Kitchen designers have many passions; however, it’s rare to find one whose business developed out of a love for woodworking.
When she moved with her family to the Cape Cod area in 2001, Gail O’Rourke, owner of White Wood Kitchens in Sandwich, MA, immersed herself in woodworking as a way to save money – her first ebony wine rack is still an integral part of their dining room today. Woodworking started out as a way to create her dream home, but soon became part of her lifestyle and career.
FROM HOBBYIST TO BUSINESS OWNER
With a degree in operations management, O’Rourke had previously worked in sales and project management in a different field. However, after finding woodworking, O’Rourke transferred her business skills to the cabinetmaking industry. For 15 years, she honed her abilities in custom cabinetry and also added kitchen designer to her repertoire.
She started her own business, Hometown Woodworking, which she ran successfully for seven years, before opening a showroom and changing her business to White Wood Kitchens, specializing in kitchens and baths. White Wood Kitchens is now in its third year of business, and includes an 800-sq.-ft. showroom.
The most popular design for her homeowner clients is the open-concept kitchen. Her biggest challenge is finding functional storage solutions within this space plan. In fact, O’Rourke says that the most innovative work she does is “getting cabinets to meet clients’ needs when they don’t want cabinets.”
The key, she believes, is to balance their design expectations with the functional expectations and the reality of what can actually be done with the kitchen space available.
“You have to try to work with people and create an expectation that they’re still going to get what they want, even though what they think they want isn’t really what they want or what’s going to work for them,” notes O’Rourke.
She adds: “I think you have to be really creative and innovative with design with the new open-concept floor plans. It’s about using every cubic inch of every cabinet space and making sure that every single thing has a purpose.”
A BEGINNING, MIDDLE AND END
The entire design process is important to O’Rourke, and she loves seeing a project through from beginning to middle to end. Even though she has a staff of four, she has her hand in every project, acting as both designer and project manager. She feels that her cabinetmaking background gives her perspective not just from the design end, but from the construction end, and she starts on a job site at the framing stage in order to work closely with the builder to get the design right from the get-go.
“Any project that I’m involved with has a beginning, middle and end. So it’s very rewarding to see the beginning, work through the middle, but then see the end result,” says O’Rourke.
This theme extends to her client process as well. O’Rourke lets her clients know that it will take at least six meetings to ensure everything is in order before beginning construction.
“Design is a conversation, so it’s going to take us multiple meetings to get there and get [the client] to a place where [they’re] 100% with the design, 100% with the price and 100% with the schedule and all of the selections and things that go into it,” she states.
As part of her process, at the first meeting, she takes field measurements at the project site. During the second meeting back at her showroom, she uses 2020 design software that allows clients to see 3D renderings of what their actual kitchen will look like. Using a large screen to share the rendering, she will manipulate the design on the spot so they can see different options and ultimately make an informed decision.
“I think our ability to break the decision-making into digestible bites for people and get through the process in an exciting and positive way so they’re not overwhelmed is [what sets us apart]. That’s my job, to make it easy,” she notes.
A FEW OF HER FAVORITE THINGS
O’Rourke says her favorite project is always the last one she’s worked on, since every project offers a new challenge.
Her current favorite is a small Cape cottage that she’s still working on. The clients are big entertainers – they have about 40 people over every weekend, according to O’Rourke. In achieving the customers’ vision of a coastal, but not “cottage-y” look, a wall was taken down and an elevated kitchen island installed.
O’Rourke was most recently on the job site at 6:30 a.m. to oversee the countertops going in, making sure they were installed correctly.
“When I can see what I’ve worked so hard to execute – and I do walk through my jobs all the time – you walk in and you’re like, that’s exactly what I thought it was going to look like and it does and I’m so pleased,” says O’Rourke.
She continues: “I charge people a lot of money – cabinets and countertops are very, very, very expensive – so I take it really personally. I spend it like it’s my money and I’m very conscientious that everyone gets value for the dollar. When I walk in and I see a $40,000 kitchen look like a $70,000 kitchen, that makes me really happy.”
This also ties into O’Rourke’s other favorite part of her job: problem solving for the client. She really enjoys providing solutions for customers.
“Really changing how they live in their home is the end result. How they entertain and how they spend time with their family – it’s how they feed their family, it’s how they enjoy their space – that’s what I really like.”