Family Studio Offers New Profit Niche for Designers

Family Studio Offers New Profit Niche for Designers

By John Filippelli

Enter the family studio, a new design concept from Benton Harbor, MI-based Whirlpool Corp., which features a one-room set of modules set up as a built-in laundry room. Set up to provide multiple fabric-care and storage options, it also provides a great opportunity for kitchen and bath designers to create a customized room that serves multiple purposes while incorporating extra cabinetry, countertops, sinks, appliances, etc.

Available exclusively through Whirlpool Corp.'s contract channel, the family studio was developed by focus groups set to solve new problems as well as address consumer feedback, according to Mara Villanueva, designer/brand manager family studio for Whirlpool Corp.

"It centers around the general dissatisfaction about laundry chores and the space in which people do laundry," Villanueva says. But, she quickly adds, "You can do other things in here as well," referring to the opportunity for designers to install the family studio next to the kitchen, in the basement or set up as a home studio.

In fact, the space allows designers "to work in a room that you probably don't spend a lot of time in," Villanueva explains.

She adds, "[And], if you are a builder, this is a great revenue opportunity," noting that much more cabinetry can be placed in the space where previously only a couple of cabinets would be found over the washer and dryer.

"From a designer outlook, it's the chance to develop space as it relates to family activities," she adds. Even better, it allows kitchen and bath designers to create unique, sleek, built-in designs with ample storage something they already have expertise at.

"The newer versions [of the family studio] are one big room, and if the doors [of the modules] are closed, you would never know the washer and dryer are even there," she says, adding that designers might prefer to integrate French doors or leave the space open for a variety of looks.

Helping to create these looks are family studio appliances, such as the ImPress ironing station, SinkSpa Jetted Sink, Personal Valet Clothes Care System, Duet Fabric Care System washer/dryer and DryAire Drying Cabinet, she notes.

"The drying cabinet is convenient because, during cold weather, if the kids come in from playing in the snow, clients can warm up the wet clothes while the kids eat lunch and the clothes are ready when they are," she comments.

While these conveniences are strong selling points, the key, Villanueva says, is that each family studio appliance can be enclosed in cabinetry featuring large countertop work spaces and hidden storage areas. This creates a variety of application possibilities and a new potential profit niche for kitchen and bath designers.

She notes that, in addition to making the task of doing laundry easier, the space itself helps eliminate clutter for the entire home, especially from "show areas," such as living rooms, by allocating projects to organized spaces.

She adds, "People spend a lot of money on their kitchen and may have a beautiful granite island. [So] they don't want to see the [kids'] science project sitting there for weeks. The idea is to create a work/play rec room that allows families to get chores done."

And, for the technologically savvy client, the family studio provides enough space for a computer or television so that the client can access the Internet while the children are entertained.

Speaking ergonomically, Villanueva states that an extra freezer, oven, ice maker or trash compactor can also be integrated into the space for clients who entertain frequently. And, for those who don't entertain, the family studio can be a new option to place an extra freezer rather than keeping it in the garage.
"It certainly feeds itself into an adjacent-to or open-to-the-kitchen concept," she says.

The concept of the family studio was spawned from the idea of cocooning or the practice of "home as haven," according to Villanueva. "We are definitely seeing that 'return to home,' and this clearly meets that need," she explains.

"People are buying games, puzzles, doing crafts and gardening, and if they don't have a work room, this will make it easier," she adds.

But, while people seem to be spending more time at home, how they spend their time can produce unexpected benefits from the family studio, Villanueva points out.

"Most people are used to seeing the mud room/laundry room between the garage and the kitchen, but if a client likes to garden, for instance, the family studio can double as a potting station to give access to the outdoors."

Or, she points out, it can be used as an exercise room or even as an au pair's bedroom where the au pair can iron while watching TV.

For Villanueva, how the family studio is used is determined by one, very simple thing: "It clearly depends on the lifestyle [but] your imagination is the only limit."

Summing up the family studio, she says, "Consumers can tell the builder, 'I want this module with storage options, but give me more counter space.' It gives the flexibility [to make the space] whatever the clients and the designers want."