“A client’s interested in tech? Here’s the first thing I do.
“I usually talk about home automation or integration right at the beginning of the project and stress the need to have structured wiring because nothing — nothing — can compensate for structured wiring.”
Gibson is the brains behind Adam Gibson Design — he’s an architectural designer who specializes in high-end kitchen and bath projects in the U.S. Midwest. His watchwords are “warmth, simplicity, and clarity in design,” but that doesn’t mean he’s tech-averse — he embraces it, and he knows how to respond when he gets a familiar pushback regarding, say, adding cable to a project: “I'll suggest, ‘Well, maybe if you're worried about the obsolescence, let's run some conduit in some important areas where you think it might serve you in the future?’”
Gibson’s taking part in a roundtable discussion as he and I prep for a webinar presented by the NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) for their members about working with CEDIA integrators on kitchen and bath projects specifically. Also in on the discussion is one of the leading remodelers in the Great Lakes region of North America, Christopher Wright of Wrightworks, LLC. (Jamie Briesemeister of Integration Controls in St. Louis handles the integrator’s perspective in this particular webinar — but this prep session’s focused on the design/build experts.)
Tech Issues? They’re Universal
The client concerns that Wright and Gibson are recalling in this chat echo the issues that integrators have dealt with for decades: “When it comes to technology, I think there are the usual customer fears of obsolescence, as Adam noted,” says Wright. There’s more, of course: “They fear that the system is going to be overly complicated. They fear that they're going to be over-sold. That it's just going to start spiraling out of control. A lot of my projects are partnerships with people like Adam, and so a lot of the designers that I work with have a fear that any dollars spent on technology are going to come right out of the beautiful things that they want to put in a house, so those are some of the things that we have to get around.”
“If you’re a builder, you don't have to be a techie. That what your CEDIA partner is there for.”
Both Wright and Gibson are CEDIA evangelists: They talk to other builders at events like the annual Design and Construction Week Show in Florida. If there’s a single message Wright wants to impart to his colleagues, it’s this: “You don't have to be a techie. That's what your CEDIA partner is there for.”
Wright expands on that last point: “You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room when your clients ask: ‘What about privacy? What about security? What about when I want to do something different or expand down the road?’ Those are questions for the integrator.”
And builders are bombarded with a lot of the same interoperability questions that integrators field: “One of the challenges for us as builders and designers is now clients that come to us with technologies that have been marketed direct to the consumer.”
“We hear this all the time from people that tried the DIY-approach,” says Gibson. “’Okay, I did this, this, and this and now this, this, and this don't work.’ That’s why the knowledge and experience of someone who knows this stuff is critical.”
Wright sums the problem up: “There’s this increasing challenge of having homeowners go to some home center and then there are all these end caps of connected products. They're marketed like this: ‘Just take it home, plug in your Wi-Fi password, and install an app!’
“So now we have all this app clutter because our clients are buying these little one-off things, and then when they do a major project, they bring them to us and say, ‘Hey, I have all this. Can we incorporate this into the project, too?’”
And When the Builder Talks to the Integrator …
After we’ve established that builders are hearing the same things that CEDIA integrators hear from clients, we turn the discussion to the builder/integrator interaction. First on the docket for Wright: “When we start a project, we talk about project management. At what points are the integrators going to be on site? What are they going to be doing? How do we talk about the budget question?
“It makes me a better builder, and it gives me a competitive advantage when I have partners who can help bring these things and bring comfort to my clients when the subject of technology comes up.”
As Gibson notes, the tech most often asked for in kitchens and baths is AV — with lighting a close second: “People really do want to have good lighting controls; layered lighting.” But when he’s involved in the discovery process, both Gibson and Wright start the tech conversation by stressing the need for a robust home network. After determining what the “bare minimums” are when it comes to technology, it’s time to turn to the tech person sitting at the table.
“My goal is not to be a CEDIA member and learn how to hook up networks and wire TVs,” says Wright. “I believe in CEDIA because I believe in the elevation of the professionalism of the industry and the relationship between the various partnerships in a project: design, build, technology, architecture, homeowner. I think that the more we can develop healthy relationships with one another...”
Wright pauses for a second, and then puts a bow on it: “The end goal is to build beautiful things and have happy clients.”
What do you look for in an integrator?
Christopher Wright: In many ways, I look for things that I look for in any vendor that I work with, whether that's my plumbing distributor, my lighting distributor, whoever. I look for people that will take care of my client, that will communicate well, that will understand we're all working toward the same goal and none of us is the most important person at the table, but we all have an input to give that's going to further the experience.
I want to give them a comfort level that communicates: "Okay, we're not just going to over-sell you." I want to make sure that the juice is worth the squeeze; that we're not just putting in gimmicks.
When we design a kitchen, you're asking a client, "How do you live? How do you cook? Where do you like to put things?" When it comes to technology, we ask that client, "Tell me about your current experience with your network? What devices do you have? Where do you want to watch content? Where does that content come from?" Then we go from there with the integrator.
Adam Gibson: Communication is absolutely key. I really want to understand everything that the integrator wants to do, scheduling-wise. I want to make sure that they're not going to slow things down and that they are delivering the best results for the client.
I do appreciate an integrator who will show clients things they may not realize they could have. Not necessarily trying to upsell them, mind you — but if they don't realize that they could have a lighted pathway from their garage to their kitchen, to let them know: "Actually, with a push of a button from your car, we can provide that lighted walk." As designers, we don't think about those things. We just think about how things look or how things function, but we don't think about the technology that we can offer.