One-on-One…with Kate Flaherty
January 2nd, 2009

“We offer the most cutting-edge products and set the trends in the industry.”

Talking with LuxeHome’s Kate Flaherty about the upscale residential market

First Quarter, 2009

By Jeffrey Steele

Fifteen years ago, the opportunity to shop for and purchase luxury kitchen and bath products was far more limited than it is today. Much of the credit for the revolution that has since taken place is justifiably bestowed upon Katherine Flaherty, who heads kitchen and bath business at LuxeHome at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, New York City’s Architects & Designers Building and D.C.’s Washington Design Center.

LuxeHome is the world’s largest collection of luxury boutiques for home building and renovation. Its products include cabinetry, countertops, flooring, kitchen systems, integrated media systems, architectural moldings, hardware, paint and wallcoverings, bath accessories, doors, marble, stone, granite and tile.

In Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, LuxeHome’s dozens of boutiques range from Ahalya Stone to Woodland Artisan Cabinetry. Adding to the considerable value the boutiques offer is LuxeHome’s adjoining Design Resource Center, a 6,000-square-foot area replete with beautiful specialty-item-filled vignettes, where consumers and trade professionals alike can find kitchen and bath design direction and inspiration.

Helping keep consumers and home design professionals apprised of emerging design trends and innovations are LuxeHome’s many special events. These include book signings and kitchen and bath design lectures served up by industry luminaries and shelter magazines. Fully operational kitchens in some LuxeHome showrooms are the settings for special events and in-showroom cooking demonstrations.

For example, last October, LuxeHome celebrated National Kitchen and Bath Month with a full day of special events that included a keynote presentation by the host of HGTV’s “Designed To Sell,” Monica Pedersen, as well as a “Tile Fashion Show” at new LuxeHome boutique Artistic Tile, which showcased coutre-quality garments handcrafted from tile and mosaics. In November, LuxeHome in cooperation with Wine Spectator hosted its second annual CHILL wine and culinary event, which helped raise more than $50,000 to benefit the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

Finally, the LuxeHome Concierge is available on a daily basis to help tailor the shopping experience for trade professionals and consumers seeking to meet specific needs on their design projects. Little wonder, then, that thousands of interior designers, architects, custom builders and affluent homeowners shop LuxeHome each week.

Overseeing much of this activity with a skilled, graceful touch is Kate Flaherty. As vice-president, kitchen, bath and building products of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart Properties, Flaherty 14 years ago pioneered the concept of one-stop kitchen and bath shopping for homeowners. Much of her success since then has been attributable to what colleagues term a passion for bringing together manufacturers, dealers and design community members to create beautiful and luxurious products for the home.

But those who know Flaherty best believe there’s another crucial key to her success. That is her respect for the artisans and craftsmen whose creativity, talent and accomplishments help deliver a continual supply of new products to make homes more beautiful, comfortable and functional. “So many business leaders concentrate solely on the numbers,” says one Merchandise Mart Properties official. “Kate is insightful [and] dedicated to the aesthetic, and has a well-rounded view of the business of living well.”

Flaherty graciously agreed to a recent One-on-One interview with TileDealer. In the exchange to follow, she addresses the scope of LuxeHome and how it serves its clientele, how LuxeHome is responding to the downturn in new home construction and the economy in general, the nature of her own background and current responsibilities, LuxeHome’s response to interest in Green Building, and what’s ahead for LuxeHome.

TileDealer: What is The Merchandise Mart? And what is LuxeHome?

Flaherty: The Merchandise Mart is the world’s largest commercial building, largest wholesale design center and one of Chicago ’s premier international business locations. It encompasses 4.2 million gross square feet, and the Mart spans two city blocks and rises 25 stories.

LuxeHome is open to the public and is located on the first floor of the world-famous Merchandise Mart. It is the world’s largest collection of luxury boutiques for home building and renovation, and has become synonymous with the best of the best in luxury kitchen and bath products for the home.

TileDealer: Can you give us an idea of the scope of its operation, in terms of vendors, products, buyers, etc.?

Flaherty: LuxeHome features more than 100,000 square feet of space, with 30 boutiques that boast the finest kitchen and bath products for luxury home building and renovation from the most recognized and respected manufacturers worldwide.

LuxeHome displays the widest selection of products to fit all lifestyles, from modern European to classic American to traditional English, and offers a variety of products including tile, cabinetry, lighting and fixtures, glass, paint and wall coverings.

The world-renowned brands of LuxeHome include Poggenpohl, Kohler, Clive Christian, Ann Sacks, Poliform and Artistic Tile, among others. In addition to the extensive lineup of manufacturers, each boutique offers knowledgeable designers who are available to assist with all phases of each design project. LuxeHome’s boutiques are open for shopping Monday through Saturday.

TileDealer: How much of LuxeHome is focused on residential vs. commercial?

Flaherty: Ninety-five percent of business at LuxeHome is residential.

TileDealer: How is LuxeHome planning to deal with what we expect will be a long-term drop in the housing and coverings marketplace?

Flaherty: We are becoming more aggressive in our marketing, advertising and public relations efforts, to get the word out about our wide selection of luxury products and brands. Additionally, we are targeting new industries, including real estate, to reach a different audience.

TileDealer: Where do you see the strengths in the marketplace?

Flaherty: LuxeHome is a one-stop-shop for the latest products in the kitchen, bath and building products industry from the world’s leading brands. Because it is located on the first floor of The Merchandise Mart, LuxeHome is in a great location and attracts consumers, designers and other trade professionals visiting the building.

The Merchandise Mart has restaurants, lounges, coffee shops, etc. which makes it such a wonderful place to shop and spend the day.

LuxeHome also has a very insightful website that offers information on the products and services at LuxeHome, as well as a Product Locator navigation tool that helps visitors find the exact product they are looking for. In addition, LuxeHome offers a concierge service, located in the new Design Resource Center, to answer any questions and offer guidance while shopping the 30 luxury boutiques.

TileDealer: What is LuxeHome’s role in the architectural and design community, in both Chicago and the nation as a whole?

Flaherty: LuxeHome in Chicago is the one-stop-shop for luxury home building and renovation products from the most recognized and respected brands from around the globe. Trade professionals and consumers alike look to LuxeHome for the latest products and trends in the kitchen and bath industry.

We have people from around the world travel to LuxeHome to browse and purchase products for their homes. We recently launched the LuxeHome brand in three additional cities including Boston (at Boston Design Center), New York City (A&D Building) and Washington, D.C. (The Washington Design Center). The name LuxeHome has become synonymous with luxury and quality.

TileDealer: How is green building affecting products represented in LuxeHome?

Flaherty: In November, 2007, Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. (MMPI) announced that The Merchandise Mart Chicago, the world’s largest commercial building encompassing 4.2 million square feet, had been awarded the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED-EB) Silver certification for existing buildings.

Many of our tenants offer green products including Chicago Kitchen Design Group, Valcucine Chicago, Paris Ceramics and Urban Archaeology, among others. Green design is important to us, and our customers and our tenants have responded to this demand in the marketplace.

TileDealer: What is your background, and what led you to your current position?

Flaherty: I oversee the leasing for all the kitchen and bath business at LuxeHome at The Merchandise Mart in Chicago, the Architects & Designers Building in New York City and the Washington Design Center in Washington, D.C

Fifteen years ago, I brought the one-stop-shopping concept to homeowners with LuxeHome. Today, we have some of the best brands under one roof and host amazing events including an Open House in October, Chill Wine and Culinary event in November and other guest lectures and appearances throughout the year.

TileDealer: What’s ahead for LuxeHome?

Flaherty: Our goal is to maintain the best brands in the world at LuxeHome and keep our tenants and customers happy. We offer the most cutting-edge products and set the trends in the industry.

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