Design Firm Turns to Manufacturing Own Line

                                                                                                                                    Northport, NY

Some might say that Susan Serra’s design firm is born again.

The reason is that Serra, CKD, CAPS, award-winning designer and owner of Susan Serra Associates, based here, has recently – after 20 years in the kitchen and bath industry – taken the unique step of starting her own cabinetry line, Bornholm Kitchen.

According to Serra, the move comes as a response to the recession, as well as a way to meet the demands of her very discriminating clients.

“Having just launched my new collection, Bornholm Kitchen, we are designing kitchens, bath, and other furniture only with this brand. Being both a manufacturer and a design firm adds another dimension to the creative process, which differentiates our firm from others,” says Serra, who as president of Bornholm Kitchen, runs the company with her daughter Kelly Serra Donovan, who serves as director of sales.

“My clients are eco-conscious and style-conscious. They have interest in a modern kitchen and whole-house design or may own a second home. They want a different aesthetic, one that is original, therefore, not a trend, but is simply good design, which will always stand the test of time,” she says.

To that end, she notes that her firm serves as designer and supplier for builders’ spec homes, multi-volume middle and high-end condominiums, and Manhattan apartments while catering to a geographic area of Long island – from the Hamptons to New York City – to Westchester, New Jersey, Connecticut and beyond as required.

“Thinking as a manufacturer enables us to think from the ground up in regard to issues of function and aesthetics as well as focusing on more modern issues within the design of cabinetry such as universal design,” she concludes.

Adjusting her sales
For Serra, a student of international design trends, it was her penchant for risk-taking during the recession that led her to establish her own cabinetry line.

“I chose to bring the Bornholm Kitchen product to market to capture clients who desired a niche product, yet within a wider geographical area which I felt would be an interesting challenge, partially as a response to the recession,” she says, adding that it reflects the best properties of Scandanavian cabinetry.

She adds: “Bornholm [represents] a philosophy surrounding living with furniture in the kitchen that combines utility with pure beauty. It took several years to bring it to market. It is manufactured in Pennsylvania and features full custom kitchens, islands, vanities and soon, furniture.”

She notes that the creation of the Bornholm line also reflects her desire to provide a sustainable option for her clients as the cabinetry is made with sustainable wood products which have no urea formaldehyde added and which contain soy-based resins.

She adds: “Our high quality oil finish, typically used in fine furniture, is extremely durable and is 100% VOC-free. The finish is made from natural plant oils, natural waxes and organic pigments. There is no added formaldehyde, ammonia, solvents or other toxic chemicals.”

In the spirit of Serra’s exploration of current industry trends, and also a concept she calls “the social kitchen,” she says the firm is interested in moving into furniture design in the near future.

“We are developing a kitchen furniture solution for smaller kitchens, and we plan to continually develop the line and introduce new pieces and concepts. We will soon be moving toward online sales for individual pieces as another dimension of our business plan.”

Lastly, she also specks a variety of other high-end product categories, such as Vermont slate for countertops as well as engineered and natural stones.

“I am enjoying learning about the wide variety of technological features in many appliance brands. I like Blanco sinks and faucets as well as Kohler, among others,” she concludes.

Precise process
Serra offers a very precise design process to best respond to her clients’ needs.

“Asking the right questions to help clients visualize pros and cons is the easiest way to get them focused. They already know the answers, but walking through scenarios using visualization techniques is something that many professionals still do not do adequately, if at all,” she says.

She continues: “In addition, my focus on producing five or often more preliminary floorplans – which essentially illustrate shapes, forms, and workflow – allow my clients to fully explore all options for their kitchen design before proceeding further in the design process.”

She notes that differentiating between what is a trend and what is classic design is also good information to share with clients, as is making sure appliances are sized correctly and offering green services and products.

“These are responsible ways to approach kitchen design,” she says.

“We also manage our projects via our exclusive web-based project management system, which archives many critical details of each project. Our innovative system, made expressly for us, manages our communications, uploaded files, images, to-dos, job scheduling issues and much more,” she describes.

She adds: “We find it easy and highly efficient to design a Bornholm Kitchen remotely via our project management Web site. There may be one or two trips needed to a jobsite, however I have found no negatives in working remotely with clients. In fact, it is my preferred method to work remotely as it is a more efficient sales process than working one on one and just as satisfying.”

To that end, the firm is currently installing its most challenging kitchen design to date, she says.

“It’s part of a green home in Shelter Island, NY. The owner is an environmentalist and one entire wall of walnut doors is the backdrop of the open floor plan and joins together two closets, appliances and cabinetry in one long, flush plane of wood.

“Sometimes those designs which look simple are the most challenging, and this is one such case,” she says, adding that the firm is also currently working on several other projects which are designed with an open plan concept.

The social network
A huge proponent of technology, Serra employs some form of social networking into her firm everyday.

“My vision on issues of design has been further and greatly enhanced as a result of my extensive social media endeavors,” she says.

She continues: “Listening via all types of media, which includes reading blogs, business newsletters, newspapers, following links on Twitter, listening to Facebook chatter, and more, helps me to identify and learn about consumer trends. It is important to me to keep aware of underlying issues which influences thinking about design and buying patterns.”

Serra adds that her perspective on modern design has also been influenced by attending many design shows as a blogger both in the US and in Europe, attending press events as well as manufacturers' training around the country.

“Being attentive to design blogs, Twitter information and Facebook activity further influences my view of the design world,” she adds. “The amount of information on design has dramatically increased for me since 2006 and I seek out information in the kitchen design world as well as the interior design world and attempt to connect the dots!”

She continues: “I have also recently exhibited Bornholm Kitchen at the Architectural Digest show in New York City. Again, being active in social media via my blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter, keeps my name and brand image toward the forefront of social media kitchen topics. I also have a public relations representative on a monthly retainer.”

She concludes: “Being the owner of a design firm for many years brings a uniquely focused perspective, sort of a global perspective, to every part of every project I touch. Participating in a wide variety of industry-related activities enhances my knowledge and point of view on kitchen design today.”