Growing in a Growing Field

Remember when kitchens didn't have to do that much? If they had the standard appliances, a basic work triangle, and colors that didn't start with the words "Harvest" or "Avocado," you were pretty much good to go.

Of course, a look at any kitchen these days will show you just how far we've come. Nowadays, the kitchen may be a small but highly functional space dedicated to food preparation and cooking, or a showplace with commercial-style appliances and granite-topped islands large enough to house the cast of a reality TV show. It may be a multi-functional family center, a place to host parties or a quiet backdrop whose major function is to showcase an art collection or heirloom piece of furniture. It could be a self-contained space, or part of an open Great Room concept.

More likely than not, it features many customized options, such as multiple work stations, specialized storage or countertops set at exacting heights to provide ergonomic relief to owners of varying heights.

We have built-in televisions and surround sound and talking refrigerators that let us know when we need milk. We have refrigerators in drawers and dishwashers that fit on top of counters and wine storage units to chill our evening wine to just the right temperature.

Even the concept of simplicity the much-talked-about trend toward clean lines, streamlined function and clutter-free styling requires a complicated array of products and technology designed to cleverly hide a kitchen's inner workings from sight, while still providing the highest level of functional and aesthetic appeal.

In fact, kitchens do so much these days, it's hard to imagine that this simple "heart of the home" receives its lifeblood from so many different veins.

But, if today's kitchens seem to need their own copy of "Meditations for Rooms that Do Too Much," kitchen and bath designers are hardly any better. We design kitchens and baths, true, but we also configure entertainment centers, wet bars, home offices, bath spas and master bedroom suites. Some of the more adventurous of us are finding new niches in specialty areas such as wine rooms.

And, of course, design is only a small part of what kitchen and bath professionals do. Take a look at the list of seminars at this month's K/BIS expanded this year to cover the rapidly increasing list of interests, responsibilities and concerns relevant to today's kitchen and bath pro and it becomes almost dizzying.

There's technology to keep abreast of and, at the same time, a need to refocus on the "personal touch" that becomes more critical as the backlash to technology makes consumers long nostalgically for a simpler, more people-friendly time. In the wake of projected home center growth and a tightening economy, there's a powerful need for designers to improve their business management skills, yet there's also a resurgence in the art of design, as consumers seek a refuge in beauty, be it a carefully detailed Old World kitchen that brings to mind a rich sense of tradition, or a sleek, contemporary space that incorporates the latest high-tech gadgets, a multi-cultural design theme or eclectic styling.

So what does all this mean to the kitchen and bath dealer or designer?
Quite simply, our jobs are increasing in size and scope. To remain competitive in today's fast-growing world, we're expected to know more about more, and to do more better, faster, and more efficiently.

People may want kitchens and baths that offer a sense of unaffected simplicity, but there's nothing simple about creating these rooms. And, to continue to win our customers' trust, we're going to need to know a lot more than how to avoid the metaphorical equivalent of Avocado Green.

If you're looking for ways to keep up with a rapidly changing market, this month's K/BIS is a good place to start. With an expanded seminar program, new technology pavilion and a trade floor chock full of the newest products and services available to the kitchen and bath market today, K/BIS offers numerous opportunities for learning how to do more with less.

Likewise, the NKBA Design Competition winners showcased in this month's issue offer more ideas for enlarging your design repertoire. Buying groups, NKBA chapter meetings and online "chat" areas for designers can provide even more opportunities for expanding the number of "veins" that feed the heart of your clients' home. Remember, it's never too late to remodel your vision or your career.

Editor's Note: Beginning this month, K&BDN will be publishing a special-four part series, "Kitchens of the New Millennium." Written by renowned designer, author, speaker and consultant Ellen Cheever, CKD, CBD, ASID, this K&BDN-exclusive series will focus on various aspects of contemporary design.All of which are necessary to avoid ugly, unanticipated surprises. All of which are necessary to turn a healthy profit. All of which are necessary to remain a viable business.

Take the time now especially if you haven't already to budget for the balance of 2002.

Build your budget on accurate and detailed historical data. Be sure to accurately project revenues and estimate your expenses. Review the document regularly with your accountant, your banker, your peers. Look for areas to save, to spend, to improve and to make more money.

The New Year, in many ways, is only now just beginning. Don't try to arrive at the end of 2002 without a destination in mind, a plan in place, and a roadmap in hand.