Showrooms can be a great place to provide inspiration for your clients and potential clients. But opening a new space can be wrought with challenges. However, overcoming them is often what kitchen and bath designers do best when they work with clients to create their dream spaces. Designer showrooms are no different.
In this year’s annual Portfolio of Showrooms, Kitchen & Bath Design News profiles several new showrooms that shine despite some initial challenges.
‘Vive la France’ meets the ‘American dream’
Thierry Pigeot is used to accepting challenges. In 2009, he opened his first showroom in Paris, France, as a place to inspire and shape dreams. With 15 years of experience in the industry, he was disappointed by what he saw being offered to consumers. Kitchen remodeling had become a chore, he relates. No one fully listened to the customer, and looking at mini samples, drawings and cost calculations was neither exciting nor promising. Consumers deserved better.
So he gave it to them… a showroom with fully functional kitchens with new, bold design trends that transformed an industry that was attempting to sell dreams from sample cards. Over the course of the years since, he built seven more showrooms in and around Paris, all blending Italian kitchen cabinetry with a sprinkling of French flair.
With his Paris locations running smoothly, Pigeot set out on a more worldly mission… opening Premier Kitchens, a 5,000-square-foot showroom in the U.S. After vacationing in Florida with his wife and children, he became curious about his American counterparts so he visited several showrooms, discovering that the true contemporary kitchen enthusiast faced limited options here as well. After relocating with his family, Pigeot began the search for the perfect location, initially eyeing Miami. But after digging deeper, he discovered Boca Raton was the perfect fit. Ultimately, Pigeot plans to open a second location in Miami next year.
His biggest challenge with his U.S. showroom was to meld contemporary French design with a more transitional style, something that required well thought out design that would combine the best of both worlds… ‘vive la France’ with the ‘American dream.’ While the Boca Raton showroom coordinates with his French showrooms, this space has warmer elements, is much larger and features more ‘uber chic’ design detail.
The new space – opened in October 2013 – provides high-end retail clients with exquisite choices of warm contemporary Italian-made cabinetry with regard for modern functionality and flow. The showroom features four full kitchens – including one which is live – each with an adjoining space, such as a foyer, dining room, family room, etc. Some special features include u-shaped, curved cabinetry with coordinating soffits; an exquisite designer ventilation system from Italy; concrete door panels; textured ceramic countertops; modern, European plumbing fixtures and underlit quartz countertops among other features.
Pigeot also took the opportunity to include the latest in technology such as electric drawers, induction cooktops, TVs that provide recipes and undercabinet lighting that does not require valances. He also utilizes the latest versions of software to create realistic renderings for his clientele.
Creating a Delicate Balance
When Portland-OR based Neil Kelly Co. branched out into the Seattle, WA, area in 2011, it fully expected to have a showroom completed within the first year. Instead, it took three years to find just the right location, finally celebrating its opening in January 2014.
The 3,000-square-foot showroom is located conveniently in the heart of the design world, near the Seattle Design Center which serves the area’s interior design community.
Although it features an open design with few partial walls, the showroom is divided into nine distinct areas including two bath displays (one that is fully functioning), two kitchen displays (including the working demo kitchen) a meeting area (that is also used for evaluating home energy efficiency), a multi-functioning island display, a conference room, reception area and the Design Lab which is supported by an internet library where designers and clients can locate the perfect light fixtures, barstools, plumbing fixtures and appliances.
The live kitchen serves as the focal point for showroom events, but the Design Lab is where the real action takes place. “It is an interactive, hands-on space where designers can work with clients to put together materials for their projects,” explains Kathleen Donohue, CMKBD, Neil Kelly Co. and designer of the space. “It is also attractive to the casual showroom visitor in that it is not a static ‘put together’ display, but rather an area where loose samples can be arranged, touched and placed together with flooring, countertop, hardware and cabinet samples to give visitors a personal, unique combination they can visualize in their own home. It starts conversations and physically involves the showroom visitor.”
While the showroom was ultimately created to showcase the company’s abilities, it was also designed to accommodate those who work in it. “Any designer from our Portland, Eugene or Bend offices could function in the new showroom comfortably,” she says. “This is an important consideration because some designers have clients with multiple homes and/or they relocate within the Northwest and would prefer to work with ‘their’ designer who knows their taste and has earned their trust.”
It was also important to include the designers’ thoughts into the plan. “This is their ‘tool’,” she says. “If we built a showroom the designers felt was foreign territory, it would just be an expensive space. It has to work with the designers, showcase their abilities and be flexible enough to adapt to the changing cycles of business and the changing trends of the kitchen and bath business. It was also important to use materials and fabricators designers favor while trying not to follow trends, instead identifying what would be used again and again to keep the displays as fashion forward and timeless as possible… a very delicate balance indeed.”
Minimize Customer Overload
When Kathy Crifasi Simoneaux, owner of Acadian House Kitchen + Bath in Baton Rouge, LA, purchased her previous showroom, she thought there might be a possibility she would have to move someday since the street on which it was located was included on a long list of roads that needed to be redone in Louisiana. “We were pretty far down the list,” says her daughter Angela Simoneaux Poirrier, vp/designer. “But that all changed when a hospital was built right behind us.”
The duo eventually lost their showroom to eminent domain, receiving official notification two years after the hospital opened. Then they had just 90 days to find a new space, design a showroom to work within its boundaries and move. But they had one remaining challenge that didn’t present itself until the night before the big move. They had planned to take a few existing displays with them, which they had set aside. Then someone drove a car into their building, destroying everything they planned to take.
“Apparently we like challenges!” says Poirrier. “We couldn’t reuse anything so everything in our showroom now is new.”
The move gave them the opportunity to relocate to a more centralized area of the city that offers supporting services. It also gave them a chance to make upgrades and include a ‘wish list’ of features.
For starters, the space nearly doubled to about 5,000 square feet. They added six full-size displays – including two live kitchens, one of which is 25 feet long – rather than banquettes, and opted to showcase a fully furnished master suite at its entrance. “We wanted the entry to be less complicated, more soothing to the eye,” she says.
Calm, relaxing and soothing are all key words the duo adhered to when designing the showroom. “We didn’t want to overwhelm customers,” she explains. “That’s when you lose them.”
As such, visitors don’t see the entire showroom at once. “Instead, they see one display at a time… without walking into every decision they have to make,” she says.
They also moved the sample room to the back of the showroom, admittedly to the initial hesitation of manufacturers. “But it works,” she says, indicating they are on track to double business again this year compared to last year. “It keeps our clients calm and relaxed. They don’t go back there until they’re guided by a designer, again preventing them from becoming overwhelmed.”
The showroom was also designed with events in mind, including monthly ‘Lunch and Learns.’ As such, they included an open area adjacent to the main live kitchen where they can easily seat 54 people. “We know from monitoring our statics that if we can get in front of our clients, we get very high close rates,” she says.
Additional features include office space and two conference rooms, each equipped with two 42-inch screens where clients can view their designs created with 20-20 as well as make product decisions online. “We can pull up products onto the screen and zoom in to see the details,” she says. “This is a great way to stay current with product availability since manufacturers have their most current products online. And because we already know the quality of the manufacturers we’re working with, touching and feeling isn’t as much of an issue.”
Simoneaux and Poirrier also paid close attention to how the showroom would portray online. “So many people preshop online,” she says. “We designed it with the thought of how the displays would show online, considering how it would look visually to make sure it didn’t look overwhelming on the website.”
Overall, the move has had a silver lining, notes Poirrier. “We have something new and fresh to market,” she says. “We have more walk-in traffic because people know they haven’t seen it yet. And because we started with a blank slate, we were able to update the entire showroom, allowing us to take the ideas we’ve been gathering over our years in business and apply them immediately. There’s nothing holding us back!”
Encourage a Wandering Mind
When it was time for an update, Kitchen Distributors went all out, completely transforming its ?? two-story showroom in Littleton, CO. The year and half long process will culminate with a grand opening celebration in September.
“It was time for an update,” says Morgan Mackay, marketing director. “The new showroom gives us an opportunity to become current and to show new product lines we’ve picked up since the last remodel.”
While there are certainly challenges associated with a complete remodel of an existing showroom, it was eased somewhat for Kitchen Distributors because of its multi-level configuration. “The majority of the remodel occurred upstairs where we did a full tear out,” he says. “Fortunately, downstairs we have three kitchens, including one live, where people could interact with our products without seeing all the construction.”
Now that the dust has settled, the company is ready to unveil its new look. All totaled on both levels, there are seven full kitchen displays with an additional butler’s pantry, wine bar, wet bar and dining area. Three bathrooms coordinate with a shower, laundry area and closet. Other areas of the showroom include a reception area, conference room and sample area.
The entirely new upstairs features an open concept environment. “People can wander and discover freely, looking at design elements at their own pace,” he says. “That was very important to us, to create an openness so visitors don’t feel corralled. We wanted them to be free to look at what we have and not feel pressured into seeing only what we wanted them to see. Plus, architecture in general is moving towards an open concept. That’s what everyone wants and we designed this space to match that desire.”
The centerpiece of the space is a kitchen display featuring walnut cabinetry, an imported French range and rotisserie with a 12-foot-long onyx-topped island and globe pendants. On the other side of the wall is a fully-live, scullery-style galley kitchen that features a combination speed/convection oven, induction cooktop with touch screen and marble backsplash amongst other amenities.
They also took the opportunity to include several new technology pieces, including a coffee system that is controlled via a smartphone or tablet app. A new sound system features in-ceiling speakers and most of the showroom is wired for the lights, heating/cooling system and shades that can be operated from a tablet. In the conference room, they included flat screen televisions where products and designs can be displayed for easier viewing.