The Art of 'Show Biz'

The Art of 'Show Biz'

The most effective showrooms not only showcase products and designers' skills, they also create a complete, multi-sensory environment.

By Janice Anne Costa

Perhaps nowhere is the art of kitchen design more challenging than in the showroom, where dealers must take a host of disparate products, materials, styles, design ideas and displays and turn them into a cohesive whole without sacrificing the integrity of the
individual parts.

The challenge becomes even greater as dealers battle a growing consumer trend toward shorter attention spans and high-tech bells and whistles. Yet, even as consumers demand bigger and better "wow" effects, they also seem to be increasingly searching for home environments that focus on comfort over drama soothing environments that seem almost at odds with the fascination with gadgetry.

So, how do you create a showroom that seamlessly blends modern and traditional, high drama and soothing comfort, full kitchen displays and scores of sample boards, home elements and office elements without either overwhelming potential customers or losing their attention?

While there's no one "trick," the successful showroom owner knows that it's essential to create a complete showroom environment, rather than just a collection of products and that environment should engage as many of the senses as possible. Great showrooms reach customers on multiple levels, from visually appealing designs and color combinations, striking curves and angles, and tactile-enticing textures to soothing sounds and tantalizing scents.

Just as with any other form of show business, there's plenty of business sense involved in creating a beautiful, well-planned and effectively laid out showroom. That means everything from innovative lighting usage and carefully chosen backdrops which might be ultra-dramatic or all-but-invisible, depending on your preference to thoughtful signage, open pathways and creative use of symmetry, or asymmetry.

On this and the following three pages, Kitchen & Bath Design News looks at a host of innovative showrooms that are raising the bar in the art of show(room) biz.

Granite and Marble Showroom Features International Appeal

ST. LOUIS, MO When it comes to world-class appeal, the St. Louis-based Global Granite & Marble showroom has all of its bases covered. In fact, the 5,000-sq.-ft. showroom not only boasts a large variety of natural stone from all over the world including Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Greece, India, China, Turkey, Spain, Portugal and a host of other countries it even has a staff that collectively speaks more than nine different languages.

One of the firm's partners, Alex Habr, is a civil engineer and resident of Mazraat, Lebanon, who "commutes" around the world for Global Granite. And, the showroom's recent grand opening was celebrated with an internationally themed party.

The showroom part of the company's 100,000-sq.-ft. headquarters is open to architects, designers, builders, fabricators and installers, as well as consumers who are working with industry professionals.

Managing partner Elliot Uchitelle explains that the showroom "gives us the space to showcase various design ideas that incorporate a multitude of colors, textures and finishes with plenty of international appeal. Designers now have a place to bring clients where they can see and experience the impact of natural stone and appreciate the value it brings, whether to a family kitchen, bath or fireplace surround."

The extensive St. Louis showroom offers myriad granite, marble, travertine, slate and limestone samples, while the company's warehouse inventory includes 60 varieties of marble, 160 varieties of granite and more than 300 different colors of stone. "And we are constantly importing new colors," Uchitelle notes.

More than 35 different 10'x10' floor designs and hundreds of stone samples from around the world are on display in the showroom itself, while the warehouse accommodates almost $3 million in inventory, which includes more than 6,000 slabs of granite and stone, plus 500,00 sq. ft. of natural stone tiles, Uchitelle reports.

Finally, to complete the international feeling, the showroom is designed to resemble an art gallery, with the richly hued stone, marble and granite acting as the "gemstones" on display.

Fusion of Materials and Styles Powers Showroom

In fact, "fusion" is a key theme for the showroom, according to CEO and president Troy Adams, who states, "A lot of my work has been in Guam, Bali and Hawaii, so a lot of my designs are inspired by natural elements, trying to create spaces that really fuse the indoors and the outdoors. I'm also fond of Italian design and German engineering, and I like to combine that with Asian elements and then 'Americanize' the design [to make it work for the American consumer]."

The showroom's recently added "Fusion" display sums up this philosophy quite well, mixing design elements from all over the world to create a warm, vibrant kitchen display. It combines Asian elements, Italian-German elements and American elements in a striking minimalist kitchen. "A lot of minimalist kitchens are cold, so we created a lot of warmth with a lot of different woods and textures," Adams notes.

Other materials include bamboo, rift-cut wenge, glass door fronts on base cabinets, stainless steel and an island with a corrugated face in natural cherry and a soapstone countertop with integrated soapstone sink.

Adams asserts that consumers want the streamlined look of contemporary styling without losing the sense of warmth. To that end, he believes that effectively mixing and matching textures, materials and styles can best accomplish this objective.

The mix-and-match theme is used throughout the showroom's various displays, and this is particularly the case with countertop materials. "A lot of our displays have three to four different countertop materials in the kitchen, which is unique; most designers don't blend that many materials," Adams states.

In fact, the showroom's displays frequently blend materials, though the overall effect is soothing rather than competing. "We're trying to create natural looks, subtle colors, nothing loud," he notes.

Another element that contributes to the showroom's success is the careful attention to detail, Adams believes, adding, "We not only address aesthetics, we address ceiling details and a wide variety of lighting sources and options, too."

Adams further notes that the continued fusing of styles, materials and design elements is key to the showroom's success. "This fusion design appears to be really appealing. People are buying exactly what we have on display, or a variation of that. Normally it's not like that," he concludes.

Plumbing Showroom Receives the Museum Treatment

Indeed, the whole showroom is designed to create a unique "gallery" environment where one might expect to view fine art. From spotlights and flood lights used to accentuate displays and framed pictures of products decorating the walls to easily moved, free-standing pods, everything in the showroom is moveable.

However, while the framed pictures of products on the walls might be a bit unique, as v.p./sales Suzie Williford says, "To us, this is art."

When Williford and president Doug Hermance first decided to open a new showroom, they began by visiting other showrooms to gather ideas. "Looking at different showrooms, you learn what you don't want, and that's the first place you start," Williford explains. "Then you get these visions of what you do want, and you start to build on those. We'd ask ourselves, what would be the coolest thing we could do? And then we'd try it."

The showroom's location in a wooded area 30 minutes outside of Houston played a huge role in the design. "The showroom is very fresh and clean, reflecting [the outside environment], with high ceilings and lots of natural light. We began with a very cool, neutral palette from creamy light taupe to charcoal grey. The china products on display are all in white no color," she notes.

Once clients walk in, they pick up on the open feeling. "There are a lot of windows, and there's an area that has limestone with a 24" border of black slate that creates this carpet-of-stone effect. It has a piece of standing art, with two freestanding pods in semi-circles, and we have faucet blocks hung on these. When you walk in, you start curving, and it takes you to the faucets."
To continue the gallery environment, the showroom uses all of its own pods and surrounds. "We showcase a lot of American Standard, Porcher and Jado products, as well as other lines, but every one of them is displayed on our blocks so you don't see a mishmash of blocks with signs. It's more visually pleasing this way," Williford notes.

The showroom also makes extensive use of light, both natural light and spot. "We have so many spots that it really does look like a gallery," she adds.

Vessel bowls, too, are placed on blocks to look like an exhibit, and the result is definitely a "wow" effect, Williford reports.
The showroom also has a working bathroom with working shower display.

Home-Like Feel Defines Kitchen Showroom

The showroom also has a dining room that features meticulously detailed architectural moldings, custom built-ins, wainscoting, columns, mantels and paneled walls and ceilings, which conjure up the elegant yet cozy sense of being in a house.
Four fully accessorized kitchen displays an Old World kitchen, a traditional kitchen (which is also fully functional), a country kitchen and a contemporary kitchen are also part of the mix.

"We worked to really create a design feel in each space. The Wood-Mode European Heritage [Old World] display acts as a wonderful centerpiece for the showroom, with a rich fireside on cherry finish with a black glaze, and the intricate rope carving, classic fluted columns and dentil molding," says Hutmacher. "The country kitchen is done in an antique pine with a custom-colored island, while the traditional kitchen is Brookhaven with a two-tone island and the perimeter in antique white."

Each display is carefully finished and accessorized with everything from appliances to spice drawers, roll-outs and pull-outs, so prospective clients can see the myriad options available to them.

"We also show different countertops in each kitchen, so that people can see and touch them. This helps people to really get a sense of what these materials look like in actual home settings," she adds.

Hutmacher believes that a working kitchen is key to having a home-like showroom. "It not only brings the showroom to life, but for builder events, it [facilitates] catering," she says, adding that the firm is planning cooking demonstrations to help promote the showroom.

The showroom also acts as the "design center" for Edwards Hines Lumber Co., which recently purchased Liberty Kitchens & Design. "Being bought by a larger, strong company has allowed us to expand so much more, and offer more high-end products," Hutmacher notes.

While Liberty originally built its business primarily on remodeling jobs, being purchased means the showroom now gets more clients sent by builders and architects.

Whether building or remodeling, however, Hutmacher believes her clients want a taste of home and her showroom provides it.

Showroom Details Offer Mass Appeal

According to owner Colleen Horner, this begins when prospective clients walk into her showroom, where they are greeted by an associate "who is essentially a tour guide. Our products and displays are so unfamiliar and extraordinary, they require the expertise of a highly trained individual" to help clients fully appreciate them, Horner says.

While this may sound like a bold declaration, Horner is committed to providing customers with products they can't find anywhere else. Whether it is antique, reclaimed terracotta found in Europe that was originally used as insulation in French and Italian homes or a mini sink that can be located under a staircase in an older home, Horner prides herself on offering the unusual.

In fact, offering clients something different is key to the showroom's philosophy. According to kitchen and bath consultant David Lyon, who designed the showroom, "It's imperative for the dealer to take some chances [with displays]. You can always sell off the display if it doesn't work, but if you don't take the chance, what makes you different from the next guy in town? Nothing. Then you're just competing against price."

Along those lines, the showroom features displays from completely different ends of the design spectrum: a beautiful, traditional line of Dutch Made cabinetry in hickory, maple, walnut, chestnut and other woods, and a surprisingly contemporary choice a clean, modern Sokee kitchen from Japan.

"People in the marketplace are looking for something different, more exciting and creative, and we're exposing them to what else is available. We want them to say, 'This is what I've been looking for.

I can bring this into a very traditional home,'" Horner believes.

Additionally, the showroom offers air tubs, soaking tubs, traditional tubs, whirlpools and commodes, as well as a huge shower compartment containing numerous showerhead choices on both ceilings and walls. "This compartment can even be filled with steam to demonstrate [this] option to clients," Horner notes.

Dozens of different types of floors are also on display, from tile, stone and slate to glass.

In designing the showroom, Lyon tried to take "the merchandising approach of the large retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's, grouping the products together like a department store would.

You want there to be a method to having the customers walk through the space so that it naturally takes them from department to department. It makes it easy to sell if you can take the customer through the departments in the order of how you sell the room."

While most showrooms accessorize their displays, Horner takes it one step further: She offers a whole line of boutique items including a wide selection of pottery, dishware, English towels, placemats, candlesticks, tissue boxes, Italian robes, shower curtains and more.

"When our customers come in, they are creating a whole room. They'll see some accessories that they want to bring into the house, and all of these things help make the house a home," Horner explains. Allowing them to purchase them at the showroom is just one more "extra" that sets the showroom apart from the competition.

Both Lyon and Horner believe in the importance of working displays, and, as such, the showroom has two working kitchens. "These can be used for entertaining, for public relations, for evening events and seminars, or just to show the depth of a functioning kitchen for instance, how a sink area can be completed with a lotion dispenser, instant hot water, etc.," Lyon notes.
To create a vibrant, exciting and memorable showroom, Lyon believes that dealers and designers "should go as wild as their imaginations can take them. In our business, people are buying the talent and what they see. It becomes the opportunity to go beyond the box. If they're in a classic, conservative part of the country, put something over-the-top contemporary in, and let it become the jewelry of the showroom."

As Horner concludes: "For our showroom I [wanted] something out-of-the-box, something that became design and that had creativity to it. And that's what I got."