Today, the Kitchen Studio of Glen Ellyn is run by Susan Klimala, and her husband Jeff, who manages the financials. Along with Susan as lead designer, the firm also employs three design assistants and a marketing manager.
1. How did you get into the business of kitchen design?
Susan: “It was somewhat of a circuitous route. I have a degree in psychology and my first real job was working in marketing and sales for a Fortune 500 consumer products company. Growing up I loved decorating my room and wandering through the vignettes at Ethan Allen but never really thought of interior design as a “serious” career until later in life. After the birth of my kids, I got a part time gig working for a custom home builder, who decided to have me design all the kitchens and baths after I guess seeing what I could do. It was basically trial by fire and after a few years of that, I got pretty good at it, enough where I was comfortable opening my own business. ”
Kitchen Project in Naperville, IL. Designed by The Kitchen Design Studio of Glen Ellyn.
2. What makes you a good designer?
Susan: “I’m passionate about design and interiors and all things “home”. I’m kind of a homebody who likes to putter around in my house and in the kitchen. I’m a decent cook, so I have an appreciation for what makes a great functional working space. I also really enjoy being around beautiful things and have an appreciation for the artistic side of what I do, trying to create a bit of living art for each client, that is fun!”
3. What about the design business keeps you excited every day to do this work?
“Do what you are good at.” Susan, Founder Kitchen Studio of Glen Ellyn
Susan: “I’m a bit of an attention-challenged person, so I love that this job keeps me hopping. On any day I can jump from meeting clients to managing staff, to doing design work to working on my marketing plan. If I had to do the same thing all day long, I would get so bored. I also love new projects and the puzzle part of the job. Working with and understanding the client and working through what will be good for the house and for the clients’ functional needs.”
4. What is something important you have learned that has helped you to be successful?
Susan: “As a designer, you are an artist, but you also must learn how to sell your ideas and communicate why you are doing what you are doing. In addition, it’s important as a designer to understand the business side of what we do as well as the design part.”
5. Why do clients hire you?
Susan: “When we ask our clients this question, most people find us from reacting positively to our body of work. But clients who ultimately hire us, hire us because we offer the unique opportunity to work with a small boutique design-build firm that specializes in kitchen and bath. They like the idea of getting to work with a designer but also to have a great experience through the construction phase.”
Kitchen Project in Clarendon Hills, IL. Designed by The Kitchen Design Studio of Glen Ellyn.
6. Your kitchen designs are beautiful. How would you describe your aesthetic?
Susan: “I would say “simple yet sophisticated”. A lot of kitchen and bath designers tend to overdesign. I see a lot of kitchen designs with many mixed materials, metal countertops, a giant hood, different scales, different tile on the floor. That works for some spaces but for my clients, I always try to think, what is the shortest distance from point A to point B, and does this aesthetic fit with the rest of the home?”
7. How do you gain the trust of the client?
“Say what you do and do what you said.”
Susan: “For me, it’s all about “say what you do, and then do what you say”. That’s first and foremost. Secondly, I think people are nervous about the investment part of remodeling, so we work hard upfront to develop trust by showing our pricing structure which is very clear and transparent.”
8. What are your favorite kitchen countertops?
Susan: “In my own kitchen I have a thick mitered Calcutta marble island paired with quartz countertops in the rest of the kitchen. I like the combination of the wow factor at the island and the ability to have a more practical solution in other areas. Marble is not for everyone though and for most of my client’s quartz has been the top choice.”
9. What about cement? or metal countertops?
Susan: “I have not used cement countertops because of issues with cracking and maintenance. For the look of metal or cement, there are some great quartz options that mimic the look of those materials without all the maintenance issues. For someone wanting to use these specialty materials, they really need to be aware of the maintenance challenges upfront.”
10. What new kitchen countertop designs are you excited to use?
Susan: “There are some new quartz materials that have the look of terrazzo that are just stunning.
11. What flooring do you typically use in your kitchen designs?
Susan: “We are in Chicago, and in the Midwest, all the old homes have oak floors, so we are usually weaving in new oak or refinishing existing. Occasionally we will use engineered wood for projects if we are doing the whole first floor. Sometimes tile, but tile is cold, and wood will usually be less expensive and for that reason is typically more popular.”
12. Do clients have pushback with having wood in their kitchen?
Susan: “If a client has pushback, it is usually because they are afraid of water damage from the dishwasher. I reassure them that in the 15 years I’ve been doing this, the only dishwasher that has ever leaked has been the one in my own home, in other words, it is not a common occurrence!”
13. Any kitchen floors you are excited about?
Susan: “I am really liking the look of antique blond oak right now. For so long dark espresso-colored floors were very popular, so it’s nice to see some light wood again!”
14. Kitchen cabinets?
Susan: “We are still doing a ton of shaker doors for kitchen cabinets. I always try to steer my clients towards adding details to the door profile though, so it does not look like the cabinets came from the local home center, so I don’t really like the look of a stark shaker door. We are still doing a lot of white cabinets but are now seeing more wood tones for accent at areas like the island, open shelving, and hood details. I love this trend!”
15. What do you see as the biggest changes right now to the interior design business/industry?
Susan: “The industry’s pricing structure is really in flux right now, meaning how designers are charging their clients because clients are getting more and more information online. I think another challenge for me is staying relevant. I opened my business 15 years ago, so I feel like I am constantly having to reinvent myself, keeping up with current platforms, such as Instagram, etc.”
For more information on Susan, founder of The Kitchen Studio of Glen Ellyn check out their site.