Behind the Brand: Product Designers Dish With KBB

Published: March 4, 2024

Welcome to the February edition of Behind the Brand, where KBB seeks to illuminate – somewhat! – the creative process from the perspective of top product designers in the kitchen and bath fields. Being able to look at everyday objects in a radically different way is the [un]common denominator of these talented individuals.

This month, we hear from:

As a product designer, my greatest responsibility is…

Kropp: To bring our clients beauty that is functional. As a woodworker, my art is primarily used for function, but it should also be beautiful and pleasing to the senses. I aim to create both, or I have failed. It is at this intersection of form and function that my love of craftsmanship lies. The creation side of manufacturing has always been particularly interesting to me. Even at a young age – I bought my first saw at 12 and kicked off my formal carpentry work at 16 – I’ve looked at design and manufacturing like a puzzle. Every piece of the puzzle serves its purpose, and when it comes together it all makes sense and serves its purpose.

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Neilson: Collaborating with artists to push the limits of what they think they can do while stretching beyond the boundaries of what homeowners and specifiers think they want. Without going too far! So many livelihoods depend upon getting it right. The beauty, the functionality, the backstory, the feasibility…finding that sweet spot is how we create luxury products made by hand that have that “wow” effect, get people excited – and ultimately change lives.

Pires Da Silva: First and foremost to the brand, the people who work for the brand, and our customers. Following closely is the responsibility of developing great products that are timeless and can endure. It is irresponsible to design products to be consumed like fast-fashion; this has an environmental impact.


modern white and wood kitchen by bakes & kropp

Photo credit: Bakes & Kropp

One of my creative touchstones is…

Kropp: Proportion. There is an inherent art in craftsmanship that requires an aesthetic understanding of how pieces work together both visually and practically. If the proportion of a single piece is off it overwhelms the entire piece, but when you strike the right balance, you hone a sculptural quality that mimics art.

Neilson: Preserving artisan tradition – I am tremendously inspired by the varied cultures and traditions surrounding the makers of things both useful and often beautiful. It is a great passion of mine to work with artisans in evolving often age-old techniques and combining them with contemporary design. The goal is to create products that people want and are willing to buy – the purpose is to ensure the continuation and relevance of these valuable yet often fragile artisan traditions.

Pires Da Silva: Collaboration. I firmly believe that nothing great is achieved by one person alone. By surrounding yourself with talented individuals who can contribute, question, and execute at a higher level than you do, you’re bound to achieve superior results.

An industry trend that I’m watching is…

Kropp: The re-emergence of stained wood as a major part of the interior. Paint still plays a role for sure, but people are experimenting with bold wood choices again, which is exciting. We’re seeing much more interest in warmer materials, particularly oak and walnut, even in more contemporary spaces. Homeowners are experimenting much more with mid-century modern influences as opposed to the colder, all-white designs that have grown in popularity over the past few years. At Bakes & Kropp, we’re continuing to explore how organic and refined materials interplay with our Soft Modern aesthetic – a concept that melds both for a more timeless and warm take on the ultra-mod kitchen. In 2024, we expect to see a trend towards brass accents, verdant greens and the allure of cleaner, sharper lines. Farmhouse is still prevalent, but designers are bringing in a bit more city sophistication to embrace a fusion of modern elegance.

Neilson: Culturally, there’s a growing emphasis on wellness and mindfulness. From a design perspective, that’s brought neutral color palettes to the forefront as well as natural material choices; these can help to create a clean and uncluttered aesthetic – a calming backdrop that allows for a moment of respite and relaxation. I’ve always been drawn towards the earthy, organic hues and natural materials that blend perfectly to create an at-home sanctuary experience. And, of course, I love how effortlessly our products fit into that aesthetic.

Pires Da Silva: Transparency. In lighting design, whether it’s transparency or translucency, these elements are paramount. The ability to manipulate and enhance these qualities by adding color, texture, thickness, and more, significantly enhances the aesthetic appeal of any piece.


gold bathroom vessel sink

Photo credit: Native Trails

The best part of my job is…

Kropp: Standing back with a client and admiring a project that looks great and has met both their and my own expectations. The process has become more collaborative, and challenging, as the design world has become more democratized which makes the final product that much more rewarding. In the world of digital and social media, homeowners are directly influenced and become experts in their own right, which constantly pushes us as designers and manufacturers to keep up with shifts. There’s much more variety in the market, and an exciting opportunity to drive innovation with all the visibility.

Neilson: Effecting positive change through the work we do. I have seen so many lives transformed since I founded the company. We became a certified B corporation a few years ago to ensure that we always prioritize our founding philosophy of using business as a means for doing good. Our focus on sustainability – both social and environmental – starts with material selection and product design – and is infused into every aspect of how we do business. From working to preserve the artisan culture of master glassmakers in Italy or furniture makers in Serbia, to supporting copper smithing families in central Mexico with microloans to process the recycled copper used in our designs or finding a “new to us” material that would benefit from being repurposed into a fabulous, transformative design – the thrill is indescribable.

Pires Da Silva: The best part of my job is the ability to transform a mere idea into a tangible product, from initial concept to sketch, and finally to development. What makes this process truly rewarding is the opportunity to collaborate with a talented team within an exciting and fun work environment. It’s these elements combined that truly make this the best job.


decorative lighting fixtures by sonneman

Photo credit: Sonneman

If I had a week off from the studio, I would…

Kropp: Take a boat trip! But all travel excites me. South America and the Southern Caribbean are on deck for 2024 and quite a few boat trips in the Great Lakes.

Neilson: Travel! In fact, I do this often. I suppose you could say that Native Trails would not exist if I did not have a fascination with experiencing other cultures. It is essential to my work both for inspiration and due to the practical need to interact closely with our artisans around the globe. From time to time, I visit a new region in search of something new and different. Those adventures are always rewarding in more ways than one, and always include time in nature. Experiencing new sights and smells and seeing the world through the lens of an entirely different culture always has the strong potential to fuel creativity in new ways.

Pires Da Silva: I’d head back home and spend the entire week on the Vicentine Coast in Southwest Portugal with my wife and daughter. We would indulge in surfing, soak up the sun, and savor delicious, fresh seafood. Taking time to recharge and clear the mind is essential for maintaining momentum and moving forward.

—By Leslie Clagett, KBB managing editor

Headshot photo credits: Kropp: Courtesy of Bakes & Kropp; Neilson: Courtesy of Chris Bersbach; Pires Da Silva: Courtesy Sonneman

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