The B&D Interview: Bill Darcy, CEO of the National Kitchen and Bath Association

 Industry expert explains KBIS 2021 and new and continuing home trends

Builder and Developer: On top of the show being virtual, what other changes will be made to the KBIS show this year? 

Bill Darcy: It’s a four-day virtual event so that’s something new, February 9-12. Of course, we’re partnering with NAHB and the IBSx team, as far as virtual designing instruction, which we’re excited to continue that relationship going forward.

We’re excited to be partnering with an organization called SequinAR — it’s an augmented reality content creator — to provide really an immersive experience for some of these special NKBA events. They use a lot of the technology and software that’s used for gaming. We’re excited to demonstrate that technology in a business application to our members and attendees. 

We’re excited to have David Kohler as our state of the industry presenter, the Kohler CEO. We have our Design + Industry Awards, which will be a production that will use this augmented reality for us, so that’s going to be exciting.

BD: What kitchen/bath trends will we be seeing notably this year?

Darcy: There are four big ones and some continuing: healthy living, simplified living, whole-home technology/connected living, and living in the place. 

The prominent trend is certainly healthy and simplified living; with COVID-19, it has become even more prominent. People are just looking at ways that they can simplify their stressed world, better prepare meals for their families, and also utilize those spaces that are now dual-purpose or triple purposes, as schools or working from home. 

Wellness items, specifically, we’re looking at much larger sinks for fresh produce in kitchens and bathroom items that will help people escape like steamed showers, heated floors, things of that nature. 

A lot of bringing the outdoors in — as obviously we’re all spending a lot of time indoors in our own homes now —  like having larger windows or skylights or a lot of investment in specifically outdoor kitchens and outdoor living products. 

BD: Can you speak a little bit about the sustainability factors that should be implemented in the home in 2021? 

Darcy: Some of it is this melding of modern and organic materials, where it’s an effort to bring the outdoors inside. Organic and natural products that are made with natural quality or recycled.

It’s interesting how, with COVID-19, it has accelerated some of these trends that were already very strong, since people are staying in the home but also because people are trying to stay healthy. People are investing in these products more so than they were. 

BD: What is NKBA prioritizing this year? 

Darcy: Despite the challenging finances with the absence of a live KBIS event, we’re going to continue to invest in member programs and drive strong member value. Our commitment to the members is that we’re still going to reach and drive these programs. Next up, which is our program to educate the young people about trade professionals and support the skilled labor shortage, will be a big part of our 2021 initiative. 

We have the standard reports that we’ve done and had great traction, such as the Kitchen and Bath Market Outlook as well as our quarterly Kitchen and Bath Marketing Index. We do an annual design trend study. We have a new luxury kitchen study that’s going to be coming out. That’s going to be a new study that we’re excited to share with our members and the industry. 

BD: What should people from the industry take away from 2020 and what should be happening this year? 

Darcy: There’s so much happening that points to great business for our industry. People from urban spaces to the suburbs; the age of the housing stock; people were needing to invest, repair or replacement in their homes; the importance of people spending their discretionary dollars that they weren’t using to go on vacation or even using their gas to go to work, we’re see that money continuing to be invested in the home. That’s all good news for our industry. 

As far as the conference goes, we had the luxury of having our show last year in 2020, early in the year before COVID-19. So we’ve learned a lot. 

I think what your readers will see is a much more dynamic digital conference. We know that we have to be creative in how we’re delivering this information and we spent a lot of time on it, hoping to keep those who are going to attend the show engaged. It’s a big thing for us. It’s a historical event — IBS and KBIS — we invested a lot in bringing the key components of the event you would have attended in person. We’re hopeful that we can exceed expectations to what they can see and what they can learn and it’ll be exciting to welcome them back live in 2022.