Design Dynasties: David Kohler Of Kohler
It started with a horse trough—coated with enamel, the humble cast-iron vessel became the first-ever bathtub produced by bathroom and kitchen purveyor Kohler.
Founded by John Michael Kohler, the American company started as a farming implements manufacturer in rural Wisconsin; worlds away from its current design-led product range for the modern kitchen and bathroom. From sinks that draw inspiration from Chinese vases, sleek faucets to innovative voice-enabled shower systems, the company has come a long way since its humble beginnings.
Alongside its eponymous brand, the Kohler group also owns decorative faucets brand Kallista, decorative tiles purveyor Ann Sacks, and cabinetry brand Robern; the firm marks its 145th anniversary this year. On this occasion, we speak to David Kohler, president and CEO of Kohler to find out more about the storied history of the brand and its next steps.
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What would you consider as some of the company’s proudest achievements to date?
David Kohler (DK) I’m quite proud that our family, together with our past and present associates, have built an incredible company over a hundred years. We have been through 18 recessions, two depressions, and the most recent global economic crisis.
Our company continues to thrive and grow globally and we have stayed true to the fundamental values of hard work, ethics and integrity, respect for the individual, appreciation for design and the arts, and entrepreneurial thinking. Our culture is strong and global, and that is what has brought us to leading market positions now in the US, China, India, and many other countries around the world. We continue to live by our mission and guiding principles, and we remain curious and adventurous.
I am also inspired by the strides we have taken as a company in sustainability and stewardship. We are steadfast in our sense of responsibility when it comes to the environment, our communities and our people. Business success doesn’t matter much if we can’t say we left the world a better place than we found it.
"Business success doesn’t matter much if we can’t say we left the world a better place than we found it"
A recent project that has special significance for me is the Kohler Clarity water filtration system. Kohler distributed over 15,000 filters to residents in 11 countries around the world—each providing up to 40 litres of safe water each day—enough for a small family. We developed the ceramic filtration system to provide an in-home solution for the 1.8 billion people who lack access to safe drinking water.
How does Kohler distinguish itself from other brands in the market?
DK We are passionate about the creative processes involved and strive to deliver products that are of quality craftsmanship, and provide enjoyable and memorable experiences for all our users.
To facilitate this, our management team dedicates time for comprehensive design reviews of all products. Staying abreast of what’s happening around the world, identifying and anticipating trends, and having our people on the ground in influential cultures are other reasons why we are successful.
With design studios in the US, UK, Paris and Shanghai, our goal is to provide the consumer with a palette of products that includes different styles, functionalities, materials and colours for customised choices. Design is highly personal, and we respect and value that element in our craft.
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Which Kohler collections do you personally enjoy using the most?
DK The Numi and the Veil Intelligent toilets are rock stars—I use them every day and I wish I have them when I travel. I also love all our faucet lines from Kohler and Kallista, they are really some of the most beautifully crafted in the world and the colours and finishes we offer are truly industry-leading. Finally, the DTV+ (Digital TV showering system) and Real rain shower systems really elevate the experience of everyday showering.
Could you describe the elements that make up your dream bathroom?
DK My dream bathroom is soft, warm, and sumptuous, like a spa. This is in fact, the bathroom I currently have. It is my retreat to relax, unwind, and prepare for the day; and it has all of the latest products from Kohler and Kallista to make this a personal space like no other.
(Related: Designing a Customised Bathroom Retreat)
In the recent years, which are the most significant technological developments that have shaped the bathroom industry?
DK In terms of what has significantly shaped the bathroom industry, I think that water-efficient products, digital showering, Bluetooth integration, touchless technology and intelligent toilets are certainly at the top of the list.
Although technology is featured across our extensive catalogue and has advanced many of our manufacturing processes and techniques, we still do a large amount of manual work in our factories because we believe in the value and the beauty of craftsmanship. We will never use technology just for its own sake, but prefer that it has a distinct purpose and adds convenience and comfort for all users.
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What are your hopes for the future of the company?
DK I think technology will continue to push our industry to new discoveries and extend the limitations of what we believe is possible when it comes to functionality and use of space in the kitchen and the bathroom. We plan to continue being on the leading edge, with advancements that make the most sense for these spaces.
Kohler Experience Centre (KEC) is located at 52/56 Peck Seah Street, Tel: 6224 0039; visit kohler.com.sg for more information.