WHEN BETSY HOAG FOUNDED TKO in 1981, the SMU fine arts grad was just a couple of years out of college and recently cut off from the family bankroll. The self-proclaimed word nerd stumbled upon the perfect acronym to brand her business while reading the dictionary one afternoon.
“I thought TKO was really appropriate because we have technical products that could knock you out, per se,” Hoag explains. The abbreviation’s other meaning, “to keep open,” as it’s known in the medical field, also resonated with her at that tenuous time.
The medical directive worked. In the nearly 40 years since, she’s grown a booming niche business that Dallas designers, builders and architects have come to rely on for beautifully sculptural residential hardware—think: cabinet knobs, drawer pulls, door thresholds, bathroom faucets, bathtubs and the kitchen sink.
TKO Associates’ specialty is bringing emerging designers and inventive lines from overseas to Dallas. No doubt, Hoag’s training in fine art informs her eye when curating products for her collection. In fact, some of the pieces in her showroom would not be out of place in a contemporary art gallery.
Consider the award-winning AK/25 line designed by Paik Sun Kim for Aboutwater by Boffi and Fantini. The sink faucet twists away from the basin when not in use, merging with the handle to create a purely sculptural rectangular form. Kim’s designs don’t look like bathroom fixtures at all; they blur the lines between hardware and high art.
“Our products are well-engineered, beautiful designs from companies that back up their work—we’re careful who we partner with,” Hoag explains. “Having something pretty that doesn’t work is not what we want. We vet all of our products to make sure they function well. That’s why people turn to TKO Associates.”
The showroom doesn’t shy away from color either. Some of TKO Associates’ favorite products include brightly colored concrete sinks from Kast out of England, as well as gumdrop-hued sink handles from the Italy-based Fantini.
“I like that Fantini continues to invent. They partner with architects and designers to bring unique product to the market,” Hoag says. “They are originators, whereas a lot of companies copy designs.”
The product designers who inspire Hoag are artists in their own right, which she identifies with since she never put away her pastels and paint.
“I really appreciate what people are creating. It may look easy, but it’s not. They do quite a bit to get to the finished product,” Hoag explains. “There are very talented women in our industry who do a lot of the really creative design. Being a female business owner, I want to support that side of the business too.”
From thoughtful curation to thoughtful presentation, TKO Associates’ showroom is as well considered as any contemporary art gallery. The business carries more than 100 lines, but not every product is on display.
“I wanted the showroom to feel spacious rather than cluttered with a higher density of product—that’s too much for the brain to take in,” Hoag explains. “Our layout developed with aesthetics in mind. It’s open, modern and light-filled. We think it’s interesting for people.”
Nonetheless, Hoag acknowledges that multiple trips are sometimes required to take in all of the offerings in her trade-only showroom. She urges the designers, architects and builders who visit to take their time and ask questions.
“Don’t be afraid to get specific,” she urges. For example, if visitors are looking for a lever that curls or something in matte black rather than the finish on display. “We can’t show everything that’s out there, but we can definitely order it. We’re great at solving problems,” Hoag says.
A couple of recent projects relied heavily on TKO Associates’ creative problem solving. The TKO team had to figure out how to create a closure and locking mechanism for a jamb-less door frame. Another project required some ingenuity to attach closet rods and shelves to an ultra-contemporary glass-walled closet without using brackets. “Designers have a vision, and we just fulfill the vision,” Hoag says.
Hoag credits her business’ success with her amazing team that has backed her throughout the years. “We work in a big bullpen and share information constantly. One person may know more about a particular line,” Hoag explains. “We couldn’t do this as well without our collective.
I know I wouldn’t be where I am without my staff.”
Alaena Hostetter is a content strategist, editor and journalist who writes about art, design, culture, music, entertainment and food. She can be reached via her website alaenahostetter.com.