Simplifying the Design Process

At the Harvard Joint Council Remodeling Futures Conference held recently, one of the speakers pointed out that some 15 million automobiles are sold in the U.S. each year. He then posed an interesting question: “How many cars do you suppose would be sold if people had to first go and buy the hood…and then the engine…and then the seat…and the trunk…the door…the bumper…with no idea how the whole thing would look when it was all put together, or how well it would work, or even how much, exactly, it would cost?”

It’s an interesting question because, at some level, this is exactly what we expect consumers to do when buying a kitchen or bath.

There’s been so much talk over the past year about simplicity in design, and an overall “slimming down” – whether it’s the square footage being devoted to kitchen and bath projects, budget sizes, the design details of the products themselves or the changing consumer mind set (see related story, Page 9). Yet rarely does anyone talk about how important it is to simplify and streamline the process itself for the consumer.

The trend toward clean lines and simple designs isn’t just about how we design spaces; it’s about how people are living their lives. Consumers want an ease and simplicity in their lives, a de-stressing, and that carries over to what they want and expect from the often convoluted process of remodeling their kitchen or bath.

Design duo John Lewis and Brigitte Manzke at J&B Kitchen Designs not only get this, but are using it to their advantage (see related story, Page 25). Recognizing that 90% of their clients “can’t visualize what their finished kitchen could look like,” they’ve taken their use of design software to a new level, making it an integral part of the process and a key differentiator for their firm. “We don’t go into a client meeting without showing them at least 10 different views of their kitchen,” says Lewis, who is convinced that “no one has ever complained about too many pictures!”

While design software is nothing new, Lewis maintains that few designers take the time to learn how to fully utilize this tool to simplify the process for consumers so that they can better envision what they’re getting. For instance, using a panoramic view, he can have clients virtually walk through the door, go up the stairs, and fully experience their kitchen rather than buying on faith. A former 20-20 teacher, Lewis believes that giving clients a realistic view of what their kitchen will look like up front is one of the most powerful – and underutilized – sales tools around.

Technology can also streamline the remodeling process for clients in other ways, such as holding meetings via Skype to allow for more interaction and a more personal feel to the ongoing communication that is such a critical part of the process.

If you haven’t already done so this year, take some time to think about how you can simplify the process for your clients – from picking out products to helping them envision their finished space to budgeting and financing.

Of course, part of simplifying the process has to do with understanding what consumers really want. For instance, it’s still a common belief that consumers want bigger kitchens, yet a recent Houzz study showed that what they really want is kitchens that open up to other rooms of the house, kitchens with islands and new countertops rather than added square footage (see related story, Page 34).

In fact, countertops are so hot right now, they took the top three spots (and eight of the top 20 spots) on KBDN’s 2013 most-asked-about products list, as determined by reader demand.

Likewise, the most-asked-about product list made it abundantly clear that consumers want products that will help them to personalize their spaces, provide comfort and simplify their lives.

As we head into the holidays, we often reflect on the simple joys of life, and the importance of clearing out the clutter so we can better appreciate these simple things. There’s a lesson to be learned here: Our clients, too, long for simplicity – not only in the form of beautiful, timeless, well-functioning designs, but in a process that makes buying a kitchen or bath as easy as possible.

From all of us at KBDN, we wish you a joyous holiday season and a happy, healthy and profitable New Year!