Eyes on the prize

30 Mar, 15

Diane Berry explains what sets her and her company apart from other showrooms

It could be said, last year was a stellar year for Diane Berry Kitchens of Prestwick, North Manchester. Owner Diane Berry won the Kitchen designer and Overall Designer of the Year, at the KBSA Awards, for the second year running. Not to mention, the company was a finalist in the KBB category of the SBID Awards and Kitchen Retailer of the Year category at the Industry Awards. But the reality is, Diane Berry and the designers in her company are frequently in the line-up for award honours, from as far back as 2003 – just a year after she opened her own business.

Design inspiration

With 30 years’ experience in the industry, Diane explains her continuing obsession with design is behind her success in business, not to mention the company’s almost permanent presence at awards. She explains: “I sit in bed every night and scroll through masses of images. The internet has got to be the best tool ever and I can’t imagine any designer who isn’t addicted to Houzz [the interior design platform].”

But Diane believes inspiration for kitchen design should not be confined just to interiors, and seeks ideas from further afield from art to fashion. She continues: “I will study things other than kitchens. I like going to see different artists like Anish Kapoor and see what they’re doing. And then you think can I use something that they’re doing in the kitchen industry? I like looking at fashion and clothes and what people are doing with shapes and so on.” And Diane is a fervent believer that other designers’ work is a constant source of creativity. If pushed, she cites the likes of Zaha Hadid Architects, which created the Ray-like Olumpic swimming pool for London 2012, as a key influence on interior design.  “You have to have people like Zaha Hadid on a pedestal if you appreciate form and function and kitchen designers should appreciate form and function.”

But she says her view of design spans from a macro level through to the minutiae, as she explains: “The other day I was trying to find a table leg, so I was studying vases to try to find a shape to show my steel manufacturer to create a breakfast bar leg. I studied vases for a whole night trying to find the shape I wanted.” And it is this desire to get things exactly right , this attention to detail, that Diane says it what makes her and her company stand apart from other designers in the industry.

A philosophy shared

And her philosophy is filtered down to each member of staff, and is shared by all the designers she has employed. Although her team of seven designers have a varied background from textiles to graphics, furniture manufacturing to decorative horticulture, and even from having undertaken their own renovation projects, they all have a genuine passion for design. Diane comments: “I have benefitted from their expertise and we all bounce ideas off each other. We ask each other ‘what do you think of this’ and we give each other feedback on what we like and what we don’t like”.

Attending to needs

But it’s not solely a passion for design that has made Diane Berry Kitchens such a successful brand in the kitchen retailing. It is the ability to translate this thirst into a kitchen tailored for each clientele. And in fact, Diane suggests it’s about learning what the clients want, even when they themselves don’t know it, has made herable to design the best possible kitchens for her clients: “People often walk in and say ‘just do me a nice kitchen’ and I can’t do that unless I know people.” She continues: “I spend a lot of time learning what my clients’ needs are even if they don’t know what they are. I say ‘how old is your mum, how tall is she, will she come and visit?’ Have you got dogs, are they big dogs, little dogs, are you left-handed?’ It is all the attention to detail.”

Diane cites her win at the KBSA Awards as a prime example of getting to know the clients in order to give them the kitchen that worked best for them. In this case, the family was Jewish and this brings up several different design aspects for kitchens, such as having to have two sinks to keep meat and dairy separate. Diane explains the process of designing for a family where traditions and religion impact on kitchen design: “The kitchen that I won the design award with is for a Jewish family and their kitchens are very different. So you need to understand and you have to be confident enough to ask them how strictly they follow their religion because some will follow much more strictly than others.”

This desire to really know their customers is apparent, when she comments: “We are a people company and the goal is really to find like-minded people who understand that we want it right for them. It’s not about the number or closing the deal, it’s about making it right for them. It’s about doing the job right for that family or that couple, or for whatever the client’s needs are.”

Point of difference

Diane also believes it is this approach to her work that has seen her company’s customers come from as far afield as Barbados – because she is able to offer something different. “I believe my Alno kitchens look different to other Alno stores and I spend a bit of time on it. Alno offers help [to design the showroom] but I don’t use it the service. They do have a great designer but I am very passionate about having my stamp on it.”

She explains how the design and layout of the showroom uses components from Alno but incorporates different designs that Diane creates herself. “The breakfast unit is not a standard Alno unit. I bought the components from Alno and then I built it. The island in the window which is shaped and floating, I designed that and it is unique. I am not frightened of taking on something more complicated.”

Consumer show appearance

And this method of designing, tailored to the client’s needs, has stood the business in good stead, as Diane says: “Business is going very well and this has definitely been our best year.” She also states winning the Miele Grand Designs competition, where the prize was a stand at the London show, really helped the business. “I think most people in the North of England would have dismissed it but I just thought I will see if I can win it. And then we won the stand at Grand Designs and it was just an unbelievable success.”

Diane also credits membership of the KBSA as extremely beneficial to the business as it was how she found out about the competition: “The KBSA has really benefitted us because of Grand Designs and because we have the benefits of being part of a group and other people you can brainstorm with. Quite often you are in your bubble, you don’t come out of your showroom and you forget to focus on the bigger picture. Every now and again the KBSA give you a nudge to say have you seen this or thought about this, so it was certainly worth it, for that one message.”


Award-winning ways

With a continuing drive to enhance her design knowledge and continue to implement her understanding into style-led kitchen schemes, it’s no real surprise Diane is looking forward to the return of the award season: “The big plan is to do Grand Designs competition again. I would like to win but if I don’t win I would probably still exhibit and buy my own stand  because it was such a success and I met such good people.”

She would also like to grow her business by finding a bigger showroom premises. “I just love meeting people. They all need help and it just brings out that caring side of my character.” Although relocation of the business is at the fore of her mind, she wants to stay in the area as she grew up there: “This is the village where I was born, where I grew up, where my Dad’s business was. I am now working on houses that have got kitchens that I worked on when I was a teenager. [But] I need more staff and I need more space and finding the space I want in the area I want has been a challenge.” While she looks for that perfect space in Prestwick, Diane will keep designing, entering design competitions and no doubt winning her fair share. In her own words: “‘I know what I’m good at.”

This article first appeared in the January 2015 issue of Kitchens & Bathrooms News