February 14, 2020
By Carrie Whitney
With a successful showroom located in Hinsdale, Ill., Normandy Remodeling sought to expand into the high-end suburb of Evanston. Two of the firm’s designers spent about a year transforming an old office building into the North Shore Design Studio. With 7,000 square feet of showroom space, the studio features multiple kitchen and bathroom displays, a selections center, client meeting spaces and a seminar area. By including a variety of aesthetics in the vignettes, the showroom displays the breadth of styles and features Normandy offers its clients. And because the firm used its own tradespeople in building out the project, clients are able to get a look at the level of finishes they can expect in their homes.
The resulting showroom features thousands of product selections, multiple meeting spaces and displays intended to inspire visitors, generate leads and provide room for designers to plan with current and prospective clients. If the road to reaching the completed North Shore destination was challenging, for Kathryn O’Donovan and Liz Reifschneider, the Normandy residential designers who handled the project, it also provided the excitement of creative freedom in strategizing the individual vignettes, especially because usual concerns like client budget and taste were eliminated.
“That’s a dream for any designer,” said Reifschneider. “You don’t get to do that every day with a client – dreaming up something and seeing it come to a reality.”
Working with a 20th-Century Structure
Before the dream-worthy vignettes could be installed, the building itself had to be tackled. It needed a new roof, new HVAC system and updates to the storefront. But there were some pleasant discoveries during demolition, and these drove the design.
“We uncovered some unique structural elements that were hiding above two layers of ceilings,” said O’Donovan.
Between the drop ceiling and barrel rooflines were 70-year-old bow trusses still in good condition. The designers opted to make the beams a feature of the showroom, raised the ceiling and added skylights. Bolts and hardware on the wood trusses were painted black, and the effect was repeated by cladding an original structural column and a second one added for symmetry.
“The overall space reads a little more modern,” said Reifschneider. “Architecturally, that was the way it needed to go because we discovered the bow trusses.”
To further connect the entire space visually, the designers used a consistent palette for the flooring.
“We tried to keep the selection in a colorway,” said O’Donovan. “That definitely helps connect, but there are different patterns and different looks within the space that highlight a variety of options for our clients.”
The showroom has six kitchen and two bathroom displays, a mudroom, a home office that doubles as a conference room, a coffee bar and a library that houses the seminar area. Because the building sits on a concrete slab and there is no basement, the team decided not to install plumbing where it was not needed, so it is only used in the coffee bar and breakroom spaces.
Five client meeting spaces, such as the conference room, have dedicated technology solutions, and two islands with seating allow for selection meetings. The variety of spaces means that seven designer-client meetings can take place simultaneously. The selections area is at the center of the showroom with thousands of interior and exterior products on display, so designers and clients can make almost all material choices without ever leaving the building.
Varying the Vignettes
O’Donovan and Reifschneider worked in tandem to design the vignettes and other spaces. The process began with a session including Normandy’s more than 20 designers, who provided input on what items and features they wanted to showcase. The project designers divvied up the ideas and the displays.
“There were hundreds of items on that list,” said O’Donovan. “There were only two items we weren’t able to squeeze in – a banquette and a lift-up base cabinet accessory for a mixer. No two kitchens have the same appliances or the same roll-out shelves.”
For each vignette, the designers endeavored to create some type of partition, such as an arched entryway with drywall, an actual wall or a change in floor tile.
“We divided and conquered,” said Reifschneider, who explained that they designed each space individually and met about once a day to show each other their work and get feedback. “We split it up, but we consulted with each other.”
The vignettes serve to show the possibilities, and they do so at different price points. In the front windows, the displays demonstrate the firm’s high-end abilities and feature architectural details. In addition to exhibiting Normandy’s top skills, designing the vignettes gave the team the chance to include features that are bold and atypical, like robin’s egg blue kitchen cabinets.
“I feel like it’s inspiring our clients to think outside the box,” said O’Donovan. “There is white in that kitchen, it’s just on a different surface.”
For Reifschneider, the fashion-forward, black and blond window display is a favorite. The lighter wood cabinets with contrasting dark elements are striking, and the “fifth wall” features beams in the same wood. The countertops are quartzite with a three-dimensional leathered finish and came from a slab left over from a project. The designer liked the material so much, she resized the kitchen to make it work with the amount she had available.
Despite the distinctions, flow between spaces sometimes proved critical. For example, in the large bathroom, Reifschneider mimicked the barrel ceiling that runs from front to back with an arched tile installation. The bathroom vignette can be entered in two places, so maintaining symmetry with the vanities surrounding the tub was important.
Adding the Extra Areas
A learning space – the library – offers seating for up to 70 guests, who attend educational seminars given by Normandy designers. With massive built-in shelving, the space also shows off more of what Normandy can accomplish with cabinetry.
Between the selections area and one of the bathrooms, a mudroom displays additional options in the built-in category. With beadboard on the back, cubbies and a message center with a wood countertop and dog bowls below, the simple design is crafted of kiln-dried pine from a lumber supply company and built on site by a carpenter.
“There are ideas all around for the clients to pick from to showcase our skillset – whether it’s electrical, plumbing or architectural,” said O’Donovan. “It’s a really awesome candy store for kitchen and bath design.”
Designers: Kathryn O’Donovan & Liz Reifschneider, Normandy Remodeling
Photographer: Normandy Remodeling
Crystal Cabinet Works
The Normandy Collection
Quality Custom Cabinetry
Victoria + Albert