When it comes to kitchen and bath design, generation gaps seem narrower than ever.
That's because modern notes are sounding -- mirroring trends in home furnishings -- with simpler cabinet fronts, minimal hardware and clean, sleek lines in appliances and faucets. Modern is the fastest-growing category, according to a survey by the National Kitchen & Bath Association.
"We see kitchen design trending more contemporary this year," says John Petrie, a certified master kitchen and bath designer (CMKBD) of Mother Hubbard's Custom Cabinetry in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and president of the NKBA. That means "clean, simple lines, less clutter and little ornamentation."
Petrie also suggests that spa baths and Zen-like retreats, which are probably at the top of remodeling wish lists, are "driving a more contemporary aesthetic."
And technology is being embraced by all, with more efficient products that are smarter, faster and more stylish.
Connectivity, particularly, struck a chord at the February Kitchen and Bath Show in Las Vegas. That shouldn't come as a surprise, considering that the latest data on the Internet of Everything (IoE) points to a growth from 10 billion to 30 billion devices in 2020, according to Allied Business Intelligence Inc. That means more network connectivity for everyday objects, allowing them to send and receive data.
How does that affect your roast, you might ask. One buzz-worthy introduction from Dacor is its first Droid-controlled wall oven, with a generous 4.7-cubic-foot capacity and Wi-Fi connectivity that will text you when dinner's ready.
Already on the market is a refrigerator from LG (Smart ThinQ) that is equipped with an LCD screen that tells you what's inside, which food about to expire and even ingredients you need to buy -- all accessible through a smartphone app.
Other appliance-smart features have to do with function. For wine enthusiasts, Dacor's new built-in Discovery WineStation dispenses and preserves wines, keeping contents "as the vintner intended" for up to 60 days.
A high level of sophistication, especially with multiple functions, is further distinguishing the more commercial-style ranges. Viking's impressive Turbo oven is speedy and versatile: It roasts, broils, toasts, dehydrates and turns out fab pizza in minutes -- plus it has a microwave mode. A whole chicken can be roasted in 14 minutes; 48 minutes for a 14-pound turkey.
Healthy eating also is feeding continued interest in steam and convention functions, and Thermador's 48-inch Pro Grand Steam range offers a combined steam and convection oven, in addition to a large-capacity convection oven, six burner gas cooktop (with one high-power 22,000 BTU burner) and electric grill/griddle, as well as a warming drawer.
In addition to the way things cook, appliance manufacturers also are looking at accessibility -- both for its convenience and for universal design. So one of the new Viking wall ovens actually borrows from the concept of the popular French door-style refrigerators. The way its two-door oven operates is with a single touch, which opens both sides. It's not only a feature that speaks to an aging population or the vertically challenged, it's one that appeals to anyone handling a casserole.
Space-saving and organizational efficiency is one more hot button for manufacturers. Microwave drawers such as Thermador's flush mount MicroDrawer are offering new flexibility and function (1.2 cubic feet and 10 cooking modes) for standard-depth cabinets. A 24-inch European-style all-freezer or all-fridge from Liebherr is three inches slimmer than Sub-Zero's slimmest.
And Frigidaire's new freezer is a chameleon: It converts to a refrigerator at the flip of a switch. A company spokesman said the idea is for an extra appliance to blend in (it was shown in a laundry room, in a steely gray painted finish to match a washer and dryer).
According to an NKBA survey of kitchen designers, the features most in demand are: induction cooktops, steam ovens, French door refrigerators; bottom-freezer refrigerators; touch-activated faucets; electronic (no-touch faucets) and LED lighting.
Furniture-style cabinets still are dominating kitchen design, and along with the trend for cleaner lines, there is less of an interest in highly ornamented Tuscan and Provincial looks as well as distressed finishes.
That said, showing off grain is riding a new wave of popularity -- in traditional and modern styles. And if there is a color story in cabinetry designs, it's gray -- both in kitchens and baths. It ranges from richer brown-based cappuccino to almost blue-gray, in matte finishes in stains and paints, as well as high gloss. Going-with-the-grain looks range from quarter-sawn oak to ash to walnut. Some reclaimed looks were described by one company as a "Restoration Hardware style."
So the espresso hues that once captivated have all but disappeared -- from the near black, with richer browns retreating from oranges and red tones, sometimes to greener bases taking their place, according to a spokesman from KraftMaid. This actually parallels what's happening in interior design, except for gilt and silver finishes which are unlikely to be translated to the cucina.
Shiny finishes have opened the door to high-style European looks. Elmwood Cabinetry, a Canadian-based company, introduced furniture-like resin panels with 3-D effects, such as foil metallic substrates that appear to be backlit. Other looks include wavy, stripy veneers for both counters and cabinets, some with a hint of metallic sparkle, all mirroring trends at Maison & Objet in Paris.
Horizontal striping also is trending in cabinetry, again -- a look that's not uncommon in Europe, as evidenced in Poggenpohl collections in walnut and ash. In addition, plank looks, riffing on those in flooring, as well as bead board turned on its side are fresh ideas.
What's especially apparent is a fresh kind of eclecticism where weathered plank floors, linen-y upholstery, minimal cabinetry and crystal chandeliers seamlessly cohabit.
Cabinet interiors are equally important, again most notably with soft, close mechanisms that are practically a standard option and pull-down options as well as cubby drawer dividers, which organize everything from spices to spatulas.
Customization of cabinetry punctuates the trend to creating spa-like bathrooms, which, like kitchens, also are becoming more high-tech. Besides therapeutic applications, such as aromatherapy and hyrdrotherapy, which have been ramping up in recent years, other digital technologies include integration of music into the bath.
Nearly half of the adult population in the United States own a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center, and users cop to taking them everywhere -- according to a recent survey, 75 percent use smartphones in the bathroom.
"Smartphones are transforming the way people access music," says Leslie Bronson, product manager for faucets at Kohler Co. "Half of all smartphone users stream music directly from their devices." Kohler's Moxie showerhead, syncs with any Bluetooth-enabled device (up to 32 feet away), smartphone and MP3 player, and streams music into the shower. The cool, acoustic wireless speaker actually pops in and out so you can charge it and use it anywhere in the house or take it to the beach.
Besides hands-free faucets, there are digital showers with wireless technology to control water temperature. Delta Temp2O features a digital temperature display with LED color indicators to signal different water temperature ranges.
Brizo now has flush-mounted body sprays called HydraChoice whose heads extend with water pressure, can be adjusted 50 degrees in any direction and aimed where you want the stream. Plus there are four choices of interchangeable sprays for customization. Select heads feature H2O Kinetic technology to provide the feeling of a warmer, more drenching shower that actually uses less water.
And Kohler's fanciest toilet, the Numi, not only is Bluetooth enabled (either by storing MP3 files or through a plug-in device). Its cover and seat have motion sensors, an integrated bidet and air dryer, deodorizer, heated seat, foot warmer and illuminated panels.
Now that's pampering that appeals to a very wide demographic across generations.
-- Ann Sacks, 1-800-278-8453, www.annsacks.com
-- Atlas Homewares, 800-799-6755, www.atlashomewares.com
-- Blanco, 888-668-6201, www.blancoamerica.com
-- BlueStar, 610-376-7479, www.bluestarcooking.com
-- Brizo, 877-345-2749, www.brizo.com
-- Dacor, 800-793-0093, www.dacor.com
-- Delta, 800-345-3358, www.deltafaucet.com
-- Elmwood Cabinetry, 905-688-5205, www.elmwoodkitchens.com
-- Fairmont Designs, 714-670-1171, www.fairmontdesigns.com
-- Frigidaire, 800-374-4432, www.frigidaire.com
-- Kohler, 800-456-4537, www.kohler.com
-- Liebherr, 866-543-2437, www.liebherr-us.com
-- Poggenpohl U.S. Inc., 312-755-9023, www.poggenpohl.com
-- Polycor Inc., 418-692-4695, www.polycor.com
-- Thermador, 800-735-4328, www.thermador.com
-- Top Knobs Hardware, 800-530-8245, www.topknobshardware.net
-- Viking, 888-845-4641, www.vikingrange.com
COLOR COMES HOME
Even though neutrals, particularly shades of gray, from dove to milky cappuccino to taupes and blue-grays are huge, that doesn't mean color is absent. That's especially true in Europe, where design is a bit bolder. So there you're as likely to see an orange range as a Ferrari red cabinet. But Radiant Orchid, this year's Pantone Color of the Year, turned up not in Milan at Eurocucina, but at the Architectural Digest Show in New York. Quite the fashion plate.
A QUICK HARDWARE SWAP CAN PROVIDE A FRESH LOOK
Even if you're not totally remodeling your kitchen, changing hardware is a quick way to add personality, color, sparkle and texture. Some options echo current trends in fashion, such as animal prints or quilting, which (with some high-end brands like Chanel) never goes out of style. Others are even eco-friendly, like the Polycor handles made from a mix of raw materials that include recycled glass.
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