Property expert, entrepreneur and TV presenter, Sarah Beeny, talks exclusively to kbbreview about design and reveals her impressions of the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom industries…
This exclusive interview was reported at kbbreview.com
As an expert, just how important would you say kitchens and bathrooms are in terms of adding value to a property?
Both rooms are hugely important to a property because it’s difficult to find a short cut around spending a lot of money. The main issue with bathrooms and kitchens tends to be that people are tied to the fixtures and fittings that are available at the price point that suits them. Kitchen and bathroom projects are complicated because they need to be connected to fittings and plumbed in, so I think in some ways you can be quite restricted with design. The general public are also governed by budget and the majority go for mass-produced designs because the more it’s mass-produced the cheaper it is.
How important do you think it is to be able to get good design at all budget levels?
I think it is essential to be able to get ‘good design’ and ‘good quality’ at all budget levels. The most important thing to consider is that, in terms of bathrooms and kitchens, most people want them to look a little different from everyone else’s and this can sometimes be a problem because generally speaking, if it’s affordable it’s because it’s been mass-produced.
What’s the most important element, a good designer or the product availability?
To me, the most important thing in the entire process of planning a kitchen or bathroom is the showroom and the designer. That’s because I think at the consumer end of things, it’s really difficult for people to understand how they can create a look that’s a little different from every other design out there. You can also make a big difference with very small changes and actually it’s just about the attention to detail. The detailing really matters.
What’s your impression of independent kitchen and bathroom retailers/showrooms?
I don’t think there are enough showrooms displaying truly inspirational room sets. I’d like to see more displays, certainly, but more of them that aren’t, what I call, predictable design, because we all know what a typical 2013 bathroom looks like. There seems to be about six looks and they’re always the same. So what I’d like to see more of are retailers doing something new with the design of room set displays in their showrooms. Retailers would be surprised by the number of consumers who are genuinely interested in pushing the boundaries of design.
Can independent showrooms realistically push the boundaries of design that far when, at the end of the day, they have to make a sale?
Does the consumer lead the market or does the market lead the consumer? I would argue that the consumer needs to be guided by experts, like KBB retailers, and as consumers they have to realise that they are not making a choice, they are being told what they want and what they should or shouldn’t have. People like having options, but not too many.
Do you think there’s still room for high-street retailers with the surge in internet retailing?
Consumers generally don’t want masses of choice. Most of them want two or three different options, but not loads. That’s why I think the internet is so difficult to buy from. You’ve got every single piece of information you could possibly want or need but how you find it is really complicated. It’s all very well saying you can get it online, but you’ve got to find it first. Most consumers haven’t got the time. That’s why they go to specialist retailers for advice and inspiration.
What else makes a good kitchen, bedroom and bathroom showroom?
Product variety and clear pricing structures. I don’t think that having a board with the different handles available, displayed next to a kitchen, really helps at all, because I don’t think the average consumer can get their head round that kind of small detail.
Does the breadth of products available from the KBB industry allow more budget and design flexibility?
You’re right, the range of products available and the general level of quality and design in kitchen and bathrooms is just fantastic now. You can get some really great-looking, affordable, practical kitchens and bathrooms these days. There are lots of really brilliant joiners out there too, who are making absolutely beautiful, stunning kitchens at a very affordable price.
How much of an influence have property development and home improvement shows had on the KBB industry?
They have had an influence, but I’m not completely sure that there’s much correlation between the people who watch these shows and the people who put what they learn into practice. I think most people watch TV simply because it’s entertaining and fun and very few people watch these shows to actually go off and replicate what they’ve learnt. Personally, if I watch a cooking show I’m very unlikely to go and buy the ingredients and make the recipe.
What effect has the recession had on home improvement and the KBB industry?
Of course, recessions are very damaging for a lot of people but I think there are some advantages. Recessions are full of opportunities, because they shake everything up. I think that the retailers who diversify and change their offering to suit the market will surely survive a recession. Likewise, the retailers who offer good value for money, good designs and good business practices will certainly come out the other side.
What should home owners be considering in terms of kitchen and bathroom specification?
First of all, in practical terms, I’d encourage them to investigate the services they need for the project and to look around at who’s offering them. I have come to realise that the last thing you need to worry about when planning a kitchen or bathroom is the fixtures and fittings. What’s most important is how you’re going to deal with the structure of the room itself, like the walls and the floors. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the new kitchen or bathroom is, if you haven’t treated the walls or the floors correctly, it’s going to look really rubbish. So installation is a really, really important element.
Do most consumers really understand the need to invest in good installation and allocate a large percentage of the budget to this?
No, I don’t think they do at all, but installation is key. Of course, the design and planning stage is also essential to get right, because it doesn’t matter how beautiful the bathroom or kitchen looks, if you haven’t sorted out the practicality of really basic things like where you put the toothbrushes, the soap and the shampoo, you could have a beautiful new design that’s always going to look cluttered. The really clever designers consider the individual and build their needs into the design.
What are the latest trends you’re seeing in kitchen and bathroom design?
Flexible practical designs. Trends are minimal and sleek. People don’t want clutter. Well-designed kitchens should consider modern life and feature room for phone chargers, docking stations for iPad or larder units.
What KBB brands really impress you?
We recently did some work with Granite Transformations and I have to say they’re brilliant. This kind of clever product means that consumers can get better value fittings, but if you line the room with Granite Transformations, it looks amazing. It’s a really great product because it’s not cold, it’s very thin, and the beauty of it is that you get that granite look without the cost.
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