Kelley Barnett, NCIDQ, CMKBD, loves designing kitchens and bathrooms. So much so that the owner and founder of Kelley Barnett Interior Designs in Austin, Texas, is master certified in kitchen and bath design.
“I have always done whole house design, but I realized that kitchen and bath is where the money is, and I actually enjoy those spaces more,” she says. “They are very technical and functional. If you make a mistake in there, forgiveness is really difficult. Those are also very critical spaces, and now in those areas, there’s just so much potential.”
Barnett graduated from the University of Texas–Austin with a Bachelor of Science in interior design in 1986.
“I actually changed my major three times until I discovered that this is what I wanted to do,” she says. “I didn’t know there was such a thing; a degree for interior designers.”
She earned her interior design certification within about a year and a half of graduating and recently earned her Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer (CMKBD) certification through National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA).
Barnett is also a member of the NKBA, serving on the board, and she has had an opportunity to attend the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) for the past eight years.
“Keeping abreast of the latest products in the building envelope is absolutely impossible without events like KBIS,” she says. “It’s a totally, immersive, tangible experience. It’s like a treasure hunt for new products, but you still have your same favorites—your tried and true staples.
“When a client says they saw something on Instagram and asks if I’m aware of it, my answer is usually yes. [Attending the convention] gives me a lot of confidence and more choices when designing.”
The event, scheduled for Feb. 27-29 in Las Vegas, is celebrating 60 years in 2024. There are about 450,000 square feet of exhibits and approximately 550 exhibitors. The show is also co-located with the NAHB International Builders Show (IBS), which together makes up Design and Construction Week.
With nearly a decade of experience attending KBIS, we picked Barnett’s brain a bit, learning what she is most excited about with this year’s event, how new and seasoned designers can benefit from attending, and how it may help other aspects of a designer’s career.
What aspects of the 2024 KBIS convention are you most excited about attending in 2024?
“This year, I plan on spending more time on the IBS side. I’m going to really enjoy the outdoor pavilions, and the tiny homes, and I’m going to focus more on construction this year than I ever have before, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Why are you choosing to focus more on construction this year?
“There’s so much overlap today between the architect, general contractor and designer. If I come on the job and I start saying I can rip out a toilet and move a sink, but I’m not aware that I have 10-foot limit that I can be moving things without digging into foundations or ruining sewer lines, I have to know what’s behind the walls, what’s outside, what’s in the ceiling and what’s in the floor. The only way I’m going to learn that is through the education process. If I come on a job and I’m totally ignorant of the processes that the general contractor and architect have to go through, I’m not a really good partner. I’m not bringing enough to the table. This is a great place to learn all of this!”
Can you share some insights into the trends and innovations in kitchen and bath design that you expect to see highlighted at KBIS this year?
“I have no idea what to expect but, to me, that’s the fun part. For example, Kohler and Monogram never disappoint. They always win awards for their booths. Kohler builds functioning plumbing fixtures by building up the floor in just one week’s time. How they accomplish it, I don’t know, but it’s a beautifully immersive experience. The showers are running, the toilets flush and the tubs fill.”
She’s also looking forward to smart home features like stovetops that show users how to cook, amazingly colorful sinks and hardware, hand-painted acrylic tubs, 3D-rendering plans, pizza ovens, electric fire places and wall designs.
“The vendors are so excited to show off their products. It’s hard to get through the whole show, but we do our best!”
How do you envision the event influencing collaboration and networking within the residential design and construction community?
“There are more than 75 classes offered. They are called VFTI (voices of the industry) that cover various topics like building, remodeling, business management, marketing and leadership. They are interactive, but if you can’t attend, they are free for NKBA members on demand, and the IBS has their own set of classes, too. There is a lot of collaboration and networking in the classrooms and with the representatives. It just goes on and on.”
In your opinion, how does the co-location of KBIS with the NAHB International Builders Show (IBS) enhance the overall experience for design and construction professionals attending both events?
“We’ve heard in the past that some members of the organizations were having to choose between one or the other, and it just didn’t make sense to have all these separate trade shows when you could just have one and have it be the largest one in North America. … This helps us understand each other (builders and designers) so much better so that we aren’t in the dark about what’s going on with our part of a project. We can’t be making each other’s lives harder, and that all comes from knowing the aesthetic of what we’re wanting to put into a space.”
KBIS is known for showcasing the latest technologies in kitchen and bath design. How do you incorporate emerging technologies into your own design projects, and do you expect to discover any game-changing innovations at the upcoming show?
“What I hope to learn more about is ChatGPT and artificial intelligence (AI). There are some AI programs on Instagram, where you upload your room and you choose a style and poof, there is your design for like pennies on the dollar. So, while I am confident that residential interior designers won’t be replaced, we have to know the limitations and capabilities of both of those technologies.”
What else should attendees know about KBIS?
“Jump on the KBIS app! There is a tab for first-time attendees and it helps set forth expectations. You can plan your classes, schedule events, go to networking panels and mixers. You can also attend inexpensively if you are willing to share hotels, get your rooms booked early—it’s so easy. As far as transportation, there’s Uber, Lyft and buses to the hotels, but the most exciting thing to me last year was to go on the Vegas Loop. They dug a tunnel that shuttles people from one end of the convention center to the next. It’s like a ride at Disneyland.”
What advise do you have for aspiring designers, specifically in the kitchen and bath space?
“If you can secure an internship with a kitchen and bath designer, do it. But also, generally speaking, I would encourage DSA members to be open to not just the design aspect, but other things like manufacturers’ reps, vendors, working in showrooms. Underneath the umbrella of residential interior design, there are many, many opportunities.
“My biggest encouragement would be to join a trade association like NKBA or DSA and get involved in volunteering, because that’s where you’re going to make your best connections for networking, internships and, ultimately, jobs. I also think you should go [to KBIS] at least once in your life and experience all there is to offer.
“Education is where we separate ourselves from others. If you’re trying to climb that ladder and really distinguish yourself from the competition, education is your ticket out!”