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Markets Respond as COVID Impact Lessens

The nation’s housing, residential remodeling and kitchen/bath markets each continued to respond to post-COVID realities as 2021 enters its final months and the impact of the global pandemic dissipates. Among the key statistics and forecasts released in recent weeks by government agencies, research firms and industry-related trade associations were the following:


Continuing a trend from the beginning of 2020, low-density, low-cost markets continue to outperform other regional geographies with respect to home construction, according to the National Association of Home Builders. “With the shift to telework brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, housing demand continues to show the strongest gains in lower-density markets as people have flexibility to live outside some metro areas,” said Chuck Fowke, chairman of the Washington, DC-based NAHB. “As workplaces increasingly adopt hybrid work models, renters and buyers will have increased (need) to minimize travel times and reduce both housing and transportation cost burdens,” noted NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz, adding that homebuilding is expanding most rapidly in locations with the shortest commuting times.


Although housing supply continues to fall short of demand, additional inventory is expected to enter the market later this year as further COVID-19 vaccinations are administered and the number of homeowners in mortgage forbearance continues to decline, according to the National Association of Realtors. Although housing demand is still strong compared to one year ago, existing-home sales have lagged in recent months, the Washington, DC-based NAR reported, noting that total housing inventory was down more than 20% from a year ago. Despite the recent lag in sales, however, “the additional supply projected for the market should cool down the torrid pace of price appreciation later in the year,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun predicted. Total existing-home sales were pegged at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.8 million units, up 44.6% from a year ago, according to the latest figures. “Home sales are now approaching pre-pandemic activity,” observed Yun. And although a lack of inventory continues to be the overwhelming factor holding back home sales, the outlook, Yun said, remains “encouraging.”


Major domestic kitchen cabinet and vanity manufacturers continued to post strong sales gains through the first five months of 2021, as demand remains at record heights and the impact of COVID-19 continues to dissipate, according to the latest in a series of monthly surveys by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association. The KCMA’s latest “Trend of Business Survey” reflected a year-to-date sales increase of 21.6% through May when compared to the same five-month period last year. Custom cabinet sales through the first five months of 2021 were up 23.5% over the same period last year, while semi-custom cabinet sales rose 21.3%, and stock cabinet sales gained 21.4%, the Reston, VA-based KCMA said, adding that overall May sales were up 32.9% compared to the same month last year. Survey participants include stock, semi-custom and custom companies whose combined sales represent approximately 75% of the U.S. kitchen cabinet and bath vanity market, according to the KCMA.

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PRO Act Seen Impacting Independent Firms

WASHINGTON, DC — Union-friendly legislation aimed at expanding workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain could have a potentially deleterious impact on independent designers, installers and other self-employed contractors who serve the kitchen and bath industry, critics of the proposed law say.

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, widely known as the PRO Act, recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is currently awaiting Senate action, while drawing sharply mixed reviews. If enacted, the proposed legislation would advance the labor movement’s major legislative priority: providing protections for workers attempting to organize and bargain collectively. President Biden supports the measure, but it is unlikely to advance in the Senate as an entity unto itself without either Republican support or through reconciliation, but has recently been included in the Biden administration’s proposed infrastructure bill.

The PRO Act, among other objectives, would revise the definition of “employee,” “supervisor” and “employer” to broaden the scope of individuals covered by fair labor standards. It would also significantly increase the power of labor unions, including their ability to collect dues, pursue class-action litigation and injunctive relief, protect workers’ rights and wage strikes, among other things.

But the proposed legislation has spurred sharp debate among proponents and critics. Advocates claim the law would begin to level a playing field that they say is unfairly tilted toward big business and management, currently making union organizing drives and elections unreasonably difficult. However, business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have opposed the act, claiming it would undermine workers’ rights, lead to widespread uncertainty and litigation, ensnare employers in unrelated labor disputes, have major tax ramifications, and force workers to pay union dues regardless of their wishes.

The National Kitchen & Bath Association, which has a significant number of independent designers and allied professionals as members, declined comment on the proposed legislation, characterizing it, at the current time, as “nascent.”

A major point of contention, critics charge, is the fact that the PRO Act is closely tied to what is known as the “ABC Test,” a multi-phased determination of whether an individual holds the status of an employee or operates as an independent contractor.

Independent contractors in numerous and varied career fields with established businesses in California, including sole-proprietor LLCs with multiple clients, have been dramatically impacted by the ABC Test since the state’s AB5 went into effect in January 2020, according to PRO Act critic Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC, a Bonita, CA-based kitchen design, wellness design consultant and Kitchen & Bath Design News contributing editor.

“While aimed at forcing companies to reclassify gig workers as employees, the ABC test forced many other independent contractors out of work (and) it has the potential to do the same on a national basis if the PRO Act becomes part of federal law,” Gold says, noting that the law, if enacted, would force many businesspeople currently classified as independent contractors to be reclassified as employees.

“The PRO Act, as it currently exists, can have tremendous impacts on the kitchen and bath industry,” says Gold, citing, as one example, a requirement that kitchen and bath showrooms would have to hire all of its designers as employees, rather than contract with professionals on an as-needed basis, significantly raising their labor costs.

“Independent installers and measurers who contract with kitchen and bath firms or installation companies would be impacted, as would independent kitchen designers – particularly those without showrooms or employees – who work on a project basis with large kitchen and bath firms or design-build firms,” Gold contends. “Product designers who contract with cabinet or appliance manufacturers, as well as rendering artists who contract with kitchen designers or design firms (would also be affected).”

“You can surely see the massive disruption to our industry if this legislation passes as is,” Gold observes. “Any law that can’t distinguish between someone who drives food to customers and a designer who creates food storage spaces or food preserving appliances is a bad law,” she adds.

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Textures in Tile

While cabinets, counters, fixtures and appliances often anchor a kitchen or bath, it’s the secondary items like tile and hardware that can add the true decorative flair. Tile can carry a neutral design and add calm to the space, or provide bold color and rugged texture to deliver the wow factor.

Stone, glass, porcelain and ceramic are among the myriad elements that can be used to create tile, and all add their own look and feel to a space. Whether the desire is for a nature-inspired look or a glossy, modern appeal, tile can provide just the right accent.

–Subway tile continues to trend, but the classic look is getting an update with an array of colors and smooth texture that looks handmade.

–Shapes go beyond squares and rectangles, encompassing everything from hexagons to triangles to arabesques to chevrons.

–Three-dimensional tiles continue to garner attention, delivering surfaces that feature irregular patterns and an organic look and feel.

–Cement tiles with painted patterns add drama to backsplashes and showers alike, providing a bold addition to overall designs.

–Pastels and neutrals yield a softer hue, while saturated jewel tones and earth-inspired shades add an organic touch to spaces.

–Matte tile surfaces and textures are currently garnering major attention, complementing weathered woods, raw and patinaed metals and matte finishes on faucets, appliances and hardware.


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Outdated Space Becomes Chef’s Dream


A longtime Instagram follower of Tanya Smith-Shiflett of Unique Kitchens & Baths got in touch after the onset of COVID-19 for a remodel of her Rockville, MD home’s outdated kitchen. Because the client is a chef, Smith-Shiflett made sure to collaborate attentively with her when making appliance and surface selections in order to suit her needs and professional preferences. Additionally, the client needed plenty of prep space and storage for all the tools of her trade.

After Photos: Stacy Goldberg


The client carefully selected a Bertazzoni range and Sub-Zero refrigerator, as well as no-maintenance quartz countertops, so Smith-Shiflett was able to craft her design around those selections. Green cabinetry provides a unique aesthetic for the space, while custom hardware from England and vintage aged brass lights cater to the client’s vintage tastes. Due to pandemic restrictions, Smith-Shiflett, along with partner Carmichael Construction, adhered to strict safety regulations while the client and her children worked and studied on the second floor of the home.

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Sonneman to Build NY State Warehouse

LARCHMONT, NY — Sonneman – A Way of Light, the Larchmont, NY-based supplier of lighting products, has announced the lease signing and development of a new 76,700-sq.-ft. warehouse in Middletown, NY.

Slated to open this fall, the warehouse will provide the capacity and capabilities to efficiently introduce new product lines and enhance Sonneman’s production capabilities, the company said, adding that the warehouse will be located in close proximity to the company’s New York Design Center showroom and headquarters in Larchmont.

“We’re excited to begin this chapter with our new warehouse and continue our growth by investing in the resources and technology needed to further innovate and scale,” said Chief Creative Officer and Founder Robert Sonneman.

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Shining Stars

The recipients of the Chrysalis Awards for Remodeling Excellence for 2021 were recently named, including 24 winning projects in the Kitchen and Bath categories.

The awards, which were launched in 1994, honor designs in 28 categories of residential and commercial remodeling. Winners are selected for each of four geographical regions of the U.S. The regional winners are then judged to select a national winner for each category.

The competition is open to any professional remodeler or designer, and all of the projects considered for the 2021 awards were completed after January 1, 2018. The winning projects were determined based on overall design, creative use of space and materials, and the degree to which the project enhanced the original kitchen or bath.

Kitchens Over $150,000

Studio Stratton

This traditional kitchen was newly built to accommodate the needs of a young growing family. The large windows created some challenges with regard to upper cabinets. The designer chose to solve this issue with a unique glass-fronted built-in cabinet in a different gray color with Cremone bolts to highlight the homeowner’s collection of decorative plates and serving pieces.

  • National/Regional Award: Studio Stratton, San Diego, CA
  • Regional Award: MA Peterson Designbuild, Edina, MN
  • Regional Award: Platt Builders, Groton, MA
  • Regional Award: dB Atlanta, Alpharetta, GA

Kitchens $75,000-$150,000

Daniel Contelmo Architects

To update the dated aesthetic of the original kitchen, coffered ceilings were added to help scale down the existing tall ceilings, and the color palette was lightened to keep the kitchen bright. The upper cabinets were made larger and the detailing of the moldings was simplified to provide a cleaner look. The chevron pattern of the tiling is simple but adds texture and definition to the space.

  • National/Regional Award: Daniel Contelmo Architects, Poughkeepsie, NY with Tiffany Eastman Interiors, LLC, Fairfield, CT
  • Regional Award: TreHus
    Architects, Golden Valley, MN
  • Regional Award: S&W Kitchens, Longwood, FL
  • Regional Award: Slater Interiors, Bothell, WA

Kitchens Under $75,000

Studio Stratton

The homeowners of this contemporary kitchen wanted a high-end appearance on a tight budget, so the designer created a luxurious look using a two-tone cabinetry selection. The kitchen was also opened up to adjoining spaces for a more modern and sophisticated approach. Numerous elements were used throughout the kitchen to create a sleek, contemporary feel.

  • National/Regional Award: Studio Stratton, San Diego, CA
  • Regional Award: Knutson Residential Design, St. Paul, MN
  • Regional Award: RS Mannino Architects + Builders, Rutherford, NJ
  • Regional Award: Carriage House Custom Homes & Interiors, Franklin, TN

Baths Over $75,000

Innovative Construction

Functionally, the homeowners wanted a lot of storage. The project included recessed medicine cabinets and scads of cabinetry on the his-and-hers vanity. A countertop cabinet was also included in the space. Drawers were created beneath the cabinets and some of the cabinets contained specialty pull-outs, including one for trash and one for the scale.

  • National/Regional Award: Innovative Construction, Peachtree Corners, GA
  • Regional Award: Marvista Design + Build, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Regional Award: Marrokal Design & Remodeling, San Diego, CA

Baths $50,000-$75,000

S&W Kitchens

In the original bathroom, the client wanted a larger shower area, removal of the tub and more storage space. A rich wood vanity provides plenty of storage via doors and drawers, along with a tall linen cabinet. A white countertop with classic pale gray veining provides a dramatic contrast with the cabinets and an elegant look. The large shower features classic neutral tones against a dramatic tile floor and dark-toned fittings and hardware throughout.

  • National/Regional Award: S&W Kitchens, Longwood, FL
  • Regional Award: Advance Design Studio, Gilberts, IL
  • Regional Award: Carnemark design+build, Bethesda, MD
  • Regional Award: Studio Stratton, San Diego, CA

Baths Under $50,000

C&R Remodeling

This farmhouse was typical of a bygone era when the main floor bathroom served the entire house. To improve convenience and family harmony, a second-story bath was added that includes a single vanity in an olive green shade, along with an abundance of white subway tile given a fresh upgrade with gray grout. A wet room includes a rainshower, hand-held shower and soaking tub under skylights.

  • National/Regional Award: C&R Remodeling, Salem, OR
  • Regional Award: Jaque Bethke Design, Scottsdale, AZ
  • Regional Award: OA Design Build, Minneapolis, MN
  • Regional Award: Great Northern Builders, South Berwick, ME
  • Regional Award: TEW Design Studio, Raleigh, NC

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Adapting in a Changing Business Climate

Under normal circumstances, part of our job is to prepare plans for our clients to prime them for changes to their homes and lifestyles. Unfortunately, the pandemic crumbled remodeling hopes for many homeowners, and it had a serious effect on us as designers. First, we went from comfortably busy to zero in about two months. Then we were stagnant for almost a year. That dormancy was followed by a mind-boggling recovery, one that Eliot Sefrin, editor emeritus of KBDN, referred to as a “tectonic market shift.”

I survived the 2007-2009 recession and decided not to give in to the same negative feelings that plagued me until 2010. Instead, I used the pandemic downtime to work on my business, taking classes that had been on my bucket list for five years or more. At the same time, I read over 75 marketing books and white papers. It was not as gratifying as working with clients, but it was a major accomplishment.

Building, maintaining and marketing a unique brand reputation is challenging. There are excellent books and many courses to help us, but your choices need to be carefully considered. I learned the hard way during the recession and ended up wasting time and money on courses that didn’t work. During the pandemic, I avoided repeating the same mistakes.

Two exciting possibilities arose from free webinars recommended by acquaintances. Each marketing coach offered a new direction that sounded promising. One program is $3,500 and requires a commitment of at least six months. The other course costs over $10,000 and involves a year of classes. It’s easy to say “yes” to the compelling reasons the coaches present until we stop to think about our ROI. Curiosity helped me gain clarity to say “No” to the programs. Finally, I said “yes” to another customizable opportunity with great ROI possibilities.


Everyone is now adjusting to a new normal: higher remodeling investments and lower availability of labor and products. Homeowners are anxious to proceed with pandemic-delayed remodeling projects. Our 15-month business famine has become an overflowing feast.

In fact, home remodeling queries on Google went from 38% in March 2020 to 93% in March 2021. The annual Houzz survey verifies that home renovation spending increased 15% in the past year.

But will the trend continue or collapse?

Many variables will affect remodeling in the future, and all we can do as designers is perform our best every day, and stay on top of news reports about the economy, the pandemic and other fluid trends. Being prepared for change helps us cope with it. We can choose our course and correct it before a crisis happens by adapting to change.

The Harvard Business Review offered six tips about adapting to change: 1. Find humor in the situation; 2. Resist talking about your feelings; 3. Don’t stress out about stressing out; 4. Focus on your values instead of your fears; 5. Accept the past (and present) but fight for the future, and 6. Don’t expect stability.


Competition is as fierce as ever in the design market, with more people entering our profession yearly. For example, 4,199 U.S. students graduated with interior design degrees in 2019. At that time, there were 77,900 interior designers in the nation. The average age of designers is 41 years. We’re all competing to build and maintain our brand reputation, make a living and grow our company (or the company that employs us).

I believe we do better when we compete against ourselves rather than competing against other people. Additionally, we do better when we don’t compare ourselves to others. But, admittedly, this is hard to do in today’s competitive world.

When I was attending design school, every assignment was necessary. I gave each one 115% of my effort, although I believed that others would receive a better grade. I wasn’t competing with them for a grade but rather comparing myself to them.

Before graduation, the faculty and students voted for one student to win the “Student Designer of the Year” award. I was shocked to win because, in my mind, everyone was more qualified than me. The woman who presented the award gave me fantastic advice: “Send press releases to the media.” That established my brand and my reputation, and it attracted clients and referral clients for years.

I continue to give at least 115% to everything I do. Clients’ goals become my goals. I’ve been fortunate to win design awards with this attitude. And while I don’t like to compare myself to other designers, it’s unavoidable. Marketing tools such as SEMRush, UberSuggest, BuzzFeed and Google Analytics provide helpful feedback by comparing me to competitors. It’s uncomfortable but necessary to gather and use this information that mainly relies on keywords we use. But, it’s just as important to not make it the focus of your work. We are each unique, and that should be celebrated!


Prospective clients find us using specific keywords or phrases in Google, Bing or Yahoo. Search engines recommend us because we’ve used the same keywords or phrases in our websites, blogs and social media posts. Learning to use the right keywords is an art and a science. It challenges us to comply with specific secretive algorithms. Even Search Engine Optimization experts admit little knowledge about the data. Climbing to #1 of organic searches involves an investment of time and effort.

SEO is a broad subject that I’m still studying, a motivation to revise and write blogs with competitive terms. If your company can afford an SEO specialist, their fee will be $75-$150 per hour, which could add up to $1,500 a month (or more). You can also get monthly SEO services from companies like Fiverr for $14-$345 a month.

How do you know that you’re getting what you want?

Honestly, SEO isn’t a quick process and success isn’t guaranteed. Changes we make now may not show up in search engine results for four to six weeks or longer. To compete effectively, we have to know what keywords our competitors are using to help their ranking in the search engines. Finally, we have to compare ourselves to others who have: A well-known brand, an active website, an up-to-date blog and an active social media presence with good SEO use.

Competing with and comparing ourselves to others in our profession may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to adapt if we want to succeed. One of my favorite quotes rings true: “Success requires the ability to adapt. Only by being open to change will you have a true opportunity to get the most from your talent.” [Nolan Ryan] ▪

Diane Plesset, CMKBD, CAPS, NCIDQ is the principal of D.P. Design in Oregon City, OR and has over 35 years of experience as a kitchen and bath designer. She is the author of the award-winning book, THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling, and has been the recipient of numerous design awards. Named a 2019 KBDN Innovator, Plesset has taught Western design to students of the Machida Academy in Japan and has a podcast, “Today’s Home.”

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Kitchen Displays Fresh, Transitional Style


Designer Kelly Guinaugh of Interior Enhancement Group was enlisted for the task of updating a couple’s suburban Chicago kitchen shortly after completing a new kitchen for the same clients in their Florida home. The clients wanted a kitchen that would feel as airy and spacious as their vacation home, with improved workability, increased storage and better traffic flow.


By widening the entryway from the kitchen to the dining room, Guinaugh was able to create a feeling of spaciousness in the 350-sq.-ft. kitchen. New full-height pantries and cabinetry, as well as a wine cellar, were installed in order to provide plenty of storage. Increasing the width and height of the window over the sink also provided plenty of natural light to make the room feel open and fresh, while removing all soffits and installing taller upper cabinetry created the illusion of higher ceilings. A new, narrower island provides improved traffic flow and facilitates entertaining, and also features increased seating facing the scenic back yard. The end result: a fresh transitional space that flows well into the dining room and great room. 

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Re-Bath Parent Acquired by Private Equity Firm

PHOENIX — Home Brands Group Holdings Inc., the parent holding company of Re-Bath, the nation’s largest bathroom remodeling franchise, has been acquired by TZP Group LLC, a New York-based private equity firm, and a group of co-investors, the company announced. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

“We are thrilled to partner with Re-Bath and its terrific management team, serving a group of committed franchisees across the U.S.,” said Vlad Gutin, a partner at TZP.

“Re-Bath complements our growing portfolio of leading consumer brands (and) we believe that Re-Bath’s unique, high-quality service offering, loyal customers, best-in-class products of leading brands and partnerships with premier, national retailers, coupled with TZP’s relationships and resources, can accelerate Re-Bath’s growth,” Gutin added.

Re-Bath, headquartered in Phoenix, operates more than 100 locations across North America, according to the company, which offers complete bathroom remodels, tub and shower updates, plus aging and accessibility solutions.

“We are excited to embark on our next chapter of growth with TZP’s investment representing a strong validation of the growth and success we’ve achieved and where we are headed,” said Re-Bath CEO, Brad Hillier. “Through this investment, we will be able to leverage TZP’s expertise and resources to further expand our brand to a wider audience and better serve our customers, franchisees, partners and employees.”

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Honoring Our 2021 Innovators

From virtual communication to safety protocols to material and labor shortages, members of the kitchen and bath design industry have had challenges in 2021 unlike any other year prior. Customers and projects abound as the country heads into a post-pandemic era, yet constraints and restrictions require a reliance on acquired knowledge and a constantly changing stream of information.

These challenges can knock even the top industry pros off balance. The key to regaining equilibrium and continuing on a successful path is to be flexible and adjust to circumstances as they arise. While many have weathered the storm of the past few years, others have risen above and not only carried their companies and employees through the mire, but have reached out and helped others in their journey, as well. Industry leaders continue to head committees and associations, educate and mentor professionals with less experience and expertise, and deliver high-quality and innovative design to their clients.

Kitchen & Bath Design News honors these industry leaders in its pages every year by naming The Innovators, a group of industry professionals who are setting the standard for excellence in the design industry. Nominated by their peers and then reviewed by the KBDN nominating committee, the 24 Innovators for 2021 are an exemplary group of individuals who are moving the kitchen and bath industry forward. At the links below, Kitchen & Bath Design News presents its fifth annual class of Innovators.

  • Todd Atkins
  • Dan Bawden
  • Cyndy Cantley
  • Madeleine Dymling
  • Salvatore Ferro
  • Tracy Grosspietsch
  • Karen Hockley
  • Jennifer Hutton
  • Jill Jarrett
  • James Justice
  • Kimberley Kerl
  • Kamer Kosedag
  • Rosario Mannino
  • Maria Martin
  • Mary Miksch
  • Lori Miya
  • Kevin Mullen
  • Leah Muller
  • Judith Neary
  • Jeremy Parcels
  • John Petrie
  • Angela Poirrier
  • Ginger Rabe
  • Nicholas Vanderhovel

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