[Bill Tweten, Western Products]
Story by Alexis Swenson
Photography by Micah Zimmerman, Amdak Productions
Exterior building shot by Dan Francis Photography
Western Products' lead cabinetry designer, Bill Tweten, recently celebrated 20-plus years as a National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) Certified designer. Currently, he is the only Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer (CMKBD) in the state of North Dakota, the highest honor the organization grants. With a total of 30 years in the kitchen design business, Tweten has become a sought-after expert on designing for the heart of the home.
This month, we visited Western Products' beautiful showroom to find out what first attracted Tweten to kitchen design, and what inspires him today. He outlined the upcoming trends to watch for, summed up the trends that have (thankfully) dwindled, and gave us his take on timeless classics worth keeping around.
Raised on a farm, Tweten had not considered interior design as a career, yet even then, he was unknowingly practicing in the field. “When I was growing up, I always drew house plans and floor plans. I would take pieces of plywood and build little houses in the basement,” said Tweten. "My mom was always so creative, she had great taste. She would just create great things out of nothing."
His main interests have always been two-fold; music and interior design. Before he made a name for himself in design, Tweten studied Bible at LBI Seattle and Music at Concordia College, graduating with a B.A. in Music Education. Somewhere between his three grown kids, four grandchildren, and two on the way - he sings, plays organ, and plays the oboe. In his earlier days, music had taken Tweten all over the world - Western Europe, Southeast Asia, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Philippines and Tokyo. He played pipe organ for Messiah Lutheran Church for over 15 years, and traveled throughout North Dakota performing organ/piano recitals with Jim Gurney - a bucket list item for him.
While teaching music for three years in Underwood, N.D., Tweten continued to explore various architecture programs and eventually came across the interior design program at Alexandria Technical College. “I fell in love with it; it was an amazing school. They were one of the first accredited schools in the country for interior design,” he said. In 1988 he earned his degree in the Interior Environmental Specialist program with an emphasis in kitchen and bath design and was also awarded the Marathon design award - competing against 75 other student designers. For Tweten, fusing his passion for music with design meant simply drawing from the same creative core he'd always thrived on.
Tweten worked for years in various design-centric roles before discovering kitchen design as the ideal balance of architectural work and interior design. “Kitchens were just perfect. It’s the hub of the house. You can go in, take something that doesn’t work well or is outdated, make it better, and get instant gratification,” explained Tweten. "They’re all fun projects - every kitchen, every client and every solution."
"I believe beautiful music, a lovely painting or photograph, and a stunning kitchen space are all drawing on the same creative elements. Creative work is never tedious - never work. When I wake up and go to a home to design, it never feels like work."
Trends: Out with the Old - In with the New!
Goodbye Golden Oak
"In Fargo it took a long time to move beyond golden oak. Now people aren’t asking for oak unless I have to match an existing cabinet," said Tweten. "In ‘89 and ‘90 we were selling white, with white, with white," said Tweten. "White counters, white tile, white cabinets… now, here we are, back to white. It’s so neutral and many kitchens don’t have a lot of window space in homes, so white helps make it bright. In Fargo, it seems the empty nesters want something new in the home that they’ve had for 40 years and white is a good change for them."
Today’s white cabinetry has seen extensive upgrades such as walnut drawers and interiors to create a rich, warm look. The finish techniques have also been given an overhaul. "It’s heat-set, factory white. It’s not paint, it’s tinted conversion varnish so it’s much more durable than a painted white cabinet. It’s very hard to hurt this finish. Manufacturers have million-dollar ovens that they run the cabinets through and set the conversion varnish. So, the beauty is that when it's boxed up and ready to ship, it’s already cured,” said Tweten.
Bold & Blue
As a designer, he stays on top of the ever-changing trends, and today, that means giving kitchens a dash of color. “We’re doing a lot of blue - blue islands, blue kitchens, blue vanities,” said Tweten. Some of the more popular tones range from deep midnight blues, to bold navy tones, to brighter and lighter Robin's egg-inspired hues.
Mindful with Melamine
For budget-conscious homeowners, Tweten suggests melamine kitchen cabinets as an affordable option. Made of vinyl, the style lends itself to be the more contemporary consumer. "The beauty of it is that it's really easy to maintain; you could even hose it down. It’s great for laundry rooms and bathrooms if a person really wants a clean look," said Tweten.
A great complement to the melamine finish, Elements' new aluminum-framed shelving takes a sleek, minimalist approach. Made with anodized, aluminum extrusion and cast aluminum, the mod frames come in black and oil-rubbed bronze with a variety of glass colors, offering a refreshing break from wood. "These metal shelves are great because they're self supporting and come in customized configurations for open shelving, lift cabinets, cabinet inserts, island bases and etageres," said Tweten.
Customizable Crystal Cabinetry
For homeowners seeking greater customization, Tweten recommends their Crystal Cabinet Works line, a family-owned company based in Minnesota. "Crystal can do anything. They’re totally customizable; I draw it, they build it. They’re a green company, very aware of the carcinogens that can be in cabinetry and finishes so they use water-based finishes and not a lot of formaldehydes. It’s all Midwest lumber, American-made with lifetime warranties,” said Tweten. Once Tweten’s spacial drawings are submitted, the completed cabinetry order typically arrives in eight weeks or less, depending on the size of the project.
Granite versus Quartz
When it comes to countertops, Tweten has seen the once-prevailing granite countertop completely shift in popularity. "About 10 years ago, granite was king. Now quartz has taken over the market," said Tweten. While part of granite’s beauty lies in its imperfections, quartz remains ever popular for a variety of reasons, "it’s color consistent, easier to sample, and has more availability."
Creativity with Corian
When working with mudroom designs, Tweten prefers materials like Corian to create sturdy seating. "If kids put something wet on it, it doesn’t matter - it doesn’t soak up anything. It’s much more inexpensive than quartz and a lot warmer to sit on. Corian is durable, renewable, warm to the touch and easy to shape." Tweten also likes Corian for thresholds, caps on walls, undermount sinks and backsplashes. "It doesn’t require a rim or silicone which adds to its ease of care. There are more and more colors that are really stone-like in appearance,” he explained.
While one-and-a-half-inch counters reign as the norm, Tweten is finding a much thicker counter dominating designs, with unique features like waterfall-edge counters, extending to the floor. "Lately, I’ve had more owners of downtown condos wanting two-inch thick countertops. We’re even framing cabinetry to have two inches of wood going around everything and two inch tops on it,” said Tweten.
Visit the Western Products showroom to try out the Corian bench, along with samples of backsplash tile, and countertops from Silestone, Cambria, and their newest line - Vicostone Quartz Surfaces.
Like the icing on a cake, Tweten relies on hardware as a simple and fun way to spruce up regular cabinetry or other large design pieces. For a modern pairing, he suggests trying a blue finish with honey bronze hardware to create richness within the cooler tones. The Western Products showroom has many examples of hardware from various lines including ornate options from Atlas Homewares, and sleek, transitional examples from Top Knobs. "I always go to the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Vegas looking for what’s new in hardware. You can’t make a new trend everyday in cabinets, so hardware is really fun,” said Tweten.
If homeowners choose to add glass to their kitchen, Tweten says the options are nearly endless. The Western Products showroom presents an array of mesmerizing Water glass, Antique German, which is a subtle, yet elegant pattern, and sturdy Leaded glass. Glass cabinet lift doors allows homeowners to more readily access everything while a modern, glass backsplash is easy to care for.
Challenges in the Kitchen
Having a perspective free from any preconceived notions of living in the house, is a helpful strength that Tweten brings to every project. “I can look at it and say, 'Oh, the kitchen should have been there, in the front of the house, facing the street. The dining room should have been back here'," said Tweten. "Homes where there’s too many doors and windows and you’re trying to make a cohesive kitchen out of it are the most challenging," said Tweten.
Another challenge Tweten often runs into is the popularized TV idea that kitchen remodels can be done in a day - and with super low budget. "The average kitchen is $30,000 and the average countertop is $8,000," said Tweten. "It’s a big investment, but really important in the resale of your home."
Design & Install
Aside from Tweten as the Lead Cabinetry Designer, there is a dedicated project manager that has worked with Tweten since 1997, a CAD (Computer Aided Design) specialist, and the team's carpenter. "I have a great team. We work with all the contractors. Everything we sell, we install - including cabinets, countertops, and decorative hardware," said Tweten.
In regard to investment, Western Products structures their pricing to demonstrate the value of a professionally designed kitchen. "We charge an hourly rate for design and consulting, but if they buy the cabinets, that fee is waived. If they end up paying me for designing the kitchen and come back to purchase the cabinetry, we’ll take that design charge and put it towards their down payment,” explained Tweten.
[Working with Western Products]
Western Products has been providing home improvement products and services for over 70,000 customers since 1948. Today, the family-owned company is one of the largest home improvement companies in the Upper Midwest, offering siding, windows, roofing, gutters, Homecrest outdoor furniture, window treatments and Crystal cabinetry. Most importantly, Tweten wants homeowners to know that, "what they see, and what they want, is available right here in Fargo.” Plan a trip to their Fargo showroom, to see in-person the infinite possibilities.
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