Vaunted room designer Ellen Cheever dies at 72
WILMINGTON – Ellen Cheever Giorgi, who quite literally wrote the textbook for the kitchen and bathroom design industry and was recognized among its foremost experts, died unexpectedly at home Feb. 13 at age 72.
Elected to the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Hall of Fame in 1992, Cheever was the author of more than 20 textbooks that are considered the basis of kitchen and bathroom design education, according to the association.
For nearly five decades, Cheever worked as a designer, educator, author, showroom consultant, manufacturer’s rep, and executive in the cabinet-manufacturing sector. She was a certified master kitchen and bath designer, professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers, and a certified aging-in-place specialist.
Cheever served as the principal of Ellen Cheever & Associates, a design and consultancy firm based in Wilmington. She also contributed to Giorgi Kitchens & Designs, the Wilmington kitchen and bathroom design-build firm founded by her husband Pete Giorgi Sr. and still operated by family members.
“The industry has lost a great icon,” Suzie Williford, executive vice president and chief strategy officer of the NKBA, said in an association article on Cheever’s passing. “Long before ‘influencer’ was a term tossed around so easily, Ellen had tremendous impact on our industry as an educator, an author, and for her exceptional legacy to the Virginia Tech residential design program.”
Cheever’s attention to detail, willingness to embrace new materials and inventive thinking in design gained her a spotlight in the burgeoning field in the ‘70s and ‘80s. She published textbooks and conducted training programs across the U.S. and internationally that further bolstered her reputation.
Cheever’s expertise in space planning and product design were so renowned that Virginia Tech houses the collection of her professional work in its Department of Apparel, Housing and Resource Management. She donated the items in 2018.
“Ellen is a big name in the kitchen and bath industry as a designer, a writer, and an educator,” said Julia Beamish, professor and head of the university department, at the time of the donation. “She helped to conceptualize our center and set up its advisory board.”
In the First State, Cheever’s impact could also be felt.
Mark Gandy, owner of Middletown Kitchen and Bath and president of the Builders and Remodelers Association of Delaware, said that he took some courses offered by Cheever early in his career decades ago.
“If you’ve been in this business for the last 30 years, you know who Ellen Cheever is,” he said. “You had to read [her NKBA textbooks] to become a certified kitchen and bath designer, so if you’ve worked your way up in the industry you’ve been impacted by her even if you didn’t know it.”
Gandy noted that Cheever and her work with Giorgi Kitchens & Designs was well-known in the area for its high-end design and service. Like many design industries, those touches from the high-end are often adapted into more middle-class offerings, influencing design elements that are widely seen in homes everywhere.
“We call it ‘gingerbread,’ all those little extra things that create extreme attention to detail in a design,” he said. “Ellen had a real skill when it came to those details.”