Five Questions: Max BenderText by Robert KienerPhotography by Laura Moss
Tunes in the tub, programmable showers, even smart toilets—in both looks and function, plumbing has sure come a long way, says Max Bender.
1. Why did Bender expand from a plumbing supply company to offering a range of products for kitchen and bath design?
We are a family-owned company with roots that go back to the early part of the twentieth century. My great-grandfather sold surplus plumbing supplies out of the trunk of his Cadillac, and eventually had stores selling plumbing, heating, and cooling supplies. Three decades ago, we saw the market growing as people began to incorporate more design into their bathrooms, so we added decorative plumbing. More recently, we began offering kitchen cabinetry, tile, stone, and lighting. We have seven showrooms in Connecticut, and we serve all of New England and New York.
2. What advice do you have for homeowners who are redoing a kitchen or bath?
You need to surround yourself with knowledgeable teammates, such as a professional general contractor. I am very leery of “handymen.” I strongly encourage people not to hire someone who is a jack-of-all-trades. Say a professional costs 10 percent more than the handyman; the job is going to get done right, without delay, stress, and headaches. I recently had clients who bought $12,000 to $13,000 in master bathroom equipment but didn’t hire competent professionals. The waterproofing failed and water leaked into the living room below. They had to tear up the living room ceiling and redo the entire tile job.
3. In addition to designers, you also work directly with homeowners. How does that process work?
With any customer it’s all about finding out what their needs are. There are so many options. I think our approach is what is different. It’s not about, “Hey what can we sell you today?” Rather it is more, “What are you working on and where can we add as much value as possible?” We don’t claim to be certified designers, but we can look at the space, draw a picture, and brainstorm together to help you create a beautiful kitchen or bath. If you already know what you want (say you saw something online you liked), and it turns out to be too expensive, we can try to reproduce that look with a product that works within your budget.
4. What are some of the latest trends in bathroom and kitchen design?
Fairfield County is the first place that picks up trends as they come out of metro New York, but we’re not as crazy-modern as Manhattan. Our clients may not be putting wall-hung, high-lacquer vanities in every bathroom, but they might like an adaptation of the idea. So we offer a wall-hung vanity but add a more traditional Shaker overlay door and a custom Benjamin Moore color instead of a glitzy, lacquered surface. Unlacquered and burnished brass are coming back in a big way in both kitchens and bathrooms, and spas and steam systems are still very popular. We just hosted a lighting presentation for designers. It’s amazing how different lighting—say an incandescent bulb versus LED—can affect color. You have to be careful with lighting. LEDs are becoming increasingly popular, and so are cleaner, more modern-looking light fixtures.
5. What about high-tech offerings?
You have to embrace technology! I just put a Kohler VibrAcoustic tub into my own master bathroom and synced it to Bluetooth. It’s a neat feature. Built-in speakers mean you get the music and the vibration from the integral sub woofer that spreads through the tub and the water. There are digital showers that have programmable touch pads. Touchless toilets will sense if you are a woman or a man when you approach and lift just the lid or the lid and the seat, accordingly. Seats are heated, and toilets feature deodorizers and automatic flush. You can even link your toilet to your Bluetooth so it plays your favorite tune when you sit down!
Bender, Norwalk, (203) 847-3865, benderplumbing.com