Thursday, September 24, 2020
 NKBA Makes a 

 Design Connection 

The National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), simply put, is the authority on all things residential kitchen and bath. The nonprofit trade association owns a number of major design shows, including the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show. The group represents nearly 14,000 member companies and has helped to educate and empower those businesses and their employees through education and events since its founding in 1963.

Earlier this year, NKBA showed its commitment to helping its members get up to speed with the latest in not only kitchen and bath design, but the technology that helps make those spaces smarter and more efficient for the user by endorsing CEDIA Expo. At CEDIA, NKBA exhibited, but the group also helped in sponsoring the first-ever Design Connection program, which brought kitchen and bath designers to the show to collaborate with integrators and construction professionals. The result, the association said, was a successful Design Connection tour program that had experienced integrators leading kitchen and bath attendees on a tour of the show floor.

We recently reached out to NKBA who hooked us up with Molly Switzer, CKBD (Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer), an NKBA member and owner of Molly N Switzer Deisgns in Portland, Oregon, who attended CEDIA and took part in the tour.

Here’s what she had to say about her CEDIA Expo experience.

Connected Design: This was a show of firsts this year. This was the first year the NKBA endorsed CEDIA Expo. Now that you’ve been on the Design Connection Tour, the first of what will become an annual event at CEDIA Expo, what would you say is the top five things you need to know about the Connected Home?

Switzer: As a kitchen and bath designer, number one is be familiar with available options and find a partner in the home integration who will collaborate with you on projects. Clients now are asking a lot of questions about security, lighting, intelligent appliances, and how all of these come together to achieve smart kitchens and baths. I don’t have to be an expert at everything but I do need a partner who knows how to construct a well-organized, well-designed environment. I am now partnering with integrators.

My next thought is to have the connected home talk day one with your client. It could very likely shape the scope of the project. Not having the conversation upfront could very well end up a costly mistake if your client does decide, but fails to make clear, their wishes for a smart home. Planning for construction and design to accommodate these requests is one of the first questions to ask.

Not all systems are created equally, so it’s really important to do the research, and if it’s not your forte, team up with someone who can help sift through the details. Remember: “We don’t know what we don’t know,” and a client’s eyes can be opened up to a whole new world of possibilities by asking a few simple questions about their interests in connecting the home.

It’s always better for the designer/integrator team to be presenting the information and options to a client rather than vice versa. Show up to the table having done your homework and if your client does what connectivity, you have a better chance of winning the job than the designer who can’t talk the talk. In offering up the option, you are giving the client something new to learn and consider.

Get educated. It’s important to keep evolving and learning as an interior designer; our world is changing by leaps and bounds in the area of technology and we need to keep up with the industry products and services. It’s up to us to the close the gap on what we know and what our client wants in this area. Technology will only keep evolving and, as designers, we have to keep up to stay in business. It’s that simple.

Not all systems are created equally, so it’s really important to do the research, and if it’s not your forte, team up with someone who can help sift through the details.

Molly Switzer

What did you learn about the integrated appliances showcased at CEDIA Expo?

Integrated appliances are in the initial phase of working out the bugs. Do your research and have a serious conversation with brands and integrators as to what an “integrated appliance” really means. For example, a product can be WiFi-capable, and that could be a serviceability perk—you fridge has a connectivity error but is capable of sending codes to the service department remotely who can likely determine the error and fix the error without having to make a service call, thereby reducing the cost of service. Make sure your client understands the features.

However, as clients become savvier to integrated technologies with products like Google Home, Alexa/Echo Dot, Show and more, we are starting to see clients looking for connections to their appliances. They want to be able to check on laundry status while upstairs. They want to be alerted of regularly stocked items in their fridge being depleted.

Most importantly, designers need to manage expectations and be very clear as to the appliances’ integrated capabilities.

It’s important to openly discuss what drives their home connections and be clear as to the client’s preferred methods of connecting—say, by voice or by mobile phones. Not all integrated appliances are designed and executed the same, so it’s important to ask the right questions and pay close attention. Never assume because one manufacturer’s dishwasher can be voice-controlled with an Amazon product and that the same manufacturer’s fridge has a similar technology set up.

Smart lighting is showing up in kitchens and baths. What did you learn on the tour about lighting?

I have seen my clients get a lot smarter about lighting, understanding that they need more light and different types of light to accomplish a variety of look and feel, as well as performance, for their bath and kitchen spaces. Smart lighting comes from a few different points—it comes from understanding there are both hardware and software pieces that can help to create different lighting “scenes” with layers of light. Lutron makes hardware systems to achieve this, and systems like Savant are software systems that can also help achieve controlling light. This is an area where bringing in a professional is crucial, and again part of the initial planning stages.

What do you have to say about tech storage in the kitchen and baths?

The only rule I have for tech storage is it has to be accessible. Be smart and courteous to your clients about where the storage center needs to be placed. A client isn’t likely going to want a team tromping through their personal closet to access their system for any service. Think the process through on how a team can easily get in and out and openly work while keeping in mind the client’s privacy. Another reason why it’s best to bring up tech first. You need to plan for that path the same way you would plan the path for new plumbing and electrical.

What is relevant, or necessary, for the average family?

Understand the family make-up and lifestyle. Is there one cook in the house or two? Are there small children or are their teenagers in the house. A good designer/integrator team will ask these questions. Security systems, energy usage monitoring, lighting systems, controlled blind systems, kitchen appliances, televisions and more are all based on the needs of that family, and no two families are the same.

Any tips on how to make the client understand what they want, or what they think they want?

I ask do you want to be able to use voice control? Do you want to use an app on a phone or an iPad? It’s important that my clients can help me see how they plan to utilize this technology in order for me to help find the right products for them. This also helps to ensure that the style of the appliance will coordinate with the look for the design. Keep in mind La Cornue doesn’t come with Wi-Fi capabilities at this time, so we are still waiting for integration to happen in some of the less modern looking pieces. Technology can be part of an old-world feeling kitchen. Through lighting, security, window covering controls, etc., we can integrate technology into such a design style without making it looks like the Jetsons crash landed into 19th century France.

According to the NKBA Kitchen Technology Awareness & Usage Report, we found that most consumers are concerned about cyber-security. As a designer, are you able to quell the fear that the connected home might be opening up doors to unwelcome intruders?

I believe that we are working towards a goal of being able to keep people and families in their homes longer. Currently, technology integration seems like a way to add whiz-bang features to a space, but when we look at companies like Siemens, we see the bigger picture.

Siemens has developed an entire community in Florida where their goal is to create a safe environment for elderly citizens to live at home as long as possible. Their every move is tracked through floors that sense where they are in a space. The data is collected to match everyday habits. The floors can sense if someone is walking, crawling or most importantly has fallen. Toilets are collecting daily information about a client’s general health and wellness and their medical data is being communicated directly to their health care teams digitally. Families of the elderly citizens of this community are also part of the equation; they can have access to medical information and safety concerns directly themselves. There’s no need to worry about the state of your beloved family member is, they are able to check in from all over the world. Really there is a balance one needs to strike and pointing out these benefits might just outweigh cybersecurity scares.

We are in learning mode on this. Higher-end solutions offer encryption services as well as monitoring to alert if suspicious behavior is detected. It will be an ongoing conversation about benefits and concerns.

Tell us about some of the “crazy tech” that is out there for the kitchen and bath.

Products I find fascinating are the Josh AI voice-activated system that is trained to follow natural speech patterns. The system allows you to prattle off more than a single command at a time without any awkward pauses or “I’m sorry; that does not exist’ comebacks. Josh AI has both software and hardware systems that can recognize the difference between the kitchen and the master bathroom, based on from where you are making the commands. No longer do you need to tell the software where you are; it already knows.

I love the Savant system with its user-friendly interface and ability for the client to customize settings on a space from their own iPad, phone or computer.

Most major appliance companies are racing to bring their next wave of appliance upgrades into the connected world. Several manufacturers have their first wave of pieces on the floor now with many expected first quarter of 2019. Do the research, verify what Wi-Fi-connected means for each piece you are researching and make sure it meets the needs of the client or end user. Monogram is making the approach to home integration approachable and fun. They have partnered with Amazon to connect with several of their appliances in one fashion or another and will finish the rest of their lines by first quarter 2019. The appliances do everything from pre-heat the oven via text or voice control and adjust their custom sous-vide attachment when your hands are busy elsewhere in the kitchen. Dishwashers alert you when the cycle is complete or when a leak is detected.

Samsung and Dacor are now owned by the same company and feature several options I found most interesting. Their hoods are Bluetooth-connected to the range and cooktops, automatically turn on once a particular temperature was reached.

You seem genuinely excited about what is coming down the pike. Anything else you wish to add?

I am grateful to the NKBA for recognizing the need to bring designers and integrators together to collaborate on intelligently built environments. I am excited about what is coming down the pike. I’m especially impressed with how technology is helping all of us, young and old, live and build baths and kitchens that are well-designed, comfortable, soothing and safe.