authors Kim Berndtson | May 31, 2017
Designers have the ability to visualize how a kitchen or bath space will look with the chosen elements. They know exactly how a room full of gray cabinets looks. They know exactly how adding metal details or incorporating accent lighting can change the design. However, it can be much harder for clients to do the same.
That’s where showrooms, of any size, become an important tool, giving clients the ability to visualize their dreams.
This month, KBDN asked designers to share their showrooms and talk about how they create effective displays that encourage clients to dream.
The 10,000-sq.-ft. Architectural Justice showroom is a place where creativity truly shines. Housed in a converted 100-year-old dairy barn, it showcases a host of innovative kitchen and bath displays, fireplaces and a wine room along with an abundance of special elements. One such element – a 100″ wood slice and tree stump-turned-sink-pedestal, complete with embedded barbed wire – was fashioned from its on-site sawmill.
From the one-of-a-kind stone bathroom to the spectacular displays of reclaimed urban trees, the showroom is clearly designed to inspire and delight.
Owner James Justice has also lent his creativity to other spaces, including a recently completed 1,500-sq.-ft. Sub-Zero and Wolf showroom in nearby Parma. It features the newest Sub-Zero, Wolf, Asko and Best products concealed behind handcrafted appliance panels of reclaimed wood, glass and metal.
“Our goal was to design a space where people could see how the appliances fit and are integrated into a kitchen,” says Justice.
As for aesthetics, Justice was tasked with creating cutting-edge displays. “As inspiration, we looked to Cleveland’s industrial past,” he explains, noting the inclusion of faux structural beams, old factory windows and brick to authenticate the look and feel of a turn-of-the-century manufacturing facility.
A wine and spirits room features antique freight elevator-style doors, while a pop-up martini bar fashioned as a martini glass combines with back-lit counters, a wine corking table and custom scotch locker display with cabinets and humidor.
“A lot of people are becoming more interested in specialized areas,” says Justice. “We’ve earned a lot of leads for unique projects based on this display.”
Another effective display is the industrial modern kitchen, which features custom metal, glass and wood integrated appliance panels complemented with Foundry Grey painted cabinetry. The handcrafted reclaimed wood island is topped with Calacatta White quartzite. A pop-up mechanism provides easy access to several Wolf countertop appliances stored within the island.
Other displays include an urban chic kitchen, a galley kitchen, a rooftop outdoor kitchen and a media room.
Justice has also turned his attention to another new project, the 4,000-sq.-ft. Architectural Justice Gallery and Café in Strongsville, set to open soon. “We are combining a coffee shop café and cooking school with a retail gallery where visitors are encouraged to shop, dine and be inspired,” he states.
The café will serve European-inspired brunch with artisan coffee in the morning, and wine and charcuterie at night. Cooking classes – in partnership with Sub-Zero and Wolf – will be offered along with pop-up dinners where guests are encouraged to meet new friends at the community table.
The gallery will include eclectic and artistic furnishings and home décor items, including handcrafted and reclaimed pieces created by the artisans at Architectural Justice’s workshops.
Special features of the Gallery and Café include a revolving door with lit granite ceiling, stairs crafted from marble imported from Italy and pastry cases made of Calacatta marble.
“We’re very excited about this new project, and we hope to catch people’s attention with our unique displays and furniture items,” he says.
Oklahoma City/Edmond, OK
Robert and Brenda Helms were in the process of building out their Edmond showroom about five years ago when they received a referral to partner with Hahn Appliance, an independent appliance dealer that was expanding from Tulsa to Oklahoma City.
“Ironically, Bob had pitched that same concept to another appliance dealer, but we couldn’t come to any terms,” says Brenda. “They didn’t see the vision. But Hahn Appliance was very forward thinking. They saw the mutual benefit each of us could bring to the showroom.”
The benefit for Hahn Appliance is that their clients can see how high-end appliances should be installed, and how they fit in a kitchen setting.
The benefit to Edmond Kitchen and Bath is twofold. For one, the new showroom is about 30 minutes south of the original location, allowing them to service a larger portion of the metro area more easily. The appliance store is also open seven days a week, giving greater access to their showroom.
Secondly, the designers can showcase their creative abilities and workmanship. “We can help people envision what can be done,” she says. “Hahn Appliance gave us basically a clean slate, with very few limitations. We were able to be very creative and show concepts that we don’t always get to design. These displays are definitely meant to inspire.”
The 5,000-sq.-ft. showroom showcases eight appliance brands with multiple, full-scale vignettes representing varying design styles. “We specifically set out to show different concepts than what people are already familiar with,” she says. “We don’t need to show a white kitchen with dark glaze because everyone has seen that, and the market is changing. Instead, we tried to be forward thinking, taking inspiration from other parts of the country and adjusting it to our market.”
A favorite display for many is the Thermador kitchen. “That’s our front-and-center display,” she says, “the one targeted for our Oklahoma market.
“I am a firm believer that you can have a modern looking kitchen that still feels warm,” she continues. “You can have fun, new surfaces integrated into a traditional home. This display showcases how that can be done.”
The display features three vignettes with a variety of cabinet finishes including barn wood, vertical-grain sapele, high-gloss acrylics and gray-stained alder. Several innovative surfacing materials are incorporated as well, including an 8’x3′ single-slab porcelain tile backsplash as well as a Galley sink, Dekton and glass countertops, a glass back-lit backsplash, and of course, several fully functional appliances.
Another favorite display is the ‘Thunder’ kitchen, created to pay homage to the local basketball team, highlighted in the team colors of blue and orange. “People love its boldness and intensity,” she says. “It’s a great example of warming up modern and making it relatable with warm, cherry wood.”
Because of its extensive product selections, the showroom has become a ‘go-to’ destination, even for people who aren’t their customers. “It has become a great resource for people,” she says. “We’ll get other vendors sending people here. It has definitely elevated our awareness.”
With the formal grand opening of AK Studio in November 2015, Rob Rubin, owner/design director, made his return to the kitchen and bath design business. After taking a hiatus to partner in a construction/architectural firm, Rubin saw the chance to make his comeback when he drove by his original showroom space and noticed it was available.
“It gave me the opportunity to design a whole new showroom,” he says, “in the same place…that’s a rarity.”
This time around, there were new obstacles given the economy was still climbing out of a recession. “Everything we were designing was extremely expensive, and extremely detailed,” he says.
As such, Rubin took three years to design and build the studio, spending countless hours thinking about kitchens, clientele and the area he would serve. “It was a time when people who had money didn’t spend it,” he explains. “It was also a time of social consciousness, when people who had money would brag about how cheaply they were doing things.”
Furthermore, it was a time of unrestrained acceptance of IKEA, even with high-end customers who would be Rubin’s target market. “Even people who had a lot of money were buying IKEA…and telling everybody,” he says.
“I decided I wanted to make sure when you walked through the front door of my showroom, you knew you weren’t in IKEA,” he continues, noting he wanted that differentiation to begin in the parking lot. “I’m in a part of the industry that’s at the top end, so I wanted to create the most detailed, most custom-fit space I could.”
The 1,600-sq.-ft. showroom includes six vignettes with full kitchen displays – embracing traditional, modern, post-modern and architectural styles – a showpiece bathroom with a mesquite burl tree trunk base supporting a copper sink, and a banquette where visitors can relax while taking it all in. A separate room accommodates a sizeable library of material samples, giving the vignettes the full opportunity to inspire without distractions. Additional space is dedicated to an outdoor kitchen.
“The idea was to create a showroom so that anyone building in any style or feeling or texture could come to the studio to find something they love,” he says. “It was not necessarily to show cabinet doors or countertops. Instead, it was to show complete environments…everything from flooring to appliances to backsplashes to lighting, etc. Because we work in so many different materials of wood, paint, stone, glass and steel, we wanted to show all of those materials…how they are fabricated and crafted, and how they come together.”
In particular, Rubin paid close attention to details, referencing what he terms proprietary engineering. “We’ve thought about everything,” he notes. “Our environments are our own proprietary engineering where, for example, we’ve designed beautiful ways to hold spices, and create interiors that are unlike anyone else’s. When people walk through the studio, everything comes alive when they open a door or drawer.”
Even though the Inspire Kitchen and Bathroom showroom is little more than a year old, it builds upon the long-standing reputation of May Supply, which has been offering wholesale kitchen and bath supplies for nearly half a century.
“It’s a new showroom with a rich history,” says Taylor Waldon, marketing director.
About eight years ago, May Supply built a new addition. “We found we were attracting architects and interior designers who wanted a place to bring their customers, as well as our own customers who wanted to see what was new and modern,” says Mike Heatwole, sales manager. “We have a really strong following under the May Supply brand, but new people coming into the marketplace weren’t as familiar with the brand. As people searched for us online and through social media, we realized we needed a separate identity.”
As such, the company launched Inspire Kitchen and Bath to offer inspiration and showcase the ability to better serve architects, interior designers and homeowners with high-end products and design expertise.
“Our showroom is designed to be inspirational, thus the name,” says Waldon. “It’s designed as a place for people to create a custom atmosphere in their homes…as a place to touch and feel products as well as get advice.”
The new showroom has been a great extension of the existing business, notes Carol Neely, showroom manager. “With two showrooms, we are able to offer a complete package,” she states. “People can come into May Supply to get advice about the technical aspects of something like a plumbing fixture. Then they can come into the Inspire showroom to find how to incorporate it into their home.”
The 3,500-sq.-ft. showroom offers 38 displays, including six kitchens and multiple bath displays and vignettes. Many feature “live” elements such as touch faucets and tubs that showcase air and chromatherapy technologies. A working kitchen is not only beneficial for clients, but also serves as a training space for industry professionals.
Another especially effective display is a mudroom, which was unveiled at last year’s home show. “It is probably one of the most successful booths we’ve ever had at a home show,” maintains Heatwole. “It is well designed, with features – including gray cabinetry – that resonate with families. People would come into the booth and say they wanted that display…just as it was! By moving it into the showroom, we are able to showcase additional rooms, such as mudrooms and laundry rooms, which continue to be more important in people’s homes.”
The showroom is also designed to keep visitors from being overwhelmed, with each display featuring a different paint color to keep spaces visually separate, says Sara Cook, sales consultant. Sales team members also have computers with multiple monitors at their desks. “Because we have multiple screens, customers can easily see what we see,” she explains, noting their importance for finding products that aren’t on the sales floor. “They really seem to appreciate that ability.”
Displays have also been designed with plenty of flow-through space. “Our vignettes are very roomy,” says Heatwole. “We purposefully left a fair amount of empty space and walkways so people can stand at a distance and see all of the elements, without worrying about running into anything. It also helps to prevent visual overload.”
When the owner of Cutting Edge Kitchen and Bath set out to open a new full-service showroom, he looked to the growing area north of Seattle.
“This is the fastest growing area in Washington,” says Shane Michaels, marketing director. “Many people can’t afford to live in Seattle, but a lot of their jobs are located in Seattle and the vicinity so they move to this area where home prices are much lower. They are buying older homes and are looking to remodel. They want a more modern look, but have had trouble finding it this far north.
“They also haven’t had anywhere to go to find everything in one place, other than box stores, which don’t offer a lot of high-end or unique items. So for people who are looking for something distinctive and custom, we provide a service and location that fills the void.”
Cutting Edge prides itself on being a one-stop place for everything needed for a kitchen or bath remodel – cabinets, countertops, sinks, faucets, tubs, flooring, etc. – “all the way down to knobs and pulls, and, of course, the design,” he says.
The 12,000-sq.-ft. showroom is still a work in progress. Four kitchen displays are complete, as well as several product vignettes, including an interactive faucet display and full-slab countertop display representing Cambria, Silestone and Cosentino’s Dekton. “We just started carrying Dekton, and not many showrooms in our area have it,” he says, noting they represent other relatively unique companies for the area, such as Bellmont Cabinet Co., a local cabinet manufacturer, and COREtec, a waterproof flooring alternative to wood.
The faucet display provides visitors with a wealth of product information. “It’s interactive,” notes Michaels. “People can pull out a faucet and scan it to see other options we might not have in stock.”
The tile room showcases several full-size slabs of quartz. “It’s great to be able to offer something larger than a 4″x4″ or 12″x12″ sample,” he says. “Visitors can get a sense of what the pattern will look like full scale.”
Michaels anticipates the addition of five to six bathroom displays within the next year or two, and a live kitchen display further down the road.
“With the live kitchen, we hope to have chefs come in and teach cooking classes,” he says. “However, we are moving to the bath displays first, with their vision still evolving. It’s been a balancing act of how we accomplish everything…about how to provide the best service to our customers and find the time to build out our showroom. We’re pleased with what we have accomplished in our first year. We have a lot to show people, and we’re excited to fill a niche for our area.” ▪