TUCSON, AZ –
How does a firm with little to no formal training in kitchen and bath design – and during a historic economic downturn – manage to not only survive, but become a finalist fixture in national design competitions?
Lori Carroll, professional ASID/IIDA, NKBA member and principal of Lori Carroll & Associates based here, has the answer.
“My kitchen and bath expertise comes from years of experience and a passion for this category of interior design,” she says.
Indeed, with a creative marketing approach and design portfolio Carroll’s firm has become a regular finalist in the annual NKBA Design Competition, having earned the Best Overall Bath/Powder Room award in 2009, first place in the Powder Rooms category in 2008 and the Best Overall Design in 2006 with a stunning open plan kitchen.
With a focus on high-end residential projects, and catering to a primary clientele of successful couples who are looking to retire or build a tranquil retreat away from their busy professional lives, Carroll knows she has carved out a unique niche for herself.
“Most of the projects I work on are custom homes ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet. I like to create a strong alliance between designer, architect, contractor and the homeowner. That’s been the key to my success.”
She concludes: “While kitchens and bathrooms were not necessarily my intended specialty, my goal has always been to build a reputation around innovative design, unique product selection and superior, consistent customer service. Those fundamental objectives still hold true today.”
One of the keys to Carroll’s success, interestingly enough, came from one of the most challenging times in the industry.
She explains: “Even during the economic downturn I continued to market and advertise. We had to get creative and search for ways to be seen while working with a much smaller advertising budget.”
Specifically, her staff assumed much of the marketing in-house, providing professional-level photography of projects, as well as creating ad copy, graphic design and creative writing.
“Through nurturing business relationships with several different trade magazines we were able to offer our own materials and are now being featured in local, national and international publications at little or no cost,” she says.
She continues: “Design competitions have always been a great marketing tool for me. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with so many fantastic projects, photographing and submitting them for design awards – and winning has been an added bonus!”
She quickly adds that being a loyal customer to vendors has created some unique marketing options too as many vendors will feature designers in the ‘ideas’ section of their Web site.
“Downloading photographs and coming up with colorful descriptions became a great way to showcase my designs at absolutely no cost,” she says.
“Making sure my name stayed out there became extremely important. I insisted on maintaining an advertising and marketing budget even during the worst part of the recession. It was also a way to support my local economy which, in turn opened doors for me elsewhere,” she adds, noting that the firm has been featured in periodicals from Mexico, the Netherlands and Egypt as a result.
The firm also recently hosted an event in the Tucson area that was sponsored by Phoenix Home and Garden and featured several of her vendors sharing their expertise during an exclusive after-hours event, she notes.
She concludes: “Almost all of my business comes from referrals; either from architects, contractors or past clients. Working closely and being loyal to the same gifted architects and builders over the years has definitely given me an advantage.
For Carroll, creating unique kitchen and bath designs begins with an equally unique and personalized design process.
“After an initial consultation with a potential client, I schedule a tour of local showrooms where everyone can get a hands-on preview of what is available in the market,” she explains.
She continues: “Through this process I can spend quality one-on-one time with the clients and learn more about their personalities and lifestyle, and then come up with a design proposal created especially for them. Whether talking materials or design fees, I give 110% to create exclusive, one-of-a-kind kitchens and bathrooms. I believe that is what sets my interior design firm apart.”
This despite the fact that the firm does not presently employ a CKD or CBD on staff, she notes.
Also crucial to the process, Carroll notes, is conducting regular meetings with the architect, builder and homeowner to insure that nothing is left to chance.
“One area of expertise for us is assisting busy clients, many who are part-time residents, and who don’t have the time or patience to oversee their own projects,” she says. “These clients want an established designer they can trust, who has a proven relationship with other industry professionals and can work independently while they are away.”
She adds: “It can be challenging because Tucson is a small community where many of my client’s live in close proximity to one other. Therefore, I need to come up with distinctive ideas, assuring each and every project I am involved in is unique. Occasionally I will specify a product or material more than once as long as I can come up with a design concept that is totally different from the neighbors.”
Recounting some of her recent projects, she offers: “Luminous natural agate, beautifully backlit, is one of those things I just had to use again. In the powder room, the floating vanity – handcrafted from agate slab – became a stunning focal point. In a larger bathroom I designed, a deeper colored agate became the perfect edge detail for rich, leather wrapped cabinetry.”
She concludes: “The main thing to remember is that kitchens and bathrooms are such personal spaces, so highlighting the home’s architecture, providing quality products and workmanship as well as taking into account the client’s individual character are the most important factors when designing.”
The firm also selects high-end product brands while remaining aware of client sensibilities.
“In high-end custom home design, I sometimes have to look outside my comfort zone to find items that will be perfect for a particular space,” she explains, citing that she often uses custom cabinetry which is designed and handcrafted locally.
She offers: “With fixtures, the brands I will choose are Kohler, Grohe, Sonoma Forge and Elkay as well as Toto, Ginger and Franke. Since we are in the desert southwest, I use a lot of natural stone material for countertops, flooring, walls and accents.”
She continues: “What is nice is that I have several different suppliers so I can choose just the right product for each client. With appliances, I gravitate toward Viking but also spec Wolf, Thermador and Bosch quite often. I also enjoy lighting and companies I select in that category are Terzani, Eureka, Visa and Bega.”
“Basically, in my kitchen and bath portfolio you will see everything from wooden wall tiles, leather wrapped cabinets and riveted sheet metal in bathrooms to hand-made glass tiles, polished concrete and zebra wood veneer in kitchens,” she says.
She also notes that her studio features customized architectural details, specially made furnishings, commissioned artwork and many other made-to-order details that personalize any kitchen or bath.