Creating Fame in (Your) Name

I walked into my office one Monday to hear a half a dozen people waxing poetic about the new DiCaprio movie, "The Beach." It was gripping, they said. It was powerful. Whoever wrote it deserved an award.

"Who did write it?" I asked, torn between admiration and envy for the wordsmith who undoubtedly had a life glamorous enough to encompass hanging out with Leonardo DiCaprio and travelling to exotic tropical locales far more interesting than the little coffee shop where I get my morning caffeine.'

Six faces looked at me blankly. "How would I know who wrote it?' one finally asked. "But man, whoever did was great."

It shouldn't have surprised me, I suppose. We, as a culture, love to idolize projects, with little thought given to the creator.'

And the kitchen and bath industry is no different. Every year, we see stunning designs, beautifully photographed kitchens and baths splashed across the pages of consumer and trade magazines, or mounted on displays at K/BIS. The winning designs from NKBA's Design Competition, for example (see related story, Page 88), are so widely touted, I've frequently heard them discussed months or even years after the fact. But if the designs themselves are well publicized, accolades for the designers are often far more modest.'

Take a trip across the Atlantic, though, and things are different indeed. As a judge for the sixth annual Bathrooms & Kitchens Industry Awards, sponsored by Bathrooms & Kitchens magazine (see related story, Page 54), I had the opportunity to be present at their recent awards ceremony in the UK. A posh, black tie affair, the awards drew some 730 industry professionals, and looked and felt like a night at the Oscars.'

I sat in awe as the formally gowned and tuxedoed guests stared in rapt attention while the names of their winning colleagues were rattled off. Winners' names elicited gasps of delight and thunderous applause, and I wondered if I'd somehow fallen into a time warp, into some mystical land where kitchen and bath designers were celebrities (and kitchen and bath editors might even get to visit exotic tropical locales!).

Even more impressive, the competition honored not just designs, but industry pros themselves, with awards for best marketing, best showroom and master retailers something we've only just begun to do here with the 1999 advent of K&BDN's Industry Leadership Awards.

Some time later, I chatted with NKBA president Stephanie Witt, who was also present at the awards ceremony. After commenting about the extraordinary level of recognition given to these designers by their peers, I asked for her opinions of the winning designs.'

"You know. . .I hate to admit this, but I never saw them," she replied.
And it struck me at once that she was right 'there were no displays of the projects at the awards ceremonies, no photos posted for all to admire, no slides set up on the projector, which instead touted names and photos of the finalists. Clearly it was all about the people.

Interestingly, the U.S. design industry seems to do just the opposite. We do a marvelous job of promoting our designs, but sometimes it seems like the designers get lost in the shuffle.

Perhaps a part of that has to do with the fact that many American designers still seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of promoting themselves. Or perhaps we're still not quite sure how. Despite seminars on everything from building portfolios and promoting ourselves to the media to 'Net marketing, we continue to struggle with the idea and specifics of "tooting our own horns."

Yet, the personal and professional credibility that come with self-marketing are not only critical to the success of each designer, but to the recognition and respect accorded our industry as a whole.
To this end, we can take a valuable lesson from our English counterparts. As we support not just our creations, but the individuals who make up our industry, we increase our professional credibility, and enhance the respect society has for all kitchen and bath designers.

Picture it: fame and fortune (or at least a bit more visibility in our communities). . .the respect and adulation of our peers . .thunderous applause and an awards ceremony fit for a king. . .
Who knows? Maybe even Leonardo DiCaprio will show up. . .