Making the Grade

To paraphrase an old saying, when it comes to what upscale consumers want in their kitchens and baths, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that bling.” According to kitchen and bath designers interviewed by KBDN, that “bling” not only means high style and but high-tech, as well.

While items such as glass backsplashes, custom hoods and stone sinks are still required viewing for many clients, there are a host of high-ticket items pumping up today’s kitchen and bath designs – and boosting profits for kitchen and bath firms.

According to Gail Drury, CKD, CBD and president of Glen Ellyn, IL-based Drury Design, that may mean home automation technology, a second dishwasher in the kitchen or a television screen that doubles as a mirror in the master bath.

The important thing is that you make the most out of the client’s design, and make the most for your firm, Drury notes.

“Most of these products are installed as a result of us suggesting them,” she says. “If you present it correctly and approach it the right way, then it comes across as [the client’s] idea and it is an easy upsell. If you present it incorrectly, then it isn’t going to fly.”

Darius Baker, CR, CKBR, CEO of D&J Kitchens & Baths in Sacramento, CA agrees, adding that the shift in consumer purchasing practices has been seismic, particularly in Southern California. “Three years ago, people wanted to fix up their kitchen so they could sell their house.

Today, people are using their equity and creating their dream homes, so many times we don’t even have a chance to upsell them,” he explains. “The bottom line is we are shooting for gross profit and net profit targets, and it doesn’t really matter if it is a Formica countertop or a granite top – as long as we get our 10% net profit at the end of the job.”

Product Push

So, what are some of the key items being specified in the kitchen? That depends on whom you ask.

Drury explains: “We are doing a lot of [specialty] appliances and second dishwashers, for instance.”

“Two dishwashers are becoming more prominent in larger kitchens,” agrees Tom Trzcinski, CMKBD of Pittsburgh, PA-based Kitchen & Bath Concepts of Pittsburgh.

Baker adds he is receiving upgrade calls for dish drawers to create “quasi-Kosher” kitchens for the strong Jewish community in his area. “They may tell me that they want the second dishwasher, but we may talk them into the dish drawers depending on the amount of space we have to work with in the kitchen,” he explains. “We have TVs coming out of the backsplashes. The flat-screen technology allows us to place technology where you wouldn’t normally be able to put it.”

Trzcinski cites cabinet lifts as allowing kitchen and bath designers to achieve clients’ dreams. “The technological advances with lifts have enabled us to do more than we’ve been able to do in the past.”

Drury adds: “There are also computers now that allow the user to monitor the whole house with cameras installed in different rooms. So, if a client is out of town, he or she can go on the Internet and see what’s going on at home.”

In fact, many kitchens now feature a command center.

“In the kitchen, the goal is about creating a center planning area [with technology],” says Trzcinski. “There is a mix of consumers who don’t want to see their computer, and those who do,” which determines how that area is designed.

“There are also companies that are wiring homes for remote interactivity,” says Alan Abrams, CMKBD, president/founder of Cleveland, OH-based Cabinet En-Counters, Inc. “You can have your lights turn on and off at a certain time or even control your oven from your cell phone or laptop.”

Drury concludes that she is also seeing a big call for stereo systems throughout various areas of the kitchen, as well as message centers for bills and mail.

Master Sweet

The options for upgrading the master bath are equally unlimited, Drury points out.

For instance, she says that many clients are requesting breakfast bars, coffeemakers and cabinets for clothing in the master bath.

“So, the client doesn’t have to walk to the closet on the other side of the bedroom after stepping out of the shower,” she says. “If people can save steps, they are willing to spend an extra thousand dollars [for that luxury].

“Some people don’t always want to walk down two flights of stairs to get to their kitchen to make coffee in the morning. Those people are definitely going to want a coffeemaker in the bath,” says Drury.

Trzcinski notes: ‘The biggest trend is refrigeration or a cappuccino or coffee station in close proximity between the bedroom and master bath.”
“Convenience and luxury are definitely the driving force [for these requests],” adds Abrams. “The big thing is beverage centers. You will see more and more beverage centers as well as island trough sinks.”

One of the more exotic trends Drury is seeing is a built-in television that sits behind an innocuous-looking bath mirror.

“That is a fairly new trend, but the TV goes in the wall and when you turn it on, the mirror becomes the TV screen,” she explains
Trzcinski adds: “As an alternative, we use longer, deeper storage spaces right behind the vanity and that opens up everything. You can place whatever TV you want right in there.

“Sometimes [the bells and whistles] are not a matter of the technology itself,” he adds. “Rather it is a matter of how you display them or how you store them.”

Drury reports that stereos and pre-fabricated fireplaces are finding a calling in bathrooms, as well.

Trzcinski adds: “We’re also wiring speakers into showers, so clients can watch TV while they shower.”

Trzcinski says that towel warmers are featuring new styles, shapes, colors and finishes, and work particularly well with minimalist-style bathrooms.

Abrams also notes that heated floors are popular upgrades, as are whirlpools with aromatherapy capabilities that are designed to replicate the spa experience.

Abrams concludes: “I’m not so sure you won’t see [commercial-based influences in housing] – such as automatic faucets, hand dryers or toilets – simply for the convenience factor.”

Light Switch

One of the main areas that transcends both the kitchen and bath is lighting, Baker notes.

“In California, a new energy building code called Title 24 was passed last year that mandates 50% of kitchen lighting has to be fluorescent. People have balked at it, but you can do so much more with those lights,” he explains.

To that end, he notes that the difference between an inexpensive 14-watt halo lamp and the 26-watt lamps his firm has been specifying equates to a large upsell.

“We are selling a lot of light fixtures that are built-in with the cable wires for some of the more contemporary kitchens,” adds Drury. “We’ve also been doing lighting systems where the client can control 10 different lights and set moods. This is an easy upsell, especially for men, because they like those types of gadgets.”

Safety Selections

Safety also plays a role in product specifying, Drury points out.

“There are people who are putting water purification in showers because they don’t want those chemicals on their bodies. It’s just a matter of hitting someone’s hot buttons,” she explains. “Water purification is easy. I can’t remember the last kitchen I’ve done that hasn’t had water purification in it.”

Trzcinski offers his own health-conscious solution for water-purification upgrades. “Instead of using individual water purifiers in the kitchen for water or ice, we are suggesting whole-house purifiers that take out every [danger], such as calcium, so the client won’t get calcium buildup in the faucets.”

Indeed, Drury notes that from a kitchen safety standpoint, kitchen and bath designers should consider recommending a second-level cooking surface on an island – especially if the client has children.

“That is an upgrade,” she says. “Pot fillers are also safety features because you are not carrying that water across the room.”

Conversely, Baker cites Energy Star appliances as a good suggestion for environmentally conscious clients.

“Some things could pose a problem, so if electrical is a concern, make sure it is properly installed,” says Trzcinski. “You also have to consider how items [such as lifts] are being used, the weight, and if there are children in the home.”

In the bath, grab bars should always be an upgrade item (particularly for older clients), Drury notes. Non-slip flooring is another upsell option in the master bath.

“You can always take a marble or granite and hone it right outside the shower [around the room] and have them incorporate non-slip flooring there so they are not stepping on slippery marble,” she concludes.

Trzcinski summarizes: “[When involved with these types of upgrades] you should always do [what you would normally do] as a good, conscientious designer.”

Cramped Quarters

According to Drury, the most challenging aspect of incorporating these upsell items is simply finding the space to utilize them effectively.
“The biggest problem is when people come in and want all this stuff and just can’t fit it,” she says.

Baker agrees: “Many times, these people have a 1,200- or 1,300-sq.-ft. house and they just don’t have the space to do some of the things they’d like to do. They may request a large professional range with a commercial-grade hood on it or a 48” Sub-Zero, and I’m wondering where the cabinets and sink are going to be.”

For Drury, this simply means that kitchen and bath designers need to think more ergonomically when designing a space.

“Things are getting bigger and you have to make the space more usable. If you have a kitchen that is extremely large, one refrigerator isn’t enough, so you have to put two in and you have to put the refrigerator drawers by the table. Sometimes we can knock a wall down and expand it, but the toughest part is telling people ‘you don’t have the space.”

“Whenever you do one of these upgrades, you may be doing it for the first time, so you really have to think things through,” says Trzcinski.
In the end, however, Baker believes that these types of “self-upsells” have created a refreshing change of pace for his business.

“We went from doing vinyl floors, Formica countertops and plain maple cabinets to doing much more high-end products. That has been a very exciting transition to make,” he concludes.