28th June 2011 | IN DESIGN ADVICE | BY SBID

As the clock slowly ticks by and your once steaming coffee begins to get cold you can hardly disguise your anticipation, because this morning you are having your new kitchen fitted. Then slowly in the distance you see a lorry turn the corner. Inside this delivery truck is months of thought, planning and anticipation; a quiet voice in the back of your head asks; “I hope it looks okay” but you find reassurance in knowing that the designer you worked with was a professional, inspiring you and offering quiet reassuring confidence in equal measure. So how is it that in the past so many kitchen and bathroom designers have been under appreciated and overlooked by clients, other design professionals and even the very industry in which they work? But is this historical undervaluation of good design now turning the corner?

In many ways it is unbelievable that the designer of any product could be simply seen as a consequence of the actual product their employer is trying to sell. An underappreciated by-product of the bigger picture; kitchen and bathroom sales! In many ways the KBB industry has systematically turned things on their head, bypassing the source of inspiration and focusing solely on selling as quickly and as cheaply as possible, and because of this the kitchen and bathroom industry is riddled with holes. It is ironic that many companies choose to fill these holes with salespeople, in the guise of designers and wearing a name badge.

In a capitalist economy it is only right that manufacturers and retailers search for more efficient ways of delivering cost effective style solutions to the public, allowing the conveyer belt of product to keep trundling forwards.

But at what cost?

You cannot underestimate the power of product anticipation as each client, from whichever price bracket will undergo a personal journey leading up to having a new kitchen or bathroom installed. Clients may have made personal and economic sacrifices in order to afford their new installation which brings with it an overt expression of who they are and what they aspire to be. It is unfortunate therefore that in some instances, both in the multiples and the privately owned retailer, that the basic human connection between client and designer is overlooked, and because of this, things start to go wrong.
Kitchen and bathroom design is about communication, empathy and experience and it is combining these tools with an understanding of function, design and architecture that one can truly be confident of delivering a good, client specific design.

It is important for the industry to understand that design is the source of everything, every kitchen, every worktop, every sink and that without the connection between consumer and designer the industry would have nothing to sell, because there would be no-one to sell to!

The kitchen and bathroom designer works on many levels. Some designers have the knowledge and experience to combine multiple, constantly changing components to create functionally astute and aesthetically pleasing products which will not break the bank. Creating a complex product like a kitchen on a budget is a skill that needs to be appreciated more. Other designers will be presented with the unique opportunity to be flamboyant, to reshape our expectations and deliver fantastic functional art installations that will have magazine editors clambering for a pen in order to get the unique, first hand insight into the vision of the designer. In a situation like this there is a desire to tap into the individual’s inspiration and suddenly the lowly kitchen or bathroom designer is allowed to step from the shadows onto the bigger and greatly more appreciated design stage.
And so cometh a change! The pace of change has been slow and could be likened to water dripping on a stone, but just like the water, kitchen and bathroom designers are beginning to make a hole just big enough to let in some light.
Some large multiple retailers are now advertising the fact that they employ good designers exploiting the personal connection and the reassurances that a good designer can offer. However it could be argued that some of the bigger names in the industry did not value the designer at all, instead they promoted a campaign of destructive discounting which damaged the industry and ultimately consigned their own names to the history books. But just as in any blockbuster movie depicting apocalyptic scenes of self destruction the KBB industry has been offered an opportunity for re-birth, a new avenue to explore, a faint light at the end of the tunnel. A small band of mavericks have broken away from the traditional retail model choosing to offer kitchen design on a “design only” basis. These “design only” companies are offering a new way of buying a kitchen and presenting a new opportunity to manufacturers to source clients from places they had never dreamt of. Design is flexible and not geographically restricted therefore the possibilities offered from these “design only” companies must be explored by manufacturers, retailers and even other design disciplines.

Remember, design is the source of every product, and the kitchen and bathroom designer is fast becoming the gate keeper between client and manufacturer. Independent designers can offer flexibility and clarity to the buying process, acting as industry translators and as an easy source of new clientele for manufacturers. Independent designers also offer the industry a comprehensive range of design solutions on a pay and go basis allowing struggling businesses to stay open and more celebrated enterprises to flourish.

Independent designers should not be feared, they should be celebrated! Kitchen and bathroom design is changing!