At the big trade shows like the one that the kitchen and bath industry holds every winter, manufacturers love to show off their new wares. Among the myriad faucets, sinks, appliances, cabinetry and surface materials, those in the trade, and the journalists reporting, begin to sense trends, whether it's a commonality of color, finish, materials, patterns and even design features such as open shelves.
The reason fashioning a new or spruced up kitchen is best left in a capable designer's hands is because there are so many options -- not just with aesthetics, but with appliance choices and what they can do, whether it's delivering restaurant quality BTUs on a cooktop or delivering healthy steam/convection.
Designers also can help navigate through style, as well as what's practical, based on cooking and entertaining habits. Which makes more sense: a pot filler (a faucet installed on the wall behind the stove -- especially handy for filling large pasta pots) or a second dishwasher? How much will you use an instant hot/instant cold faucet? How much storage do you need? And what works best -- drawers or cabinets with pullouts? What's the best lighting -- task, decorative, both?
Throughout its 53-year existence, the National Kitchen and Bath Association has tracked trends. Most recently, 450 members all over the country were polled to get a pulse of the direction of design in new construction and remodeling -- at up to $99,000, with nearly half of the kitchens in the $20,000 to $49,000 range. One-third of the respondents describe clients as empty nesters, and about 20 percent represent multigenerational households and families with teenagers.
NKBA's top 10 kitchen trend list for 2016:
-- Transitional style, with clean lines and less ornamentation.
-- Two or more cabinet colors/finishes in the same kitchen, often in a light/dark combo.
-- Pullouts, tilt-outs, and tilt-ins for easy access to storage, trash and recycling.
-- The look of wood flooring dominates, be it actual wood or wood-look ceramic tile.
-- Different countertops for islands and the perimeter, varying in both color and material.
-- Outdoor kitchens, most popular in the Southeast.
-- Built-in coffee stations and wet bars, as well as built-in wine refrigerators.
-- Pocket doors.
-- Pet spaces, including built-in feeding stations, food storage and crates.
-- Docking and charging stations.
Modern looks have been a common thread in interior design as well. It's not just about clean lines and perhaps fewer corbels and fussy embellishments. What's at the heart is a yearning for simplification, less visual clutter and better organization.
That doesn't mean homogeny. It's all about the mix -- teaming different materials, such as wood, stone or quartz, metal, porcelain, glass or concrete tiles, that read effortless, in spite of the complexity of combinations.
A key development is the male point of view.
"We're definitely getting a lot more input from men," says Atlanta designer Mark Williams. "Because more kitchens have to adapt to today's open plan living spaces, they need to be a little more luxurious in their palette and style."
Consumers are embracing the idea of combining two or more finishes, often opting for a darker value to ground an island. Mixing up surfacing materials also is drawing interest, with quartz gaining traction because of its range of looks and low maintenance (it can take heat and doesn't scratch or stain). Also significant is the range in countertop profiles -- from the very slim to inches thick.
Whether the choice is rich wood grains or high-gloss paint hues, Williams says it's important to break up space with textural changes, especially in a neutral palette. "People tend to feel dark colors and strong wood grains are more masculine design elements -- we soften that with subtle curved shapes and textured tiles."
Contrasting rough and smooth does lend sizzle. In a Chicago area kitchen designed by Terri Crittenden of the Fredman Design Group, it's the backdrop of mortared rugged stone, reclaimed barn beams and smooth marble with minimal veining, plus swirled glass pendants above the island that visually excite.
"There's a little loosening of attitudes about what is typical," says designer Cheryl Kees Clendenon of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Florida. "People are more willing to experiment, mixing cabinet colors."
Consumers are warming up to gray tones, which offer an attractive alternative to the once ubiquitous cherry- or espresso-hued wood. They fit into a variety of styles, from country to coastal, with more weathered finishes to transitional and modern, in matte or high-gloss paint.
According to the NKBA survey, wood flooring is dominant. It's often expressed in wide plank -- a look that's also replicated in porcelain -- and most authentically with raised wood grain.
White, of course, remains a classic. That said, there's much more of an effort to layer.
"White on white is not a trend," says interior and product designer Courtney Cachet. "It's a look. Texture and varying shades are always what it boils down to when working with one-toned spaces."
Still, color is making its mark. Black actually has surfaced as a new appliance choice, especially in matte finishes, but it's too new to make any trend list. One of the most buzzed about introductions from the high-end French range manufacturer La Cornue is Atlanta-based interior designer Suzanne Kasler's Couleur palette. She added some fashion hues -- including pink and a range of blues from baby to turquoise, and subtle pale blue greens to mint. Manufacturers like the Italian manufacturer Smeg offer retro 1950s looks with signature rounded edges and refrigerators in bold shades like red and orange, lime green and pastel blue and green (available at www.westelm.com).
"I do love color," says Clendenon, "but I layer it in balance with neutrals and organic materials, so it doesn't look like a comic book. It's like a black dress, showcased with a gorgeous red or turquoise pendant. For me, color is a great equalizer."
Don't forget about the color and sheen of metals. Warm coppers and burnished golds are gaining fans and being used in tandem with silver tones.
Pattern also is playing a more conscious role. Besides countertops, where marbling, veining or other markings can figure in, backsplashes, feature walls and even ceilings are candidates for patterns.
"Tile is really taking a leading role," notes Clendenon. Porcelain in bold geometrics, mosaics and three-dimensional styles, like those in Walker Zanger's new concrete collection can lift the design to a new level.
Pendant lights are another way to make a style statement that addresses scale and color.
Cachet advocates such touches. "When designing small spaces, which are so common here in New York City, we are often more inclined to keep them ultra-simple -- that's all wrong. Small spaces need even more design and decor. Insert your own personal style and fashion as much as you can."
Which perhaps explains, in part, a new darling in kitchen design: open shelving. In modern floating style, or with brackets as part of the design, the look is hot. They break up walls of cabinetry and allow personalization.
"The open shelving concept speaks to today's trend of displaying dishware, collections and family heirlooms," says designer Kerrie Kelly, who is based in Sacramento, California. "Instead of it being viewed as clutter, dishes, cups and stemware are now part of the scene, adding an informality to the overall design."
Forget the cookie cutter approach. Chicago-based Julia Buckingham tries not to follow design "rules" or settle for something expected. "Homeowners should have fun with the design process," she says.
"People don't want the kitchen down the street," says Kelli Kaufer, an interior designer from Stillwater, Minnesota. "They want to make it their own."
If you choose well, your kitchen design should have a long shelf life.
-- Benjamin Moore, 855-724-6802, www.benjaminmoore.com
-- Julia Buckingham, Buckingham Interiors and Design, 312-243-9975, www.buckinghamid.com
-- Courtney Cachet, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, www.courtneycachet.com
-- Lori Carroll, Lori Carroll and Associates, 520-886-3443, www.loricarroll.com
-- Cheryl Kees Clendenon, In Detail, 850-437-0636, www.indetailinteriors.com
-- Terri Crittenden, Fredman Design Group, 312-587-8150, www.fredmandesigngroup.com
-- Kerrie Kelly, Kerrie Kelly Design Lab, 916-706-2089, www.kerriekelly.com
-- Kohler Co., 800-456-4537, www.kohler.com
-- Peter Ross Salerno, CMKBD, Peter Salerno Inc., 201-251-6608, www.petersalernoinc.com
-- Silestone by Cosentino, 281-494-7277, www.silestoneusa.com
-- Mark Williams, 678-539-6886, www.markwilliams-design.com
-- Wood-Mode, Wood-Mode Chicago Lifestyle Design Center, 800-561-0419, www.wood-mode.com
Kitchens are more than ready for their close-ups with details like eye-catching open shelving. Besides offering display for choice dinnerware or heirloom pieces, Kerrie Kelly says that open shelving makes the kitchen more "livable ... with everyday items at arm's reach."
But there's more than meets the eye. Some of the most welcome kitchen features are inside cabinets.
Inserts for flatware and cutlery are becoming more available -- even dual layers. Touch-latch cabinets open up to reveal storage within, and are even more easily accessible with a slide-out shelf. Dividers organize pots and pans in deep drawers. Partitions that divvy spaces and cantilevered inserts or trays for spices keep them handy. Pullouts make it easier to contain the clutter beneath the sink.
Pets also are playing a role in kitchen design, with dedicated feeding stations, food storage and even crates.
(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at email@example.com.)