K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Kelly Morisseau

Kelly Morisseau

Kelly Morisseau is a second-generation Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer (CMKBD) and a Certified Interior Designer (CID) in California. During her 25-year career, she has designed from Vancouver Island to Silicon Valley, served as a judge for both the U.S. and Canadian NKBA design competitions and won awards for her kitchen and bath designs. Her work has been featured in a variety of design magazines, including Bay Area Spaces and Better Homes and Gardens. When Morisseau is not working on her current day job at Main Street Kitchens, an award-winning design/build firm, she studies design, trends and generational behavior for her widely read blog, Kitchen Sync. Morisseau understands and empathizes with homeowners and the challenges they face as they remodel their homes. As the subtitle of her blog states, "Some people jog to get their heart rates up; I design kitchens."

Sep 26 2011

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The trouble with new

I’m working with clients right now with whom we had taken a lot of time to select the tile backsplash for the new kitchen. It’s a brand new tile board, and we can’t wait to see it. We’re halfway through the project now when we get a phone call: “The tile will not go into production for another six weeks. Do you want to pick another tile?”

Casual—just like we hadn’t spent four trips, several go-rounds, much anxiety and indecision on behalf of the client, a counter that was chosen simply because it went with the tile and now a delay on a kitchen that should have been done by Thanksgiving.

To add insult to injury, we ordered the tile over three weeks ago. Yes, you read that right—the manufacturer waited three entire weeks to tell us that they weren’t even planning to manufacture the tile yet.

I can accept timing delays; Things happen. What I can’t accept is the manufacturer taking three entire weeks without informing anyone that they weren’t even producing the tile when they released the boards.  And when a client blames me for “not doing due diligence” when there was no warning from the manufacturer in the first place, well…there are no words (that should be said out loud).

By the way, this is not the first manufacturer to do this, nor will I suspect it’s the last. One of our cabinet manufacturers came out with new brochures, but the door samples took a long while to show up. A quartz manufacturer had their new colors up online, but we couldn’t get the samples for over a month. There is a large disconnect in our field between the manufacturer’s sales departments releasing items too soon when production is not ready.

I’m not saying their names yet, because we will be calling the factory for answers.

My question is: Do we accept this as a norm? Or do we start ignoring our suppliers and checking in with the manufacturers?  Do we speak up and let the manufacturers know that we’re not going to take it any more? Or do we quietly refuse to specify their products?

Until next time, Kelly

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Sep 09 2011

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What is the age of your home?

A century ago, the emphasis for kitchen and bath design was all about sanitation and safety. Plumbing was paramount.

Today’s design is all about fashion with an emphasis on “different and creative” at every turn. While it’s hard not to get caught up in so many unique materials and products to gladden the hearts of most designers, we should also think about the aging utilities and services.

When I first started in kitchen and bath design, that wasn’t something we discussed, simply because appliances and plumbing fixtures of the day didn’t require much.

That’s all changed—tubs are getting larger, ranges grow more powerful and multi-sinks and faucets are becoming the norm.

I think we have to pay attention to our aging housing stock. The majority of homes in North America are reaching the 40-year-old mark. Many have outdated electrical panels or insufficient electrical supply. In homes older than that, some of us are still dealing with fuses or
old knob-and-tube wiring, or old cast-iron pipes and insufficient water pressure.

These systems were never meant for all the appliances and plumbing fixtures we have today.

Of course they can be updated, and some already are. But do you know the homes in your area well enough to make you hesitate over some of your specification choices?

For example, in California we’re dealing with failing 50-year-old gas lines. The latest home gas explosion in Cupertino was last week and follows the multihome explosion in San Bruno last year. The culprit is old pipes. My late father, who used to work for a gas pipeline, would have simply asked, “Where were the shut-off valves?” That there aren’t any isn’t a good sign. Do we know when the entire pipeline will be updated or replaced? Not really.

As a kitchen designer, does this make me hesitate about whether a gas range or oven is a good option for a client? Of course it does.
Unlike other rooms, we can’t always skim-coat a kitchen or bath with materials and call it new. As long as the “bigger, stronger, faster” products come into play, I don’t see this improving. Before we put a pen to paper (or a mouse to pad), this should be one of the first questions we ask a client: “What is the age of your house?”

I envy those of you working in newer towns and subdivisions.

Until next time, Kelly

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Aug 23 2011

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Stick to good design (but cover yourself when it’s not)

A potential client walks in the door with a bunch of magazines in her arms. As her budget is more modest, one of her requests is to have “the refrigerator look like it’s a built-in refrigerator” because she doesn’t want to actually pay for the built-in refrigerator. She wants you to tightly frame in the refrigerator with cabinets. You agree and the work commences.

Except for one problem: Standard refrigerators shouldn’t be built-in. They need air circulation. In the fine print, there’s always something that reads roughly along the lines of “there must be ‘X’ inches of clearance on sides and top.”

If you’re not experienced and you miss this detail, the refrigerator may have a new shortened life. Eventually it’ll come around to: “You’re the designer/contractor and should have known better. Fix it.” If you’re an experienced designer, you catch it, let the client know and re-design with the added clearance—if she lets you.

Trying to achieve design ideas that clients are bringing through our doors can be challenging. In some cases, the less the client’s budget and/or materials match the images, the harder some push to achieve the same look.

So, even though you might know that framing in the refrigerator violates the recommended specifications or the room is too small to fit an island or a myriad of other frustrating details, but the client insists on it, what do you do? How do you educate them while still staying true to design principles?

Here’s what most long-term designers do: Write a disclaimer. Write or stamp it on all designs and paperwork and have the pen ready for the client to sign off: “The designer has recommended against designing the refrigerator as shown. By signing this disclaimer, Client A understands and accepts that she is overriding the recommended specifications and is solely responsible for any future operational problems that may arise.” Or something similar.

Words can be brushed off, but a printed disclaimer will accomplish one of two actions—it’ll absolve you from future problems, or make the client reconsider. Of the two, I prefer the latter; there’s less chance of unhappiness for everyone down the road.

Until next time,

Kelly

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Aug 10 2011

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Fighting product saturation?

It’s not only homeowners feeling overwhelmed at all the choices—as a design professional, I’m feeling it, too. I’ve been joking lately that it’s not only the multiple colors, shapes and sizes; it’s also the increasing eyestrain from reading all the small print.

In a non-scientific observation, I’d say I’m spending 20% more of my time helping clients through the selection process, and another 15% reading and working through the installation quirks. None of that covers any research for products I haven’t used yet, and it all feels like an addition to the 100% capacity I’m already working at.

Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way that I hope will help you, especially if you’re new to the design field:

1. Know your clientele. I recently helped a client select a cubix-style large-scale tile for behind the range in her conservative, suburban home—a tile that an urban client in a neighborhood of contemporary homes would have loved. My mistake was listening to the wish when I knew better, and it ended up being a waste of both of our time. While you may secretly wish that you had the clientele to design the Italian sleek you always wanted, if your area isn’t there, here’s my suggestion: move…or wait until the next generation of younger homeowners replaces the old.

2. Avoid the technically challenging, unless your trades are up to the task. The plethora of high-end designs appearing online and in magazines has led the average clientele to think that every trade is capable of installing the product. No, no and no. If your plumber or contractor (or yourself) knows nothing about the quirks of a tankless toilet, someone is going to make a mistake during that first time AND you’ll be working overtime. I recently mentioned a tale in my blog of a European lavatory console where the plumber assembled it as best he could and dropped a handful of nuts and bolts in my hand. “I couldn’t figure out where these go,” he confessed. It’s up to you to figure out what everyone is capable of…or, if you’re going to push the envelope, to know the installation inside-and-out to be able to explain it logically.

3. Study new design, but don’t show your client everything. This is really a culmination of the first two. Study at least one new product a week. Spend time in forums to learn about other trades and their challenges—but don’t show off the knowledge to your client if it isn’t pertinent. While an acrylic tub is interesting, I doubt my Baby Boomer clients in their 1980 tract homes will be interested.

What are you doing to stay above this rising flood of design and product?

Until next time,

Kelly

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