Kohler is known for doing something amazing: It is able to combine subtle elegance and bathroom furnishings, elevating the status of the bathroom from kept-under-wraps to being boasted about. It’s said one can tell a lot about a space from how its bathroom is designed, and that sentiment probably comes in no small part from the work Kohler has done.
Kohler’s Culver City, Calif., showroom, which opened in May of this year, is one of the smallest of the company’s showrooms at 2,700 square feet, Brian Goehle, AIA, NCARB, Kohler’s manager of Architecture and Interior Design, told me over the phone from his Chicago location. But that footprint hasn’t hindered the space. “People are impressed with how much we were able to display without it feeling cramped,” he said. “It brings a curated and composed experience to the consumer.”
With Goehle in the Windy City, I met with Kathy Moses, the showroom’s manager, to tour the site. In our phone conversation, Goehle began by explaining the historic importance of the location, which is made evident upon arrival.
Located in the historic Holmes Bakery District—site of the bread bakery for the 1933 Olympic games—the building is rooted in the local environment, giving Goehle’s team a challenge to connect Kohler’s product to the significance of the region. “When my team and I start designing these signature stores, we try to keep them contextual,” he said. “We tried to do that in this location by celebrating the historic aspect of the store and bringing that to the forefront.” While the showroom is home to all of the glitz and glam of Kohler’s line, keeping the original shell of the building, including the cement floors and cinderblock walls, ties the brand to the historic site, adding just a dash of industrial chic to the location.
Entering the showroom, it was important to Goehle that the user be greeted by a story of design. “The journey when you walk in the front door begins with greeting you with a focal point: a working shower display,” he explained. “Either your right or your left is an inspiration space. The left is what we called a suite. It’s a large bath solution to show the breadth of the product range, and it’s on the design trend. The consumer and user are allowed to meander through the space as it unfolds.”
In the center of the space, a large screen is used to display product, concepts, and sustainability efforts, giving a digital touch to the traditionally analog behavior of bathroom furnishings.
As Goehle pointed out, the showroom is set up to be used in two primary ways: to gain inspiration in fully designed vignettes, and to pick out individual details. “Really, we’re leveraging inspiration,” he said. “You can come to the showroom and see both the idea and trend, as well as walk out with the specification. We have the SKUs, we have the pieces, and we have how it would be installed.” From faucets to toilets to wall tile, vignettes give designers and end users inspiration for their own projects, pulling in design combinations one may not otherwise have considered.
The details in the space are a stunning display of the range of Kohler’s products. The working shower display sits in the center of the showroom, providing users the experience of interacting with the digital touch-screen switches, and the opportunity to see how the products work. Faucets line the right-hand wall and island which can easily be pulled up and carried around with the user. “That’s probably the feature people love the most,” Moses noted. “The fact that they can pick up a fixture or two and bring it to a tub or toilet they’re thinking about to see how it would look together is really useful to designers.”
Leading us to a bank of sinks, Moses explained Kohler has been working with local artists to create a line of artisan bowls. These beautifully designed vessels give designers options outside of the traditional expectations of what a sink can bring to the space.
In addition to bathroom fixtures, Kohler’s subsidiaries have found a home in the space as well. In a corner of the showroom, tile is on display for users to easily peruse and grab as needed to compare against other products. Sitting with Moses—the tile offerings lining the walls—she pointed out that each of the columns and samples were actually hidden storage spaces; when they are pulled out they show an even larger offering of product. Using storage allows Kohler to display the vast collection of offerings without being visually overwhelming to the user.
The most impressive elements of Kohler is actually what you can’t see: its sustainability, conservation, and stewardship efforts. “This store was our first LEED-certified location, so that’s a huge initiative for us,” Goehle explained. “And the second part of that is water conservation. All of the products are California Green certified. That means everything is a product you can buy and install in California.”
In the drought-ravaged state, focusing on water conservation is key. Hidden from the space, but an important part of the Kohler story, is the company’s stewardship. A Kohler employee figured out how to create a water filter using ceramic discs which purifies water of 99.8% of contaminates to create drinking water. As part of Kohler’s commitment to create accessible drinking water around the world, these filters were on display at the grand opening and continue to be produced and distributed in regions around the world where clean drinking water
is hard to come by.