BOCA RATON, FL —
People often talk about the “winds of change,” but for designer Julia Johnston, CKD, CAPS, of Kitchens for Cooking, things had to get awfully windy before change took hold. In fact, it took a hurricane – or three hurricanes, precisely – to transform her professional life.
Up until seven years ago, the kitchen designer spent most of her time running a showroom. But after her showroom was hit by three hurricanes in two years, she accepted that the winds of fate were trying to tell her something. And that something, she decided, was that it was time to take a step in a different direction, leaving the showroom behind and becoming an independent designer.
And she’s never been happier, she admits. “In retrospect, the hurricanes were a lucky break because I now do what I love (kitchen design) without the headaches of running a showroom,” she explains.
While she initially struggled with how to make the new business model profitable, she quickly realized that the first step was to streamline the design process while still providing custom solutions for her high-end clientele.
She adds, “Then I needed to create a pricing strategy that worked for both me and my clients. Once I figured out these aspects of the business, the work became rewarding in every way.”
Johnston notes that the plusses of being independent are many. She states, “Rather than being constrained by my cabinet lines, I can now provide a solution that is based solely on the needs of the clients and then help the clients find the cabinet company that fits their needs. I am able to focus on kitchens at every budget level and size, and no longer need to work on baths, which are not where my passions lie.”
Cooking being a strong interest of hers, Johnston loves that her independent designer status means she has more time to spend consulting on appliances. And, she notes, “I am also able to work on Jenn-Air’s Design Advisory Council.”
One of the best things about being independent, though, is being able to choose projects that she might not have been able to take on otherwise. Johnston explains, “Because I am paid by the project rather than by selling cabinets or products, I can take on projects that would be unprofitable for a cabinet sales designer, such as reconfiguring kitchens without (totally) replacing the existing cabinetry. And, on occasion, I take on clients where I just address one small question, such as what countertop options will work best.”
DESIGN ON A BUDGET
Unlike many designers, Johnston is not afraid to work with clients on a tight budget. Indeed, one of the key philosophies that guides her work is that inexpensive kitchens should never look “cheap.”
She states, “I try to take the skills I learned at high-end cabinet companies (Christopher Peacock, Wm Ohs and SieMatic) and take them down through the most budget-minded renovations so that the kitchens look rich.”
Johnston also believes that an important part of designing kitchens on a budget is making wise decisions on how the money is spent. She explains, “I think too many people spend too little on their kitchen projects and that the money they do spend is often not spent wisely. I believe that organization is the ultimate luxury, especially in the kitchen: Most people would benefit if they gave up that corbel and got a good pull-out instead. And, because I do not have a monetary interest in what my clients purchase, I believe they are more likely to listen to what I say about these expenditures.”
VARIETY OF SERVICES
Johnston offers a variety of services, depending on the needs of the client, and she states, “For most of my clients, I provide both design and guidance for their project: for some only at the beginning, others throughout the entire process, and in still other projects I come in at the end to review and tweak a proposed renovation plan.”
Her strong interest in food and wine is evident in many of her projects, and she not only designs cooking-friendly kitchens but also wine rooms.
She notes, “The designs I provide can range from fairly simple floor plans to in-depth shop drawings and elevations. The guidance can be as basic as giving the client a realistic expectation of the money, time and effort involved in their kitchen renovation (something that ‘reality’ shows often unrealistically portray), or it can involve me as their agent to guide them through the entire project.”
Johnston normally does her own CAD and design work, but she has been known to partner with other professionals when needed for especially intricate projects.
PROMOTING THE BUSINESS
Johnston takes a non-traditional approach to many aspects of her business, so perhaps it’s no surprise that she chooses not to advertise, but instead seeks out less conventional ways of getting her name out in the community. She is active in volunteer work involving food and wine charities and organizations, and serves on the Boards of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum in New Orleans and South Florida chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food.
Wine is of particular interest to her, and in addition to designing wine rooms, she holds an intermediate sommelier designation.
Education is also an essential part of her marketing, and she gives talks about kitchen design in her community, with a particular emphasis on ergonomic principles. She also does cooking demonstrations with local chefs, which help to further promote her business.