“Insights Into Design” is a new Riggs series on local designers highlighting the process, style, and inspiration that drives impactful design. Each post will feature a local designer and their designs to gain an inside perspective into the work and imagination of their kitchen projects. This inaugural edition features Joy Wilkins with Custom Kitchens in Alameda, CA.  

Meet Joy Wilkins, designer and owner of Custom Kitchens by John Wilkins, Inc. Joy recently submitted a kitchen design into the Sub-Zero and Wolf 2015-16 Kitchen Design Contest.

Tell us a little about your background. What factors contributed to you becoming a designer? How did you decide to become a designer?

While in College, I realized that the job market and a decent wage may not be in my future with an Anthropology degree. I’d always loved design so I decided to switch majors to Interior Design. I knew there would be many opportunities and I could enjoy my work thus making my “vocation my vacation.” I earned a BA degree in Interior Design from Colorado State University and began working for Custom Kitchens by John Wilkins Inc., Oakland, in 1982. I learned a lot from John, earned my CKD and CBD and married his son Jerry five years later. We bought the business from John in 1993 when he retired and have been working for the same company – now my company – for 35 years. Indeed, there were opportunities and I’ve enjoyed a wonderful career that I still love every day.


What is your process like when you approach new projects? What would you like new clients to know about your design process?

I make it a priority to listen carefully to my clients’ concerns and desires. I learn a lot and have a better path to making the client happy if I understand what their needs and desires are in the beginning.

Budget is also important so I am upfront about the reality of remodeling costs. Many clients just don’t know what is involved in a project. I can design a beautiful space for them, but if my design is un-realistic for their budget, they become disappointed and we’ve both lost valuable time and money.

I want my clients to know that I am here to help them achieve their dream space. Like a private investigator, I must dig to find out what it is they want and need– as many clients don’t quite know what they want or need- and put the pieces together to design a space that meets and exceeds their hopes and expectations in function, aesthetics and within a comfortable budget.

How does living in the West Coast affect your design practice and your design thinking?

I think that living and working on the West Coast allows me the opportunity to try out different design ideas and materials that are a bit more unconventional than in other areas of the country.

Also, many trends start here, even culinary trends.  Many of my clients enjoy the food scene and the fresh and local markets that are available here in California and they want a kitchen that allows them that culinary experience at home.   

Tell us about your 2015-16 Sub-Zero and Wolf KDC entry. How did the addition of Sub-Zero and Wolf enhance the design?

The beauty of designing with Sub Zero products is that they are integrated. I can design a beautiful and functional space without the most necessary and usually least aesthetic pieces in a kitchen being the first thing you see as you enter the space. By integrating them into the cabinetry, they blend with the space, and therefore it allows me to be more creative with the other aspects of the design. Because there are so many options with the integrated and built in units, it allows me to give the client the refrigeration they need, where they need it.

For the Wolf range and hood ensemble in this kitchen… that’s where I wanted the attention; the cook at center stage. It is not only beautiful, but says a lot about the cooks and the fantastic meals that they create.  Now, just imagine this space with a standard 30” range. It’s too common and under scaled for this kitchen but more so, my clients would have missed out on the beauty, function and enjoyment of the fantastic 48” Wolf range. I learned what their desires were, how they cooked and entertained and so was able to design a kitchen for them that was more than what they had imagined when they first walked into my showroom in pursuit of a dream kitchen.

The frosting on the cake for my clients was the design of the spacious appliance garage where they could easily and conveniently use the beautiful Wolf Gourmet pieces that they chose to enhance their cooking experience.

If you were to give your younger self advice in regards to a career in design, what would it be?

I think you have to have a passion for design in order to be a great designer. If you lack passion, find something you are passionate about or get out and get inspired by the things you see around you. Travel, go to museums, showcase houses, the design center, KBIS.

In order to be the happiest in your career, get the proper training so you can be the best you can be for your clients, your employer and yourself. Master a skill of communicating your ideas to a client and the people in the field with a tool such as AutoCAD or other software programs. Have a solid understanding of the function of design and construction by pursuing a degree and becoming NKBA certified.  Never stop learning and stretching. I am amazed that after thirty five years in the business, I still learn something new every day.

Tell us something fun about yourself: Any hobbies about with you are passionate? Most recent book that you finished reading? Up next on the Netflix queue?

I LOVE creating jewelry and things out of odd ball parts.

Ten years ago I was creating a tile backsplash for a client that was full of beautiful color, texture and pattern when I realized I wanted to apply the same principles and talent to jewelry. Our children had left for college and I finally had time to fill a passion of creating things outside of the kitchens and baths that I was designing.  Since then, I have started my own company and am currently working on a web site and online shop. Honestly, it is an extension of kitchen and bath design: putting together different and unusual materials in a functional way that is aesthetic and pleasing.

For more about designer Joy Wilkins visit the Custom Kitchens website.

Visit Riggs Distributing by making an appointment with one of our Product Specialists to help you learn about all the features and benefits of Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances or attend a culinary event in our Showroom.