Springtime is here, which means sprucing up for the selling season that’s about to kick in. A beautiful design studio, with compelling sight lines and gorgeous vignettes that speak straight to what a home buyer wants … sounds like you’ve got it all, right? But that’s just a part of what makes a design studio successful.  To increase per-home revenue, create a world-class customer experience, and streamline internal operations, you need four critical components. I call them the four Ps:

Product: Sell the right products, the right amount, at the right price

Place: Your design studio should be state of the art, facilitate decision-making, stimulate desire, help visitors understand the products you offer, and build product value

Personnel: Hire well-trained knowledgeable design consultants who are skillful salespeople, design professionals, and are good at building rapport-

Process: Use a customer-focused process implemented with clearly defined procedures, including proper tools and good documentation

First we’ll explore product, and we’ll address the other elements in upcoming posts. 

In this fast-moving, tech-centric world of ours, trends change more quickly than ever before. Those shifts mean that whatever you were selling a few years ago is not going to sell today. Adding a few new products here and there over the past few years is not enough. Most builders should be looking to do major overhaul of their products at least twice a year. 

Are you still showing numerous shades of beige 12- or 13-inch tile in a mottled pattern? If so, no wonder you say, “Tile doesn’t sell in this market.” Boring, outdated tile that’s well presented, that’s what doesn’t sell. Right now, tile is selling everywhere. Yes, it’s more popular in warm and temperate regions—Florida, Arizona and the West Coast—but it’s selling in the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic, too.

You can thank television and the Web. Home buyers—even in markets such as Madison, Wis., and Charlottesville, Va.—have access to endless design shows, and people on Houzz and Pinterest live everywhere, not just in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Today, everybody has access to great design.

During the downtown, when our industry was struggling to stay alive, there was a major shift toward a clean, modern aesthetic in everything from home fashion to the design of your toaster to the contour of your laptop to the interior of the new stylish restaurant in town. If you haven’t yet made the shift, now’s the time.

To make your design studio fresh, of the moment, and sure to generate revenue, here are the products you need to be offering in 2014.


For the average home builder, tile is the finish product that has changed the most over the past few years.

What you might be offering: A large variety of beige-ish tiles in various swirly, mottled-looking patterns in square 12 inch or 13 inch sizes (I’m in design studios every week and this is what I see).

What you should be offering: A varied selection of more modern, updated configurations and colors and patterns: grays, whites, and solids in clean styles. Be sure to include some modern, more graphic patterns. Sizes should include large-format tile, such as 18s, 19s, 21s, and larger if your homes and market can handle it. Offer linear tile in all sizes, from 6x24 to 12x24 and beyond. Wood-look tile is becoming more popular, as is a mix of industrial and refined.


What you might be offering:A few oak products in old-fashioned 2 1/4-inch and other slightly larger plank widths, in many finishes, and a few maples in the same sizes, and some hand-scraped choices you added two years ago.

What you should be offering: Opt for more hand-scraped, heirloom, and other finishes and species that add character (yes, distressed is still selling). Oak and maple are great. Stock those (and other species) in wider planks, random-sized planks, and rich finishes. Exotic woods also are in demand.

A word about neutrals:Gray and dusk tones are popular and blond woods are going to enjoy a comeback this year. You’ll see these in clean, modern interiors, but also in aged finishes. And although blond is popular, we’re not done with dark finishes yet. Consider offering pecan and other visually interesting woods.

What else you should be offering:Laminate floors, which look much better than they used to, are an affordable alternative to engineered hardwood and they’re selling well. Laminate is a terrific option for the floors in your design studio and in your model homes.


What you might be offering:Chances are your cabinet offerings have been updated more recently than some of your other products.  The design opportunity here is in more than finishes, door styles, and wood species.There’s a chance to offer variety in configuration.

What you should be offering: Add some contemporary, flat-fronted cabinet styles, as well as simple Shaker- and Craftsman-inspired cabinet doors. White and gray cabinets are popular in the kitchen, as are cabinets painted in shades of yellow, blue, and red. Don’t go nuts with color; just a few huesin one or two cabinet styles are enough). As I mentioned earlier, we’re not through with espresso-colored finishes—dark oak is coming back.

While you might not be ready to add open shelves, top-hinged linear cabinets, or stainless/metal cabinets or shelves, offer a stacked configuration to replace the old “staggered” look that reigned supreme for years. Clean, linear, and stacked look is selling well, although staggered cabinets will still sell in 2014. At some point, consider horizontal linear cabinets.


What you might be offering:Too many choices of outdated and inexpensive granite. I know, Uba Tuba was your best seller for years, but nothing lasts forever. Add better-looking, higher-priced granite—and maybe some exotic granite—and your buyers will find the money, provided you price the surfacing reasonably. Explore white granites and richer color blends, too, and forget about cultured marble. Itlooks cheap.

What you should be offering:  The word in counter tops is quartz. Offer solids or almost-solids for more modern looks, in white, grays, and warm colors. Offer high-end granite-look quartz surfacing, too. Metallic and shimmery effects in the newer quartz products can be beautiful and upscale.

For production builders, a terrific new material for bathroom counters is Piedrafina, an affordable, earth-friendly, recycled marble product, currently available in 15 colors and suitable for bath vanities, tub surrounds, and shower walls. If you can swing it, consider replacing cultured marble with Piedrafina to raise the perceived value of your base price. Or, offer it as a cost-effective alternative to granite/quartz in the bathroom. That said, be careful about setting proper expectations about what can stain or etch this product, which is made of marble and has some of the same performance limitations. Finally, be on the lookout for waterfall counters, a custom trend that will, at some point, hit the production world.

What is (or isn’t) selling for you? Let us know.

Design studio expert Jane Meagher is president of Success Strategies, a design center consulting company serving builders throughout the country. She's based in northern New Jersey.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: New York, NY.