens and luxury, spa-like bathrooms truly emerged as centerpieces of the American home. In many ways, her work helped galvanize all that.
But Cheever will also be remembered, in very real ways, as the best of all of us: a model of resilience and perseverance, a survivor who stumbled and soared with the market’s undulating fortunes, rebounded from setbacks, never stopped growing, and managed to both inspire and thrive in a vibrant, fashion-driven industry she helped elevate to its current heights.
She is survived by her husband and business partner Pete Giorgi, Sr., CMKBD, a principal for many years in Giorgi Kitchens & Designs. Other survivors include assorted family members, her beloved “bridesmaids,” legions of friends, fans, colleagues and collaborators, and an industry whose constellation is no doubt dimmer with the passing of its brightest star. ▪