It’s the little details that can have the greatest impact on your clients and prove the greatest differentiator from your competition, as this trio of designers has found over three decades.
If you walk into Geneva Cabinet Gallery, 321 Stevens St., in Geneva, expecting to find a large selection of high-quality cabinetry, you won’t be disappointed.
The company specializes in cabinetry, as well as countertops and appliances, that can turn any kitchen or bath into the space of your dreams. But you’ll also find three top-rated designers with decades of experience who can help design any room of your house – and see the project through to completion.
“We’re a cabinet store that does a combination of remodeling and new construction,” says owner Lynn Havlicek, who has been designing interior spaces for more than 30 years.
The process of finding just the right details that make a space exactly what a client wants and needs is the most gratifying part of her job, Havlicek says.
“When you’re done with a project – a kitchen or bathroom in an older home – people just love it, and that satisfaction makes it worthwhile,” she says. “It truly does change the way they live. They often come back and tell me that it functions better for their family, and they love the way it looks. Then we know we have done our job.”
Sixty percent of the jobs coming through Geneva Cabinet Gallery are kitchen remodels, 20 percent are bathrooms, and the rest are a mix of basements, bars and entertainment areas that feature stunning bookcases, built-ins and other high-end finishes. The firm works with Wood-Mode, Brookhaven, Decor, Showplace and Tischlerei cabinet manufacturers.
Designer Gayle Safford just finished a large basement project that saw the transformation of the space into an old English pub with heavy cherry varnished wood and magnificent detail work. In another section of the same basement, she put together a home theater complete with a concessions area.
“It had wild carpet in the theater room with reds, blacks and grays,” says Safford. “It was a really fun, out-there project with really intense finishes.”
The design team is intent on finding the little details that make each job unique. Wood countertops, for instance, can warm up a white space. Or something personal might be the key.
“You’re not just thinking about the cabinetry, you’re thinking about other things,” Safford says. “Maybe they have plates from their grandmother that they want to display. Then, you’re working with an open cabinet with glass so they can display those items. It’s not always about the cabinetry; it’s about incorporating things that are important to the client. I’m not just a cabinet designer – I am a space planner.”
When those spaces become more functional, everyone benefits, adds Havlicek.
“When you feel good about your house, you entertain more, and you may cook more,” she says. “If it’s not a good space for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, somebody else hosts it. People tend to like to entertain and cook more in a great kitchen.”
The benefit of working with a design/cabinetry company includes the seamless approach Havlicek and her designers take to each project. They assist clients in all aspects of the process, even when clients don’t know where to begin.
“A lot of places will send you out to find your own tile, your own tastes in materials,” Havlicek says. “Here, we’ll walk you through the whole thing. You don’t have to go to other places if you don’t want to. If the job or aspect of it is too overwhelming for you, we’ll simplify it for you.”
You’ll also receive professional drawings and measurements – plus a lot of advice – which can save time, headaches and money.
“We don’t usually charge a design fee,” Havlicek says. “You’re going to design the project anyway. Here, you get someone who will put it all together and try to stay in your budget.”
What big mistakes could you possibly make in even a simple remodel? You could send the wrong measurements to the cabinet manufacturer; you might not anticipate a door that can’t open; or you might not like the color once you see it on the walls.
“There are several decisions to make on details,” Havlicek says. “You need a reveal here or an inch here, or a quarter of an inch there. It’s challenging to do, even when you’ve been doing it for years.”
New clients should know that they’ll feel comfortable with Havlicek’s team, the designers, installers and subcontractors. Clients often get along so well with the team that they become friends, Havlicek says.
Geneva Cabinet Gallery also will make needed repairs long after the job is done. Havlicek once had a client whose child ripped off a cabinet door in their new kitchen.
“Of course, we want to go back and fix it,” she says. “Life happens, and we want to make sure you are happy and proud of your new space. We try to take the hassle out of the building/remodeling process.”
It’s not something on the forefront of her mind, but Havlicek’s entire front office is made up of women.
She bought the business, formerly known as Cabinets at Denada in Wheaton, from Glenda Swanson 15 years ago. Today, Swanson, Safford and Havlicek are the team’s designers; Valerie Price is a design assistant; and Deanna McCarney is the office manager.
Most of Havlicek’s installers are men, so there is balance, but Geneva Cabinet Gallery has a unique chemistry.
“I think it’s interesting my whole office is women,” Havlicek says. “In this field, it’s kind of unique. Often cabinet designers are men, especially remodelers. I don’t know how many similar businesses are just women.”
On many fronts, having women who are also mothers and cooks distinguishes the team when it designs kitchens and spaces.
“I think that does help from a practical standpoint,” says Havlicek, herself a mother of three. “I’ve always loved to cook and entertain, so that helps. Glenda and Gayle are the same way. So, we have a much more practical point of view than someone who doesn’t have that experience.”
But Havlicek has also had to earn the respect of others in the male-dominated business.
“I worked with my husband – a custom home builder, Havlicek Builders Inc. – so that helped knowing that aspect of the business,” Havlicek says. “Other contractors need to respect you. After a few years working with them, they realize how much work you’re doing, and we’re very busy. We’ve earned the trust and respect from subcontractors who work for us and the general contractors we work for, also.”
Havlicek usually uses the same subcontractors, and she has settled on a staff that appreciates her work – and she theirs.
“I get a lot of compliments on them; they’re very professional,” she says. “They know our product really well. They know the quality of work we expect. Communication is excellent between all of us. It’s something you develop over time – the right team.”
That’s a good takeaway for any small-business owner: it will take time to build your team, Havlicek says. Even after you’ve found the right players, keep them honest.
“You have to constantly make sure it’s still the best it can be by keeping up-to-date with product and labor pricing,” she says.
Safford believes the firm’s success is two-fold.
“It always boils down to the quality of our design, and our installers are impeccable,” she says.
Adds Havlicek: “I think the only way to be a success at what you do is to be honest and trustworthy.”
After many years in business, Geneva Cabinet Gallery isn’t looking into the “growth” part of the business anymore, Havlicek says. But whether she’s been building houses, remodeling or doing interior design, the referrals she now receives are all the proof she needs to know the company is a success.
“It means they trust you,” she says.