Commercial Background Gives Firm Creative Edge

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — Sometimes a different point of view can provide a tremendous creative edge. That was certainly the case for Tricia Bayer and Jean-Claude Desjardins of Belle Kitchen, whose commercial backgrounds allowed them to see the design process in a different light – something that’s been of great value to the pair in the seven years since they started up their residential design firm.

Prior to that, both had been employed in the commercial sector, working on such projects as The Disney Concert Hall and Soldier Field in Chicago.

Bayer explains: “Jean-Claude and I have both studied architecture with time spent abroad, and we both come from commercial backgrounds. Jean-Claude had more than 15 years in this industry in Montreal while I was a newcomer. Basically, we were specialists in the ‘architectural envelope’ of buildings.”

It was a joint desire for more personal relationships with clients and a need to focus more on design and less on engineering that led the pair to start Belle Kitchen, she says.

In fact, Bayer notes that the firm’s target clientele is made up of “clients who are passionate about design and appreciate quality products, and those who are looking for someone to interpret their ideas into a beautiful space that they can be proud of.”

She continues: “We do not shy away from [forming] personal relationships [with] our clients. Oftentimes we will enjoy dinner or a bottle of wine with them. In fact, we strongly believe that it is these relationships with satisfied clients that will keep our business stable.”

Those relationships also factor into the design process, according to Bayer, who notes: “We try to interpret our client’s desires and styles in a way that is expressive of them and creates the most beautiful and comfortable space possible.”

A Unique Perspective

Bayer believes having a commercial background brings a unique perspective to the residential projects the firm takes on.

She explains: “Quite often, we’ve had to work through engineering challenges in our commercial experiences, and I am convinced that has given us the opportunity to dream big in residential design. We also do not allow ourselves to be discouraged by something that might be considered a significant design challenge, or stop pursuing an idea that to some might seem unattainable.”

She adds: “Our commercial backgrounds allow us to be aggressive when creating unique spaces, as we are able to ‘engineer’ designs that may seem unbuildable or too complicated for others.”

An example of this is an NKBA Design Competition award-winning kitchen Bayer and Desjardins designed with a stainless steel backsplash and floating solid walnut shelves.

“In order to make this contemporary kitchen possible, we had a steel structure made that we mounted to the wall before the space was sheet rocked. This allowed us to accommodate the weight of the solid wood along with all of the plates that were to be sitting on the shelves. We also integrated a walk-in pantry door into the cabinets in order to keep very clean lines,” she describes.

“This kitchen shows how diverse we can be when it comes to design. I believe we are able to execute a contemporary and sleek kitchen just as well as a warm, traditional kitchen,” she says. “We take cues from our clients to make the spaces theirs, not ours, [though that] doesn’t mean we don’t want to add our own creative touch.”

Bayer adds that many of their projects will expand into basements, bathrooms, offices, fireplace design and even furniture and accessories selection, and she notes that the transition into the residential sector has taken some adjustment.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to find manufacturers to create the concepts we dream up,” she says. “Things that are readily available in the commercial sector are not necessarily going to be easy to access or cost effective for a single residential application.”

On the positive side, she says that working in the residential sector means quicker project turnover, which allows the pair to manage several projects at once.

“We are often revived and refreshed when moving onto that next design, and I always seem to get that sense of excitement when starting to design a new project.”

She concludes: “Overall, good design is good design, whether you’re looking for traditional, rustic, contemporary or some combination thereof, and we pride ourselves on being able to work in many different design aesthetics.”

Living Spaces

The firm’s 2,200-sq.-ft. showroom plays a major role in its success as well, says Bayer.

“Located in the International Market Square Design Center, the showroom features nine displays – some full kitchens and others vignettes. The showroom offers full layouts designed to give homeowners a sense of place and style,” she explains. “Our showroom is not meant to feel like a place to select things, but rather [a place] to envision yourself in a real living space.”

The showroom feature an eclectic combination of styles, including both traditional and ultra modern options. A variety of high-end product lines are on display, including Wood-Mode, Leicht, Sub-Zero/Wolf, Asko, Miele, Viking, Franke, KWC and the Patina Collection by Belle Kitchen.

To make the sales and design process seamless, Bayer notes that she and Jean-Claude are both involved in a very hands-on way with the client.

“We often ask clients why they decided to work with us, and most often the answer we get is that they simply like us and trust us,” she says. “We’re very serious about what we do, but we also just like to have a good time. I believe our showroom and our published work has established the fact that we are very capable of executing the beautiful designs we create. Beyond that, it is the connection made with the client that creates a successful project.”

She continues: “We try very hard to create a comfortable and enjoyable experience. We want people to be amazed when they walk into our showroom, but also feel like good design and quality products are attainable. I feel like our showroom is a peaceful place, yet exhilarating too. If it is possible to feel both of these things at once, I would say that is how our showroom feels.”

To further enhance the experience, Belle Kitchen will be starting a major remodel of two of its showroom displays in the coming months.

“We believe it is important now to be aggressive in showing new products and to create new energy in our showroom,” she offers.

She adds that the firm has a very capable team that helps with a variety of different tasks, including accounting, marketing and project management.

Of course, ultimately, it’s all about good design, and the firm actively promotes its design expertise. The company has earned several notable awards since its inception, including National Kitchen & Bath Association Design Competition Awards in 2005, 2008 and 2010, as well as the 2010 MN National Kitchen & Bath Award and the 2010 MN American Society of Interior Design Award.

In addition, the firm has been featured in several local and national publications, Bayer reports.