Creative, 'Homey' Designs Mark Family Dealership

Creative, 'Homey' Designs Mark Family Dealership

by Daina Darzin
CHESTER, NJ - Designer Lois Perry Kirk of Kitchens Unique Inc. by Lois is an NKBA award-winner whose work has appeared in national magazines - and whose husband and both daughters work in her "very family-oriented" business. It's this combination of "homey" and "high-end" that's reflected in her designs, which bring an unfitted, down-to-earth warmth to high-end, luxury kitchen and bath installations.

Originally a furniture designer, Kirk was taking time off and working out of her home, only designing a few kitchens a year - and her competition objected. "Other kitchen dealers were very upset with that whole situation, that she was buying direct and didn't have a showroom, [so] she was pushed into opening a showroom," explains treasurer Wendy Gizzi, who is also Kirk's daughter. Kirk opened a tiny office in 1981 - and, ironically enough, was soon eclipsing the very competition that forced her to expand her operation.

Stepping up tile
The tile design division began, inadvertently, when Kitchens Unique designers got tired of driving into New York with clients to look at tile samples, and decided to start making their own. Gizzi explains that designers at Kitchens Unique by Lois work with several different artists on tile design, and keep current by going to seminars and seeking out new tile looks from different parts of the world. "We paint on stone, use matte finishes, apply more texture and mix different things: tile with stone, some gloss [with] some matte," she notes.

In addition to its tile division, the dealer stresses innovative designs which have subsequently become major trends. "Fourteen years ago, she started doing two-tone kitchen [cabinets]. Back then, it wasn't the norm. The first cabinets she ordered that way, the cabinet manufacturer thought the order was a mistake," Gizzi recalls with a laugh. That particular kitchen became a national award winner, and Kirk "started developing more furniture-quality kitchens, incorporating legs and [multiple] door styles," says Gizzi. "She's always been a pioneer, [and] she's always been into textures and multiple finishes, heights, depths, bringing a lot of warmth to a room.

"When you look in your living room, you don't see all one color, one texture; you see a lot of [different looks]," Gizzi continues. The idea of a kitchen is to blend with the rest of the home, not where "you have friends sitting in the family room, [and] they see the linoleum floor and cabinets the same height [and think], 'That must be the kitchen.'"

Similarly, in bathrooms, Gizzi believes, "You really want that warmth in there, natural stones, texture; [you don't want] everything sleek and hard."

Current kitchen projects feature range hoods that seem more like fireplace mantles and brick backsplashes, to bring more of a hearth feeling to the kitchen cooking area, Gizzi notes. Unfitted, free-standing pieces, such as islands with legs that resemble an old-time farm kitchen table, are also a part of the equation.

"We're going back to the way things used to be, when people gathered around that fireplace, and had the big farmer's table in the middle of the kitchen," Gizzi explains. "We have three kitchen designers [now] and a tile designer working with our clients, so I think everyone's needs are pretty much met."

Home office design
In recent years, Kitchens Unique has also expanded to home offices and libraries. "Everyone is going home to work now," says Gizzi. "People usually work better in their own environment. We're finding that everybody lives a little differently, so they really need a custom [design] around them instead of putting up basic home center cabinetry. We try to create an environment where people walking into that room feel like they're in business."

Lighting that maximizes a computer area and executive office-quality furniture are important components of this, Gizzi elaborates. "They're used to being around a nice environment, so why not at home? They can have beautiful cherry paneling, and a rolling ladder [against a bookcase] with all their books on it, a beautiful desk, a warm environment, someplace they want to be."

First incorporated in 1981, Kitchens Unique does full installation as well as design, with some consistent, long-term relationships with contractors for plumbing and the like. "Word of mouth was our biggest asset," Gizzi says about the company's growth. Kitchens Unique doesn't advertise in the Yellow Pages or newspapers, preferring upscale, Architectural Digest-type magazines.

The firm's only two complaints? "We're looking for good employees, [which] is hard," says Gizzi, who jokes that having all the principals be family members can also have its disadvantages. "It's hard to keep [work] away from us during down time," she explains.
"On holidays, the conversation around the table is all business."

At a Glance
KITCHENS UNIQUE INC. BY LOIS
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