“Insights Into Design” is a 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 edition features the designer J.R. Ludlow, of Pacific Source Maui. J.R won our Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove Local Kitchen Design Contest First Time Entry Award for her outstanding design. 

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

My background is actually in fine art. I came to Hawaii for grad school at the School of Art at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I was looking for art schools far and wide and for something that would be an adventure. Hawaii was the furthest I could get from Ohio and the professor I wanted to study with was stretching the boundaries of sculpture in ways I had never imagined. My work was always influenced by spatial relationships and I worked a lot in mixed media installation/sculpture. My undergraduate was in design and textile arts. After I got my MFA I was teaching and looking for a job and started at Home Depot. I wanted to work in the paint department, but they put me in Kitchen Design because of my design background. I went from Qualifier to Designer to Trainer in 3 years, and after that, I went to StudioBecker. I went from turn-and-burn kitchens to high-end luxury, the least expensive to the most expensive. As a training platform, there is nothing that can compare to the training that Home Depot had at that time. This was 18 years ago when kitchen design was growing so fast because of the design trailblazers in the industry from the decade before. Kitchen Design was becoming this huge thing then, and it was radical to be in this industry that still had a lot of naysayers in the design world. We were constantly having to prove our merit then.

What is your process like when you approach new projects?

I talk a lot, and I listen even more. I ask a ton of questions of everyone involved. Before I go to any home, I google earth it, I stalk old MLS listings, anything I can do to get a sense of the neighborhood, the timeline of how this home got there and who put their fingerprint on it before. I put in just as much homework as I hope my clients do when they are choosing someone to come and dismantle and transform their space.

Other than that, it’s simply conversation.

What would you like new clients to know about your design process?

I am listening and absorbing and hopefully together, we can figure out just what they want; sometimes even when they don’t know what they want at all.

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

Even living in Hawaii, my design thinking is heavily influenced by Northern California. My dad lived in Santa Clara, my brother too, my sister was in Berkeley, and all my friends were scattered from the City to Point Richmond and Oakland to Mountain View.

A lot of my clients are coming from the West Coast and bringing their love of material and environment that is so intrinsically Californian. My brain translates my design ideal as Modern Craftsman Texture meets Sunset Magazine meets an appreciation for a hustle and the struggle because it is so damn expensive to live where we live.

Tell us about your Sub-Zero and Wolf kitchen design. How did the addition of Sub-Zero and Wolf enhance the design?

Being from Marin County, my clients were already in tune with the look and the function of what they wanted this home to feel and function as. It’s a vacation home that needed to feel like home. They knew their healthy lifestyle needs, and they already loved the Sub-Zero/Wolf units they had at home, so it was simply a matter of choosing the size that would work best for the space. Sub-Zero has a lot of great units, but I could design all day with the 42” French Door. To me, it is a perfect size, look, and function for active clients who also entertain. It’s no coincidence that these units are the same ones I would use if I were designing my own kitchen.

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

Pay more attention to the construction and building side. Ask more questions of the contractors and trades, build those relationships fast and early. Saturate yourself in the technical; the electrical and plumbing specs, the installation of cabinets and appliances, all the non-glamorous stuff. Learn codes and permitting and stay up to date on it.


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 like Sci-fi and action anything, movies, and books. Last 2 books I just read, “Becoming” by Michelle Obama where I cried and fell in love with the Obamas all over again. And “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert who helped me to see that I’m not too old to start something new.