A Hierarchy for Client-Focused Design

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There’s a lot of talk in the kitchen and bath industry these days about collaboration – working relationships between kitchen/bath specialists and allied design professionals.

And the talk, it seems, can sometimes be divisive.

Most kitchen and bath designers claim they embrace the notion of collaborative design arrangements, citing their potential to be creatively rewarding, a plus for clients, and a steady source of both income and referrals. Others, however, say that they’d rather pull their eyelids out than partner with interior designers, architects or builders. They contend that working with allied design professionals is almost always doomed to failure – destined to disintegrate into an aggravating turf war because of widely conflicting skill sets and an egotistical desire to retain project control.

In truth, both sides to the argument have a legitimate case.

Collaborative design relationships can clearly represent a successful business strategy, particularly for complex, high-end projects. On the flip side, those same relationships can also be a living nightmare.

Respondents to a recent Kitchen & Bath Design News survey point out that the success of design partnerships hinges largely on what the various partners bring to the table. The relationships work best, survey respondents say, when a distinct set of ground rules is firmly in place. For one thing, they note, everyone involved must check their ego at the door. Each must view the other as a respected partner, rather than as some sort of ill-qualified adversary. Each must work to communicate regularly, blend their talents, and put their own interests secondary to those of the client.

Equally important: There has to be a clearly stated hierarchy of responsibilities.
In other words, everyone needs to understand exactly who does what: Who’s responsible for the Big Picture; who handles specific details; who specifies major products; who interacts with the client.

Stated yet another way, everyone needs to feel comfortable in their skin – confining themselves to their area of expertise, and acknowledging that different professionals possess distinctly different skill sets.

In a best-case scenario, those skills are complementary. For example, as survey respondents note, architects and builders are likely to have a far more intimate working knowledge than anyone of construction and building materials – and should generally be deferred to on those matters. Similarly, interior designers, survey respondents contend, are best qualified to deal primarily with what they were trained in and where their expertise lies: With aesthetic concepts like color coordination, textile harmony, finishes, wall coverings, window treatments and accessories.

Viewed in this context, kitchen/bath designers should also be given the license to do what they do best.

With their specialized, in-depth knowledge of functional considerations, product applications, storage issues, ergonomics, safety concerns and installation, they should be handling design details, working with the client on custom considerations and specifying key products like cabinetry, countertops, built-in appliances, plumbingware and the like.

Thankfully, KBDN survey respondents report, that’s precisely what happens in the most successful collaborative design relationships.

All of which is very reassuring.

Allied professionals should respect, and defer to, the expertise of their partners if they want collaborative design relationships to truly work. If they don’t, the relationships are, indeed, doomed to fail – and the client, more than anyone, stands to lose.

Editor’s Note: Kitchen & Bath Design News, you might have noticed, features a distinctly different look in September 2006. The product of close coordination between our editorial and graphics teams – with guidance from Chicago-based Three Point Advertising – KBDN’s redesign is part of an ongoing effort to make an excellent magazine even better. Tied to our 25th year of publishing, which we’ll celebrate in 2007, our new logo, upgraded paper stock, restyled cover and redesigned interior are bolder, more contemporary and more upscale than our former aesthetic – a reflection of the sophisticated, fashion-driven industry that KBDN serves.

But while the look of KBDN might have changed, readers can rest assured that the most important things about the magazine will remain the same. Specifically, KBDN will continue its lengthy track record as the kitchen and bath industry’s most substantive, and most respected, information resource.

We’re excited about the magazine’s new look. We hope our readers will be turned on, too.

Read September 2006 online and let us know what you think. To subscribe, click here. For a look at the year to come, visit our 2007 media kit.