K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Sep 29 2014

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The Tiles of Italy

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Cersaie, Italy’s ceramic tile and bathroom furnishings show, which took place in Bologna. After two planes, two trains, and a taxi ride, I found myself immersed in an immense show crowded with what seemed like hundreds of different cultures, languages, and most of all—tile.

Corrosioni from Oikos

Corrosioni from Oikos

The part of the show I loved the most was that each company seemed to have their own take on a trend. The hand-painted looks that each manufacturer recreates appeared in different ways, like Del Conca’s tiny traditional tiles or Oiko’s sustainable, textured tiles. Tangina’s new Diamond collection of tiles changes the plain square frame by skewing the inner square, and Cermica Sant’Agnostino’s Native Beige, which recalls a rustic look of Tuscan homes.

Native Beige from Ceramica Sant'Agnostino

Native Beige from Ceramica Sant’Agnostino

The show focused more on ceramic tile than anything else, but there were several interesting bathroom furnishings as well. A glimmering sink and shower, manufactured by Ambiance Bain, display a new type of glamour, while the sink from Florentine boasts a modern take on a historical design. Two tubs caught my eye—a luxurious black tub from Hydrocarbon with metallic gold accents, and a completely contrasting gray tub from Flamina with simple, modern lines.

Alba from Ambiance Bain

Alba from Ambiance Bain

Italy’s beautiful tiles of course come from a country of beautiful landscapes and good earth. On a free afternoon, I found myself face to face with one of these inspirations—the Basilica of San Luca. Simply put, the view explains quite a lot about where these designers and manufacturers find their inspiration.

The Basilica of San Luca

The Basilica of San Luca

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Sep 17 2014

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Sustainability in Kitchen and Bath Fixtures: The Next Frontier

Image by Dan, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by Dan, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just a few years ago, it seemed as if everyone was talking about reducing the water usage of plumbing fixtures and fittings as being the best way to conserve water. We still hear this from time to time, mostly when a particular region is devastated by drought, but mostly those concerns have dissipated.

Critics may assume this indicates that consumers no longer care about water efficiency, but those of us in the center of the water industry have seen a shift in – not a lack of – concern. Let me put it this way: When was the last time you saw someone shop specifically for a non-Energy Star home appliance? They don’t. Consumers don’t look for Energy Star-rated appliances; they expect that the appliance is Energy Star-rated. It is just that commonplace.

We’ve seen this shift with WaterSense-labeled and water-efficient products – homeowners want a great faucet or toilet and they simply expect it to be as efficient as possible without having to think about it. The 2014 EcoPulse Survey, conducted by The Shelton Group, shows that consumers expect that leading brands are designing great products, and efficiency is just one aspect of greatness. Choosing a water-efficient product used to be considered the “better choice” but with this shift in consumer mindset, “better” takes on a different meaning.

What has replaced efficiency in this discussion is a more holistic take on what it means to be an eco-friendly product. There is a groundswell of consumers demanding to understand more about the products they purchase and consume – they expect manufacturers to provide that information in an easy-to-understand way.

We see this first in products that are consumed (food and beverages), then in products that are applied (cosmetics, personal care products) and finally in products that people buy for their homes (furnishings, building products). Consumers want to understand where the product came from, how it will affect them while it’s being used and what to do with it when its useful life ends. Professionals helping consumers make the choices in their product selection need suppliers to provide information on those products, with some hard data behind it.

Take the food industry for example – the overwhelming demand for locally sourced food supply isn’t going to disappear overnight. In fact, it is growing exponentially, in part due to the rising interest in “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) programs. Restaurants and grocery stores that have embraced this trend see increased profits and customer loyalty.

And it doesn’t stop there – consumer electronics have become more transparent in the materials used and end-of-life plan for the products. This, too, will make its mark on the plumbing industry, and those who want to succeed need to be ahead of this wave. Consumers will undoubtedly become choosier about materials and products, conducting much more in-depth comparisons of products and manufacturers, and they will expect that trade professionals are just as educated as they are, if not more.

Fortunately, there’s a document that provides this information. An Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD, is a third-party-certified document that conveys the manufacturer’s understanding of the environmental impact of a product over its entire lifecycle, including raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, service life and ultimate disposal or recycling.

So rather than just talking about one feature of product, such as how much water or energy it uses, the EPD also includes information on what the product is made from, how much water and energy it took to obtain the raw materials, many other environmental impacts of those processes and what the impact is upon disposal. An EPD is like an environmental scorecard – the first one that attempts to count everything.

Further, EPDs for similar products can be compared with each other. Each type of product has its own special rules for how the environmental data is to be collected and presented. In theory, one can look at EPDs for toilets from several brands and get an idea of which ones are better overall from an environmental standpoint.

But a word of caution: Collecting all of the environmental data to produce EPDs is complicated and time-consuming. When actual process data isn’t available, manufacturers rely on published databases to fill in the gaps. Since EPDs are relatively new – at most 10 years, and much less than that for plumbing products – manufacturers are working to create and improve the data in them. It’s definitely a work in progress, and I fully expect the quality and presentation of information in EPDs to improve in the coming years.

Why is all of this important? For consumers and specifiers who strive to make better environmental choices, EPDs can help them decide. An example is building owners who are looking to earn LEED certification. While LEED has always included points for reducing water and energy use in a building, it’s evolved to be holistic about all environmental impacts.

In LEED v4, which was launched in November 2013, projects can now earn points for including products that have EPDs. The intent of this credit is to create a market incentive for more building product manufacturers to provide environmental information about their products. Transparency about what goes into a product will drive companies to eliminate the bad stuff and spur innovation in materials and process development, which will lead to products that are better for the environment while still delivering the experiences consumers expect.

So consumers today expect efficiency. And they expect manufacturers to be doing the right things for the environment. EPDs and the broader movement toward full transparency will harness the power of the market to reward product manufacturers who do both. Specifiers can aid this process by learning more about environmental issues and helping their clients make informed choices.

- By Rob Zimmerman, Senior Channel Manager of Sustainability at Kohler Co.

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Sep 12 2014

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The Package Deal – Not to Be Overlooked!

When contemplating all of the possibilities available to you for structuring the pricing for your design services, I recommend you consider an option very often overlooked, or simply dismissed entirely – the package deal.

If you’re among the designers I speak to who question this approach because you think it in some way devalues your services or hurts the overall industry, I urge you to explore this pricing strategy a bit further with me.

Now while you can’t build an entire design practice on this particular pricing model, it is another tool in your arsenal for expanding your business by accommodating a particular niche of clientele that you might not otherwise have a plan for doing so.

For example, you could run a “New Nest” package deal for the kid’s room of a young couple, or you could create a package deal for a half-day of retail shopping, consisting of a two-hour consultation and  two hours of shopping, after which you provide the client with all of the information necessary to make the purchases themselves.

These are both examples of ways you can use package deals to appeal to specific types of customers, from new families to the DIY crowd, based on what they need and what they can afford.

If you’re still concerned that offering package deals might turn off more affluent potential clients, just realize that even some of the wealthiest Americans still shop at Walmart. The fact is, regardless of their station in life, people rarely turn their nose up at a good deal.

For more, visit: www.dmcnyc.com.

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Sep 04 2014

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Is Houzz Helping or Hurting?

Image by cooldesign, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by cooldesign, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

K+BB recently asked our Designers Network LinkedIn group: What are some challenges you are dealing with as kitchen and bath professionals? Some of the responses were expected and others were a surprise. Read on and see if you feel the same way, and feel free to comment here or in our LinkedIn group.

Rex G. Hirst, CKD Au, Interior Designer at Let’s Talk Kitchens & Interiors

While I am in Australia, I think our challenge here is a universal one – to find reliable, ethical, creative, commercially savvy design/sales staff who put the client and their needs, wants, etc., ahead of their desire to simply make a pile of money. While we all work for a living, it seems to me that most people just focus on the “what’s in it for me?” While understandable, it’s never going to make you really successful, as your client’s will sense that they are just a paycheck for you, not an opportunity to do something special.

Too many people forget that making money is the result of success, so if you just focus on getting it perfect, the money will always take care of itself. It should be the result of your success, not the reason for working. Every great salesperson I have ever known has been driven by passion, not money. The funny thing is, these people also make the most money.

John Meade, Kitchen and Bath Manager at H. N. Hinckley & Sons, Inc.

My biggest challenge is keeping up the workload. With the economy doing better I have more customers, and they want kitchens that are more custom than ever, which requires more hours. This includes changing dimensions of cabinet boxes and face frames and even modifying door styles. Most of these clients are regular customers, so I have to keep up with their needs. We are not busy enough to hire another designer yet, so I am in that in-between stage with the pressure. It’s not a bad challenge and much better than the alternative – I’ll keep pushing to the next stage.

Houzz and TV Influence

Karen Hockley, CKD, CBD, Kitchen Designer

Having been a sales rep for a cabinet company for seven years and just re-entering the design world has been eye opening. One of the biggest challenges I am seeing seems to be the customer’s budget versus their wants and desires. In the last 10 years, I have seen a change in customers’ wants, which may be a reflection of consumers visiting Houzz and watching HGTV. Technology and innovation is moving so fast.

Ten years ago customers were focused on purchasing quality cabinetry and a great kitchen. What I am seeing now is everyone wants granite or quartz countertops and the latest appliances, and the quality of the cabinetry they purchase is not their primary focus. I wish there were more websites with real kitchens along with budgets for the job. This would go a long way toward helping consumers set realistic goals, expectations and budgets for their projects. It is always a rewarding experience making customers’ dreams come true, even on a limited budget. I believe this and passion for design fuels myself and many designers in the industry.

Cathy Osborne, Designer at Auer Kitchens

Houzz and “Property Brothers” can cause another problem – a sort of “wave the magic wand” syndrome. I have many customers who do have the square footage and the budgets to do those grand rooms you see; they know there will be enough storage and countertop space – with 600 square feet, how can you not? But they think you can skip the design phase and leap directly to a pretty picture of something that looks “just like this Houzz shot”…“except sort of like that one.”

To adapt the look to their space and have something to render and price, one must have a plan. How many islands? How many sinks? Coffered ceiling? Design consultations with certain clients can be frustrating because they get bored with the academics. You never see that step on TV where the fully designed 3-D kitchen springs forth from the space, and it is instantly perfect. Clients are seeking that “big reveal” moment and are disappointed that getting their dream kitchen requires time, hard work and not much drama.

Lai Fung, Project Development Consultant/Designer at Paris Kitchens

HOUZZ and TV renovations shows – kitchens are getting more and more custom and detailed. I’ve been in the kitchen industry for nearly 20 years, and homeowners’ expectations are higher than ever.

Debbi Washburn, Kitchen/Bath Designer

Early on Houzz you saw real, everyday homes and projects – ranches, split levels, capes, etc., great before and after photos of 70s kitchens with avocado green appliances and dark cabinets with vinyl floors, which were turned into beautiful little kitchens. Now when you do searches, most of what you see are these grand kitchens with 10-ft. ceilings. While it is great to see those for design ideas, it would be nice to have a search option for smaller kitchens – spaces that fit that tighter budget many people are working with.

I use Houzz quite frequently with my customers; it helps them express what they are drawn to. Most of the time they don’t even know that the doors are inset/custom or that the counter is some expensive marble or exotic granite, they just like the look and how it makes them feel. Then we look at it together and pull apart the photos to find out WHY they like it. By already knowing their budgets and the scope of the brands I carry, I can discuss with them cost issues and help them find alternatives. My customers often have gone to a big box store first, so not only do I have to get down to that pricing, I still need to show them their dream kitchen so they don’t have to settle.

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