Start ‘Em Up: New kitchen brands are engaging designers

This article was originally published in Kitchen & Bath Business Magazine on Oct 2, 2019.

Signature Kitchen Suite

Signature Kitchen Suite

It’s not good enough for businesses to be better or faster at doing things, they need to be doing things differently than the way they’ve always been done to win in this global marketplace. I’ve been talking to innovative startups in the kitchen and bath industry: Signature Kitchen Suite (SKS), a division of LG that is offering a new line of luxury appliances, and Cabbonet, a London-based company offering designers, architects and showrooms modern European-style furniture/kitchen designs and materials manufactured in Italy.

I sat down with Zach Elkin, general manager of SKS and LG Builder, to talk about starting up a new luxury appliance brand and the challenges he faces. We talked at length about innovations and technology – and, of course, appliances. The biggest challenge for Elkin’s team is standing up and scaling a business while putting processes and procedures in place at the same time.

I also chatted with Andrew Hays, CEO of Cabbonet, and Neil Bailey, president of Cabbonet Inc. – the company’s U.S. division – about starting up a new brand and about their company’s innovations. Hays explained that the quantity of work and vision involved in creating this brand has been all-enveloping for a long time. European product designs and materials will be disruptive in the kitchen and bath industry, according to Bailey.

A close look at two industry startups

Hays describes Cabbonet’s offering as, "Relatively simple and beautifully constructed furniture for the kitchen and every other room in the house. It’s simple to order and easy to fit with a gorgeous selection of materials and finishes."

Cabbonet’s mission is to bring to market artisan-style craftsmanship, beautiful timbers and fantastically engineered and high-quality products at an affordable and accessible level.

“We design our products and then find machines to build our beautiful designs,” said Hays. “We have a design-born vision.”

Elkin shares Signature Kitchen Suite’s product offering to the kitchen industry at the brand new 22,500-sq.-ft. Experience and Design Center (EDC) located in Napa, California.

"The EDC is the stage where we are introducing SKS to thought leaders within the design community and throughout the building community, as well as the best of the best in distributor networks,” he said. "The EDC allows us to bring our brands to life and lets designers, builders and trade partners see first hand the precision, performance and detail we put into the products."

Elkin uses the word “prosumer” to describe a consumer who has a design professional attached to them who understands the consumer and what they are looking to do in that kitchen. No two applications are ever the same he says, so the expertise of a kitchen designer is priceless.

It’s really great to see two large international kitchen industry manufacturers focus on designers as their key to success. Hays has a creative vision that encourages the design community to engage with Cabbonet. He says most European brands require that a designer has a showroom to be allowed to sell their products. He doesn’t want like-minded designers or architects restricted by bricks and mortar, so Cabbonet will offer its product to designers, architects and showrooms that fit the company’s distribution plans.

Mass production to designing for individuals

The new luxury is all about experiences,according to Elkin, who said it’s not about what you own, it’s about how you experience what you own. He and his team are designing and building appliances for people who really enjoy cooking and entertaining.

“Everything in the kitchen might not be a luxury item by category, but people will pick things they love, making their kitchen personal,” he added.

People want their kitchens to have personality and individuality, and according to Hays, "The kitchen is the ultimate place for self-expression now."



Innovation, technology, & people

Hays and Elkin both talked a lot about the importance of getting the right people on their teams. Hays describes the task as getting the right group to help create something they love.

“We are passionate people who are knowledgeable and committed,” said Elkin, who describes SKS as a collaborative culture and sees the company as helping folks design and build their for- ever kitchen.

Signature Kitchen Suite’s innovative processes have already produced industry firsts, including built-in sous vide cooking and integrated wine columns designed to preserve wine by protecting it against vibration, light and variations in temperature and humidity. When we discussed technology, Elkin said that the tipping point is coming for this and sees it helping with time management and efficiency.

"Technology in the kitchen is all about making the home chef better and making things easier from a repeatability standpoint,” he added. “It’s about saving time by managing better and becoming a more proficient and better cook and entertainer. It comes down to having more time to do the things you want to do and spending less time on repetitive tasks."

Innovation means doing things differently instead of just doing things better or faster. I was impressed with Cabbonet’s mission to bring high-style European designs and materials from Italy directly to kitchen designers in the U.S.; I think it’s innovative and brilliant. Signature Kitchen Suite’s focus on customer experiences and technology leads its drive for innovation. Cabbonet and SKS are definitely two kitchen industry innovators to watch in 2020.

The Future Designer

This article originally appeared in Kitchen & Bath Business Magazine on July 25, 2019. 

I INTERVIEWED SIX DESIGNERS FOR THIS ARTICLE – some veterans and some in the early stages of their career. I asked each of them what it would take in the next decade to be successful as a kitchen and bath designer and what might be standing in the way of success for those new to the industry. It was interesting to me that these designers were in agreement on so many things.


Would you rather use social media presence or a showroom to build your business in the next 10 years? 

Five out of six designers said that social media will be more important than having a showroom in our industry. Peter Salerno, president of Peter Salerno Inc. in Wyckoff, N.J., closed one of his two showrooms and used the funds to hire a social media consultant and build a professional presence. His goal is to have 10,000 followers on Instagram by the end of the year (he already has 4,000 with 250+ daily interactions).

Ebony Stephenson, CAPS, owner of Designs by Ebony in Newport News, Va., explained that kitchen designers can reach more people with social media than with a showroom,and she can share more about her interests, her personalityand "get her face out there." Arianne Bellizaire, owner of Arianne Bellizaire Interiors in Baton Rouge, La., said social media gives her a larger audience and she doesn’t want to be tethered.

“As a one-woman show, I can’t imagine trying to coordinate time in a showroom with potential walk-ins, booking on-site appointments with clients and feeling the stress of needing to be in two places at once,” said Molly Switzer, owner and principle of Molly N Switzer Designs in Portland,Ore.

Paula Kennedy, CMKBD, CLIPP, owner of Timeless Kitchen Design in Seattle, believes it’s going to become harder to build a business without social media than it will be to do without a showroom, adding that with social media and mobile technology, she has flexibility and low overhead.

What aspect of the kitchen and bath industry are new designers least prepared for?

All interviewees said new kitchen and bath designers are least prepared for the utility side of the business, which is defined as construction skills, trade knowledge, mechanical competencies and the ability to communicate effectively with all involved in producing a project.

Switzer said new designers need to be more competent about building systems. New kitchen designers will be the least prepared to work with tradespeople, according to Stephenson. Cheryl Kees Clendenon, president and lead designer for Pensacola, Fla. based In Detail Interiors believes that function has taken a backseat to fashion, in which young people are on trend and well versed.

Fashion now dominates our industry much more than function, which was more dominant in the 1980s when I started. Most of the early kitchen and bath dealership owners and designers were men, and designs were little more than cabinetry shop drawings. These early kitchen designers werevery competent in construction and building systems.

As I travel around the country meeting with NKBA chapters, I’m seeing that the vast majority of incoming designers are young women who are bringing tech skills and fashion backgrounds to the industry. I see this issue as a sea changein the last 30 years, and I believe there’s a parallel on the construction side of the industry as many young people don't seem to be that interested in becoming tradespeople, either.


What skills and proficiencies are new designers bringing to the kitchen and bath industry?

Three of the six interviewed said that technology is the number-one proficiency new designers offer. Other answers included fashion, fresh ideas and global perspectives.

In addition, we talked about how young people are not just tech savvy but are tech natives – meaning that’s all they’ve ever known. Salerno wants young designers to do more in person than by text or phone and added that a computer can be a crutch for some. He wants them to get more personallyinvolved with clients from the first day because he thinks it puts them in a better position for building client relationships and managing challenges when they arise.

In terms of all the new technology coming into the home, Bellizaire feels this will likely be a really good opportunity for young designers in this business. "This shift toward technology in the home will give them a leg up because it’s an integral part of their daily lives – they don’t have a learning curve,” she added. 

Are new kitchen and bath designers more creative or analytical? 

Four out of the six said that new designers are more creative than analytical. Stephenson suggested that it might take a combination of analytical and creative thinking to be successful as a designer over the next 10 years. Salerno believes that many design schools foster left-brain thinking,and Stephenson thinks creativity is big in design schools because fashion dominates. Switzer feels students can also be analytical because they are mobile natives and have better tools like smartphones. "My phone is my work horse; it’s my pathway to communicate to my clients and trades team at any point during the day,” she added.


2020 & BEYOND

Two things stood out in our discussion. First was that new designers in our industry are weak in the construction/utility/mechanical aspects of producing a project.This is something that can be learned on the job like I did, but it’s also something that should be emphasized in design schools as well. Designers have always been on-the-job managers; they produce the designs they have created, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

The second thing that stood out was that new designers coming into the kitchen and bath industry in the 2020s will be using amazing new technology – not just to do things better or faster, but to do things differently – like operating a kitchen and bath business without a showroom.

Innovation and Disruption

Innovation and Disruption | Dream Kitchen Builders

This article was originally posted in Kitchen & Bath Business.

Technology is changing the way business is done in the kitchen & bath industry. 

Game-changing innovations in technology like mobile computing, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and computer vision are providing new abilities and opportunities in our industry. All segments are deploying innovative technology on job sites and in manufacturing, communications, marketing and design.

Some changes are truly 180 degrees. For example, in some marketing departments the design of TV and print ads is rapidly being replaced with the design of interactive experiences for customers on social media. Home automation systems that are hardwired, expensive and installed by professionals are being replaced with wireless plug-and-play devices that use AI. 

Design software that was once labor intensive is now simpler and has the ability to “see” so we can import real images in the blink of an eye – and they are to scale. That’s disruptive technology.

Unbundling Projects

Kitchen and bath remodeling “all under one contract” is a service dealers sold a lot in the 1990s and 2000s. It was really convenient for customers to have one contract and person in charge of design, materials, labor, etc. It’s still a service homeowners want, but lately some are choosing to unbundle and have multiple contracts and people in charge and to even do some of the heavy lifting themselves. Technology makes it easier to be educated and more confident about taking on projects around the home. That’s what happens with disruptive technology, things get unbundled. 

Designers are unbundling services too and are offering them by the hour instead of requiring that design and materials be bundled together.

“The way we charge our clients and what makes the most balanced and fair monetary exchange between designer and client is an hourly rate,” said interior designer Mary Douglas Drysdale. “In my experience, clients are put on notice that if they can’t make up their minds or request frequent changes, there will be a cost. We have all sought to achieve a higher level of professionalism, so we should avoid conflicts of interest and charge as other professional consultants do.” 


Talking about Innovation

“People typically respond to change and technology by asking what is out there and how they can use it,” said Saul Kaplan, author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. “The right response to changing technology is “How do I use these new abilities to do things differently?” 

He says the way to approach innovation is to start with the lens of the customer and then map a customer experience to learn what they want. Next, you learn about the economics for the project. Then, take a blank piece of paper and think of ways to serve your customers that are better, faster and cheaper in every step. 


Industry Disruptors  

A disruptive innovator in the kitchen industry is Wood-Mode Fine Customer Cabinetry. The company is working with Virginia Tech on a project called FutureHAUS Dubai. Virginia Tech won first place for the project in The Solar Decathlon competition last November. Universities from around the world competed in this event to show innovative concepts about the future of home design and construction. 

 Jeff Wolfe, marketing director with WoodMode, said his company worked with Virginia Tech to design, build and install cabinetry that’s customized to fit new technology, such as adjustable-height cabinetry. The unitized walls or cartridges of the FutureHAUS smart home are dropped into a new home from above, one wall at a time. The technology is plug and play, and the assembly and construction is less labor intensive. We’ve always built on top of floors, so building things into walls is truly innovative.  

“Wood-Mode is also using disruptive programs by integrating LED lighting into the custom cabinetry design process,” said Wolfe, who explained that the light can be applied to almost any interior and can be operated with a switch, remote control or mobile app.  

The integration of lighting systems into cabinetry in a factory is disrupting the way homes are built. By combining mechanicals and cabinetry, the installation is simple and faster. 

“Kitchen cabinet installations are getting disrupted too,” according to Wolfe. “As the installation continues to see more integration of product and technology, it’s not just carpenters installing a box. Now designers and system technicians are involved in the installation plan, as cabinets become connected to the home’s central technology center.” 

Mobile App Innovation

AR has been around for a while, but it recently got a big boost when Apple launched the mobile AR platform ARKit. Anybody with an Apple mobile device can now experience and design with AR. Kavtek is a Canadian app start up using it to enable home design.

“Marketing and sales are the top reasons realtors use Kavtek,” said Chris Bellissimo, marketing manager with the company. “Realtors, builders and designers can easily design home-staging experiences and get different looks on the spot.” 

But many realtors are struggling to connect with millennials, according to Bellissimo. Some realtors prefer computers over mobile devices for business. They buy media ads to push their content the way they’ve always done it, and they don’t do inbound marketing. But social media and new technologies like AR are exactly what millennials want.

In the 1980s, PCs and CAD design were innovative game-changing tools that gave designers and image-centric business a competitive advantage. Back then, computer input was labor intensive, and the software was expensive. Thirty years later, we have tools like AR and computer vision that are free, easy to use, smarter and better. 

Our Industry's Brand-New Bag: How companies are latching onto Augmented Reality

This article was originally posted in Kitchen & Bath Business.

A New Superpower For Brands: Kitchen Brands Love The All New Medium Called Augmented Reality | Dream Kitchen Builders

I first experienced augmented reality (AR) when my 29-year-old daughter sent me a snap. In it she and my grandson were wearing virtual sunglasses. It looked so real that I did a double take, the sunglasses moved in sync with the two of them. When augmented reality is done right the experience can be magical and Snapchat does it really well. 

What really got me thinking about AR was the worldwide developers conference last May in the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino California. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said that iOS 12 and AR had “awesome new features that would impact the world.” Apple introduced it's own AR measuring app called ... Measure. Measuring and recording real world images and spaces in real time and to scale is a game changer for the design and construction industries. That’s what disruptive technology does, it changes the game. 

AR is a brand new kind of media that builds on that of the past like radio, TV, digital and mobile technology and add a unique new superpower – the ability to combine the real world with the imagined world. I recently used AR to place a virtual range in my Kitchen in real time and to scale. Combining real time experiences with virtual data is profound. The history of computing has been 100% text input up until now but computers can now use images and video to “see.” That’s called computer vision.  Computer vision means you can point your smart phone camera at something and it can obtain data like location, dimensions, context and of course capture an image.


How companies are using AR

Trying to understand the power of AR, I asked Dr. Helen Papagiannis, author of Augmented Human, her thoughts about its use in the design and construction industries. 

“Designers, marketers and merchandisers can harness AR’s unique visualization ability to showcase their work and products to scale and in-situ and in customers homes, offices and even on their bodies with a try–before–you–buy experience“ she said. 

Some major corporations like Mercedes-Benz, are engaging customers in ways that seem almost science fiction like. Point your mobile device at whatever it is that you want to know about your car – like your dash control panel – and virtual data like images and video are uploaded to your mobile device to assist you. Simply put, virtual data is shared to your real time experience. That’s AR.

GE Appliances, a leading kitchen industry brand, is another early adopter of AR. According to Shawn Stover, the company's Vice President of Smart Home Solutions, engagement is the big differentiator. GE Appliances wants to engage customers throughout the buying cycle with quality interactive experiences.

“The kitchen industry is at the beginning stages of augmented reality“ he said. “We are now into utility; we want AR to enable showrooms to show more about appliances in less space.“

GE’s premium finishes can be displayed (superimposed by a mobile device) on top of the physical floor model, in real time. This means customers gain more product visualizations, and more personalization with AR. Kitchen and bath brands can now interact with customers in the discovery stage of a buying cycle – when customers might not even know something like a custom finish exists. 


New & Future AR Applications   

AR experiences in every stage of a buying cycle will help us when we need something whether it’s in the shopping stage or post purchase. Like getting more finish options for appliances in the shopping stage and learning more about your new car after you drive it off the car lot. Stover also brought up using AR to replace a water filter on a refrigerator. Homeowners can now access real time instructions using AR to assist with changing a water filter on a refrigerator.

There are new kinds of services popping up where we can access a live person for service. Remote Expert is an AR app where a  repair person can diagnose issues remotely using AR in a shared experience. I recently remodeled a kitchen and my client asked if my company could change a door swing on a wine cooler which made me think that instructions for reversing appliance door swings would be a good application for AR.

Jeff Wolfe, Director of Marketing for Wood-Mode Cabinetry is very upbeat about AR from a brand marketing perspective.

“I love that AR is about getting content when and where we need it“ he said. “This allows brands to connect with us in more ways and with more personalization. At some point, virtual reality and AR will become part of a show room experience.“

With AR I see a whole new kind of storytelling that enables us to merge our physical worlds with virtual worlds. Leading kitchen and bath industry brands are showing us how to do it.  Designers already use lots of design technology, so I'm interested to see my colleagues explore new avenues of creativity and storytelling using AR. 

A Superpower For Designers

A superpower for designers  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

Augmented Reality could transform the design/build industry.

If any industry could benefit from technology, it’s construction, but we have never been known to be early adopter or even mainstream users of technology. But the design/build world is ripe for tech innovation; we design and built in front of our buyers, and we work in diverse, mobile and typically scattered teams of professionals. 

We need the technology in our industry to be mobile, image oriented, simple and inexpensive. Designers and builders are now integrating products and technology from all over the world -- since consumers are now shopping in a global marketplace -- and we need the latest and most creative tools to manage this.  


What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is a composite of real-world and virtual data like images and videos and can include perceptual data like audio, measurements, depth perception and geolocation. AR can help designers automate processes and build prototypes easier and faster by using virtual images that are scaled correctly. It can bring teams together in real-time design meetings even though they may each be in remote locations. 

The top AR-use cases for designers and contractors:

  • Shared Experiences by Apple will be available this fall through Apple’s ARKit 2 on Apple devices. Multiple users such as clients, designers, builders and architects will be able to collaborate on the same virtual image superimposed on a real-world image in real time — on different devices.

  • On-site job management and record keeping via mobile apps will speed things up and keep the team on the same page and will also automatically update your records.

  • AR can be used on a jobsite to measure, scale, notate and share via chat.

  • Video conferencing with real + virtual images in the real world (live on everyone’s screen in real time) can be helpful for design meetings, change orders and troubleshooting.

Helpful AR Apps: 

-  Augment. The Augment app allows designers to scan content and import it for AR applications. Let’s say you’re at a plumbing supply house and you find a beautiful but very large chef’s faucet, and you’re not sure if it’ll fit in your client’s design. Using the built-in AR camera, you can shoot the image and then save it. Back at the project, you can upload it into an AR app and superimpose it in the real world to check scale. You can add text and save the composite image to your files, and you can share it in real time with everyone involved in making the decision.

-   Measure. Measure will be released by Apple this fall as part of iOS 12, and it may become the new standard for measuring in the world of design and construction. Apple, with iOS 12 and Measure, has made jobsite measuring so much easier, and at the same time its AR capabilities will be especially useful to designers. Will Measure replace the tape measure and become the standard for measuring in the construction industry? Maybe. Its superpowers are that you will be able to measure almost anything with your iPhone. Point, measure and save real-world, real-time images and related data. It will even measure a person. It’s going to be easy to measure LxWxH  on your iPhone, as it will recognize rectangles automatically and measure all sides of the rectangle at once. One of the biggest assets for designers using this new app will be something that Apple calls “Level.” Designers and builders will be able to keep objects level in any space using this feature from the app.

-   Chalk. With the Chalk App, remote teamwork and collaboration become better and easier. You’ll be able to take a real-world image of an item that has just been installed at your project and superimpose a virtual image on top of it to share with your team – even on numerous different devices. Virtual images, like a manufacturer’s CAD image of a faucet, can be superimposed in the real world to create a composite and perfectly scaled image. The composite image can then be saved and revisited later by the whole team with the virtual elements still in place. This is called “Persistent AR.” The Chalk app is coming out this fall and will be an awesome new tool in a designer’s bag of tricks. It will be helpful in online meetings and for troubleshooting, and it’s an excellent way to collaborate remotely.

AR isn’t new, but the democratization of it is definitely new because Apple just made it mainstream with ARKit and ARKit 2. Design tools that were once too expensive for independent small and medium business to purchase are now free. The power to merge the real world with imagination is a superpower that designers down through the ages would have died for. 

Smart Home Transparency and Trust

Smart Home Transparency and Trust  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

If you have smart devices in your home like a smart speaker or a smart appliance then you have given permission to a tech company to share your data. Consumers have given a level of trust to tech companies up until now but that may all be changing. The loss of trust and lack of transparency by Facebook will likely have far reaching effects and maybe none more than in the home automation and smart technology industry which is just in its infancy.

Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple Siri and Samsung Bixby smart assistants all share personal data with app developers, it’s part of their user agreements. Some user agreements like Houzz' give ownership rights of your data to themselves — forever. Appliance companies like Samsung mine personal data from your smart devices like your refrigerator, washer/dryer and TV. In 2015 Samsung warned its SmartTV customers that every word they say in the same room as their SmartTV is being captured and sent over the Internet

Facebook and Instagram and other social media companies pass your personal data on to other entities such as app developers and you agreed to this in the user agreement. In some cases an honor system is in place between the software company and the app developer about sharing users’ data. We now know that that self-monitoring system isn't working out and tech companies’ sharing of personal data needs to be regulated. Facebook and their “partner” Cambridge Analytica, a data mining company, have misused personal data of 50 million Facebook users. Facebook has known about this issue for a long time but didn’t share it until this past weekend. This lack of transparency has compounded the negativity of the misuse of personal data and Facebook today is in crisis mode.

This Facebook debacle will hopefully shine a light on the need for a personal data bill of rights in the United States. This is particularly important for home automation and smart kitchens since this data is our most personal and intimate details of home life.

Mark Zuckerberg is being asked to appear in the US and the UK to answer for the misuse in sharing of the personal data of 50 million people. The European Union has a law on the books that will take effect on May 25, 2018. The USA has no one law — instead we have many laws and some conflict others.

Without up-to-date laws in place to guarantee the rights of individuals regarding their own personal data the home automation industry might find itself in a situation like the one Facebook finds itself in today. It’s time to open up dialogues about user rights and user agreements. It’s time to talk about and do something about trust and transparency in the home automation industry.

Kitchen & Bath Business: A Dream Home Come True

The following was published in Kitchen & Bath Business on March 2, 2018.

With plans to build their retirement/dream home on an almost unbuildable lot in a remote area in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Stan and Montana Wakefield took a fearless approach and combed the planet to find inspiration and products to make their dreams come true.

The Wakefields were hands on in every facet of the project. After the shell of the house was built, they moved from their other home in Florida and assumed the role of general contractors for their new one so they could personally coordinate the local craftspeople and subcontractors. Montana did part of the manual labor, including staining, painting and caulking, and the only reason she didn’t stain the floors was because Stan thought she was working too hard. She designed the home inside and out and sourced and selected finishes for all the spaces. My job was to design custom cabinetry for the kitchen, the Murphy bedroom and the bathrooms.

Kitchen & Bath Business: A Dream Home Come True  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

Finding the Motivation

Montana’s inspirations came from her world traveling and her degree in fine art. European design informed her selections for authentic materials like the carved marble sinks in the bathrooms and in the kitchen. She did online image and text searches for months, looking for products in England, Italy, France and Spain. Alibaba, the Hangzoo, China, group of Internet-based businesses, “kept popping up.” She chose Alibaba because she found people who could make one-of-a-kind products to her specifications for less than similar off-the-shelf versions.

Montana wanted products that were decorative, functional and affordable. She found artisans in a small stone shop in China that made the custom marble sinks, as well as bathtubs and fireplace surrounds. An artist in Spain made a 10-lb. door knocker for the front door. Wood was repurposed from a 200-year-old cotton mill in South Carolina, which created the worn, old, rustic contrast with the clean white finishes chosen for the cabinetry, molding and trim. Montana chose sparkly things like the clear acrylic cabinet knobs, which were inspired by pretty things she saw in Paris.


Functional Kitchen with A Spectacular View

The most important requirement for the kitchen design was that it had to work well for baking, cooking, gathering and entertaining. Secondly, it had to look beautiful.

“The kitchen is the heart of the home,” said Montana. “It is so important for it to be beautiful, large and stately because it makes the house.”

She wanted lots of counter space for when she bakes several things at once, and the cabinet drawer interiors were customized to her cooking needs. We incorporated a baking drawer to store spatulas, biscotti tins, measuring cups and spoons, and custom drawer organizers in the prep area include a knife drawer, a two-tier utensil drawer and a spice drawer made from recycled wood. The walk-in pantry for food storage was important to the Wakefields because they buy in bulk.

Montana chose Crystal Cabinetry for the whole home because the product is made to order with a furniture finish and a lifetime warranty. The kitchen design features white-painted cabinets with classic Shaker doors.

“I selected white cabinets because white kitchens are classic, and white is always going to be in,” said Montana. “I like a bright house, and a light kitchen makes everything sparkle.”

Crystal Cabinetry’s commitment to green initiatives was another reason it was chosen for this project. The company not only has numerous green certifications but has also been directly involved in the development of the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) to promote green building.

The kitchen sink was inspired by an original marble farmhouse sink Montana saw in a 300-year-old home in Venice, Italy. The oversized single-bowl sink – carved out of one piece of marble and weighing about 325 lbs. – anchors the enormous island. Comfortable seating for four and large prep areas make this kitchen perfect for hanging out and putting some fabulous meals together.

Montana enjoys the changing view at the top of the Great Smoky Mountains while baking and giving online guitar lessons. The home was designed so the kitchen is oriented to take advantage of floor-to-ceiling glass, affording an unobstructed view of the mountains and lake.

Read the rest on Kitchen & Bath Business  >> 

Kitchen Builders Move HQ to Moore County

The following Press Release was published in the February 7 issue of The Pilot. 

Kitchen Builders Move HQ to Moore County  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

Dream Kitchen Builders LLC has moved operations from Greensboro and is now designing and remodeling kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms in this area.

Owners Scott and Gwen Koehler relocated to Whispering Pines to be close to their children and grandchild.

The Koehlers have been in the kitchen business since 1989. Over the years, Dream Kitchens has designed and produced award-winning kitchens all across North Carolina and as far away as New York City.

In 2011 the Greensboro showroom was sold and, in 2015, the Koehlers formed Dream Kitchen Builders to offer all of the same services and products without a showroom which has cut cost for their clients.

Dream Kitchens instead operates a website, a Facebook page, a Houzz site, a Pinterest site and is active on Instagram, all of which help new clients to learn about Dream Kitchens and see projects they’ve designed and produced.

Scott Koehler, a nationally recognized expert on kitchen technology, spoke at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show KBIS this past January in Orlando, Florida. He participated in two panel discussions and also offered a presentation about connected kitchens, smart appliances and using technology to help people live in their homes longer — age in place. To learn more, Visit, call (336) 312–3540, or email

Image Search: A New Tool For Designers

Designers have a new tool to add to their bag of tricks.

Image recognition means that computers gain information and understanding from digital images or video and they also analyze and categorize image data. Designers can now search their files by image instead of just text and automatically add metadata tags to images in their libraries — for example, a hideaway door on a kitchen cabinet. A meta tag or metadata is information that is not shown in the image but is attached to the file such as descriptions, keywords, document authors, last modified dates, etc.

Image recognition, a type of artificial intelligence, is more advanced than just identifying an image; it also has the capability to identify context. Instead of identifying “two people in a kitchen,” computers (like smartphones) can recognize that the two people are at the kitchen sink with plates in their hands and the water is turned on; thus understanding and conveying that people are doing dishes.

Below are some areas where designers can benefit from image recognition, which is just in its infancy.

Automated Image Tagging. You can have your image files tagged with meta-data automatically by a cloud service like Google Drive or Box so they are easily searchable. You can literally dump tons of photographs into one of these cloud services, and it will attach meta tags for you using artificial intelligence. I was stunned to look at my image files recently and see all the added meta tags. If you’ve ever been in a design meeting with clients, and you know you have the perfect image to share with them – but you can’t find it right then – image recognition will be a game changer for you.

Reverse Image Search. You can now search online by uploading an image to a service like google reverse image search. I have use this to find manufactures of wallpaper and ceramic tile in less than 30 seconds. I’ve also use the search to identify products such as Kohler sinks and metal finishes like copper for hoods.

Discovery. Designers love discovery and new inspiration, so for this example, I’m going to compare a search for a piece of cabinetry hardware by text and then by image. By text, I type “cabinetry hardware” and all my results down at the bottom of the page are cabinetry hardware (below).

Image Search: A New Tool For Designers  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

Next, I’m going to upload a piece of hardware to start the image search, and although cabinetry hardware does come up, check out what else the computer found based on the image and the “nickel” meta tag .The screenshot of other nickel images is well down on the page, but on the way there, I see images and shapes that I’ve never thought of using for cabinetry hardware (below).

Image Recognition  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

For the whole history of computing searching has been just by text, which is narrow because you’re searching for something very specific. Just the opposite is true with images because images can convey many things all at one time. Image search has open the door for discovery.

Talking Smart Kitchens at #KBIS2018

This week, Dream Kitchen Builders is attending The Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Orlando. KBIS is one of our favorite annual events -- we've attended the last four years and been inspired at every turn by the people and products we've seen.

I'll be speaking for the third year in a row at this year's show. I'll be presenting a one hour presentation as part of the Voices From The Industry series, and I'll be participating in two other panel discussions. 

If you're attending #KBIS2018 join me Tuesday, January 9 from 9-10am. Or, get a peak at my notes for the presentation below: 

Artificial Intelligence In The Kitchen

SMART KITCHENS AND HOME AUTOMATION are crossing over into the mainstream. Kitchens are the biggest work places in the home so we can use this new technology to minimize our work in those spaces and provide ourselves with more free time. We can now control hundreds of new devices for the home remotely and wirelessly.

Artificial Intelligence In The Kitchen  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

It'll be interesting to see how kitchen designers manage the opportunities and challenges all this new technology brings with it. We will need to be fluent in smart technology but most of this technology seems to be DIY, so what's in it for us? Smart kitchen technology is a proficiency kitchen designers can offer their clients as a service and those designers who are fluent in home automation and smart kitchens will have an advantage. The following are some products, trends and potential issues I see affecting home automation and smart kitchen design.


Inventions can look like toys when they first come out, but if they are adopted and productive they become tools. Corporate America made fun of the Apple mouse at first but then adopted it once Microsoft designed software requiring a mouse. Most of us thought Snapchat was just another cute app - nothing more than a gadget that lets us glimpse photos and then makes them disappear. Snapchat is actually the first mobile native app to go mainstream and is now worth billions; Snap now also offers a desktop app and snap spectacles which is little camera/computers embedded in eyeglasses that are helpful for taking hands free photos and videos. This could be useful to designers who produce their own marketing content. Designers can walk through a project while narrating and the spectacles record it all. 

This year's big "toy" is the smart speaker, the Apple HomePod will be vying for home automation market domination with Amazon Echo and Echo Dot as well as Google Home. Smart speakers can be used to control functions in the kitchen like lighting, music and appliances to make those spaces more efficient. They can help unlock our doors and turn on our lights when we come home, they can help us buy our groceries and deliver them they can help feed the dog and let them out; and they can provide the evening's music or movie entertainment.

Smart speakers can make our homes better in so many ways but they can also have negative outcomes. Some voice assistants are always listening and recording conversations, and some send your personal data to the cloud - which you agreed to let them do. Now you no longer own all the rights to the conversations that took place in your home.

Another concern is that TV commercials have been known to trigger smart speaker assistants to make phone calls for you to online stores or even to the sheriff. It's cute when Alexa, Amazon's assistant talks to you but I don't think it's such a good idea that anyone within hearing range of the Echo smart speaker - children, for example- can order merchandise that will be charged your account. Amazon is currently working on the ability to understand different voices.



Touch screens are being replaced by our voices because speech recognition technology has reached an accuracy level equal to humans. Computers can recognize our speech at about 95% accuracy. Say "turn on the exhaust fan" to your assistant or "light up the prep area" and almost magically these things can happen.


Battle lines are being drawn around our privacy in the home. On one hand Amazon needs your data to be a leader in sales, Google needs your data to be a leader in search. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, is willing to sacrifice profit for privacy. Apple does not send your data to the cloud like Amazon and Google do. As a professional designer I won't be recommending smart kitchen systems that use my data and share my personal information. There are no laws to protect personal data ownership once across your threshold and goes to the cloud. Read the fine print to see who owns the rights to conversations taking place in your kitchen and your clients' kitchens.


Smart speakers (machines) can learn from us and from our behaviors, and voice recognition is just one aspect of artificial intelligence. Image recognition is another and that's the reason Amazon just introduced the Echo Look, which is a $200 hands-free camera that doubles as a smart speaker.

Artificial intelligence (AI) specifically speech recognition, is making our connection to all things digital and online less abstract. Instead of keyboards touch screens and mice, we can just talk to computers. AI will be a big benefit for us and our clients as we age in place our voices will be able to do things that arthritic hands can't, and folks with shaky hands will be able to use voice to operate things in the kitchen instead of using a keyboard or a touch surface.

Smart kitchen technology has the potential to provide us and our clients with huge benefits - especially when it comes to saving time and ease-of-use. Fasten your seatbelt and get ready for a big ride, as smart kitchens are now front and center in the race for home automation.

KBIS Announcement

I am really thrilled to be asked to do a presentation about "Designing a Smart Kitchen" at the Kitchen And Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Orlando in January. It's such an honor to be asked by The National Kitchen And Bath Association (NKBA) talk about my two passions, kitchens and technology.

If you are coming to the show please come by and let's chat about the latest in smart tech, voice input and artificial intelligence in the kitchen. We'll see you there!

KBIS Announcement  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

My love affair with my Subzero 700 | Dream Kitchen Builders

Earlier this month, I shared that we were moving to Whispering Pines to spend more time with family. As I was packing up my kitchen to head to the Sandhills, I was thinking about the appliances I chose for our kitchen back in 1997. The one that I distinctly remember purchasing -- and loving over the years -- is our 27 inch wide Subzero 700 all refrigerator. Not only do we love the design, but we've also never had to make a single repair to it! 

My love affair with my Subzero 700  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

Subzero was a leader in food preservation in the 1990's, this one even had 3 zones for different types of food preservation. Subzero was also a leader in cabinetry integration. Being great at two things is always awesome -- making this the perfect choice for my home. 

On a different note, we've just gotten started on our second kitchen remodel in Whispering Pines. Here's a couple of before photos: 

My love affair with my Subzero 700  |  Dream Kitchen Builders
My love affair with my Subzero 700  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

Continue checking back for updates. And, in the meantime leave us a comment telling us about your favorite kitchen purchase!

Dream Kitchen Builders is a Moore County based design/build firm specializing in kitchens and baths.

Galley Kitchen Fun

Our first Whispering Pines project! This galley kitchen is everything we love about galleys, like how easy they are to prep in and cook in and to clean up after a meal.

Check out the kitchen here:

Galley Kitchen Fun  |  Dream Kitchen Builders
Galley Kitchen Fun  |  Dream Kitchen Builders
Galley Kitchen Fun  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

This pretty kitchen is in need of some storage organizers, updated finishes and some smart technology. All of these objectives can be accomplished with the gut kitchen remodel but good options for a partial remodel as well as a kitchen makeover are available too...What will we do?

Follow along on Dream Kitchen's blog and see the inspiration boards, concept designs and finish selections as we navigate a kitchen remodel with our clients. Stay tuned! 

Dream Kitchen Builders serves Pinehurst, Southern Pines and all Sandhills communities.

Our newest location: Whispering Pines

Our newest location: Whispering Pines  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

The historic Sandhills of North Carolina are the newest location for Dream Kitchen Builders, the North Carolina firm that specializes in designing and producing of one-of-a-kind residential kitchens and other spaces. 

Our Whispering Pines office will allow us to spend more time with family and friends in the Sandhills and we will continue designing and producing kitchens in Greensboro and Guilford County. 

For kitchen renovations in Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen and Whispering Pines Dream Kitchen Builders offers free on-site design consultations and budget estimates.

See you in the Pines!

Our newest location: Whispering Pines  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

Times are changing in the Kitchen and Bath Industry

It's striking to me how much has changed in the kitchen & bath industry over the past 10 years. 

There have been many changes in communications, product sourcing, smart technology and consumer awareness and they can all be traced back to the release of the first iPhone in 2007. Smartphones have changed the ways we communicate, shop, learn and they have changed the way we live in our kitchens. Mal Corboy, a well known Auckland NZ kitchen designer says that all of this evolution has changed the design process. 

Most residential design/build project communications used to be done in person, by phone and by email. Dream Kitchen Builders still uses those tools but now we also use messaging apps and social media apps and we use these business tools to communicate via mobile devices.

The amount of kitchen & bath information that's available to consumers is enormous and growing larger every day. This has made us all educated buyers and given consumers more control of each aspect of a design/build project.  

We're now experimenting with smart appliances and wireless devices in the kitchen and bathroom that use artificial intelligence to help us get things done. I cook so I give voice commands to Siri to set a timer adjust my music and more while I'm cooking. I'm hands free so I don't have to stop what I'm doing. Smart Technology hasn't gone mainstream yet but appliance makers and device makers are designing and producing amazing new kitchen and bath products and early adopters are trying them out and talking about them to their friends.

Last but not least every kitchen and bath product seems to have almost limitless options and price points and many include free shipping. Clients are now buying kitchen & bath products online and sourcing them internationally. 

Kitchens & bathrooms have always evolved but the changes we are now seeing are so revolutionary that they are disrupting the way kitchen and bath business is done, changing the relationship between professionals and consumers and changing the way we live.