KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Archive for December, 2010

Dec 25 2010

Posted by

What we can learn from a toy kitchen

With the holidays here, I was tasked with assembling the gifts for my 2-1/2 year old daughter. This is an occupational hazard of every architect and contractor I know. Let’s see: five years of undergrad, three years of internship and two in graduate school, and architects stand out as the best in the family at putting large toys together. (I also get asked by friends to assemble Ikea furniture in exchange for pizza.)

My mother-in-law, in her infinite wisdom, gave my daughter a mini kitchen. Perhaps you have seen these in the stores: half-scale kitchenettes complete with integrated drainage board, undermount sink and cabinet lighting. The box features a young girl happily playing in her kitchen, demonstrating that toy companies may still get their marketing from the sexist Seventies. Despite the anachronism, they know their toys. My daughter, still yet unaware of the feminist movement, screamed in delight at seeing her new kitchen. The gift was, by far, the biggest hit of the holiday. She wanted to sleep in it last night.

Assembly of the kitchen was assigned to me, of course. Opening the large box revealed the same components you’d expect in unpacking a real kitchen: two large slabs of countertop, base cabinet and upper cabinets. The plastic oven, microwave and refrigerator snapped easily into their assigned spaces. Subtle design “features,” such as accent tiles, crown molding and drawer pulls were added with stickers or snap in handles. All of it was rendered in lightweight plastic, so structural ribs were integrated into the monolithic shapes to add rigidity. As I stepped back and inspected the assembled unit, I found myself admiring the thought that went into the design of the assembly.

From the graphical layout of the numbered instructions, to the predrilled holes provided for the screws, the entire act of putting this thing together was deliberately designed to be easy to understand, affordable to produce and to minimize the chance of poor craftsmanship. Nothing was left to chance and it was all by design.

If only our real kitchens could be so simple.


The irony is that the price to have this simplicity at the end requires a vast amount of design complexity at the upfront. Consider the following lessons from my daughter’s toy kitchen:

Design for assembly: Since we know our kitchens have to be put together and we may not be present when that happens, we should design and document the sequence of events. A great exercise may be for you to imagine you have to create an instruction manual for your client to assemble the kitchen.

Design for shipping: The various components of the kitchen must be delivered from some place, so we could reduce cost and unpacking labor by better understanding the constraints and size limitations in the shipping. After all, have you ever worked on a project where the cabinets were unable to fit through the front door? (I know it happened to me once…)

Eliminate any decisions that need to be made by a contractor: Most of the stress and worry during a project comes from when the realities of construction meet the abstract nature of the design drawings. Architects and designers should anticipate the decision points a contractor would have to make and eliminate them. Better drawings, better design could do this and reduce headaches at the end of the project.

Prefabrication: Entire chunks of the kitchen could be prefabricated in the controlled conditions of a factory rather than the unpredictable ones on a job site. Prefabrication speeds up construction, improves quality and lowers cost. These benefits would overcome the additional cost of shipping. Pre-approved assemblies could also avoid the need for on-site inspections.

Computer milling and cutting: Product and toy designers have been taking advantage of computer milling and rapid prototyping machines for years. The building industry could fabricate entire portions of their kitchens with such devices. Imagine how a 3D printer could produce a cabinet, counter, backsplash and sink all in one, solid piece. Such forms could allow you to tighten and improve design tolerances down to near zero.

Embrace appliances as components: Although appliances come in standard sizes (i.e.: dishwashers are typically 24 in.), their installation is overly complicated and prone to contractor error. Appliance manufacturers could take a cue from computers or car stereos and create a standard for installation. A standardized sleeve could be part of every kitchen into which your oven or dishwasher would snap into place. Connections to water, gas and electric would also snap into place. Installing a cooktop could take 2 minutes.

Mass production: Toy manufactures benefit from the economy of scale of the mass production of their products. It would not be cost-effective to produce customized molds for a kitchen you would only create once. Instead, we should mass produce our designs. Envision the design as a product to be marketed to everyone and design it. The idea of creating every kitchen as a one-off, customized creation is expensive, time-consuming and, frankly, narcissistic. Design entire sections of the kitchen to be recreated for other clients.

Mass customization: All of these tools can combine to allow for an infinite number of possibilities. Digital CNC milling machines could give each project a customized cabinet door or insignia. They can change the colors, but not the arrangement.

In a real kitchen environment, such ideas could transform the construction industry and return architects and designers back to their rightful role as the masters of design.

While this added upfront work would have numerous benefits to the quality, cost and sustainability of the finished design, only a handful of experimenting designers have even tried it. Sadly, most architects and designers have avoided, ignored or passed off such responsibilities. Reduced fees, bargain hunting clients and the litigious nature of the construction industry have all pushed this trend of reduced design responsibility for decades.

But the unforeseen result of this trend has been to make us into glorified specifiers. The real opportunities to improve the quality, craftsmanship, usability and sustainability of our designs is missing. The mechanized world of digital technology could, ironically, spur a return to warm craftsmanship. As designers, we could prove our value by designing projects that are more beautiful, less expensive and of higher quality. All just by learning some lessons from our toys.



—Eric Corey Freed (http://www.organicarchitect.com ) is an architect and author of four books, including “Green$ense for the Home.”

Dec 22 2010

Posted by

Are you ready for a sink revolution?

As Ellen Cheever noted in a recent talk, “the sink isn’t simply a hole in the counter anymore.” She’s right. If you hadn’t noticed yet, we’re seeing a quiet revolution in kitchen sinks —one that’s coming directly from Europe where counter space is at a premium and sinks are set up as a way to recapture some of that space and turn it into a multi-prep area.
Sure, we’ve seen a gradual introduction of grids to protect the bottom of sinks, and some add-on butcher block tops. Even the integrated drains have been around for some time, although they’ve never had mass popularity. However, there are other factors at work which are (and will be) influencing this trend:

1) The kitchen is emerging as the main room for family gatherings and entertaining, with a stronger focus on a living kitchen instead of a commercial set-up.

2) Folks are driven back to home-cooking as a result of the economy.

3) Television networks, which are devoted to all things cooking and home design, are inspiring both foodies and nesters, who are always in search of the latest inspirations.
I also believe there’s another factor at work: the large pro appliances of the last decade have so severely reduced counter space (and storage) so much that we’re all searching for ways to gain space back.

With that in mind, take a look at Kohler’s Stages sinks, both the 33 in. and the 45 in., which came out a couple of years ago.

Kohler Stages1Kohler’s Stages 33 in. sink from the Chef-Inspired Collection.

Kohler Stages2Kohler’s Stages 45 in. sink—the blending of a trough sink for single or multiple cooks.

There are sliding trays where one can safely wash the knives and other sharp objects, condiment dishes, and integrated drain trays to keep water off the counter. The 45” trough sink is an opportunity for couples to work side-by-side in food preparation, yet still allow one side to be recaptured as alternate use, if necessary. Or it might be a possible solution in a kitchen where a client really desires a second prep sink, but the design doesn’t allow for it.

Sure, the multistep depths could be an obstacle for some (careful where you set that glass), and I’m not saying we have to incorporate yet another large-scale element in a kitchen. I’m simply asking you to look at the reason behind this—not only as counter space recapture, but also to realize that for the upcoming generations, the reason for a “standard” sink have changed. The old reason for a double-bowl sinks to wash the baby isn’t even on the radar. They’re looking for ways to work as long as possible at the island sink while they chat with their friends and family.

Let me share with you where I think we’re going in the next decade. Blanco Germany has the BlancoAlaros, which unfortunately isn’t available in the U.S., but is really the perfect element for smaller city-style lofts, walk-ups, condos and the smaller home. It has a “cool” ratio which appeals to the Gen-Y market, with plenty of attractive add-ons—especially with that retractable push-down faucet to capture the entire sliding counter space. I’m mentally placing bets as to when a version of this debuts in the U.S.

Blanco AlarosBlanco Germany’s Alaros sink—double duty as counter, sink and drying rack.

The challenge to both us and the manufacturers will be how to integrate that drop-in European sink to the American desire for under-mount. Personally, I think we’re going to see the next generation of kitchen owners returning to the drop-in sink—they don’t like to be locked into anything—although they might hesitate if the designs end up looking like this.

Until next time,


Dec 17 2010

Posted by

The Workshop Kitchen

In a recent study commissioned by luxury kitchen appliances brand Scholtès results show men have replaced the garden shed with the kitchen as a place to experiment and tinker.

The concept of the “workshop kitchen”—a slightly cluttered but functional and authentic working environment—is taking over from the status-symbol aesthetic of the minimalist look. The focus is no longer on monolithic forms and vast expanses of plain surfacing materials but is instead on the food itself, and its preparation.

Style elements for the Workshop Kitchen include kitchen utensils and tableware kept out in open sight on shelving or open cabinets. Kitchen Implements and tools appear to have been gathered over time instead of bought just for the new kitchen. Rudimentary kitchen implements are mixed with the latest technology in food composting.

Kitchen Workshop

The Bulthap B2 Kitchen is a great example of the Workshop Kitchen concept with their layout made up of three “workshop” elements.

There is a “workbench” housing the sink and cooktop, a “tool cabinet” for utensils, crockery and food, and an appliance cabinet for the oven, dishwasher and fridge.

I expect the Workshop Kitchen to overlap with the Ethical Kitchen as people increasingly grow concerned about the provenance of their food. Potted herbs and small vegetables will be added to open shelves or built into a wall as a “vertical garden” which was made trendy by French botanist Patrick Blanc.

Kitchen Workshop2
Kitchen Workshop3

Tinkering Chefs may also experiment with food storage. This year in Milan, Design Academy Eindhoven student Jihyun Ryou presented his thesis kitchen, which stored vegetables in containers or damp sand without refrigeration. Besides being an energy-free storage method, he claims this technique also allows vegetables to retain their flavor better and for longer than under the often brutal conditions of the refrigerator.

Kitchen Workshop4
Kitchen Workshop5

The Workshop Kitchen, in my opinion, is the next evolution of Mise en place that was popular 5 years ago.  The difference is that the Workshop Kitchen is not as tidy and is meant for an experimental (male) chef wanting to be sustainable while using the newest gadgets.

Ann Porter

Dec 16 2010

Posted by

10 Goal-setting mistakes most people make

It’s that time again, when most of us are thinking about setting goals for 2011…and most of us won’t accomplish them. Why is that?

We get excited and create amazing resolutions or goals, and within days, we stop working on what we know we want to do, but do we really truly want to achieve those goals?

If you don’t have a Goal Journal, go purchase one a blank journal at the office supply or bookstore. That’s your first step to goal achievement in 2011.

Why don’t we accomplish our goals? Let’s look at some of the top reasons:

1. We set too many goals. It’s like going to a buffet. If you mounds of food and put it all on your plate, you’ll eat too much, and yet, not get the nutrients you need. Or you’ll eat a small portion and waste the rest. Why do we do this? We want to make some significant changes, but we don’t have a realistic expectation about how long things will take. So…when you set those goals for yourself, be sure to include a time estimate for each of the goals to be conpleted. Realistically, you can only do one thing at a time. Focus is the key to success.

• Set 1 – 3 goals per month at the most
• Estimate time to be completed
• Set an end date for completion

2. We fight our own subconscious belief systems. We may not believe we’re worthy of the success that reaching that goal will mean. If your internal beliefs aren’t in synch with the goals that you’ve set, you’ll self-sabotage and then feel even worse that you didn’t accomplish your goals. When you set goals, identify the beliefs you must have to achieve those goals.

• Evaluate whether your real true core belief about yourself is aligned with the beliefs you must have to accomplish those goals.
• Identify what steps you must take to change your beliefs that you are worthy of those goals and release those negative beliefs.
• Define what it would mean emotionally to you to accomplish those goals. Would you feel confident and proud?

3. We don’t write down the steps and resources we need to achieve those goals. Just writing down a goal without the steps almost ensures that we are writing down a dream and not a goal.

• Write one goal per page in your new Goal Journal
• Write the step required right before you achieve that goal
• Keep working backwards until you have the first step identified
• Immediately put those steps on your calendar based on your time estimates and end date
• Focus on achieving the steps and not the end result
• Celebrate your accomplishments frequently

4. We’re not accountable to others or to ourselves. It’s easy to let ourselves not follow through. We’re too busy, too tired, too frustrated.

• Identify your excuses and exorcise them. You either have excuses or results. Which one do you choose?
• Get into a mastermind group and make that a requirement, that every week, you set accountability and you at least get a friendly kick if you don’t get the task done.
• Remember that if you don’t take the accountability to yourself seriously, you’ll get less accomplished.
• Don’t make a goal or promise to yourself unless you’re willing to keep it.

5. We set goals that don’t mean anything to us personally. If you’re doing something to please others, you’re likely to disappoint yourself.

• Only set goals that you are committed to do because they fit with your personal values. If they don’t fit your personal values, then don’t commit to them.
• Setting a goal to lose weight because we want to be more attractive to our mate or prospective partner won’t keep us on task. Do it for yourself because you want to feel healthy, sexy and attractive.

6. We don’t cut expenses quickly enough. If your goals are financial, and you’re not on track to achieve your financial target, it’s important to make changes. Avoiding the problems won’t make them go away. None of us expected the economy to crash so completely, and if you’re still doing the same things you were a few years ago, you could save some money on non-essentials. If you can overcome your own resistance to change, fears and concerns, you’ll be even stronger as a person and as a business owner. Now it’s important to find your resourcefulness and determination to succeed in spite of it.

• Cut non-essential expenses
• Use outsourcing instead of adding employees and the associate overhead
• Bundle your phone and Internet services
• Cut out subscriptions. Go to the library or bookstore to browse.
• Invest in leverage for exponential success – software, education and marketing Don’t cut your marketing or education budgets
• Keep your expenses low even when business returns to a more normal level.

7. We don’t have time and resource contingencies built in. Life happens and when we don’t account for the fact that we get colds or the flu, or others need our help with something, or we need an extra cushion in case of emergencies, then we get frustrated and give up on a goal because we didn’t allow for that time.

• Allow twice as long to accomplish your goal and twice as much money
• Determine your Plan B or Plan C just in case. If you don’t get 6 new clients, what will you do? How will you achieve your revenue goals?
• Set up reserves in your business to help you cover shortfalls
• Think about additional resources you can draw on to meet your adjusted goals when you’re not on track to achieve them on time and within the budget you set

8. We don’t remind ourselves about our goals often enough. How much is enough?

• Create a collage with pictures of how you’ll feel when you achieve your goal and what it looks like.
• If you’re shooting for a dollar goal for your business, create a picture or add color to the graphics of the dollar figure, and add that to your collage. Include pictures of your family so you connect the earning of the money with what it will do for your family and for yourself.
• Include pictures of the rewards. Will you give yourself a day at the spa, or a massage. We think in pictures, so use pictures to motivate yourself and connect with the emotions you’ll feel when you achieve what you desire.
• Look at these pictures and reminders every day, and be sure to include them on your computer screen or in your Goal Journal (that you’re going out to buy today) so you can see what it is you want to achieve and can measure your progress.
• You can also scan in a collage of goal achievement pictures and use it as a screen-saver on your computer.

9. Don’t look at goals as a heavy burden. Add rewards for accomplishment.

• Take a break, have coffee with a friend, go to the museum for a few hours, take a walk, put extra earnings in a separate fund to purchase a small reward like a great picture frame or massage.
• Write down what you’re grateful for in your Goal Journal and do it frequently. That in itself is a great reward for small accomplishments.
• A long journey begins with a single step.
• Take the first step.

10. We feel like a failure if we have setbacks along the way and it can tempt us to give up.

• When setbacks arise, take a detour. Each setback is feedback, and it means we need to take in what we experienced and think about what we learned from it. It’s not a reflection of our character.
• Be your own best teacher. We all learn more from our mistakes more than our successes. Discover the root cause of your setbacks, and how you can avoid the same challenge in the future so you don’t repeat the mistakes.
• Use your Goal Journal to record your setbacks so you can figure out how you can overcome them.
• Record your progress.

You are worthy of great accomplishments and recognition for who you are. Remember that it is more important to do things because they make you feel good than it is to get recognition by others. It’s good for your soul to feel that you’re worthy and wonderful the way you are.

—Gail is a business shortcut for designers who want to create a more profitable and passion-filled business. She is Chief Vision Officer of  Design Success University.
—Join the Design Success University group.