About Me

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I have 20+ years experience in Home Furnishings and Interior Design, specializing in Kitchen and Bath Design since '01. I work for Bilotta Kitchens in the A&D Building on East 58th Street in the Mid-town Manhattan. I have a passion for learning and love the opportunity to collaberate on projects of all sizes. My strengths in the field begin with my design background, use of color and texture to bring interest to a room, spatial relationships, organizational skills, innovation, decisiveness, and planning. I have had the thrilling experience of helping hundreds...?maybe thousands of people with their projects, and what I love is it never gets boring, and no two are ever the same. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kitchen and Bath Remodeling on the BIG Upswing in 2010

Being in this business for so long now, it's become easy to recognize trends in the business, certainly among product and  over the past two years, the undeniable slump the home remodeling industry has been in. Sunday when I listened to an interview of Kermit Baker,the American Institute of Architects’s chief economist as well as senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) at Harvard University, my recent personal observations were confirmed. The remodleing industry is poised to experience a huge resurgence in business, and the primary focus of homeowners has returned to kitchens and bathrooms.
Mr. Baker mentioned in his interview with Maria Bartoromo of NBC News, that the home remodeling industry is now a $250 billion a year industry, still smaller than at it's peak but lager than the housing market at this time. He went on to say that 6-8 months ago homeowners were investing in siding, roofing, and windows, all retrofits and upgrades that offer immediate benefit in the reduction of home heating costs and/or energy efficiency.

This past November General Electric debuted the GE GeoSpring(TM) hybrid the first heat pump water heater to be ENERGY STAR(R) rated. Remember the commercial during the Olympic Games with the snow monkey lounging in their hot spring...this catchy advertising that has brought consumers in asking directly for the new technology. The GeoSpring promises to reduce energy expenses up to 62% and safe up to $320 annually on energy bills (in tests conducted by the Department of Energy), it was also awarded a Best of What's New Award by Popular Science.
According to Mr. Baker, the AIA has indications that nationally approximately 25% of remodels today incorporate some type of Green or renewable product technology. This growing trend is a very positive indication, since often green products require a larger initial investment than traditional building materials.

With the spring flowers came a rush of traffic to the kitchen showrooms around New York City and surrounding suburbs, like everyone else,  MCKB has been enjoying a spike in traffic. Once shoppers are in it's of course up to the designers and the showroom staff to gain the homeowners confidence and an opportunity to earn the business, but there is a willingness to spend that we haven't seen in about two years. Competition is fierce, homeowners are savvy and out looking for the best overall value: quality of product and workmanship are paramount. Its par for the course now that a prospective client will come in with a list, a sort of "walking tour" of NYC showrooms they are visiting on the same day and they will have a bag of literature to add my contribution to. The key for me is how to stay on the top of the pile.

Yesterday, I was with a couple in Garden City, Long Island. They were taking the first steps towards a kitchen remodel, we met in their home for the survey, and  I was retained for the project. The homeowners, who interviewed me in my showroom three times before inviting me into their home, made it clear they had been to every reputable shop in the city, hit all the big brand names and decided after two years on the browsing tour to work with myself and MCKB. I don't have to tell you how exciting that is as a designer.

One of the perks of the turnaround in the remodeling  market  is a byproduct of its roots in the correction in the housing industry.  Homeowners are remodeling to enjoy and stay in their homes, not to flip for quick cash and move on. This means projects have more a personal aspect, the materials chosen are of a better quality and the entire process is more thoughtful and yielding better results. People are obviously willing to invest more in a home they are committed to remaining in for 5+ years, so bring on the glass counter tops, inset and high end frameless cabinetry, exotic engineered wood veneers, and energy efficient appliances.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Social Media Gets Personal to a NYC Kitchen Designer

Part of this journey in business today is understanding that staying "current" isn't enough, you have to try to be ten steps ahead of what is current and throw out constraints of old narrowly defined roles, they just don't apply anymore. I will never again just be a Kitchen Designer thanks to Facebook, Twitter, blogging, LinkedIn, Slideshare, etc. Along with my co-Bloggers and Twitterparts, I am a writer, an advisor, a researcher, and a student of life, and on my best day: a conduit for what's about to be the latest thing, and when possible the eyes and ears to tell interested followers what pratfalls to avoid. It's up to all of us individually to to share all this with our audience in a fun colorful way, or lose you.
Staying completely "on topic" isn't always easy, the personal stuff does leak in, after all these outlets make it so easy to link posts. It's important to be careful if your goal is driving business not to play out life's drama in a self-indulgent way. When things are working the right way some of these associations do leave the web and become "business personal" and vice versa. As for the recent online debates over how intimate Twitters and status updates should become, I think it's okay to take some personal causes to your followers...but treat it like selling Girl Scout Cookies at work, it's not a condition of the relationship. If you are on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn you're inviting people to "write on your wall". In truth, I rarely write on anyone's wall unless you are a close friend.
For the record: I personally cringed when LinkedIn asked me to add my marital status to my profile.

When I entered this arena, a complete novice, not totally sure what it would do or what I would say; I was friended in some stroke of luck by Paul Anater, a Kitchen Designer from St. Petersburg, Florida. Paul's has incredible style and smooth delivery, he shares of his personal as well as his business story in a way that is engaging and thought provoking. He's an example of being in control of one's own self-growth and at the same time been a magnanimous rallier of the troops. Paul, with Charlie Kondek and Brizo was instrumental in assembling a group of writers/designers this past winter at an opportunity Brizo created to reveal the latest designs and futuristic technology they are bringing to life. We bonded as a group and became the Blogger19, there is a bustling fan page on Facebook, and if you want to keep up on the latest in Home Design it's a great place to check out. The energy of Paul and the other members has defined the network as an intimate useful open resource for all of us as we each develop our own niche on the social networking map.
Paul is one of those people whose hand is out to help and involve others in the good stuff he has going on, he has infectious energy and enthusiasm. In addition to the many other roles, he is a trainer now for Google and is at KBIS this week demonstrating their design program: SketchUp, he's is a great example of what we are here to drive and I encourage you to explore and follow Paul's Blog. Wishing Paul and the rest of the Blogger19, as well as Brizo a great week at KBIS 2010.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Diary of a New NYC Kitchen Designer

I have spent the last 9 years making my living as a kitchen and bath designer in the "Greater NYC" area...mainly Northern New Jersey and NYC, but occasionally in Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, New York State, and even a project or two in Vermont, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Texas. Business for me has always been good to the point I never gave "job security" too much thought, I just gave my job my all and was rewarded with repeat business.
To go back in time, I had only accidentally "happened" into kitchen design. My background in home furnishings and interior design had put me in the right spot at the right time, just after the break up of my marriage. I was noticed by a store manager in a Home Depot as I raided his wall paper department. I was on my way to a client appointment and looking for materials. I was busy with my own project but also fielding questions from his customers. He liked my style and ability to juggle the task at hand while catering to many demanding my advice and guidance. He approached me and simply said "I need you here in my store."

And so it was done, I went back for an interview and then spent the next 6 months self training on his floor. John hired me in at a living wage, which was a huge relief. I never wore an "in training" button, I pushed myself hard, and I spent the first year running around like a mad woman satisfying customers, I was dedicated. I would finish my shift at 8pm and then head home to tuck my kids into bed. When they were asleep, I would sneak back to Home Depot to work on the 20-20 design program so it became like breathing to use it, I'd crawl into bed around 4am, and then start all over 3 hours later with the kids. I'd wake up in the morning calculating imaginary counter tops in square inches and costing them in various materials. In that first year, I hadn't seen the inside of the employee break room five times, and as I cruised through each day, I would chant in my head: "I'm gonna get fired, I'm gonna get fired", smiling all the way, because as hard as it was, it was the most fun!

While my mantra was my way of self-motivating, I also thought it was possible I could be fired, after all everyone is replaceable. And every kitchen designer stubs reputation along the way, we're only human after all.

One day my department manager took me aside about my sales. Anthony told me I was on track to be the top sales specialist in the country. I was taken aback, speechless, and for the first time in a year, I felt the tension leave my shoulders. I knew I was going to make it, and my pay scale began to reflect my success, I was given huge creative control over my projects and my time. I did kitchens for people in the entertainment business and major league sports players, and was respected throughout the company for the business I had built. I called depot my home in one form or another until November 2007.

In 2007, I began working for a small home improvement company that was striving for bigger and better, I was offered a very desirable compensation package to join his firm. The owner had worked for The Bil-Ray Group, a large scale remodeling company, and he aspired to have the same or better for himself. He concentrated on company growth and dedicated resources towards branding, lead generation and fleet expansion. I had my hands full trying to keep the clients happy, and deciphering the contracts. As summer and fall 2008 dished out increasingly terrible economic news which was compounded by the crisis in the panic stricken banking industry, this already unstable company was snagged by the undertow and dragged out to sea.

Leaving me, a self supporting single mom creative type, contemplating the next step for me and my family in the face of what seemed the worst times, with skyrocketing unemployment numbers and the friends telling me that things couldn't have blown up worse out there and no signs it was getting better soon.

Downsizing the year before had been a huge stroke of good fortune. My kids and I had previously been out numbered by our bathrooms, and it occurred to me this was way out of balance. Now, with much less to manage, I took a look at my situation at hand, and decided that the economy had given me permission to slow down and enjoy the children I had been working so hard to provide for. We cut back on the non-essentials, and we biked and swam all summer long, I forecasted my budget and how long I could survive, and tried to keep it real for the girls without causing them to have my worries. With no cabinets to haul, I let our big SUV go, and let my 10 year old pick out the family car: a Beetle convertible.

I networked and researched, and stayed in contact with clients of the failed business I had worked for. I did my best to see they got what they had paid for, and then offered of myself and my services beyond that. I established my own LLC, built my website, and made tough decisions. I stood with a friend,  a Cancer Survivor, battling the disease since she was 10 years old and again now. She has all my support, and in exchange I get great advice from her unique perspective.

January-February 2010, was crunch time for employment, I pulled out all the stops, and after one month of all nighters on Monster and LinkedIn Career pages,as well as pounding the actual pavement, I had four viable offers in my field. This was great news, and I think a sign of the turning times. I had applied beyond the scope of my field, and while I had interest and opportunity in other areas, the offers in the construction field were a relief and gift. With my children, I made the bold decision to become a full time commuter and chase my dream in NYC daily.

So, like so many others in the wake of the new economy, I am working harder, taking on some additional risk, willing to reinvent myself, push to new limits, and make a little less for a while, all to be on the up escalator once again. My new showroom is the Manhattan Center for Kitchen and Bath , an upscale and simply elegant design center, with experienced, helpful, and friendly staff, operating at the highest ethical and quality standards. It was a huge pleasure to join their ranks, and I will be chronicling my experiences and adventures in and around the city, the trends and the business direction.
Now that you have a little background, and a few of the characters, I hope you will join me.