In 32 years of business, Distinctive Designs for Kitchens & Baths has weathered three recessions, two tornadoes and one unprecedented pandemic. But what stands out most to owner Darlene Weaver is not the challenges… it’s the people.

Darlene Weaver @ Distinctive Designs

“We’ve gotten to work for some of the nicest people in Central Illinois. I know we would have never gotten to meet and work with them without Distinctive Designs,” she says. “And we’ve had a whole lot of employees who have gone on to be successful in this industry in other areas; sometimes it feels like we helped raise them.”

Distinctive Designs for Kitchens & Baths was started by Darlene Weaver and her husband William Skeens to provide innovative and exciting solutions for kitchens, bathrooms, entertainment centers, basement wet bars and other home spaces – both remodels and new constructions.

“What’s unique to us is that we help you pick out every piece of the puzzle,” Darlene shares. “I don’t make any money on paint, but we know you can negatively change the room with a bad paint color. We want to offer the personalized involvement and service that we feel helps us give clients the best possible experience.”

Celebrating National Women’s Small Business Month

With October being National Women’s Small Business Month, it’s the perfect time to celebrate women-owned businesses and the lasting impact that female entrepreneurs have made on the local economy.

In 1972, there were only around 400,000 women-owned businesses in the United States. By 2019, women-owned businesses represented 42% of all U.S. businesses   and generated $1.9 trillion worth of revenue.

As recently as 1988, women actually needed a male relative to co-sign if they wanted to apply for a business loan. It was only two years later that Darlene founded Distinctive Designs after working in the kitchen and bath industry for years. Since that time, Distinctive Designs has flourished in the Central Illinois community.

At INB, we’ve seen firsthand the tremendous effects that women-owned businesses have on a community. Locally owned small businesses bring revenue to communities and are more likely to support local organizations, schools and projects. They also provide jobs, keeping local economies growing.

Darlene’s first connection with INB was commercial lender John Maxfield, who retired in 2019. John helped Darlene and her husband navigate the complexities of opening a new business.

“John Maxfield was such a blessing and a gift. We had a personal friendship first through a networking group. He was so experienced in business and helping businesses that it was a great experience for us,” she recalls. “When he retired and we began working with Nick Horton (VP, Commercial Lending), I thought no one would be able to replace John, but Nick has been wonderful.”

When asked how INB has been most helpful in running Distinctive Designs, Darlene says: “It feels like INB has helped with everything!”

Growing in business comes from willingness to learn

Working in a male-dominated industry was challenging at first for Darlene; “It can be hard to get taken seriously on a construction site as a woman,” she shares. In the early years, she made the decision to pursue professional education certifications specific to her industry, as well as ask a lot of questions so she could gain more knowledge about all parts of the trade.

Today, Darlene is a Nationally Certified Kitchen designer (CKD), a Nationally Certified Bath Designer (CBD), and is licensed by the state of Illinois as a Registered Interior Designer. She is also a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Darlene has passed the National Council for Interior Designers Qualification (NCIDQ) – one of the hardest tests she’s ever taken! – and is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS).

Not only that, but Darlene and her husband also founded Habitat for Humanity Sangamon County around the same time as starting Distinctive Designs, which gave her valuable experience.

“Running a business and a nonprofit at the same time made for a very challenging time in life!” she recalls.

However, the lessons from those experiences only helped Darlene to improve, learn and grow. And today, she is able to offer valuable advice to other young female business owners.

“For any business, it’s critical you understand that the business has to be financially responsible. Someone may be great at designing kitchens and helping select appliances and colors. You might be a fabulous chef and create magic in the kitchen. But if you can’t provide your service in a financially responsible way, you won’t be in business next month,” Darlene points out. “As a business, we have to closely watch our gross profits and taxes and all other important numbers. There’s a learning curve to that.”

Being willing to learn has certainly created abundant opportunities for Darlene, as she celebrates 32 years in business. And the referrals and repeat customers are proof of that – which she is grateful for every day.

“One story that comes to mind is: 18 years ago, we did new construction kitchen and bath cabinetry for a family in Carlinville with a couple of young kids,” she shares. “The couple called me two months ago and said that their kids are graduating from college, so they want to do a bunch of new projects.

“Here we are 18 years later, and she called us back without getting another bid. I considered that the ultimate compliment.”