Chicago-based designer Danielle Burger, AKBD, rose to the top to win our Professional of the Year competition at KBIS2016. Her journey exemplifies how NKBA’s continuing education opportunities can apply to real life situations. Danielle spoke with us about her background in interior design, her balancing act as the owner of Kitchen Vitality Design and the mother of two preschoolers, and NKBAU’s impact on her career.
Q: What made you decide to pursue a career in kitchen and bath design?
I’ve always had an inclination toward art and design. I majored in Art History at Loyola University Chicago and had the opportunity to study abroad in Rome. After I graduated, I interned at a museum but craved interacting with people, not just sculptures and paintings. I’m also a problem solver—I like to look for clues and propose solutions.
So I changed gears and pursued a degree in Interior Design from Harrington College while working full-time at a high-end plumbing showroom. That’s when my interest narrowed to the kitchen and bath. I had finally found my niche!
Later, I worked in a design/build firm on the East Coast that specialized in custom cabinetry. I began to explore opportunities through the NKBA, but didn’t become certified at the time. It wasn’t until I started my own business two years ago that I appreciated the value of certification and worked hard to earn my AKBD.
NKBAU offers more than just the design side of education. It has been vital to the development of my business-related skills. My experience thus far with NKBAU has helped me become a better professional and I can’t wait to see how the other learning paths will continue to drive my business forward.
Q: Tell us about your business Kitchen Vitality Design.
I have always wanted to be my own boss. The opportunity came along when I started a family. My presence is critical to my children’s upbringing but I needed a creative outlet. I’m more than just a mom! I figured that the best way to work and also stay at home would be business ownership so I took that giant leap.
When I first started out, I realized that my passion and previous work experience weren’t quite enough to further my success. I struggled but soon turned to NKBAU to help me pickup where my other degrees and training left off. The courses provided great insight and understanding of business management, among other things.
Balancing motherhood and work is a challenge. It’s chaotic but I am enjoying every moment. I offer clients a personalized service and revitalize their kitchen and bath. I am also able to participate in activities and school events with my kids. They are quickly growing and changing and will eventually find their own passions. Design has always been mine so having my own business allows the best of both worlds!
Q: How did you prepare for the finals at KBIS 2016?
The entire competition was an amazing experience. After submitting the initial essays, I didn’t really think I would be selected. Little did I know that it would become a four-month endeavor!
I made it to the semi-finals, which was fun because my family, friends, and local community got involved! People at the grocery store were rooting for me. When I was voted into the finals, I fell to my knees in excitement. It was a huge confidence boost. I had initially felt like the underdog and then I thought, I can do this!
Before the big event, I spent two weeks writing and practicing my speech. I think my kids even had it memorized! In Vegas, I was on stage with highly experienced industry leaders but didn’t let doubt or fear hold me back. I was prepared and felt proud of my talents and accomplishments. The competition was about NKBA University and what it can do for professionals—just look at me!
Q: What are your goals for 2016?
This is going to be a big year! I believe it is important to meet the NKBA accreditation milestones. I plan to take the CKD in April and the CBD in the fall* and continue my education with NKBAU. I will start entering projects into design competitions and have them published in relevant media.
I am thankful for the NKBA and plan to participate in more local chapter events and give back by volunteering my time and expertise as a board member. Eventually, I would also like to move my office out of the house and into a small storefront.
Just like parenthood, owning my own business is a journey. At each stage, I gain more appreciation and better understanding. I am excited to take on each new challenge and opportunity along the way.
Interview edited for clarity and length. courtesy of NKBA CONNECT
For more on the NKBAU Professional of the Year Program follow along on Twitter with #NKBAUpro
*Starting on July 1, 2016 candidates for the CBD will be able to sit for the bath only portion of the new CKBD.