Listening is to successful kitchen and bath design what location is to real estate investing. Listen, listen, listen. Focus on design first--profit will follow.

Designers' egos often get in the way. We get caught up in our own vision of the project and fail to hear that our clients know what they need and want.

I can recall two projects in my career where I failed to hear my clients. In one case, I decided what the customer could afford and under-designed the project. My choice of a basic style and wood species for the cabinetry and limited moldings diminished this project along with my profit. In another, my vision took over and I over-designed the project, adding angles to the designand creating stacked molding details. The design was beyond the budget. The client did not feel that I had been paying attention, and noted that if I was not paying attention now, what would happen later in the project?

Design is a skill that you can study, practice, and educate yourself about. However, the missing ingredient is "style." Skill can be learned, but style can only be acquired through years of practice and paying attention to details.

Good designers embrace creativity and are always working toward developing a style. They notice intriguing ideas and materials wherever they go--hotels, restaurants, and on fashion runways. Designers frequently tell me that their creativity is not always up to the task. Whenever I'm stuck, I look through design files I have created with pages from magazines. I group these pages into folders with themes: "island ideas," "molding," etc. Today, I scan these photos into my computer and have an incredible library of ideas that I use to inspire and teach. Ultimately, your success as a designer lies in your ability to hear the customer's wantsand needs and satisfy them.

Jim Krengel, of Krengel Presentations and Kitchens by Krengel, is a consultant and NKBA instructor based in St. Paul, Minn.