Talk of the town: National Lumber’s new kitchen views showroom is creating a buzz around boston showcasing unique designs alongside high-end windows and millwork

Talk of the town: National Lumber’s new kitchen views showroom is creating a buzz around boston showcasing unique designs alongside high-end windows and millwork – Excellence awards: showroom design

Katy Tomasulo

National Lumber may be an old timer in file Boston-area markets it serves, but the company’s new Kitchen Views showroom is anything but stodgy. Showcasing classic and modern kitchen designs alongside high-end windows and millwork, the six-month-old venue is a welcome addition to an established neighborhood and the company’s founding family.

National Lumber, which operates tour lumberyards in Massachusetts, created Kitchen Views as a new outlet for its builders and remodeler customers who are looking to spec more custom products than the stock and semi-custom cabinetry that have been available to date at the company’s yards. Nestled next to a video store and a post office on busy Beacon Street in the affluent neighborhood of Newton Center, Mass., the showroom’s high-design showcases of cabinetry, Andersen windows, and molding fill a void in the area; remodeling of older homes in the surrounding neighborhoods is common, but few resources offer high-end kitchen materials.

Good Neighbor

The decision to locate Kitchen Views in Newton, about 10 minutes west of Boston, was one rooted in family history. Steven Kaitz, who is co-CEO of the third-generation company along with his sister Margie Kaitz-Seligman, chose the Newton area in part because he grew up there, and his uncle Louis Kaitz, who at 80 remains active in both the company mad the community, still lives there. “We picked the Newton area because we’re comfortable with Newton,” Kaitz says. “Once we decided on Newton I felt that we had to build–and provide–a showroom that my uncle would be proud of.”

The company worked with local officials to ensure the building’s aesthetics and design fit in, especially as the area attempts to comfortably control growth while still keeping its familiar charm. Built in a remodeled auto dealership, the showroom retains the building’s original Art Deco facade, but has been updated with striking Andersen windows in the front and rear. The 6,000-square-foot showroom required an investment of $750,000.

“We understand, because we’re from the Newton area, that we didn’t want to stick out. We did want to fit in,” Kaitz says. “But we wanted to do it tastefully yet dramatically. And I think that’s what we achieved.”

On Display

From the beginning, design director John B.G. Babcock and the rest of the team set out to create a facility that evoked warmth and welcome, a place that consumers would feel comfortable in and that builders could be proud to send their customers. The showroom is centered around 10 large, distinctive vignettes featuring four high-end cabinet brands: Omega, Imperia, Woodharbor, and DeWils.

From the Italian country-side-reminiscent “Tuscany” with red stained birch and painted cherry cabinets to the urban-sophisticate library to “Gotham” a kitchen highlighted by glossy mahogany cabinets and gold-flecked floors, the vignettes appeal to a wide range of tastes. One particularly contemporary design, a sleek blue motif with stainless steel Imperia cabinets, is positioned in a front window to alert passersby that while the showroom carries traditional fare the area is used to, there are a few unexpected, unique offerings as well. “It has created a small sensation,” Babcock says of the stainless steel vignette. “We may sell two [of those designs] during the whole year, but that wasn’t the point of putting it in the window. Putting it in the window was to get people to notice us, come in and see everything that we have.”

More than just cabinet displays, each vignette was carefully planned to make customers feel as though they are walking through an actual home. Andersen windows and patio doors envelope each design, creating the appearance that each area connects to the outdoors or to another room. A perimeter walkway and 10-foot ceilings contribute to the open atmosphere.

Finally, each vignette is trimmed out with various stocked molding and mill-work, along with cabinet hardware from high-end companies like Baldwin, Rocky Mountain Hardware, and Ann at Home. Appliances, faucets, flooring, and lighting, though not sold through the showroom, complete the designs to inspire customers.

“These are really full kitchens …,” says Babcock. “[It gives] people the sense when they walk into one of the vignettes that they are in an actual kitchen as opposed to a display.”

But while the wide, open feel and complete displays are probably the showroom’s most initial appeal, the designs are backed by a significant amount of customer support that truly separates the facility from competitors. The showroom staff offers a variety of front-end design services to pros, their customers, and consumers.

Babcock, a nationally known interior designer with a background in many different styles, stayed on as the showroom’s design director after it opened to help both customers and staff envision design possibilities. For walk-in customers, who often can be overwhelmed by their choices, Babcock or another designer will visit the home, evaluate the space, make recommendations, and then send a designer back to the home to do takeoffs.

“Most of our clients are not designers They’re not architects. “They’re homeowners,” says showroom manager Donald P. Callen. “And if they’ve got an old Victorian home and they want to put in a new kitchen and an extension to the back of the house, they want it to be appropriate, they want it to fit in, and they need help with the style and the design. We’ll help them with that.”

Builders and remodelers can send their clients into the showroom with blueprints to select products under the guidance of Kitchen Views’ experienced designers, who can then provide takeoffs for the contractor. Babcock also will sit in on meetings with architects and designers.

“If you’re a builder, the best thing in the world is to not have to spend time trying to educate the consumer …, so you would love to have Kitchen Views as your resource center” Callen says.

Firm Foundation

Initially, Kitchen Views patronage “has been slanted toward consumer traffic because of radio advertising and visibility, a fact Kaitz expected. Time, along with open houses geared toward pros, will help drive more builder traffic in to an eventual goal of a 50-50 pro-consumer split.

Kitchen Views’ 10 vignettes will most likely remain in place for at least the first year, the company says, and then will be switched out as certain styles begin losing steam. Bathroom vignettes soon will be added, as well. But above all, Kaitz believes Kitchen Views is building a new foundation and is creating a new venture for the yards to follow. Already, two of the company’s lumberyards are transforming their existing showrooms to resemble the Kitchen Views format.

Based on the bustling crowds that showed up this past summer, Kaitz is excited about the showroom’s future. “It has far exceeded my expectations so far,” he says. “The buzz is incredible, through the advertising, through its visibility, and through word of mouth already:. Everybody’s talking about it.”–Katy Tomasulo

Vital Statistics * Company: National Lumber * Year founded: 1934 * Headquarters: Mansfield, Mass. * Number of locations: 5 * Number of employees: 450 * Square footage of showroom: 6,000 * 2002 gross sales: $125 million * Pro sales percentage: 90 percent

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