Design Language

What is design? There isn’t an easy answer to that question. Design encompasses a lot—everything from space planning to materials choices and beyond. But the experts do agree on one thing: The most successful projects begin and end with good design.

Design Is Experience

There’s a first time for everything, including a major renovation. Yet just because you have never remodeled your kitchen before doesn’t mean the project will be one great unknown after another.

“Most people only remodel their kitchen once in their lifetime, so it can be a very stressful time for them,” says Denise Quade, owner of Denise Quade Design. Quade, an interior designer with more than thirty years in the field, has designed and worked with hundreds of kitchens and residential spaces. It’s familiar territory for her, and she knows how to navigate a remodeling project’s typical bumps and curves that can distress or frustrate homeowners.

“I will help take their pain out of the process,” Quade explains.

After all, there are always some detours along the way. No one can know with absolute certainty what is behind the walls or below the ground. And even the best-designed plans often need some tweaks as the project moves along.

Larry Balousek is managing partner of Sugar River Design Group, a landscape design business that is part of the full-service landscaping design and construction parent company Sugar River Landscape Group. Balousek believes that working with an experienced team ensures clients that their professionals will know how to handle unexpected discoveries without compromising your budget, vision or sanity.

“We’ve seen and dealt with just about everything,” Balousek says. “If something changes out in the field, we can make adjustments right away. That way something doesn’t get put in and torn out later because it isn’t right.”

Design Is Expertise

The other side of the experience coin is expertise. Designers know the language of construction, and they know the process. They know what needs to happen first and they always know—no matter where you are in the renovation—what should happen next. Designers can easily determine who is holding things up when a remodel gets stalled, and they know what to do about it.

“Design is about spatial planning and communicating with the trades,” says Janean Spears-Dimmig, a kitchen designer with Gerhards Showroom. She says designers often help with materials and finish selection, but notes that aesthetic decisionmaking is just one of many services a designer provides.

Doug Widish, Gerhards Showroom manager, says some clients come in with the mistaken belief that selection assistance is most of what designers do. “That is why a lot of people come in thinking they don’t need a designer,” he says. “Then we start talking and they quickly realize the value that we can bring to the table.”

Dondi Szombatfalvy agrees that designers play an invaluable role in the construction process from conception to completion. Szombatfalvy is a designer with Bella Domicile, a full-service kitchen, bath and interior design studio and cabinetry resource that has been in business nearly 50 years. There are many facets to design, and she believes putting too much emphasis on just one aspect—aesthetics, coordination, spatial planning—does a disservice to clients.

“A design is worth absolutely nothing unless it is successfully executed,” Szombatfalvy says.

Spears-Dimmig agrees. “A lot of designers can make a project look very nice. But getting to that point is 95 percent of the work,” she says.

Design is Collaboration

Construction always involves a team. Every project is different, but the need for collaboration—among designers, clients, contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers and more—is present on nearly every project. And everyone involved wants the client to be satisfied in the end.

That is a part of why Sugar River Landscape Group broke its design services off into a separate company. Clients can use Sugar River services start to finish, or they can have Sugar River Design Group prepare a design that the client can bid out to other firms. Of course, Balousek likes Sugar River Landscape Group to have a crack at the construction, but he feels strongly that the design belongs to the client.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says, noting that he welcomes the opportunity to collaborate at any phase of a project. Ultimately, he says, working with other experts exposes him to new ideas and leads to better outcomes for the client. “Two or three heads are better than one.”

Brian Boehnen, owner of Midwest Rock Tops, says every project is a joint effort. The owner of the natural stone fabrication company says working with other construction professionals generates ideas and keeps everyone thinking and innovating. “I like to be on the leading edge to come up with that new idea or design, Boehnen says. “Whether a designer comes up with it or we come up with it, I like to give it a try and see if we can make it happen.”

Design is Possibility

Design, after all, is where it all begins. “Design is creating the space that reflects who clients are and meets their lifestyle needs,” says Brad Stevens. Stevens is owner of Stevens Design, a furniture retail and refinishing store that also offers full design services from space planning to selection of permanent finishes, fixtures, furniture, window and wall coverings, accents and accessories.

“First and foremost, we listen to the clients to learn what they like and need,” Stevens says.

Design is also what translates ideas, abstract feelings and lifestyle into a blueprint from a remodel or new construction. It isn’t always easy for homeowners to envision what a good entertaining space will look like, or how to express a desire for an inviting gathering space in square footage and hardwood floors. Designers and other construction professionals can make that leap from ideals to actual living spaces.

In other words, design, says Melinda Monroe, president of Architectural Building Arts, is the process that turns dreams into reality.

The award-winning Madison design/build remodeling company works to create timeless design, provide quality construction and satisfy clients on every project. The design process, Monroe explains, is about not only determining what clients need and want but also presenting options and ideas beyond their imagination.

That is why Monroe likes to spend a good amount of time working out design details. “Design is one of the most important parts of the process,” she says. “Investing in quality design allows them to have the ability to explore creative ideas and consider all aspects of the changes to their home.”

Balousek says many clients struggle with that vision, that sense of what is possible. And even after options are explored and choices are made, many homeowners still can’t picture what the project will look like upon completion. “We provide clients not only with the plan, but also colored pictures of all the plants,” he says. “Our hope is to help them visualize what they are getting before anything is in the ground.”

It’s not an easy task, but it is certainly part of the job to put the right image in clients’ heads.

“Not everyone can ‘see’ how a space will come together before it actually does,” agrees Century House manager Jacob Harlow. Century House is modern and Scandinavian furniture and accessories retailer with a cluster of three showrooms on University Avenue on the near-west side of Madison. Century House is one of many retailers that works to help customers broaden their views of their homes’ potential and explore new options.

Harlow and the rest of the Century House team partner with individual customers as well as designers and architects to find the best options and most creative solutions to any design challenge. “We are all about options,” Harlow says. “Our staff is trained to walk you through the huge variety of possibilities to find the perfect pieces for your project. Besides special ordering in many versions, we can often create truly custom possibilities.”

Manufacturers like Unilock, a family-owned manufacturer of paving stones and retaining walls, try to stay at least one design step ahead of customers. Employees travel around the globe for the freshest ideas and inspiration for customers.

“Unilock strives to stay in touch with the illuminating world of fashion, design and manufacturing techniques, all to ensure our mix of products continually reflects the evolving wants, designers and sense of style of customers,” says Brad Gesbocker, general manager of Unilock Chicago.

The idea is to show consumers that the only limits are in their imaginations.

Midwest Rock Tops, too, works to ensure that fabrication options keeps pace with design ideas but without adding extraordinary cost.

“Achitectural design is the key to the success of your project,” Boehnen says, noting that his company that promises to match or beat any other local estimate. “We are always pushing the limits in the stone fabrication world, and we are always developing methods to achieve the looks clients are striving for. ”

Design is Confidence

Yet change can be risky.

That, says Woodworks manager Kelly Hofmeister, is why “people are afraid” to make design decisions. “I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard a client say, ‘I bought a new sofa three years ago and I made a huge mistake,’” she says.

Woodworks, a west-side furniture and home accessories retailer, offers complimentary design service to customers to help give customers the confidence to make choices. Hofmeister points out that a designer can take the fear and
uncertainty out of the process.

For example, a designer can advise families with young children on which fabrics are easy to clean and which patterns are better at hiding stains. They can point out to pet owners the materials that are most durable or those that won’t trap cat fur. And they can simply listen to your desires and concerns and then translate them into viable seating choices.

Woodworks designers will even make house calls throughout much of Dane County to ensure that size, scale and traffic flow are appropriate. Sure, it adds a little time to the process, but Hofmeister says it is worth it. “People are going to have a sofa in their lives at least 10 years. For many it’s probably more like 15,” she notes. “They want to make sure it’s something they want to live with all that time.”

Design is Life

Design isn’t just what our spaces look like. It is how they feel and how they work. Design is a kitchen that is functional, a living room that is inviting and an office that allows you to be productive. Design is the chair you curl up in with a good book (or maybe, now, a Kindle). It’s the table where you play Battleship with your cousin every Christmas. It’s the window seat where you dreamed away the rainy
afternoons of childhood.

“The rooms that we live and work and play in have a power to influence us in many ways,” says Century House’s Harlow. “Design is about our lives … Creating beautiful spaces with well-thought-out design can dramatically change your daily life, and we believe that beautiful, functional interiors make for happy lives.”

Hofmeister agrees. That is why something that seems benign, like choosing a sofa, can turn into something so stressful for homeowners.
“It is amazing how many people out there just don’t know where to start or keep making the same mistakes,” she says. “That is where an educated second opinion comes in. Working with a designer gives customers the reassurance that they’re making a good decision.”

A designer does so much more than create a plan or suggest furnishings. Stevens says the value of design cannot be overstated. “Design,” he says, “is everything.”

– Jennifer Garrett


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