KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Sep 20 2018

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An Inside Look


This past week I traveled to the small town of Hershey, Penn., which is not only the home of the great American chocolate company, but it also is the close neighbor of another American company’s factory and headquarters. Wood-Mode Fine Custom Cabinetry, based in nearby Kreamer, Penn., also started with humble beginnings: just four woodworkers and a dream. Now with about 1,200 employees in its factory, Wood-Mode boasts the ability to turn out high-quality cabinetry in 8-10 weeks and offer the same customization and handcrafted abilities as a small neighborhood shop.

While touring the more than one-million square feet of factory space, our small group of journalists saw how the process starts, from drying the lumber itself, inspecting the planks and determining where each individual place will serve its purpose best. We spoke with several employees and learned how the factory, large as it is, is still considered a family business – many employees are second- or third-generation workers. Many of their skillsets take more than six months of training, including hand-glazing, inspection and the actual building and technicalities of the cabinetry.

I love hearing the histories of the manufacturers we work with; this one in particular felt like a uniquely American story. In 1942, steel and other resources were being diverted to the efforts fighting in World War II, so four salesmen from Whitehead Monel Kitchen Company, which sold metal cabinetry, decided to start their own business. While they started as Wood-Metal Industries and wanted to make residential cabinetry, they instead began operations serving the U.S. military and made cooks’ tables, pigeon coops, shall cases, ladders and Signal Corps radio cases.

Radio cases for use in the South Pacific had to be sealed against fungus and waterproofed with as many as 11 coats of varnish to withstand extreme climatic conditions. This was the beginning of the company’s reputation for its durable, fine furniture-like wood finishes.

After the housing market boom after the war, the company changed its name to the more family-friendly Wood-Mode Cabinetry to reflect its loyalty to its customers. The company then rededicated itself to making cabinetry and perfected the process of both mass-producing cabinetry and giving it the same hand-crafted treatment as a small local shop.

“We have a saying around here that each piece is touched 1,000 times before it’s given to the customer,” said Brooks Gronlund, president and chief operating officer of Wood-Mode, emphasizing that this family business entering its 75th year still holds on and continues to improve upon its custom touch.

Sep 14 2018

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Thinking Out of the Box


Chicago’s River North Design District is known as a local interior design community available to both designers and consumers. Each year, the district partners with the River North Arts District galleries to pair artists with designers in an annual gallery walk.

Local designer Scott Dresner participated in this popular event last week by designing and building a kitchen in the middle of the district in one single day, while partnering with Chicago calligraffiti artist Tubs. KBB spoke with Dresner to find out more about this ambitious project.

KBB: What were your goals with this event?

Dresner: I wanted to be different and do something no one else has done. We want to get people aware of us (Dresner Design) and Stosa Cucine, one of the main cabinetry lines we offer. Beautiful design is for all – not just for the elite. By creating a kitchen in the middle of downtown Chicago on the sidewalk, anyone and everyone is able to experience an Italian kitchen without the intimidation of a showroom.

KBB: Describe your design for this kitchen.

Dresner: The island is designed with our newest line of wood – it’s light gray oak that looks like individual planks with smoked-glass doors. Laminate is making a comeback, and we are making it cool; we used a textured laminate top with an aluminum edge. The pantry is made out of recycled plastic bottles and houses a double oven and a 24-in. European refrigerator. Our artist painted the pantry.

KBB: Talk about your collaboration with TUBS. 

Dresner: I am a huge art lover and have collected pop art most of my life. Being part of the River North Design District’s Gallery Walk is exciting. We discovered TUBS through one of our clients and think what he is doing bridges the gap between fine art and graffiti with his signature calligraffiti. It’s such a unique style. He definitely pushes my comfort zone, so now I know how my clients feel! It’s good to step outside the box and push yourself to think differently. That is when true innovation happens.

Sep 10 2018

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Technology and Design

CEDIA Expo, the show all about the connected home experience, took place last week at the San Diego Convention Center. Between booth appointments and networking, KBB sat in on a seminar presented by Women in Consumer Technology that covered “The Impact of Technology on Lifestyle Design.”

The panel discussion was hosted by Toni Sabatino, Manhattan’s National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) chapter president and a KBB editorial advisory board member. Panelists include Melissa Andresko, communications director, public relations, Lutron Electronics; Dawn DeLuca, founder and principal of New York City-based Dawn DeLuca On Design; and Heather Sidorowicz, owner and technologist of Southtown Audio Video.

The session explored everything from the evolution of lighting integration, network-enabled thermostats and home security systems to how technology is merging with the world of kitchen and bath. With the prevalence of whole-home solutions and the benefits of having smart appliances, the presence of technology in the kitchen and bath industry is only going to grow further.

According to DeLuca, consumers today want the same ease of use they see in their neighbor’s home and on TV in their own home but often fail to put in the investment of time necessary for that functionality. The client also needs to be educated and trained on how a system works and how to customize it further if necessary.

The key to successfully integrating a project with smart home capabilities and giving the client the tools and knowledge they need is hiring a smart home professional. Today, many smart home integration systems like Control4 or Seura offer this professional help with the purchase of their product, or designers can work hand-in-hand with a professional smart home installer.

“Home designers need to be educated about the value a technology professional can add as part of their team and create key partnerships to produce the best results for clients,” said Sabatino. “The client will benefit most from a team working together to create the ultimate living environment.”

To add a technology professional to the traditional design team, Sabatino recommends a new project process with these steps:

  1. Client hires an interior designer.
  2. The designer listens to the client’s needs and wants.
  3. The designer brings in a technologist partner to plan the networked solutions for entertainment, security, appliances and all devices in the home before they are installed.
  4. Designer and technologist work together on technology placement aesthetics and managing client expectations.

With the teamwork of these two types of professionals, the panel predicted that future projects will help solve everyday problems for every age group. This could range from time-saving cooking solutions for busy professionals, peace of mind in security for young parents and safety and comfort for seniors.

“We must start thinking differently as an industry,” said Sidorowicz. “Designing, building and equipping every home for technology is essential for our clients and the economy.”

Aug 30 2018

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Returning from Hurricane Harvey

Last week marked a year since a Category 4 hurricane made landfall near Houston on the southeastern coast of Texas. Hurricane Harvey lingered for four days over the city, dumping more than 27 trillion gallons of water across the state and surrounding areas, causing more than $125 billion in damage and affecting more than 13 million people.

Robin and Mike Jones, who lived just outside of Beaumont, Texas, were part of these displaced people. Three feet of water flooded the first floor of the home they had built 13 years earlier, and since they lived outside of the 500-year flood plain, they did not have flood insurance. Instead, they budgeted and rebuilt from what remained – with a few new upgrades.


Starting Over
Because of the flooding, the kitchen had to be completely gutted down to the studs, including the cabinets, floors and sheetrock.

“We literally started with a blank canvas, or to be quite literal, an empty frame without even canvas,” said Mike. “Our first priority was just to make our house livable as quickly as we could. But after 13 years, there were things that we wanted to update or just didn’t like, and now was the time to fix those.”

Updating the kitchen and introducing an open concept was the overarching vision.  The kitchen needed to become something that was timeless and would be enjoyed with friends and family for years to come.

Challenges
Since there were so many people in Southeast Texas who had flood damage, contractors were scarce, and those who were available were asking a premium for their work.

“Sad to say, there were quite a few wanna-be contractors and just plain scam artists,” said Mike. “Not having gone through anything like this before, we were always sorting through the well-intentioned advice to figure out what was the right thing to do.”

With an elegant farmhouse appeal in mind, the couple started their redesign by choosing Shaker cabinets and soapstone countertops. However, when they went to install a newly purchased farmhouse sink, the product would not fit with the new cabinetry.

““We are kind of in a remote area, so we do not have many luxury items in the stores near us,” said Robin. “So the fact that our cabinet maker was eight hours away in San Angelo didn’t help in this situation.”

Instead, they asked their countertop manufacturer, Stone Store, an Artisan Group member, to craft the sink out of the same soapstone as their countertops.

“This countertop turned out so beautiful, even the contractors wanted to stop and look at it,” said Robin. “The island and kitchen are all perfect, but the soapstone sink, which wasn’t my first choice, might just be my favorite part of the kitchen.”


Staying with a Theme
The combination of white cabinetry and black countertops set the precedent for a classic black-and-white theme in the kitchen. To enhance this appeal, the couple chose wavy subway tile with black grout for the backsplash. A mosaic of diamond-shaped tile in the same white tone breaks up the linear pattern over the range.

“The tile captures the light in interesting ways and has more depth and bling than plain subway tile lacks,” said Mike. “It is the jewel in the setting of the kitchen.”