By Ken Miller
Special to the IBR
Like most interior designers and others in the building industry, Judi Kieffer makes it a point to attend trade shows when national vendors come to the Treasure Valley to show off what’s hot in flooring, wall coverings, lighting and other furnishings.
But it wasn’t until about five years ago when Kieffer, owner of Kieffer Design Group, wondered whether those vendors would pay to have a more permanent presence in the local market and to expose the construction and design industry to hot trends year-round rather than for two-day shows.
So she created Design Archives, a jam-packed showcase for national and local manufacturers to strut their stuff for a fee, while giving designers and others in the construction business a chance to browse the goods for free.
“It takes something like this some time to get up and running,” Kieffer said in her combined office, showroom, library and meeting place at 13th and Main streets in downtown Boise.
“This whole industry is about sharing, and this is a very good venue for others in our trade to come in and use these resources.”
The concept behind Design Archives is relatively new.
Kieffer, a former president of the four-state Intermountain Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, said she looked around for similar businesses elsewhere around the country, and found only a few. Many of those specialized in niche areas of design and construction.
“We do not have a design center in Boise that you can walk into and that’s not a showroom,” she said. “This is a non-competitive environment to find a product for your clients.”
Kieffer’s Design Archives is not open to the general public, although she said that’s a possibility as the business grows.
For now, it’s financed by membership fees paid by manufacturers covering 17 product divisions who pay between $300 and $500 to make their samples, literature and other information available to designers, builders, architects and others who are welcome to use the facility at no cost.
The rates for fee-paying vendors are based partly on the amount of exposure they want on Design Archives’ floor space, website and printed literature. Kieffer said some companies want a very visible presence; others just want their catalogs on her shelves.
She said Design Archives is a separate business from her Kieffer Design Group, so it is not viewed as being in competition with other design firms.
Design Archives has occupied the restored historic Ochi Art Building for about a year.
Besides yards of shelves loaded with manufacturer samples, catalogs, trade periodicals, building code books, educational resources and other information, the 3,000-square-foot facility includes a room that can handle between 80 and 100 people for free professional organization or association meetings and seminars, a kitchen, and such office necessities as fax and copying machines and Internet access.
“This whole space is for the design trade, and it’s laid out that way,” she said.
“It’s really supported by manufacturers. Manufacturers could come into town and spend $500 for a two-day trade show, or a minimum of $300 or whatever membership they want here for year-round exposure to their target audience. It seems like a no-brainer,” she said.
Design Archives has 35 charter manufacturer members, each paying to participate, and another 800 or so manufacturers that are represented in the design library.
The manufacturers come from such diverse industry segments as roofing, flooring, hardware, doors, windows, lighting and wall treatments.
“The door is open to all interior designers, architects, contractors, builders, building owners and building managers,” she said.
Consumers, including those planning a new home or office building, are free to come in if they bring their professional.
“We don’t have the door open to the public at this point, but you can bring your professional in with you,” Kieffer said.
“The thing we really strive for is to show the research; show the design products,” she said. “You can purchase anything we have here from anybody, but we’re not a retailer or a showroom.”
Usually, she said, Design Archives links a visitor with the appropriate vendor or manufacturer.
“If you want to buy through us, that’s great, but the idea is to show where you can buy what you’re looking for,” she said. “The whole idea is to share information.”
Kieffer said she hopes to be able to open similar operations in other cities if her idea in Boise catches on. So far, she said, it’s gaining interest among designers and others in the trade.
“If you just get in early enough and get the company established, the demand is going to be there,” she said.
“It takes the ability to massage the company to fit what’s needed in the market.”