Other Voices, Other Rooms

Other Voices, Other Rooms

Home entertainment centers, offices, libraries and wet bars are becoming an increasingly important part of the kitchen and bath designer's business.

By Daina Darzin

A huge number of baby boomers are becoming empty-nesters, and turning their college-bound kid's room into a library/sitting room or incorporating it into a master bedroom suite, complete with a walk-in closet full of elaborate built-in storage. Nearly every family has a computer, and it's frequently housed in a custom-built station, in a great room near the kitchen.

In short, kitchen and bath designers who are limiting themselves to just those two rooms are missing out on a rapidly growing "other-room" market, according to designers surveyed by Kitchen and Bath Design News. 

What's selling
"There's been a big push for home offices lately," states Gail Drury, CKD, CBD, of Drury Designs, Inc., in Glen Ellyn, IL. "They're very easy and kind of fun, and there are very few tradespeople involved. In the kitchen, you have plumbers, electricians, drywallers. In a home office, you have a little bit of electrical, and cabinetry." 

"We do a lot of wet bars and entertainment centers, often in the same room," adds Trish Burgess, CKD, president of Kitchen and Bath Concepts of St. Simons, Inc., in St. Simons Island, GA. She also points to specialty master bedroom closets as a new hot niche. Patricia Mauro, CKD, of Mauro & Co., in Orange, CT, cites libraries, fireplaces and bedroom built-ins as a growing part of her business. 
Ironically, most of the designers surveyed got into the other-room market by accident. 

"We do not go out and say, 'we're the area home entertainment specialist,'" says Burgess. "We haven't needed to. When we do a higher-end new home, we do the [kitchen] cabinet job and then they come to me by the end of the construction and say, 'We want you to do the rest of this,' after I've proven myself." 

"I still sell mostly kitchens," says Drury. "[An other-room project] is usually the second thing a client buys from me." Drury adds that 70% of her overall business comes from referrals, though her company does advertise, as well. 

Cohen also cites existing kitchen and bath clients as her primary source of entertainment center work. 

"Residential projects count for 35-40% of our business," reports Jeff Clark, v.p. for Metropolitan Design and Building Co., in St. Louis, MO. Most are whole-house renovations in the $200K+ range, which include home offices and great rooms, he says. "[But] we don't specifically market to specialty rooms," he elaborates.

"We pursue it," counters Mauro. "We work with some builders where we do all of the cabinetry in a house. There's more opportunity in new construction," she believes, though she also does remodels. 

She emphasizes the need for a good portfolio of other-room work. "You can [sell] them 'til you're blue in the face, but I can't tell you how many times people have looked at my portfolio and said, 'I didn't know you could do libraries!'" she recalls. "So, even if they're coming in to do a kitchen or bathroom, [we can] open their mind to the fact that we can do so much more, and do it better than the millwork guys." 

In addition, Mauro advertises in regional newspapers and magazines, plans to add a billboard to her advertising plan and recently hired a part-time person just to do marketing, including targeting builders with a letter campaign. "We're going to offer a fairly substantial discount on our first kitchen, just to see if we can establish some new relationships," she explains. 

Another NKBA winner, Cohen also finds entering contests to be a good marketing tool. "I enter all the time," she says, noting that she also participates in showcase house projects and ASID kitchen tours. "I don't do any advertising," she explains. "I'm in the Yellow Pages, but that's just so people can find me. Every once in a while, I'll send a card out to my clients, but that's it." 

Design trends
One of the advantages to expanding into home offices, entertainment areas and wet bars is that many of the hot trends mirror those of the kitchen, so the designer can call on his or her existing expertise to create a more "complete" look for the home. And, as with kitchens and baths, design trends in other rooms tend to be regional. 

Lisa Anderson, ASID, CKD, of Ward's Kitchen & Baths, notes that her company's Omaha, NE customers like elaborate materials: richer woods, more unique finishes, granites and natural stones for bar tops and fireplace surrounds "they're carrying those [kitchen] trends to the lower level." For libraries, the trend is for cherry wood and a furniture look: crown mouldings, Enkeboll appliques, decorative light rails. 

Similarly, in Mauro's Connecticut market, "we don't do a lot of contemporary." Her clients like "decorative mouldings and onlays, built-in niches, a furniture look, a lot of fireplaces." 

Dodd's Silicon Valley clientele, on the other hand, favor contemporary styles; their other hot trend is an Arts and Crafts look, with maple replacing the traditional dark look on cabinetry. 

Cohen says her Encinatas, CA clientele want a variety of home office looks. "One was a weathered farmhouse look, one was contemporary." She adds that home offices that are part of a great room are often close to the kitchen, and tend to pick up that look and cabinetry style. 

Similarly, wet bars and entertainment centers are often in the same room, with coordinating cabinetry, explains Burgess. Spe-cialty finishes are popular in her upscale Georgia market, with rub-through finishes, distressing and faux worn looks the current hot thing. "Once in a while we do specialty units we take an old piece of furniture and equip it with a sink," she adds. "We design a free-fitted wall cabinet with glass doors and shelves above it." 

For built-in closets, she adds, "it's middle of the road not real European simple, but not ornate. But, they don't want cheap stuff they'll use my main brand of cabinets for the closet." 

Both Clark and Burgess cite a wall of extensive casework as a frequent addition to a home entertainment center. "They'll do 14 to 16 feet of storage with a TV in the middle," says Burgess. 

But for home offices, "I think there's a movement toward flexibility," believes Clark, "a stationary work center and mobile peripherals. The home office is becoming much more common; people in home offices actually go to other home offices to conference, so the ability to move furniture out of the way so you can hold meetings [is important]." This approach enables clients to upgrade their electronics and computer equipment without worrying about fitting it into their work station, he adds. "It's not like you can just hook up your PC and leave it alone you're always fidgeting with new devices." 

"Our clients have wanted the built-ins," counters Anderson. "They want less of an office feel, [more] of a library, definitely not sterile. They want it to function as an office, but not look like an office a space to unwind in as well as work." 

Drury also says her clients like a built-in look with all equipment hidden, but readily available, "so you can pull it out and have access to the wires, interchange pieces and move things around."

Roll-out shelves and plenty of outlets are major necessities, and the look is usually traditional. She notes, "Even in a contemporary home, people want the feel of an old-fashioned library."

Hi-tech solutions
The biggest headache in other room design? Home theater AV equipment.

"The biggest challenge is trying to fit in all the program requirements that the client brings to you, in a confined space," says Clark. His answer, "Don't jump!" he quips, and adds, "I think, particularly, technology freaks are at a point where they just want everything. It's very tough for them to discipline themselves to [using only] the available space. We have one client right now who every day seems to be changing his mind about what he has to have in those spaces." 

"Clients don't know where to go [to get equipment]," says Dodd. "They get conflicting information, they get confused." Parker recalls a project where the homeowner switched AV systems in the middle of design planning. "The screen size, projector placement, everything changed," she recalls. Now, she emphasizes to clients the importance of deciding on a system first. 

Anderson also cites trying to incorporate all of the AV equipment in an aesthetically pleasing manner as a challenge "you have the big screen TV, the VCR, the DVD, the stereo, subwoofers, the speakers and they have to function together, but we want them to look good." 

The solution? "We run almost all the wiring through conduits, and oversize the conduits so [you can] run new wires [when needed]," says Clark. "In the case work itself, build in the capacity to be flexible inside the cabinet," she suggests, noting that this allows for the addition of new equipment. "You can define the volume, but who knows what kind of equipment is going to be coming out next? Having the ability to bring in new technology without having to tear things up is the trend." 

Parker also suggests employing flexibility in deciding the size of the TV/screen area of a home theater. "I'm not building specifically to fit their screen component. I'm making a bigger hole and then trimming down to the existing one, just in case they want to go to a more sophisticated television in two years." 

Several designers suggested finding an electronics specialist and developing a relationship with them. "They can work in all the equipment and answer technical questions," notes Anderson. 

Dodd often has an electronics specialist come in at the time when Cupertino (which is also a construction company) is doing heavy structural work on a space. "[Often, we have to] take the ceiling out anyway because people are putting in [specialty] lighting," she explains. "So often, we suggest [that someone from] the stereo company come out and put speakers in the ceiling [at that time]."

This phase of the project is also a good time to fulfill other client desires, such as wiring stereo speakers throughout the house, she notes. 

Adds Drury, "I have a computer guy all he does is go to people's homes and set up computer systems. A lot of times, I'll recommend that people hook up with him before they make a final decision [on their equipment] to make sure they've got everything they want, and then he sets it up for them." 

Cohen hasn't hooked up with a computer/electronics specialist yet, but plans to do so if her future jobs become more complicated. "I'm very technically oriented, so we're still within the realm of my knowledge of computers, but I do have a client who's going with an HDTV system [for an entertainment system], and they already have an electronics person who will help the contractor with the proper wiring." 

Mauro adds that, for intricate bookcase, moulding and other elaborate woodwork, having your own installer is a must. "We did a huge library, and they were using their own installer," she remembers. "The guy calls up and says, 'nothing fits.' We spent hours re-measuring each piece and it turns out, he just didn't know how to put it together." She adds that fireplaces also have specific fire code regulations that must be adhered to.

Cohen says that her other-room headaches are similar to her perennial kitchen problem: "getting things made right and delivered to the job in one piece!" she laughs. "I make my plans as clear and detailed as possible, with as many written specifications as possible. I unpack things as they come off the truck. I'll spend hours on a cabinet delivery. I can find most of the problems then, and get the pieces re-ordered" and ready by the time they're due to be installed, rather than letting orders sit in their packaging for weeks, and then having a crisis. 

The downside, she notes, is that, "With our lovely booming economy, people are making lots and lots of mistakes." KBDN