Personal Add

Consumers want well-thought-out spaces when updating their kitchen or bath. They want the rooms to be both beautiful and functional, as well as meet their needs and mesh with the overall aesthetic.

Kitchen and bath designers know, however, that when creating a design, it’s important to tap into their client’s feelings and create a space that will also resonate emotionally with the homeowner. Only then will the client feel truly connected to the space.

That emotional connection is usually achieved through the use of individualized pieces rather than the cabinets or stainless steel appliances. It is the pieces that are distinctive to the homeowners that make the space their own.



While creating a kitchen or bath to match the homeowner’s personality or interests is standard procedure for most designers, using custom elements to make those spaces come to life is more of an art than a science.

For inspiration, kitchen and bath designers must not only look to their clients, but also must look within themselves, tapping into their own sense of style and incorporating their best skills to bring the design to fruition.

“For me, inspiration comes from the client,” reports Ian Cairl, designer and owner, Platinum Designs, in Flemington, NJ. He begins every project by researching his clients, investigating what they do, where they’ve lived and any other details he can ascertain. “That can give me ideas as to what they might like,” he adds. Cairl will get other clues from the space itself, as well as a design questionnaire his clients fill out.

In addition to getting to know the clients and considering their personal style, budget and space needs, Kaity Slaughter, lead designer, Design Centers International, in Charlotte, NC seeks to create a focal point for the room. “I always go for the ‘wow’ factor,” she notes.

To get focal point ideas, Slaughter is constantly looking for new designs, whether traveling , browsing magazines or surfing the ’Net.

Sometimes the homeowner comes up with an item that helps create the focal point, such as a family artifact or favorite piece. “It might even be the china they want to display. We may make that the center point for the room,” she explains.

Slaughter notes that just viewing the clients’ home can be all the inspiration that is needed. “As you’re walking around the home, you may find something that gives you an ‘aha’ moment,” she states. “You know at that moment that it’s what you need to feature in the space.”


The various sources of inspiration kitchen and bath designers use show themselves in the products chosen to individualize each space.

“A personalized element can be as simple as a hood or even a paint color,” comments Cairl.

In one home, Cairl wanted to add a stone wall to the kitchen to separate certain areas. When he discussed it with his clients, they were excited by the prospect and asked to include mosaic tile pieces they had collected on the beach in Italy. “They had been hanging onto the pieces for years, so we ended up putting them – as well as some of their grandparents’ little heirloom pieces – into the rock,” he reports.

In another recent kitchen project for the owner of a number of buildings in the downtown area, Cairl took 100-year-old beams from one of the buildings the client owns and used them in the kitchen ceiling. “I wanted to add something different than a fancy coffered ceiling, since this was more of a country-style home, and I wanted to draw attention up to the ceiling,” he explains. “It added a very personal touch.”

Also featured in the kitchen is the firm’s signature black walnut detailing underneath the farm sink, as well as a black walnut countertop on the second tier of the island.

Slaughter recalls remodeling the kitchen of a home built in 1916. “The client was an architect, and he wanted to incorporate a lot of the original architecture and design of the home in the remodel,” she states. To stay true to the home’s original design, Slaughter had custom hutch brackets made for the kitchen that matched originals in the butler’s pantry, and also duplicated original moldings that were found throughout the home. “We used that molding to trim a skylight we added so that it didn’t feel like too much of a modern addition,” she explains.

The client wanted to keep the footprint of the kitchen the same, as well, but needed more storage. To solve the problem, Slaughter took the cabinets all the way up to the ceiling, and then added a ladder system so the storage could be accessed.

Slaughter also had clients who were remodeling a master bath in a log home they had built. “They had some pottery bowls that had been made by a friend, and we used those to make sinks for the double vanity,” she reports. “We used them as the focal point for the master bath.”

“We draw inspiration from the raw materials that we have already selected for the project, such as the granites, woods and fabrics,” comment Carly Purcell and Feather Nolan, kitchen and bath lead designers, Kinsley Design Group, in Highland Park, IL. “We then mix those materials with our clients’ needs and design expectations, which offers them something unique to their space.”

Lorey Cavanaugh, CKD, CBD, owner, Kitchen + Bath | Design + Construction, in West Hartford, CT, sees decorative hardware as an important element that can help boost profitability while adding pizzazz to a kitchen or bath design. “This, after all, is the ‘jewelry’ for our projects,” she comments. “There are so many designs and finishes available. Mixing them is a great way to add distinctiveness, and not all clients have the vision to do this – or do it well.”

Her extensive travel in Italy has also helped her develop an eye for the interesting use of tile in kitchen and bath projects. “We use tile design and installation as a way to personalize our kitchen and bath designs,” she comments. “I tell clients that these elements – which are one of a kind – add a distinctive, personal signature to their projects.

“Our clients understand that they should rely on us to create and install these elements as an integral part of their projects, not as an add-on that they might purchase from another source,” she continues.

Cavanaugh notes that kitchen backsplashes can add $5,000 or more to the cost of a project, and a distinctive tile design in a bathroom can also add to the bottom line.


boosting revenue

Indeed, specializing in certain areas and offering custom items can set kitchen and bath design firms apart from their competition, and attract clients who are looking for something different.

Purcell and Nolan note that they do a lot of custom furniture, tables and chairs, “which is all extra profit,” they report. “Clients buy into the uniqueness of our designers.”

Cairl focuses a lot of his customization on natural black walnut countertops and copper hoods. “We often use wood tops in kitchens because the rooms tend to be kind of large,” he explains, “so there may be a couple of different island areas. People are looking to change things up a bit.”

Cairl works with a local supplier “that has great lumber.” He notes that the supplier has been known to have pieces that have been there for 30 years. “What we try to do with each product is almost create a story behind it. It gives the client a sense of history that goes with the piece,” he explains.

As for his custom copper hoods, Cairl notes that creating the hoods was just something he always wanted to do.

He warns, however, about the cost of custom items such as these. “We know that we need to be charging more for these custom pieces, but in the last few years, clients have not been in a position to pay for them,” he explains. “If that’s the element that got you the project in the first place, you don’t want to lose it over that one piece.” So it’s sort of a double-edged sword.

Slaughter believes that success through custom pieces is about “expanding your scope.” While a few years ago, she might have sent her clients to a supplier for an unusual piece, today her firm is supplying some of the elements instead. “That boosts profitability for us,” she stresses.

She cites concrete countertops as an example. “Five years ago, we would have said, ‘Here’s our source for concrete countertops, go directly to them.’ Now, I’ll get more involved. I’ll actually sit down, work with the design, color selection, inlay in the concrete, and then I’ll also sell them the countertop,” Slaughter offers.

“It’s about broadening your scope, and being willing to get involved in more areas of design, rather than just specializing in certain items,” she continues. “It also forces you to educate yourself more and become more knowledgeable in all areas,” which is a bonus for kitchen and bath designers. KBDN