A homeowner says, “I want this look,” and then shows you the latest trends online or in print magazines.
As professional designers, how do we deal with this? Trends attract homeowners because they’re looking for a change in their environment. But we know that trends come and go, and what they see may not fit their home, lifestyle or budget – especially because following a trend can cost more, especially for a kitchen or bathroom.
We need to know what trends fit well with certain projects, and how to steer the client accordingly. We also need to be familiar with the materials and installation options needed to meet designs that are trending, as we’re responsible for guiding our clients through the process so that they make the best decisions for their homes. Not only that, but we must offer acceptable alternatives to trends.
What is the best way to do this? Ask questions and provide honest information.
A tough but necessary question to ask is, “Do you love this because it matches your style or because it’s new and trendy?” You also need to ask, “When this trend changes, how will you feel if your [room] looks dated?” It’s important to also tell them that updating again to meet newer trends could cost the same or more. It’s our responsibility to help our clients make informed decisions. What’s the best way to do this?
When meeting with clients, it’s helpful to remember the famous quote “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” Showing alternatives during the design process speeds up decision-making. Of course, we can collect samples and make color boards. But the best way to help homeowners make decisions is to use visual renderings.
Renderings provide additional benefits as well. We can send the renderings to our clients as email attachments, allowing them to show family and friends what the updated area will look like. One or two renderings on plans help contractors see what the homeowners want. And it shows plan checkers a level of professionalism they’re unaccustomed to.
To provide renderings, we must be proficient with the virtual reality features that many CAD programs offer. The May 2023 issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News lists 14 programs on Page 66, among them 2020, Cadsoft, KCD and MicroCAD/autokitchen. Among those listed, I’ve used Chief Architect and SketchUp since 1997. I love placing cameras anywhere to show my clients their alternatives! Also, I’ve found that a virtual walk-through is very helpful for a large project.
When we design a new kitchen or bathroom for our clients, we must consider four things: 1) the style, location and age of the home; 2) the look of adjacent rooms; 3) the clients’ lifestyle, and 4) their budget. Remodeling should align with all four of these parameters. Following trends may not fit these guidelines and may create a disjointed look in their home.
Most neighborhoods have a consistent architectural style. Before meeting with a prospective client for the first appointment, I drive around the neighborhood for about 30 minutes to familiarize myself with the surroundings.
During that first meeting, I ask about the age of the home and how long they’ve lived there. Ask for a home tour and gather information about features they like or want to change.
Once you have final plans approved, what happens if a homeowner changes their mind? Often, a family member or friend comments or asks questions that create doubt in our client’s mind. While there’s no way to prevent this from happening, it’s important to prepare to avert uncomfortable situations – like clients changing the scope of their project.
We must discuss our client’s priorities and the influence that the other person has. While they have a right to change their minds, we have a right to invoice them for extra work that wasn’t anticipated.
I always ask my clients to sign and date the plans and renderings, showing their approval. We can easily change the plans, like room colors, if it’s a minor change. However, clients must pay for revisions if they change major features after the final plan preparation. My agreement says that they’ll receive an addendum for extra services, which includes the estimated hours and maximum fee for me to change plans, elevations, specifications and renderings.
CASE STUDY: MAKING INFORMED DECISIONS
A recent 113-sq.-ft. kitchen project was in a neighborhood of ’70s ranch-style homes. There was an adjoining eating area that was 61 square feet. The all-white kitchen had tile countertops, white appliances and vinyl floors. The kitchen lighting consisted of one centrally placed fixture with three 100-watt lamps. The layout stayed the same, but I suggested several minor changes to improve function, safety and visual interest.
We talked about her preferences. She wanted to maintain all-white cabinets but found the warmth of wood cabinets intriguing. I suggested that she find appealing pictures on Houzz. In a later meeting, she showed me online photographs that attracted her attention. One picture showed a mostly gray kitchen. I advised against this because experts verify that gray is an “out” trend.
“What about using white cabinets with some wood cabinets?” she asked. I told her it would be possible, but we’d have to avoid making the kitchen look smaller. I showed her a previous project with white and wood cabinets, but that kitchen was larger and more open.
To help her make an informed decision, I prepared three alternative renderings. Photos of the existing kitchen appeared next to the renderings. She saw her new kitchen with white cabinets and appliances. She said, “It’s updated, but it still looks the same.” The rendering with white cabinets and stainless-steel appliances got a similar response.
Seeing Alternative #3, she decided to have maple cabinets with a light warm stain and stainless-steel appliances. The renderings included materials she’d selected for the countertop, backsplash and flooring. It’s easy to copy online pictures of products and download them into CAD programs. I use PaintShop Pro or Photoshop as an interface.
It’s satisfying to design unique solutions for our client’s problems, tapping into what I call Universal Creativity. I believe the pinnacle of best design practices combines our solutions with carefully-selected trends. When done right, these designs meet our client’s needs and follow the four important elements – and the projects will look good in our portfolio for years to come!
Diane Plesset, CMKBD, CAPS, NCIDQ is the principal of D.P. Design in Oregon City, OR and has over 35 years of experience as a kitchen and bath designer. She is the author of the award-winning book, THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling, and is the recipient of numerous design awards. Named a 2019 KBDN Innovator, Plesset has taught Western design to students of the Machida Academy in Japan and has a podcast, “Today’s Home.”