Firm Collaborates for Success

Arlington Heights, IL — John M. Lewis and Brigitte Manzke know how to pull designs – and people – together.

These are Lewis’ sentiments regarding J&B Kitchen Designs, a design management firm he runs with Manzke that specializes in all aspects of kitchen design. The exhaustive design process they employ ensures that they each equally express their vision for any project, he states.

“We work together on every project, which gives two unique viewpoints for each design,” he says. “We’re also one of the few design firms that does full structural work, such as wall and structural modifications. This allows us to answer all questions on the job site.”

He continues: “Our experience in kitchen and full structural design, plus Brigitte’s ability to think ‘outside the box’ and my expertise with 20-20, has proven to be a winning combination. But, in the end, the key is that we listen and give the client what they want by staying involved with every detail. This is key because most of our clients can’t visualize their new kitchen. Our designs take our client’s needs – especially their storage requirements – into consideration.”

Catering to homeowners looking to remodel, the pair has partnered for six years and currently contract seven digits annually, says Lewis, a 20-plus-year industry veteran.
He concludes “We’ve literally designed over 1,000 kitchens, most of which involved some form of structural modifications. There’s nothing in a kitchen design that we haven’t been confronted with that we can’t pull together.”

Shared Vision

The pair’s collaborative design process begins with qualifying the client, and then, once approved, taking dimensions of the area to be remodeled, including taking images and several pages of notes.

At that point, Lewis will do an initial 20-20 design and email it to Manzke, who then makes changes based on her design interpretation. This process goes back and forth several times, culminating in extremely detailed 20-20 images of how the new kitchen could look.

“If the client would like to see modifications to our initial design, we modify it, working with them right in their kitchen,” he comments. “We also show them the initial plans that we didn’t use so they can glean certain ideas from those as well.”

Lewis believes that he and Manzke’s accomplishments are even more impressive because of the shift in how today’s kitchens are perceived, which requires an even more cohesive design vision.

“The kitchen has become the new ‘family room’ of the house and now requires an innovative design that must accommodate each of our client’s unique requirements,” he says. “The kitchen must be designed to accommodate the entire family, because the family spends more waking hours there than any other room in the house.”

To that end, the firm’s full-structural design capability is a stand-out element of its success, Lewis stresses.

“We specialize in full-gut kitchen remodels – from flooring to ceiling cans – including any structural modifications. We have the expertise to remove walls and relocate mechanicals,” he reports. “My mechanical and engineering expertise plus Brigitte’s ability to visualize projects provides our clients with totally unique designs. In short, we do it all.”

He continues: “Without question, this expertise makes us unique, because mechanicals issues – such as HVAC, plumbing and electrical – and construction – such as load-bearing walls, for instance – come up all of the time. [Since we do every design together], we’re able to answer all of these questions on the spot and never have to make the client wait by checking with our project manager.”

Product Partners

The company’s exclusive partnerships with local kitchen and bath showroom dealerships provides almost unlimited access to any design style needed. J&B Kitchen Designs utilizes these sites in lieu of having their own showroom space, an arrangement that gives them access to well over 20 product lines.

“The key is that we’re not a dealership with only two or three lines to offer. This frees us to select what is right for our clients, so we don’t have to push something that isn’t a good fit. We select the line that fits all of our client’s criteria,” Lewis says.

Among the notable lines the pair utilizes are Crystal Cabinet Works, Plato Woodwork, Wellborn Cabinet, Dura Supreme, Merillat, Cabico, Shiloh, Koch & Co., Door Components and Eudora, plus a local cabinet company for custom designs. The company also has accounts with virtually every major brand of countertops, appliances and fixtures, Lewis adds.

“Along with her kitchen design expertise, Brigitte specializes in assisting clients with their selections of appliances, flooring, countertops, tiles, lighting, paint colors and all the necessary ‘peripherals’ that really enhance our designs,” he comments.

Project Portfolio

The firm’s location plays a key role in the direction of its designs. As a result of being situated in a Chicago suburb, the most requested design themes tend to lean toward more traditional styles.

However, Lewis notes that the company also takes on projects in downtown hi-rises, which lean more toward contemporary and modern styles, and often require more custom work.

“One particular project is a great representation of the structural modifications we are capable of. It was a tiny kitchen, so we removed a wall, opening the kitchen to the rest of the living area. We then swept the pub-height bar into the newly transitioned area,” he reports.

Another project that the firm worked on featured a custom refrigerator end panel with doors that hid a message center that replaced the previously unsightly use of magnets for personal notes and calendars.

Still another of the firm’s kitchen designs featured full-height backsplashes and enough Cambria surfacing materials that the pair has entered it into a calendar competition for best use of the product.

“In the end, it’s really very simple,” Lewis stresses. “Listen to the clients’ ideas and what they like and dislike about their current kitchen. After that, come back with a design that incorporates everything you’ve written on your pages of notes. That is what makes it work.”