KBB - May 2009 - (Page 80)

Practice Concretely Speaking A decade later, Fu-Tung Cheng muses on his career and life Much has happened in the decade since designer Fu-Tung Cheng graced the May 1999 cover of K+BB (or KBB, as it was known back then). At the time, Cheng had just launched his high-end range hoods and Geocrete countertops through his Cheng Design Products division, and was slated to keynote at K/BIS—hence the cover story. Recently, K+BB checked in with the designer, and 2006 NKBA Hall of Fame inductee, to see what he’s been up to and perhaps share in the wisdom he’s gathered from the changes that have occurred in his career as well as in the industry. Does he have any tips? Yes, as it turns out. • Find the right model. At the time of the article in 1999 Cheng had raised sufficient funds to launch his concrete and hood product lines, but he soon discovered that his dream of transforming the country one concrete countertop at a time through high-end kitchen and bath design showrooms needed adjustment. “The countertops were too heavy and too cumbersome to ship unless someone was willing to pay a premium, which limited the number of people who could afford them,” he said. In addition, when they arrived, there were few or no installers who had experience with handling highly finished concrete. Consequently, perfect pieces were returned because of on-site rookie installation errors, and “I would take heavy losses on jobs,” Cheng said. • Go green. All came to a head in 2004, when, low on cash, Cheng was urged by his financial backers to close the doors on his products division and focus on his design practice. Instead, a “local-farmer-producing-local-food” strategy emerged paralleling the “think globally, act locally” movement. He borrowed money to re-invest in this new business model for his concrete countertops—a model he had hatched as a result of writing Concrete Countertops: Design, Forms, and Finishes for the New Kitchen and Bath (Taunton Press, 2002), a kind of hybrid design/how-to book based on his kitchens. “I began thinking that if more professionals created countertops locally, it would not only be better for the market as a whole and kitchen and bath dealers specifically, but it would create a smaller carbon footprint than any other countertop material to boot.” • Build a network. Thus was born an online business of providing materials and tools to fabricate concrete countertops. He then Above: Fu-Tung Cheng on the May 1999 cover of K+BB. Left: Cheng’s House Six, a custom cast-concrete home, received an East Bay AIA Citation for residential design. Photo: © Matthew Millman established a training facility that to date has taught some 2,000 professionals and amateurs to make not only countertops but also walls, fireplaces and other architectural features. These efforts, as well as a website and design competitions, established a nationwide network of skilled artisans versed in good kitchen design (accessible at www.chengconcrete.com). Of course, a Cheng Geocrete original is still available for those who desire one, but now, thanks to his network, designers and consumers alike can easily find a professional to receive and install it. • Understand price point and scale. As to his range hoods, Cheng experienced some success in having his designs carried by a handful of showrooms, as indicated in the article 10 years ago. But here, too, the realities of distribution set in. Although his hoods were on display, he could not compete with the large manufacturers who sold in volume and offered incentives to salespeople who pushed product. “I was this little boutique company and because we were doing the hoods one at a time, the cost was very high,” said Cheng, whose line ranged from $5,500 to $16,000. “People love the designs, but the market is small.” • Consider licensing. In 2004, the market for hoods designed by Cheng began to expand, thanks to a licensing agreement with Zephyr Ventilation. The company launched the Cheng Signature Collection, a line of five hoods whose striking designs, more modest price point and nationwide distribution channels made them more affordable. Naturally, designing for mass production required some adaptations and flexibility. “You have to use a certain filter and certain lights that are already available, and there are processes such as hand-welding stainless steel that must be limited to hold down costs,” Cheng said. “You have to work 80 + K BB May 2009 / www.kbbonline.com / The Official Sponsor of K/BIS www.kbis.com http://www.chengconcrete.com http://www.kbbonline.com http://www.kbis.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of KBB - May 2009

KBB - May 2009
Contents
Online Contents
Online News
Editorial
Focus
Trends
Products
Profile
Design
Top Projects
Merit Projects
Cover Story - Clean Slate: A Spa-Like Bath Turns to Stone
Honorable Mentions
Practice
Education
Editorial Index
Ad Index
Favorites
Special Supplement: Tap into Taiwan

KBB - May 2009

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