40 Years: A Look Back

This month, I am celebrating forty years in the industry. I thought that this anniversary provided a great opportunity to reflect on my time in the business. A lot has changed in the past four decades – both for me and the industry.

I started working in a cabinet shop in September of 1978 – Highland Construction & Manufacturing. I started out as a floor sweeper. Within two years, I was promoted to a full-time cabinet maker. I quickly learned the trade.

At the time, stain-grade wood was really popular. Sometimes, I miss the natural depth of stained wood. Today, painted woods – painted cabinets – are much more common. People today prefer the brightness of painted wood. 

We’re also entering an era of simplicity. Corbels, pilasters, and heavy trim and carvings were in fashion when I first started at the cabinet shop. Now, most of my clients prefer a simpler, more minimalistic design. To a certain degree, this change is a good thing. It was very easy for designers to overdo intricate millwork, ending up with a design that was gaudy and ugly. Minimalist looks are hard to mess up.

And 7-foot tall cabinets used to be it. Can you imagine? Now, so many homes have 8-, 9-, even 10-foot tall ceilings, with tall cabinets to match. 

After working as cabinetmaker, I started thinking about the next stage in my career. I enjoyed working with my hands and being creative. I also found that I had a knack for looking at a piece of wood and seeing its entire life – what it would like in a cabinet, what the cabinet would look like in a home, how it would function in a kitchen while the owners were cooking. This led me to seriously consider design, and I started taking design jobs part-time.

I eventually opened up my first business, Richard Ourso Kitchen Design. I liked kitchen design because it allowed me to focus on the details of the space. Whole-home designers and architects simply don’t have the time to look at the particulars of a space and make it function. I wanted to focus on how the space flowed – something that is still important in my designs today.

That’s another that has changed – there are more specialty designers than there were four decades ago. When I started my design firm, there were hardly any kitchen and bath designers in the area. Even my second job – a new build – was a whole home design. It took a while for the Baton Rouge market to adjust to kitchen and bath designers.  

Over the years, tastes have changed. Baton Rouge used to be a very traditional market. In the last 8 – 10 years, I’ve noticed more and more homeowners requesting transitional designs. These new spaces lack the bulkiness and gaudiness of what was popular in the 1980s and 1990s.

And galley kitchens used to be the most requested kitchen layout. Today’s clients would find this design inefficient. L- and U-shaped kitchens with large center islands are now the norm. 

As a whole, home design used to be much more segmented. You had a dining room and a kitchen as completely separate spaces. Most modern clients want a home with an open floorplan. I myself prefer the more open concept because it allows the space to flow with the family.

Both my Ourso Designs and my manufacturing company, The Olde Mill, continue to grow and change. I’m excited to see what the next few years have to offer. 

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