HUNTINGTON, NY —
Some might say that Susan Serra’s design firm is born again.
That’s because in the wake of the recession, Serra, CKD, CAPS, award-winning designer and owner of Susan Serra Associates, decided to rejuvenate her business by creating her own cabinet line.
The decision to launch Bornholm Kitchen came out of a desire to differentiate her firm in a way that would meet the demands of her very discriminating clients.
Inspired by her family’s ancestral ties to Bornholm, a small island off the coast of Denmark, Serra came up with the idea for a classic modern cabinet design that would speak to a discriminating clientele looking for something unique.
Working with daughter Kelly Serra Donovan – who serves as director of sales – she launched the new line, and it has not only rejuvenated her business, but her outlook as well.
“Being a manufacturer and a design firm adds another dimension to the creative process,” she says. “Thinking as a manufacturer enables us to think from the ground up and focus on more modern issues within the design of cabinetry, such as Universal Design.”
A NICHE PRODUCT
Serra has long been a student of international design trends, and frequently attends European kitchen and bath shows and exhibitions to expand her creative horizons. She says it was her penchant for risk-taking that led to this endeavour.
“I chose to bring Bornholm Kitchen to market for clients who desire a niche product, yet within a wider geographical area. I [also] felt it would be an interesting [creative] challenge. The line is manufactured in Pennsylvania and features full custom kitchens, islands, vanities and soon, furniture,” she says.
The creation of the Bornholm Kitchen line also reflects Serra’s desire to provide a sustainable option for her clients, since the cabinetry is made with sustainable wood products that contain soy-based resins and have no added urea formaldehyde.
“Our high-quality oil finish, typically used in fine furniture, is 100% VOC-free,” she says. “The finish is made from natural plant oils, natural waxes and organic pigments. There’s no added formaldehyde, ammonia, solvents or other toxic chemicals.”
She continues: “We’re also developing a solution for smaller kitchens, and plan to continually develop the line and introduce new pieces and concepts.”
In addition to her cabinet line, Serra specs a variety of high-end products into her designs, such as Vermont slate for countertops and engineered and natural stones. She likes Blanco sinks and faucets as well as Kohler, among others.
“I am also enjoying learning about the wide variety of technological features in many appliance brands,” she says.
To maximize client satisfaction, Serra has developed a very precise design process. “Asking the right questions to help clients visualize pros and cons is the easiest way to get them focused,” she says. “They already know the answers, but walking through scenarios using visualization techniques is something that many professionals still do not do adequately.”
She continues: “My focus on producing five or more preliminary floor plans – which essentially illustrate shapes, forms and workflow – allows my clients to fully explore all options for their kitchen before proceeding further in the design process.
“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 communications, uploaded files, images, job-scheduling issues and much more,” she says.
She adds: “We find it easy and highly efficient to design a Bornholm Kitchen remotely via our project management Web site. There may be trips needed to a job site, however, I have found no negatives in working remotely with clients. In fact, it is my preferred method as it is a more efficient sales process than working one on one, and it’s just as satisfying.”
Currently, the firm is installing its most challenging kitchen design, part of a green home. The owner is an environmentalist, and one entire wall of walnut doors is the backdrop of the open floor plan. It joins together two closets, appliances and cabinetry in one long, flush plane of wood.
“Sometimes the designs that look simple are the most challenging, and this is one such case,” she says. The firm is also currently working on several other projects that feature open-plan concepts.
The social network
A huge proponent of technology, Serra employs social networking in her firm every day.
“My vision of design has been greatly enhanced as a result of my social media endeavors,” she says. “Listening via all types of media, which includes reading blogs, business newsletters and newspapers, following links on Twitter, listening to Facebook chatter, and more, helps me to identify and learn about consumer trends. It’s important to me to keep aware of underlying issues that influence thinking about design and buying patterns.”
Serra adds that her perspective on modern design has also been influenced by her experiences at design shows in the U.S. and Europe, and at press events and manufacturers’ training events around the country.
“Being attentive [and involved in social media] further influences my view of the design world,” she adds. “The amount of design information out there has dramatically increased, and I seek out information in the kitchen design world as well as the interior design world.”
She continues: “Additionally, being active in social media via my blogs and Facebook and Twitter pages keeps my name and brand image toward the forefront of social media kitchen topics.”
She concludes: “Being the owner of a design firm for many years allows me to bring a uniquely focused perspective – a global perspective – to every part of every project I touch. Of course, participating in a wide variety of industry-related activities around the world also enhances my knowledge and point of view on kitchen design.”