A Professional Industrial Designer Discusses Ways To Balance Look And Feel

Giaco Furino for Kohler

There are millions of little things to think about when designing a space in your home, and one of the most important aspects to hammer down is how to balance function and design. Where do you start when redesigning the look of a room? How important is high performance in things like appliances? How do you determine if something beautiful is also usable?

These are all important questions, and to get answers, we sat down with Rafael Rexach, Kohler’s Design Studio Manager for Smart Home and Emerging Ventures. We knew Rexach was the right person to chat with: He heads up a lot of the design and innovation that happens at Kohler. So before you start swinging hammers and ordering faucets, check out this practical advice from a pro.


Look at Pictures, Not Words

Pinpointing your own style can be one of the biggest hurdles to designing a space. There are so many phrases, movements, and trends floating around that Rexach says you need to start the process by looking at images, not words. This will help you find your own style, so you won’t get tripped up by phrases, and end up saying ‘minimalist’ when you really mean ‘traditional.’

With that in mind, match pictures to the visions you have in your head to make sure you’re not asking for the wrong things when you start planning — which could lead to both a mismatched overall design and products that just don’t function well together. You may love the way that new appliance looks, but if it doesn’t complement the other pieces in the room — or if there are any redundancies in their performance — you’ll regret your purchase later. Rexach recommends Pinterest as a way to collect, sort, and define your own personal style. By creating a visual “mood board” for your home design project, your varied tastes will coalesce into something unified, and everything in your new space will look good and work great together.

Think “Divergently”


“Follow a design process,” Rexach adamantly recommends, “and cultivate divergent thoughts.” What’s that? Rexach says divergent thinking “helps you step back from your first thought assumptions and makes you really question the possibilities” of your space and the products you want to use. It also means looking at the space you’ll be designing as a blank canvas, and pushing yourself to imagine as many different conceivable layouts, styles, and decorative flourishes as possible, not just the ones that are easy or common.

What do you want to experience with the space, and how can layout, design styles, color selection, and more impact that experience? What are the important functional needs of the space, and will those needs change as you age?


“Giving these ideas time to settle in your head allows time for you to make the right connections and get your design plan well formulated,” Rexach says. This way, you’ll move into your next stages of design knowing you’ve thought through all the options. This will save you lots of “what if?” angst, and if you’re prone to backtracking on your ideas, it could also save you time and money.

Consider the Quality of Your Products and Materials


When starting a new home design project it’s easy to get swept up by the look of products — from in vogue lighting fixtures to new types of house paint. But Rexach recommends being more discerning with your purchases and doing some research into the quality of what you’re buying. “I curate a little too much, so my home is full of brands that I value, quality levels that I value, beautiful color, material, and finishes.”

Rexach recommends home designers do the same, developing a keen eye for shortcuts and shoddy work instead of falling in love with the visuals in any given product. “As a designer I can look at products and instantly see if the manufacturer compromised. I can see where they skimped and cost-reduced.”


Want a Smart Home? Don’t Forget the Bathroom


While Rexach was showing off the new line of Kohler Konnect products at CES, like the KOHLER Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror and the KOHLER Sensate Touchless Faucet, people kept coming up to him and saying they’d never thought of extending their smart home into the bathroom. For many, it’s a place where function and decor each have their own lanes they need to stay in, and no one ever thinks of connectivity.

But this is another area where design and function are merging, and Rexach thinks we’ll soon see smart homes where every room is connected except the bathroom. To avoid leaving your bathroom in the lurch, seek out useful, connected bathroom products that look visually striking and still add a seamless overarching design throughout your house.


Plan, Plan, Plan

As exciting as it is to design a new space, Rexach advises against moving too quickly. “Planning helps with timing, planning helps with cost, don’t rush into it,” he explains. Be like Rexach, who admits he’s “a very methodical plan-oriented person, and I get a little antsy when I don’t know the exact details of things.” Think about how everything — furniture, paint, appliances, products — will look and work together in a room before purchasing them piecemeal.


Likewise, if you’re considering smart home technology, make sure you invest in platform-agnostic technology like Kohler Konnect which works in conjunction with Alexa, Google, HomeKit, and other types of smart home systems.

Giaco Furino is a Senior Writer for Studio@Gizmodo.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between Kohler and Studio@Gizmodo.

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