Time to Shine
authors Kim Berndtson | May 10, 2021
Showrooms are designed to inspire visitors, and design firms routinely make updates – and even relocate their showrooms – to offer guests the latest and greatest in kitchen and bath design. For some, the timing of those changes coincided with arrival of COVID-19, which delayed grand openings and changed the direction of some renovations.
However, a new year brings new hope and enthusiasm. This month, KBDN asked several design firms to share what’s new and exciting about their showrooms and how they’ve tailor-made their spaces to meet client needs.
As a designer, Marlene Ketchen, owner/designer, has the ability to see potential, so when a circa 1799 building in a historic neighborhood became available, she stepped in. Ketchen knew she could transform the building’s garish black and purple exterior and chaotic retail Christmas shop interior into a beautiful new 2,500-square-foot showroom that better fit into the community and offered a place for inspiration and conversation.
During the 2019 renovation, Ketchen knew she wanted to maintain the best the building had to offer.
“It has such a warm, cozy feel, with elements that have been here for more than 200 years,” she says. “People in New England appreciate those historic details, such as the rustic, exposed beams, the multiple fireplaces, the storm windows that rattle and the steam heat that whistles and clunks. The original pine floors are dinged up with patches and repairs and they have slash marks left by workers as a way to keep track of their hours. There’s also a part of the wall in our entry that was charred from a fire 150 years ago, and we have boot scrapers on our front stoop. It’s a great building and a special place that people love.”
While portions of the past are preserved, the designer took the opportunity to showcase current kitchen and bath design in an environment that feels more like a home than a traditional showroom. For example, she has just one full kitchen display, which includes fully functional appliances, located in the main entry. This area also includes a welcome station where guests are greeted. It is complemented with smaller vignettes, such as a bright, Kelly green kitchen vignette in what used to be a glassed-in patio.
“I use it as a display case and light it at night,” she says. “It really catches people’s eye when they drive by.”
A functioning powder room with bold chevron wallpaper is joined by a bright coral vanity display with cheerful wallpaper as representatives for bathroom inspiration, while a mud room, dual meeting rooms that include several built-ins and workspaces that double as displays, offices and a product selection area round out the floor plan. A bit of additional unclaimed space gives her room to grow.
“I wanted to show different applications, not just a lot of kitchens,” says Ketchen. “I feel like, today, we have the ability to help people visualize with what is available on the internet. My goal with the showroom is to have a place where people can feel relaxed and comfortable so they can enjoy the design process without feeling overwhelmed.”
To that end, her selection room is curated with a sampling of the most popular door and countertop samples displayed on shelves. Select hardware is also featured on boards on the wall.
“I have chosen not to display every single door and countertop available,” she says. “Instead, we curate. We do have additional samples upstairs that we can access, but we only display those we see people use the most. Our old showroom was filled with spinners and boards and they overwhelmed people. I wanted to avoid that in my new showroom.”
In February 2020, Rob Stepp, president, and his business partner/sister Nancy Rigney were enjoying the success of opening their 1,800-square-foot Teays Valley showroom the previous year, and they were getting ready to embark on a renovation of the firm’s headquarters/showroom/warehouse/fabrication shop in Huntington. However, just a few short weeks later, the pandemic changed its course.
“Initially we were only going to update our live kitchen, pantry and bar,” says Stepp. “However, we ended up doing about three times more than that.”
Renovations extended to include several additional displays, the granite ‘gallery,’ door/hardware sample room and design studio, and updates were made to the lighting throughout the 3,900-square-foot showroom. They also took the opportunity to incorporate several features that are not only useful now, but will also be valuable post-pandemic, such as glass partitions in the presentation areas, a transition to on-screen presentations and open spaces that are well-suited to social distancing.
Taking a leap of faith, as well as inspiration from the new Teays Valley showroom, Stepp also focused on maintaining what makes each Creative Kitchens showroom special, in particular their completeness of displays that allows clients to visualize what a new kitchen or bath will do for their home and lifestyle.
“We’re in a market where we can’t be specialists,” says Stepp. “We have to be all things to all people, so we have a range of price points from low-cost options to completely custom.”
For example, the new live kitchen integrates three levels of Crystal Cabinet Works cabinetry within one display, complemented with a custom hood and shelving, a Grothouse Lumber wood island insert, quartzite countertops and live appliances including a Sub-Zero refrigerator, Wolf range, Cove dishwasher, U-Line bottle chiller and ice machine, Sharp microwave drawer and working Lenova faucet and Hafele integrated lighting… “everything a client can experience upon purchasing from us,” notes Stepp. This display also includes a bar, hidden pantry and small sitting area, which is reflective of a living room to replicate a home setting.
“Families can come in, sit and relax and really feel the environment in 360-degrees,” adds Gina Chapman, design professional/marketing and branding professional. “We pride ourselves in offering a showroom where people can feel, touch and experience…since design is really all about the senses.”
Other areas where the senses are spotlighted include the design center, door/hardware sample room and granite ‘gallery’ where visitors can take an active role in the design process from conception to completion.
“We view each item as a vital aspect to the big picture, so clients can touch and match samples with other aspects of their room to achieve their own unique design,” says Chapman.
For instance, the design center features a generously sized workspace with 32″ monitors, lighting and hard surfaces as well as displays of evolving design themes selected to inspire clients. The door/hardware sample room – also referred to as the ‘dressing’ room – includes virtually every door style from every manufacturer the company offers, cataloged neatly within bookcase-style cabinetry, which thereby eliminates traditional factory displays and vignettes….“sometimes it’s more about what is absent,” notes Stepp. Hardware, considered to be the jewel of the kitchen, is displayed as such in velvet-lined drawers with soft-close hardware.
“Everything we do is customer centric,” Chapman continues. “We want our showrooms to be fun and interesting places to visit, places where we can guide our clients towards their goals while meeting their budget requirements.”
Since opening Maison Birmingham in 2016, Lauren Tolles, founder, expanded her business in 2019 by purchasing KSI Kitchen & Bath, which added eight locations to her firm. As part of that growth, last summer she renovated portions of her original 2,400-square-foot showroom in Birmingham to highlight both brands.
For example, a new kitchen display in the front of her showroom blends custom Maison cabinetry with semi-custom Dura Supreme cabinetry offered by KSI Kitchen & Bath.
“It’s a great opportunity to show customers they can combine multiple product offerings and finishes in one space,” she says, adding that the 200-square-foot space also features a custom baking center that illustrates how clients can include a ‘morning bar’ with coffee makers, toasters, etc. “They don’t necessarily have to do custom cabinetry throughout the entire kitchen. Instead, they can focus on one special custom piece, such as an island or paneled refrigerator armoire, and use less expensive cabinetry in the rest of the kitchen to optimize their budget and still meet functional needs.”
The designer also included a focal-point display with subway tile, marble ‘framing’ and artwork – highlighted with a picture light – above the sink to show clients how they can personalize their space.
“People aren’t always able to put a sink under a window, so I wanted to show how we can still create a focal point,” she says. “We also have a lot of clients who have great art collections, so I like to integrate them whenever I can. By showing them how to include some pieces in the kitchen, we can make it feel more like a living space rather than just a utilitarian place to cook.”
Another new area within the showroom is a presentation room, which is an idea that grew from the purchase of KSI Kitchen & Bath.
“I believe that an open environment, in terms of showroom floors and workspaces, breeds collaboration and creativity, but I love that the presentation room is one room where we can close a door and talk with clients privately or have a small group meeting,” she says.
The inclusion of a frame-style television, disguised as artwork, enhances presentations and adds to the ‘wow’ factor since clients love to see their spaces come to life on screen. The room’s library vibe also doubles as display space.
“We try to maximize what we’re showcasing in a limited footprint so every space becomes a display,” she says. “Workspaces become displays, the presentation room becomes a display…we want all of those spaces to look beautiful while also being practical.”
To that end, Tolles focuses on edited selections.
“When designing the showroom I thought a lot about how to showcase products without showcasing everything,” she says. “We don’t have a lot of doors hung all over the walls. Instead, I focus on curation, on showcasing the things that fit our market and our level of design. There is a lot available in our selection center, but it’s edited and beautifully organized so clients understand there are a lot of choices, but it isn’t overwhelming.”
For example, hardware is displayed in drawers like jewelry and rail-mounted custom doors – reverently coined the ‘wall of white’ – are painted various shades of the ‘blank’ color so clients can focus on a door style rather than be influenced by a door style painted in their favorite color.
“I wanted to create a showroom that feels like you’re walking into the entryway of a home with different rooms,” she explains. “Instead of small vignettes, we have larger displays that show more features and detail. I love it when people say they feel at home here…like they could live here!”
When Rob Belville, owner, decided to relocate and open a new, larger showroom and warehouse just south of Nashville in 2019, one of his goals was to provide enough product and samples of cabinetry for his customers to feel confident about the product selections they make for their projects.
To that end, he showcases several product lines he carries in full displays, including Shiloh and Eclipse by W.W. Wood Products, Kith and Eudora by Kith Kitchens, and Mouser Custom Cabinetry. Each highlights a different design style within the 2,000-square-foot showroom, which also includes a selection room with additional door styles, finishes, hardware and countertop selections.
For example, the largest display, which features inset Shiloh cabinetry complemented with a graphic backsplash and quartz countertops in two contrasting colorways, embodies a modern farmhouse vibe that combines flush inset and beaded inset cabinetry in two different door styles in both paint and stain finishes.
“When you initially see it, it looks like a white painted/stained cabinetry display,” he remarks. “But when you analyze it closer, there is a lot more going on.”
That theme of disguised complexity is common within his displays, where he typically includes two different finishes – usually one painted and one stained – which reflects the two-tone trend he currently sees from customers.
“It can be difficult to make a display look attractive with so many different options,” he notes. “But we have designed the showroom so the displays don’t look mismatched with a dizzying array of colors and doors.”
Belville also wanted to include fresh and trending products that resonate with his clientele.
“We often have customers come in, point to a display and say, ‘that’s exactly what I am looking for,’” he says.
One display that often generates this response shows a trending color palette of dark blue, white and wood reflected in Kith Kitchens cabinets painted Midnight and Bright White and a Stanisci Design custom hood with a Kith Kitchens’ Ash stain color.
“White is still the most popular color for cabinetry,” he says. “But, in the past year, we’ve seen an increased desire for more blues and greens. Custom hoods are trending, too, because people like to be able to customize it as a focal point for the room.”
Directly across from this display is an example that features a frameless box construction by Eudora with bases painted in Iron and uppers stained in Storm with a vintage glaze. Cabinetry is complemented with a marble-look quartz countertop with a waterfall edge and floating shelves, both of which are common requests.
Belville has also seen increased interest in contemporary designs, such as those reflected in the Eclipse cabinetry display. It includes frameless, thermally fused laminate doors with Blum Aventos hinges that provide a vertical lift. Lighting, both within the upper cabinets and in the toe kick, generates interest.
“We decided to include the lighting as a last-minute addition to finish the displays,” he says. “It’s a lot of work to incorporate it, but people love seeing it.”
Granite State Cabinetry
Early last year, Frank Morris, Jr. was anticipating a celebration. He had just finished renovating several areas of the 6,000-
square-foot showroom when COVID shut down the party. While he and his team couldn’t officially celebrate at that time, visitors have returned and are now finding inspiration again as they peruse the 20-plus kitchen and bath displays and vignettes.
For many people, the showroom is a destination since it is one of the largest in the area representing the latest in a full range of design styles, colors and products.
“I hear from a lot of visitors who drive over an hour to get here,” he says, noting his location about an hour north of Boston and an hour from the Atlantic seacoast.
Morris makes them feel welcome with a casual, comfortable, high-end feel with a quintessential New Hampshire vibe.
“We don’t want visitors to feel intimidated or that we are ‘pushy’,” he says. “Although we show high-end products and we cater to the high end, we don’t want to look expensive…like people can’t afford to come here.”
As part of this objective, the front lobby and reception area were included in the recent renovation. Black walnut cabinetry and quartz countertops at the reception desk match the cabinetry and countertop featured in the adjacent refreshment area. Morris contrasted the dark wood with white painted, glide-by doors accented with wire mesh. A built-in coffee maker, beverage refrigerator, instant hot water tap and chilled/filtered water tap are available for guest use. Just beyond is a private closing room where clients can meet confidentially when the showroom is busy.
To encourage imagination, Morris divided the showroom into two general areas, one for displays and vignettes and a separate selection center with tile, faucets, sinks, countertops and hardware.
“We’ve created a focal point in the front with beautiful kitchen displays and a work area towards the back where people can make selections,” he says.
Several of these kitchen vignettes as well as the guest bathrooms, which are available for customer use, were part of the renovation. One of the new vignettes features a mix of cabinetry in black walnut with both natural finish and stained finishes juxtaposed with white painted cabinets and a gray island.
Another new vignette includes a grouping of four kitchen displays in an array of styles that always seems to attract attention.
“People love the mix of finishes we’ve included here,” he says, noting representations of textured laminate doors in different colors, styles and textures, quarter-sawn white oak cabinetry and a focal-point live-edge/waterfall black walnut countertop. “And, of course, they also love the blue island!” ▪