Designer Sees Partnerships Key to Firm’s Success

ATLANTA, GA—Bonnie Settle, Allied ASID, believes that good partners make for better results. She’s proving it as principal designer for Cornerstone Design, which is making a name for itself in the southeastern U.S. market.

While many firms “talk the talk” when it comes to partnerships, Cornerstone Design truly walks the walk, partnering not only with clients, but with contractors and other allied professionals, product vendors and the community at large.

For example, the firm participates in annual contests that benefit the Junior League Tour of Homes as well as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which allows local designers to show off their design ingenuity in a palatial showhouse located the high-end Atlanta market. Participating designers compete to create different rooms in the home, with the best designs chosen by a panel of judges.

Ticket sales to the showhouse go to support the orchestra, but the publicity is also a big boost to Cornerstone Design, according to Cornerstone’s president Yvonne Amon. For Amon, it’s a way to partner with the community in supporting the arts, while spreading the word about the firm’s design work and mission.

The company also believes in partnering with its vendors, creating unique designs that illustrate creative product applications.

In fact, Cornerstone’s designs have won regional and national awards in Decorá’s design competition. The firm recently took the top prize for its work in a penthouse unit in Atlanta. The winning entry juxtaposed Decorá cabinetry, high-end Viking appliances and striking granite set against a two-story window that revealed a breathtaking view of the Atlanta skyline.

Settle believes, as well, that an important key to success in the kitchen and bath market involves partnering with the best local contractors.

“In this industry it’s good to put yourself with people who specialize,” Amon says. “By partnering up with them, your clients end up with a good design, a good product and [an installation that makes the most of both of these things].”

“We want to work hand in hand to create a great product,” she explains.
Collaborative Efforts

Many of the firm’s collaborations are formed in the usual ways, Amon notes. Sometimes the architect will refer contractors to Cornerstone, or Cornerstone will discuss working with a particular builder with the prospective client. “It works both ways,” she says.

But regardless of who institutes these partnerships, the ability to work well as a team is essential to creating successful projects, she maintains.

“A bad contractor can ruin a project,” she states, explaining that cost shouldn’t matter when it comes to quality of the work.

“Everyone’s home is important, not just the ones with millions in the bank,” she states. “Design in the smaller homes is vital because it affects a family’s living space, it affects their comfort level.

“We work hand in hand with our clients through project management to ensure the success of their project.”

This type of partnership, Settle notes, sets the firm apart from area competitors. And partnering with the right manufacturers only adds to the firm’s appeal.

“We’re really unique. We’re about design, and we really have a unique product,” Settle notes. “We do full-service design; we’re not limited and we have lots of people to refer work to. We manage all of our projects on the job sites, from the drawing to sales and installation to the final service call.

“We’re knowledgeable and we’re not about fluff,” she adds of the firm, which has been in business since 2000.

The key to success, she believes, is good relations with the clients. “Good communication is what matters. The devil is in the details, and you have to follow up. You have to know what the client wants.”

Amon has known and worked with Settle for many years. The firm caters to the upper end of the local market, and she notes that these clients require the best appliances and high quality finishes. The two have worked hand-in-hand on numerous projects over the years.

The Atlanta area saw a major construction boom in recent years until the recent economic downturn caused the bottom to drop out. Very few of Cornerstone’s recent customers are new construction clients, so the competition is fierce for local renovations.

“It’s a very competitive market and there are a lot of good designers,” says Settle, who sees a silver lining in all of this. “This downturn will take a lot of people who shouldn’t be in the industry out of the market.”

Cornerstone markets itself through local and regional magazines, as well as positive word-of-mouth from previous customers and involvement in community activities. “We do good marketing and smart marketing,” she maintains. While the firm occasionally does broad-based mailings, Settle notes that much of the firm’s business comes from a core base of repeat clients and referrals generated from these satisfied clients.

The firm recognizes the importance of keeping up with industry changes, and employees are encouraged to continue to update their education and training so they can remain on the cutting edge of the hottest design trends.

In addition to interiors for kitchens and baths, the firm creates entertainment areas and wet bars, and will create built-in cabinetry for any space in a home. It advertises that it can create everything from a stand-alone hutch for the family china or an entertainment center to house a stereo and TV. Designs range from the traditional to the contemporary and postmodern.
Cornerstone has one showroom in the Buckhead section of central Atlanta, a 3,000-sq.-ft. area that displays a variety of vignettes and full working kitchens and baths to highlight its product lines.

Product brands carried include Neff Kitchens, The Hampshire Co., Geppetto, DuPont Corian, DuPont Zodiaq, Silestone by Cosentino, granite, LavaStone, Bosch, Sub-Zero, Wolf, Marvel, Thermador, Gaggenau, Vent-A-Hood, Five Star and KitchenAid, among others.

“It feels more like a high-end home than a showroom,” Settle notes. “We have a real cross section [of products and styles displayed here]. There are very modern and very traditional displays. We do everything.”

Amon said her firm’s business philosophy is all about ensuring clients’ happiness with the end product, noting, “We want to provide our clients with a decorative but functional kitchen, marrying functionality with personal taste. We pride ourselves in supplying customer service, timeless design and quality workmanship.”

It is this exact philosophy, she believes, along with the firm’s smart partnering strategies and dedication to collaboration, that continues to make Cornerstone Design successful.

Cornerstone Design

At a Glance

Location: Atlanta, GA
Principals: Yvonne Amon, president; Bonnie Settle, Allied ASID, principal designer; Anne Keene, designer
Showroom: One, 3,000 square feet
Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., and by appointment
Number of Employees: Four
Major Product Lines Carried: Neff Kitchens, The Hampshire Co., DuPont Corian and Zodiaq, Silestone by Cosentino, Bosch, Thermador, Gagganau, Sub-Zero, Wolf, Marvel, Vent-A-Hood, Five Star, KitchenAid, Viking Appliances.
Specialties: High-end custom design
Business Philosophy: “To provide clients with a decorative but functional kitchen, marrying functionality with personal taste. We pride ourselves in supplying top-quality customer service and timeless design.”