More Artisans Are Entering High-End Kitchen/Bath Market

It's certainly no secret that when it comes to kitchen and bath design, personalization reigns supreme.

However, what once started with a few customizable storage options in a kitchen cabinet more than a decade ago, has now turned into a trend toward all things custom that lend a kitchen and bath that personal touch.

Indeed, years later these simple options have bred a desire among consumers for products that make them feel their bath or kitchen is extraordinary. They don't want to keep up with the Joneses; they don't even want to be the Joneses.

Bitten by the design bug set forth by more than a decade of magazines, Web sites, TV shows and celebrities, consumers are flocking to designers with ideas, driving them to discover novel products that deliver a visual punch.

This has sparked a whole growing niche market of artisans turned entrepreneurs. They're target is the high end to ultra high end, where the more "customizable" a product is, the better.

CUSTOM: THE NEW BLACK

With respect to kitchens and baths, custom is the new black. It's what every design is intended to be. And the idea of custom has evolved from having a choice of something everyone can get into having something that truly expresses personal taste.

This has allowed numerous artisans to enter the lucrative world of high-end kitchen and baths, targeting high-end kitchen and bath showrooms, architects, interior designers and other design professionals, as well as the consumer market, in some cases. Especially within the last few years, artisans have found a way to apply their creative skills to a host of kitchen and bath products that serve as functional art pieces, decorative details and finishing touches to otherwise ordinary designs.

For instance, Stephanie Paige turned her love of painting murals into a business. In 1993 she started her home-based business - Stephanie Paige Studio - in Ramona, CA, in the San Diego area, painting murals in local kitchen/bath showrooms. In 2003 she started painting custom tile murals for kitchens based on the growing need she saw for art pieces in the kitchen.

"Kitchens are flowing into the family room area. They're very open now, and people tend to want to put the finer pieces and touches found in their other living spaces into the kitchen. People are making room for art in their kitchen, art that is personalized, not generic. For instance, I've incorporated people's favorite wines, favorite vacation spots, family names and people's wedding anniversaries into my tile murals," says Paige.

In the past year she's joined forces with her sister, Kimberly Castor, who's based in Goodrich, WI. Castor hand-paints ceramic tiles for the bath, while Paige continues to hand-paint natural stone tiles, turning them into murals for backsplashes, soffits, and elsewhere in the kitchen.

Also noticing a demand for hand-painted, personalized items that match in style, color and pattern to bath accessories and other decorative bath items, Stasia Powers started her business, Artful Sinks, less than a year ago in New Bedford, MA. She employs the artistic talents of her mother, who does a lot of the hand-painting seen on the high-end, porcelain sinks she sells. She's found a niche among kitchen and bath dealers in the Northeast, and expects to branch out across the U.S. as the call for customization continues.

"People are looking for products that are made specifically for them, that create the 'wow' factor, especially in powder rooms," observes Powers. "And as people continue to look for more and more options, the demand for custom products with an artistic flair will continue to grow."

Based on the same observation, Harvey and Corinne Weinberg continue to create new decorative cabinetry hardware and accessories that lend an artistic touch to kitchens, baths and other rooms in the home.

The Weinbergs started their New York City, NY-based company, North River Mint, 10 years ago, with Harvey handling the business end and Corinne, a well-known Manhattan sculptor, handling the creative aspect. She crafts her knobs, pulls and accessories by hand using lead-free jeweler's metal.

They feel that while there's certainly still a market for custom, artisan work in the kitchen and bath arena, it may be moving toward those individuals in the higher end of the market, breaking away from the mid-range. To that end, "our business has shifted in response. We still enjoy business from many high-end showrooms around the country, but find our products clicking with ultra high-end designers," remark the Weinbergs.

They're also finding that allowing designers the flexibility to mix and match pieces within their line - such as a base that interfaces with 200 of their knobs - is key.

Martin Megna, another artisan on the kitchen and bath scene, has found a niche by offering unique architectural hardware and lighting in myriad standard and custom colors.

"I started my glass-blowing business, Megna Hot Glass Studio in Sag Harbor, NY, seven years ago with products for the gift industry. But it was three years ago when I found that my products had a bigger impact in the kitchen and bath market. That's when I really started offering blown-glass architectural hardware and lighting, and it clicked with designers looking for that functional art piece for their clients," explains Megna.

He feels the reason for his products hitting their stride with mainly kitchen/bath showrooms is that no two products are alike. Each one is individually made from blown glass, and people see those differences as something that makes them unique.

Tile and bath designer showroom clients of Oceanside Glasstile in Carlsbad, CA enjoy the same hand-produced variations in the firm's various lines of glass tile.

"When we started this in 1992, we took an artistic approach to tile, which still holds true today. Everything is very much hand-made. We hand-cast, press and iridize, and hand-cut, -polish, -crown and -sheet each tile. Our products have found a niche because people have an incredible awareness about design now, and, as a result, they want a more personalized space. I'm noticing that they want to express themselves in the kitchen on backsplashes, and in baths," says John Marckx, executive v.p. for the firm.

Indeed, Barbara B. Sage, president of Atlanta, GA-based Purple Sage Collections, has also been watching the need for artistic expression in the kitchen, and in powder rooms, grow in the six years she's been in business. Like Megna, it's caused her to switch gears and turn her attention away from the gift industry and toward kitchens and baths.

Because of the ever-growing need among consumers for all things custom and personalized, Sage started by offering hand-painted bar sinks to architects and designers and high-end showrooms in fun patterns featuring items such as martini glasses.

"What prompted me to do so was that I saw that no one was doing fun, little bar sinks," says Sage.

She's since branched out into those with more traditional patterns, eventually extending her line to include powder room sinks, and matching tile and accessories.

"I now have 40 different sink styles, and clients have the option of changing the colors," she says.

These artisans are riding the customization wave, allowing their design professional clients the chance to give their high-end clientele unique products. They're not alone. As the call for custom continues, and as clients become more design savvy, designers will have to give their clients even more options. In the meantime, these artisans, like many others now emerging, continue to cater to the high-end kitchen and bath market.

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