SAN RAFAEL, CA— For Krikor Halajian, design success is all relative. Not only does he run his eco-friendly kitchen design firm alongside his wife, Rosemarie Garibian Halajian, but the inspiration for his designs comes from family, specifically the family that will live in that space.
“We design a space really thinking about the family and how they will use it. We care about their space – that it works and that it is beautiful – and we feel that if we take great care of that family, we’ll have them in our family of customers for life,” says Halajian, CKD, designer and owner of Kitchens & More, based in San Rafael, CA.
As with many families, all the different family members (or in this case, clients) have their own tastes, ideas and ways of expressing themselves, and Halajian does his best to keep everybody happy.
He notes: “Everyone gets a design that works for them. We don’t have formulas or pre-prescribed products; we look at ergonomics and what makes sense for that client.”
The company, which opened its doors in 1990, is based in one of the wealthiest counties in the country and caters to a very discriminating clientele, many of whom are physicians, attorneys and business owners.
Halajian feels it is very important to get to know your client before coming up with design ideas. He even admits that many of the firm’s best designs are the result of ongoing and in-depth dialogue with clients who were active participants in the brainstorming of product selection and design possibilities.
“We give our clients personal attention to unravel their unrealized vision,” he says. “It takes some understanding of their lifestyle to produce a design that will offer lasting satisfaction.”
He concludes: “Kitchen design isn’t solitaire. It’s a game for two or more players!”
In addition to the focus on clients as family, the firm concentrates on marketing its green sensibilities. The firm’s geographic location and upscale clientele play a role in its eco-conscious philosophy, but the passion for green really comes from the owners themselves.
Halajian is a Certified Green Building Professional (CGBP), while Garibian Halajian is a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP).
“We made a conscious decision to better understand what CGBPs and LEED APs understand, so that we could better guide our clients who are interested in being green,” says Garibian Halajian. “It’s interesting how often we can make green choices when we are aware, but wouldn’t necessarily do so without the awareness.”
She says that during the mid-1990s, most people who came to Kitchens & More were people who had great intolerance to chemicals in their personal spaces. It wasn’t about the environment or harvesting lumber sustainably; it was about having healthy interiors.
So, Garibian Halajian decided to devote herself to learning about every aspect of green design, including energy efficiency, ventilation for healthy interiors, sustainably harvesting lumber and recycling.
“For every job that we work on, we try to incorporate the most that we can,” she says. “Sometimes with these projects it costs no more, but it’s definitely a healthier choice for our clients and the environment.”
Kitchens & More features Crystal Cabinetry lines and a variety of other green-based cabinetry and countertop options, as well as EcoTimber flooring, which provides an FSC-certified alternative for the firm’s clientele.
Garibian Halajian adds that the firm recycles many of its deconstructed construction materials and donates those materials to Habitat for Humanity rather than having them end up in a landfill.
While Halajian actively promotes green design, he also believes in promoting high-quality offerings that will not only look great, but also improve the clients’ quality of life.
“We’re not good at cutting corners,” he says. “We insist on the highest quality layout, one that will provide plenty of prep space, abundant lighting and cabinets that maximize storage. The impression a kitchen makes in how it functions lasts longer than the impression it makes aesthetically.”
A recent kitchen project illustrates this point. The firm took on a client who felt her current home was just too large and everyone was spread out too far, leading to a lack of communication and a less than ideal family life.
“They downsized to a smaller home and we redesigned the kitchen to integrate with the rest of the living space,” explains Garibian Halajian. “Now the mom can be in the kitchen and dad and the kids can all be in their spaces – but they can all still stay connected.”
The kitchen features FSC-certified cherry wood on an island, which is topped with Verde Fuoco stone. While Garibian Halajian notes that the countertop is not truly green because it is imported and mined, it was chosen for the red and green hues that run through it as well as its continuous design flow.
The perimeter cabinetry is American-harvested maple and cherry from Crystal Cabinetry, highlighted by a unique Cashmere Satin backsplash glass from Marin Designworks. The space is completed with a Thermador 36” stainless steel six-burner gas range, a fully integrated Viking refrigerator with bottom freezer and a fully integrated Miele dishwasher.
“Just thinking about how much fun [they] are going to have using the kitchen makes everything we do so worthwhile,” exclaims Halajian.
Personalization is also key to Kitchens & More’s success.
“We always keep in touch with our past clients,” explains Garibian Halajian. “Every time there is an occasion or a holiday, I write a note to as many of them as I can without the card feeling rushed or impersonal.”
That loyalty has paid off in a loyal customer base. So loyal, in fact, that readers of a local newspaper have voted Kitchens & More “Best Kitchen and Bath Remodeler” on three different occasions.
Even the design studio has a comfortable, personal feel, Halajian notes. It is only 300 square feet, but it offers clients a showcase of high-end product lines. Products not featured at the studio can easily be showcased through partnerships the firm has struck up with local appliance stores and distributorships.
The company’s Web site is also user-friendly, featuring links to some of the top manufacturers and several industry associations, as well as providing background on the firm and its owners.
“It really is a whole new world in terms of marketing,” says Garibian Halajian, “and we need to be open to what works. Genuinely connecting with people is the best way to do this, and it always will be. You have to love people and want more than anything else to be like family to them.”