Chatting with Susan Serra, The Kitchen Designer

From on October 12, 2007 in Kitchen Remodel

the kitchen designerCalFinder recently caught up with Susan Serra of The Kitchen Designer and Kitchen Interiors.com. With over 20 years of design experience, Susan offers inspiration and expertise for a multitude of readers who value the hub of the home: the kitchen. Drawing from her Danish heritage, Susan blends an appreciation for her past with creative expression and complex analytical concepts. In this interview, Susan expounds on what it’s like to be an online guru and how she maintains a repertoire of new ideas to make the kitchen a more efficient and joyful place to cook, eat, and live.

My first question is, why kitchens?

This is a great question, and it’s something I only realized as I thought about the answer. For me, and I suspect for other kitchen designers, it is the, let’s say, juxtaposition of the creative combined with the analytical. I have to say I have always been detail oriented, enjoyed putting all the puzzle pieces together so to speak, having patience to find solutions, and also, interested in creative expression, always. I have a series of photographs of doors and windows that I took when I was 16 in Denmark, which, as we speak, are hung in my home. I see in those images creativity mixed with architecture, and I know kitchen design comes from my past.

Do you consider yourself an experienced cook? How much of your cooking experience (or lack of) goes into your design concepts?

I used to cook so much that I even made my kids’ play dough on the stove from scratch! So yes…breads, pasta from scratch, seviche, for example, exotic dishes, made up recipes, and let’s not forget comfort foods, often with a twist of some sort. I am sensitive to accessibility, particularly in regard to small (but heavy) appliances. If they are not accessible, they will simply not be used. Distribution of counter space surrounding appliances is a critical factor. Having “room to roam” within the kitchen is everything. Too narrow aisle ways can make one cranky very quickly. I actually work backwards, as I first look at the aisle and clearance dimensions that I know are necessary, then back into the cabinetry design.

On KitchenInteriors.com, you provide web-based design and project consultation. What was your experience in design and project management prior to launching your online design studio?

I have been in this business for 20 years, and I believe I learned early on that there is no substitute for working at a high level of detail. Organization is everything. Absolutely everything. The project website I provide for clients who live a distance away is a place for the project information to reside, and all of our correspondence and all of the details for the project are categorized and maintained on this project site. It is easily searchable, with the ability to upload as many files as is needed accessible 24/7 by each of us.

Many people still prefer in-person service. What do you think are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of online consultation?

The advantages are that a client can work with the designer of his/her choice. I have recently worked with clients in Florida, Wisconsin, and California for consultation services, and currently have two out of state full service kitchen projects. The consulting services are great. For phone conversations, for example, we’ll talk on the phone and also use an instant message service to exchange relevant links, and I’ll use flikr to instantly upload images from my thousands of images in my personal image library to illustrate a point, all while we are talking. It’s an innovative and exciting way to consult with a designer! Disadvantages? Perhaps if I need to see a wood finish a client is referring to, I’d need samples sent to me, although both parties having Benjamin Moore samples, for example, makes it easy, which I just went through with a consultation client. It’s doable. For out of state projects, it’s all in the planning. I measure my projects 3-4 times, sometimes within one day, so everything is engineered to fit perfectly. It’s about that extra level of detail. Visits needed are far fewer than one might think, especially with the project website.

How do you find new ideas and design concepts for the kitchen?

One of my most fun ways to get inspired is to seek out design magazines from around the world for inspiration. Living part time in New York allows me to purchase a great variety of design magazines, even some from South America and other areas, magazines which are seldom found at the local Borders bookstores! But, the best way is to just stop and think. To allow significant blocks of quiet, quality time in front of my computer. No substitute, ever, for that. And, to mix things up a bit…go out to the garden, go to the city, walking, biking, and so on. This gives needed breaks and adds to fresh thinking. Truthfully, all of my most innovative work is hidden in my clients folders, as most clients prefer to play it somewhat safe, and that’s just fine. But, they must see alternative ideas at the start, that is my philosophy.

Tell us about some of your favorite posts or projects? What made them stand out to you?

There is no doubt that my favorite part of my blog is the Scandinavian Kitchens category. My Danish heritage is very important to me, but, besides that, I believe Scandinavian kitchens are so relevant to today’s design aesthetic. Scandinavian kitchens use texture, create a beautiful soft contemporary look, they are fearless with color and always so stylish. Denmark has a rich history of design excellence, and I think everyone should take a second look at Scandinavian kitchens as there is much to learn from them. A favorite project? No, that would be like choosing a favorite child! As long as my projects reflect my clients’ personal sense of aesthetics, then I have been successful. It’s about them.