It doesn’t take long for people, especially clients, to realize that John Lewis and Brigitte Manzke love what they do. The duo at J&B Kitchen Designs renovates between 70 and 90 kitchens each year from two Chicagoland locations that serve homeowners from Wisconsin to the Indiana border. A new satellite office in Michigan assists clients in the southwest part of the state, as well as northwest Indiana.
“We’re enthusiastic about what we do, and we’re lucky to be a team,” says Lewis. He indicates that in addition to general kitchen/bath design, his expertise is in knowing what structural/engineering changes can be made, while Manzke offers proficiency in interior design, including organization solutions, color selections, countertops, etc.
With 34 years of experience in the industry, Lewis stresses that there is little they haven’t seen. And with their ability to make structural changes – including moving walls, doors, pass-throughs and windows, as well as creating additions and adding bumpouts into patios and garages – there is little they can’t do.
“We walk in with a different perspective,” he says. “We know how far we can make modifications, especially those related to the structure. We can do changes other designers might not think about. It gives us a lot of leeway to create totally different designs…to take them to the next level. I think that’s one reason we do the volume we do.”
Faster, more accurate design creation
Another key area of differentiation that Lewis identifies is the team’s ability to create comprehensive, realistic color renderings of designs – derived from 20-20 Technologies software – which they can present to their clients.
“People have a hard time visualizing,” says Lewis. “I’d say about 90 percent of our clients can’t visualize what their new kitchen could look like.”
Lewis has long been a technology advocate, utilizing design software in their firm for more than a decade. “It really changes how we do things,” he says. “It’s quicker because we don’t have to make hand drawings. We had one client go through 14 major design changes. I’d hate to think how long that would have taken me without the software. It’s also much more accurate, giving us precision to 1/16".”
It also helps ensure his clients get the kitchen that best fits their vision. “At our initial meeting with a client, we’ll talk as long as they keep us there,” he explains. Some initial meetings have lasted as long as three hours. “We really listen to our clients, which is a big part of our design and business philosophy. It’s not an ‘our way or the highway’ approach. We often hear clients tell us people don’t listen to them. But listening is important us.”
During the initial meeting, Manzke will take extensive notes derived from a standard set of detailed questions. Then they’ll dimension the structure and each designer will create a plan using the design software. “It’s great for our clients because they see two entirely different scenarios within the same structure,” he says.
The design duo will also create multiple plans highlighting how material changes, such as a different door style, finish, backsplash tile, wood specie, etc., can entirely change the look of the space. “We don’t go into a client meeting without showing them at least 10 different views of their kitchen,” he says. While this number of designs could overwhelm, Lewis notes the exact opposite is true. “It really knocks their socks off,” he says. “No one has ever complained about too many pictures!”
Technology also gives Lewis and Manzke the ability to make changes on the fly, as they’re sitting in meetings with their clients. “I can move pass-throughs, change a window size or add glass to a cabinet,” he says, “right on the spot as we’re sitting with clients.”
Save time, enhance precision
Within the design software, Lewis and Manzke can load each manufacturer’s catalog – nearly 20 cabinet suppliers alone – giving them precise door styles, crown mouldings, etc. This also gives them the ability to easily receive sell prices from manufacturers and generate quotes for clients. “The software automatically generates lists based on the most recent catalogs,” he says. “It saves so much time, especially when changes are made…no more line items, no more inputting each individual cabinet. It’s a whole new world!”
Lewis and Manzke can also add other elements such as appliances (building them to spec if needed) and granite to their designs. They can also create custom ventilation hoods and add extra touches such as sunlight streaming through a window and a plant on a windowsill, complete with casted wall shadow.
The new generation of 20-20 software, along with the structural software, has also reenergized the design team. “With the latest version I can create a panorama so clients can ‘walk’ through the door, go up the stairs, etc.,” he says. “I can load it onto a disk, then send it to the client to show them how it would look as they walk through the space.
“Our clients can truly get a realistic view of their kitchens,” he continues. “The better we are at it [computer design], the more it sets us apart from the competition. It puts us on a different level.”
At a Glance
J&B Kitchen designs
Locations: Arlington Heights, IL; Des Plaines, IL; Lawrence, MI
Principals: John M. Lewis and Brigitte Manzke
Showroom: Utilize various dealer showrooms.
Hours of Operation: Any time, seven days a week.
Number of Employees: 2
Business Philosophy: “We take our business extremely seriously, yet we have nothing but fun dealing with our clients. We love what we do!”