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Plain & Fancy Expands to Western U.S.

SCHAEFFERSTOWN, PA — Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry has officially entered the western U.S. market. This is the first official expansion of territory for the PA-based manufacturer in 10 years.

“We are happy to be able to fulfill the demand for Plain & Fancy product in these territories, which have been steadily requesting our cabinetry for many years,” noted Brian Yahn, sales manager for Schaefferstown, PA-based Plain & Fancy.

The manufacturer, which has been doing business mainly east of the Mississippi river for 52 years, has entered into agreements with two independent representative firms to cover much of the western U.S.

Plain & Fancy has partnered with Bluewater Building Products to represent its products in the Mountain West region, including the states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. It has also partnered with Infinity Sales Force to represent the company’s products in California, Nevada and Texas.

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Pandemic Sparks Kitchen Renovation

Los Angeles — When Shalena Smith, owner of Shalena Smith Interiors and Gaga Designs, purchased her Mediterranean-style home 17 years ago, she and her husband had a budding family life with a two-year-old daughter and another on the way. Before moving into their Los Angeles, CA, residence, they did a complete remodel, which also included the kitchen.

“At the time, trending colors were very dark,” she says, referencing the burnt orange and deep brown hues that were joined by faux paint techniques and Venetian plaster walls. “I also made a mistake that I now tell my clients never to make…making defining decisions before living in a house. It wasn’t until we moved in that I realized I have a dark house without a lot of windows, especially in the kitchen where I now had dark brown cabinets streaked with multiple colors, which was another trend at the time.”

Smith fast forwarded through years of growing her family, as well as an interior design business that includes a roster of celebrity clientele such as Mariah Carey, Sean Combs, Heidi Klum, LL Cool J, Tamara Mowry Housely and Mark Paul Gosselaar, to name a few. Then came the realities of 2020. One of Smith’s daughters was a high school senior, the other was in college. Due to the pandemic, the entire family of four was living and working at home…full-time in a dark, outdated kitchen.

“During the stillness of the pandemic and lockdown, I realized that our kitchen just didn’t function in a way that met our needs anymore,” she says. “I had time to think about our lifestyle and how we used the space. I saw that the kitchen is the heart of our family and that it was time for a change.

“I also realized that I could practice my craft in my own home,” she continues. “As designers, we’re all busy, and it is challenging to be our own client, but we deserve to treat ourselves. I think it’s important that our homes are a reflection of what we do…and they should inspire us every day.”

To accommodate her budget, Smith repurposed the peninsula cabinetry for the island, combining the 36″ door/drawer base cabinet with a new 24″ open-shelf cabinet that would enable her to remove the microwave from the countertop and house it in the island.

Personal island Café

As an advocate for organization, functionality and safety before aesthetics, the designer focuses on incorporating elements that complement a lifestyle, rather than on what is trendy or popular at the moment. For her family, that meant removing the existing peninsula and replacing it with an island where the girls could do homework and Smith could entertain family and friends.

“I could only ever fit two stools at the peninsula,” she says. “The girls sat in the stools while I stood up and my husband sat at a nearby small table. I wanted all four of us to be able to sit together, and I wanted to be able to have a party and set out a food spread. Now, my girls affectionately call the new island their own personal café and it has become a great place for family time.”

To accommodate her budget, Smith repurposed the peninsula cabinetry for the island, combining the 36″ door/drawer base cabinet with a new 24″ open-shelf cabinet that would enable her to remove the microwave from the countertop and house it in the island, which was another dream for her new kitchen. While Smith had hoped to replace the tile floor as a second phase of the project, running power to the island for the microwave ultimately damaged more tiles than what Smith had stashed away from the original remodel, so she had to move to plan B, incorporating commercial-grade luxury vinyl tile (LVT) that resembles hardwood.

“We were able to lay it right over the existing tile, using it as a subfloor,” she says. “I also love the vinyl’s wood look. While some clients like hardwood, between our kids and pets, we needed something that was waterproof and scratch proof.”

The designer was also cognizant to size the island with large enough aisleways to be ADA compliant.

“We are thinking about retiring in this home, so we wanted to have enough room for a wheelchair or walker,” she notes. “I’ve also heard horror stories about people not having enough room to pull out appliances when they stop working…or if you need to paint behind them!”

Choosing quartz as the island top checks both boxes for function and aesthetics, with its ease of maintenance meaning no worry about spills. Smith loves the quartz she used so much that she chose to repeat it as the backsplash throughout the entire kitchen, giving it focal-point status above the cooktop and behind the ventilation hood.

Checking Both Boxes

Choosing Vadara Quartz Surfaces’ Marbella quartz, fabricated by Planet Stone, as her island top checks both boxes for function and aesthetics. Functionally, its versatility and ease of maintenance means she needn’t worry about spills.

“As an interior designer I see so many different beautiful natural stones, including marble,” she says. “But I know my life couldn’t handle marble. I love my kitchen, but I don’t want to
be a slave to it. I can’t continually care for marble. Even now, I’m looking at my kitchen with spilled juice on the counter. We also just had a prom party where ice cream cake was melting onto it. If I had a porous surface, those ‘events’ could ruin it. Instead, the quartz gives me the look of marble, without the maintenance.”

This particular quartz color also matches the aesthetic goal Smith had envisioned for the space.

“It’s more of a cloudy pattern, without harsh veining,” she indicates. “It was important to me to have an updated modern kitchen, but I needed materials that matched the more traditional/Mediterranean vibe of my home, and a more prominent veining pattern would have been too modern. Plus, the grays, golds, browns and whites all blended together to tie in with my white perimeter cabinets, stained island and brown floor. People are constantly asking if it’s real stone!”

Smith loves the quartz so much that she chose to repeat it as the backsplash throughout the entire kitchen, giving it focal-point status above the KitchenAid cooktop and behind the Zephyr ventilation hood. While the designer kept her original perimeter cabinetry – giving it new life via a fresh coat of Dunn-Edwards’ Whisper paint and new Pottery Barn hardware – she removed the cabinetry above her previous undercabinet ventilation hood to give the quartz more opportunity to shine.

“I didn’t want anything to fight against the quartz,” she says. “I wanted it to be the primary focus in the space. Using it as the backsplash that goes to the ceiling really transformed the entire kitchen.”

Kitchen ‘Earrings’

While the quartz in large part steals the show in Smith’s new kitchen, she also attributes new lighting as a game-changer.

“People often think they can do a remodel without changing the lighting,” she says. “But lighting has so much to do with how welcoming a space is, and how it looks during the day and at night. It can also affect how large a space looks.”

Originally, Smith had a few recessed can lights and a flush-mount ceiling light to illuminate the space. During the remodel, she reconfigured the can lights and added two large Hudson Valley Lighting pendant lights above the island and a pair of complementary Hudson Valley sconces above the Blanco Precis Silgranit Anthracite sink, which is accented with a Graff Perfeque pull-down faucet that offers a modern mix of polished chrome and black.

“Sometimes it’s go big or go home,” she says in reference to the pendant lights. “If you have the room, adding large pendants above an island can actually make the ceiling seem higher. The pendant lights, and the hood vent, are also like a pair of great earrings that add subtle sophistication to the space. You can have a great outfit, but if the earrings aren’t right, the outfit is ruined.” ▪

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Did you miss our previous article…

Adapting to the Post-COVID Era

While the past 15 months have certainly taken a toll on all of us, we can now look ahead to a brighter future. The power of positive thinking helped many people escape the darkness a global pandemic can evoke. It can also help us see the silver lining in what we’ve been through.

How can we adapt? How can we operate our businesses more efficiently? How do we connect with people?

Now that we’ve been through the worst of the COVID-19 public-health crisis, many of us can hit the reset button and get a fresh perspective on best business practices as we enter a new era. Our small family business not only survived but began to thrive as the pandemic progressed. How? It most definitely was not easy. Part of our success is attributed to our unique corporate structure: a service and retail business comprised of a full-service plumbing company and a decorative hardware showroom. But there is more to it than simply that. What follows is what we learned amidst our struggles as we enter a post-COVID Era.

Still a ‘People’ Business

Decorative plumbing and hardware is unique in that it remains a “people” business. Artificial Intelligence and technology may be replacing jobs in other industries, but ours still requires people. There are just too many unpredictable factors and variables that come into play when we’re dealing with a new construction or a remodel project that cannot be solved by an algorithm. As we all know, these types of projects are emotional and, as a result, each one requires a unique human connection.

What has evolved is the way that we connect with people. On The DPHA Drip podcast (Episode: The Consolidation Effect), I had an enlightening conversation with Vik Szemerei, director of strategic accounts at The House of Rohl. One of the biggest takeaways from the conversation involved talking about how the pandemic has forced us to think about how we connect with people and how we operate more efficiently due to the increased value of time.

We both agreed that it makes absolutely no sense to fly across the country to sit in the room with people for a PowerPoint presentation. Save the PowerPoint or strategic talking points for a virtual meeting. When you are meeting with someone, use that time to connect, get to know each other and communicate. So, while our industry is still largely a people business, we can effectively utilize new technology to do better business with people, not to replace people.

Rethinking Events & Showcases

There seemed to be a saturation of events and showcases before the pandemic – so much so that it almost seemed like burnout was inevitable.

Those planning the events and showcases were struggling to figure out how to remain relevant amongst their competition, while those attending were struggling with which events would be worth the investment to attend. This would often lead to disappointment from exhibitors due to low attendance and thus less engagement from attendees because of the low energy.

DPHA adapted by hosting a virtual conference in 2020 and expanding its outreach to a new sector of attendees. Through our relationship with ASID, NKBA and other relevant associations, we extended invitations to architects and designers across North America, yielding hundreds in attendance. Moving forward, DPHA is implementing new strategies to make our annual showcase more accessible by doing the following:

Offering a Hybrid Model: the showcase can be attended virtually or in-person.

Being more design centric: ASID will have their own booth at the conference this year, and several design centric breakout sessions will take place.

Educational Sessions will be available in-person or as part of the virtual event.

The pandemic has forced us to rethink the way we connect with people, which has also forced companies to rethink the way they allocate their market and related budgets.

Company Roles & Structure

Efficiency and adaptation have been common themes, so it is natural for this concept to be fluid in all aspects of business. Companies both large and small have regrouped to think of ways to be more lean, agile and receptive to growth and change.

Technology can also be utilized to improve processes in different areas of your business. For example, our service department switched to a “remote dispatch” model to avoid close contact with one another when public health was uncertain. What we realized in that adaptation was that it increased the efficiency of our technicians’ ability to complete their projects more effectively and expanded our network radius. We can hire technicians out of our service area to reach more potential customers and eliminate the detriment of a commute.

If your bookkeeper, accountant or administrator does not have to be in the office, your hiring pool can expand tremendously. Showroom design consultants could be more accessible and make a greater impact outside of the showroom. Technology and innovation have been critical catalysts for improving processes, increasing productivity and maximizing accessibility.

A New Era

We are all in a unique position to reinvent ourselves in business and as individuals. The loss of human connection will hopefully inspire us to live with more gratitude.

Technology and innovation have helped us discover our potential in business. We now have the opportunity to create a unique new synergy by using technology to make us more connected instead of creating more distance. Businesses can utilize technology to maximize efficiency while placing more emphasis on connecting with the people they do business with. Events and showcases can expand their network while keeping the family culture alive.

With all of these advancements and new insights, we can all move forward together with hope in this post-COVID Era. ▪

J. Philip Hotarek is operations manager at Lutz Plumbing Inc. and currently serves as board secretary for the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA). A former NCAA and professional ice hockey player, he spent summers working in the family business as a plumbing apprentice and has been working full time for the company for the past 10 years as a design consultant and plumbing technician. He is currently stepping into a management and ownership role for Lutz Plumbing Inc., whose decorative hardware showroom serves the San Francisco Bay Area.

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