In Depth: Commercial Real Estate

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The way we work… In these kitchens, too many chefs make the mood

The desk is sleek, black and high-tech, and it’s paired with a high-back, important-looking chair.

A few feet away is a brand new kitchen, with a tea kettle on the stove and towels on the bar of the oven.

Sound like a home office?

It’s not. It’s the front part of Kitchen and Bath Factory at 4624 Lee Highway in Arlington.

The shop, open since 1980 and at this location since 1985, is a stand-alone white brick building nestled among a low-rise shopping mall.

The Kitchen and Bath Factory ( occupies about 2,500 square feet. The building, called the Russell Building, was constructed in 1949, according to county records, and is owned by VMI Russell Building in Virginia. It has been, at various times, a mortgage and financial operation.

But as a kitchen showroom, the space has found its purpose.

Now back to that desk. The employees of the Kitchen and Bath Factory, all five of them, work among a dozen or so kitchen configurations and are dedicated to design and colors.

Bob Kay, the owner and founder of the company, is the main designer, along with Barbara Doyle, operations manager with 15 years of experience as an interior designer. The pair gets new kitchens into people’s homes.

Kay designed parts of the kitchen displays, and Doyle chose many of the colors.

The walls are set up as if they are in a home, with varying forms of crown molding, muted beige and warm wall colors, and two arched doorways into the bath showroom.

In the entrance to the space is “Leonardo.” The chef stands about 6 feet, is made of plaster and welcomes customers with a crooked finger and a chalkboard for messages.

“I saw him and thought he was fun,” Kay says. “We’re a low-key place here with great people, and we don’t pressure customers. Leonardo just embodies that.”

Kay goes for fun throughout the workplace and makes sure every inch of space is used.

In the bath showroom, what looks like a rather odd sliding-glass window is actually a small model of a shower door.

“No wasted space,” Kay says.

The company does about 150 to 200 kitchens a year, using exclusively K&H Custom Cabinets, out of Pennsylvania.

Kay says most cabinetmakers put their shipment on an 18-wheeler, which can cause broken products and delays.

“This company is much faster, and it delivers to the job site,” he says, noting that his project materials come in two trucks in a couple of weeks, far less than the normal shipping time from other cabinetmakers.

The bath products come from K&H as well as Woodpro in Missouri. Kay says his company does up to 75 bath projects a year.

Customers’ choices are changing, he says. At one time everyone wanted Corian countertops, but now granite is becoming a favorite.

And Kay says many husbands are getting in on the act, especially for the expensive appliances.

“I would say the husbands want water and ice in the door, the wives want an ice box on the bottom,” he says. “But they don’t come with both.”

Another favorite, lately, is a cabinet with feet, to look like furniture.

Kay’s says the average kitchen can cost $30,000 to $50,000, but there are options.

“We use a customer questionnaire from the beginning,” he says.

That computerized form helps walk a customer through the size of the kitchen and what needs to be done: cabinets, appliances, floors, countertops. The form picks the middle range of all options available, so the customers get a good idea of the general price of their new space.

Kay says the form is a way to be upfront with the customers and to cut down on wasted time for both his staff and the customers.

And of course measuring also is important. On one countertop is a basket loaded with tape measures, though Kay or someone on his staff always measures the customer’s space.

The lighthearted, fun atmosphere of working among kitchens extends to Kay’s space at the end of the building. His desk is really a Corian countertop. Wood blinds that would look at home in a kitchen cover the windows behind his desk.

It’s a small staff, but Kay says they get together often for celebratory dinners, such as birthdays and a Christmas party.

“It’s all about the atmosphere,” he says. “I want to work in a fun place with great people.”

Jeanine Herbst is an Arlington-based freelance writer.

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