Kd.'s President Tom Hartman shares how embodying his father's values has led the company to lead Colorado kitchen design for 67 years and counting.
In 1974, not long after he graduated high school, Tom Hartman lost his dad P.G. Hartman—beloved husband, father of five and founder of Denver-based Kitchen Distributors—to a sudden heart attack. Although Tom, his mother Esther and sister Shirley knew a good deal about how to run the business, Kd.'s local competitors were rumoring that the company wouldn't survive without its leader—a man who not only created a successful business but contributed to the creation of an entire industry. Having nurtured invaluable relationships and invented new products and systems that transformed Colorado kitchen design, P.G.'s legacy was a tough one to continue.
"My parents were both perfectionists," says Hartman, who is humble, soft-spoken and yet confident in the way Kd. operates. "Maybe it's because he served in the Army, but my father was incredibly detailed and system-oriented, quality-obsessed and generous. He had a way of making sure things were done right, and he and my mother instilled that in all of us."
By embodying P.G.'s values and building lasting relationships, the Hartman family proved the rumors wrong—Kd. has outlived all its competitors. In fact, if you are involved in the Colorado design industry or have embarked on a custom kitchen project in the past half-century, then you know Kd. and its partnership with bulthaup, an internationally well-known kitchen brand whose products are displayed in Kd.'s exclusive bulthaup showrooms.
Tom shares the history of the company, his father's endearing quirks and how Kd. has stood as a leader in Denver kitchen design for 67 years and counting.
Continue scrolling to read our interview with Kd. President Tom Hartman.
Tell me the story of how Kd. came to be.
My dad was in the military, going to law school at DU and also working for Carney Lumber in Denver, basically running their kitchen department. He worked with various product lines, one of which offered him a product franchise—and that's how it all started. He gathered investors and partners, borrowed some money from my grandfather and started the business in May of 1953.
In the beginning, my dad sold to a lot of builders, doing commercial work for schools and hospitals like the Air Force Academy, and established relationships with prominent architects. In the 1960's the business evolved into doing more direct sales to the design professionals he'd built strong relationships with over time. Since then, Kd. has been doing customized residential kitchen and bathroom projects ever since.
My dad did most of the design work back then. In the early 70's he hired an architect to help with drawings. This was about the time he served as one of the founders of the American Institute of Kitchen Dealers—what is now known as the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). He was instrumental in the establishment of NKBA'S first Mountain States Chapter and in innovating new systems and products for the industry.
What are some examples of P.G. Hartman's innovation?
My dad was always out there taking risks and trying new ideas. One example: At the Denver Home Show, he met a quadriplegic woman who was in a wheelchair. They got to talking about kitchen design and how there's no one designing for people with disabilities so he ended up going to her home, observing the challenges and then designing a kitchen to meet her specific needs. This project was shown at the 1973 Colorado Garden & Home Show, and in a film called "The Wheelchair Kitchen," revolutionizing home design for the disabled.
Another example: After my father passed away, one company sent us a whole book full of letters he'd written to them about improvements they could make to their business. I think at the time they thought he was a pain in the neck, but after he passed they realized the value of what he was doing. He was always committed to perfection.
Why do you think Kd. has survived for 67 years?
Being in business for 67 years, we've weathered a few storms, but we're in it for the long haul. Our designers often develop friendships with clients and end up doing multiple projects for them over time. We've done kitchens for clients' children and grandparents. We've even done projects after previous clients sell their homes and refer the new homeowners to us. We keep all project plans and details on file so that when someone needs something replaced, we're able to help even if it's years after we initially worked with them. We're always going to care and be there for our customers in the long run—and we have been.
What do you envision for the future of Kd.?
In the near future, we're thinking of redeveloping the Golden Triangle showroom location with the concept of 'modern New York living' where contemporary products and features will be displayed in an open design. Beyond that, what we envision for Kd. in the decades to come is not necessarily any grand expansion—but to continue to improve, to innovate and to serve our community in exciting and meaningful ways.