There is a shift in the kitchen landscape, and most of it is seasoned with modern style -- if not in form, then in function. Cleaner lines in cabinetry and more streamlined hardware and appliances have been trending, but what's really making a huge impact is what is under the hood.
Most striking has been the impact of technology, both in terms of mechanics -- hardware that allows touch to open, soft close, easy slide drawers, LED lighting -- as well as expanding the universal "Internet of Things," which now allows us to communicate with our appliances by smartphone and even utilize personal assistants such as Amazon Echo's Alexa.
More than ever, manufacturers are thinking about what makes cooking, cooling, washing and prep better and more efficient. Add to that specialty niches, like built-in coffeemakers that handle barista-quality lattes or macchiatos and even wine coolers. Or nugget ice makers that deliver that popular, chewable crushed ice. Viking has a new one that even can be used outdoors; and U-Line's (debuting later this year) requires no drain.
Part of the thinking here has to do with providing more options for customization, while continuing to provide pro looks and functionality that consumers like. To that end, one new buzzword: column refrigeration. In recent years, fridges have perhaps gotten fancier, with French-style double doors, drawers and even cameras inside to record what's there so you can have a virtual grocery list at the supermarket. Now there are built-in options for 18-, 24-, 30- and 36-inch-wide versions of all refrigerators and all freezers. This allows configuring to your needs. But there are also side-by-side and even triple alignments. Dacor's newest Modernist series has an all stainless interior, three-sided tunnel LED lighting and auto-open doors, and is equipped with a camera that snaps and shares via mobile phone what's inside every time you open the door.
It's a similar story with cooktops and ranges, with many commercial features now available for the home, combined energy-delivery systems like gas and electric, and even products designed for multiple styles of cooking. Thermador's new 60-inch Pro Grand range offers side-by-side ovens, including one 36-inch convection and one 30-inch steam/convection, as well as a warming drawer.
And although induction cooktops have intrigued and are raved about by chefs, they have been slower to catch on, perhaps because of price. But some feel that once prices come down, the segment will take off. Frigidaire's new induction cooktop hits a price point of less than $1,000.
Frigidaire also is banking on black, which seems to be gaining traction. "It's the first time black stainless steel is in our product line," says Frigidaire brand spokesman John Weinstock. "We really think it's the next look."
"It's both sophisticated and handsome, and it will up the ante in any kitchen," says designer Nate Berkus, who developed a black stainless collection with LG Studio. "I've always believed that a kitchen should feel timeless, using classic materials and design elements that will look good today and in 10 years' time." Berkus adds that he feels the black stainless is elegant.
The beauty of many of the new finishes is that they're smudge-proof, which has been an issue with untreated stainless steel. Black matte has a particular appeal -- in faucets, cabinets and surfaces as well. The Canadian manufacturer Miralis introduced a true matte black surface that is not only smudge-proof, but antimicrobial as well.
At the recent Kitchen and Bath Show in Orlando, many stone and quartz manufacturers offer the same looks in two finishes -- honed and glossy.
Quartz and now porcelain, which come in slabs and stone lookalikes have pretty much supplanted granite as a go-to counter. One innovative product from Caesarstone called TRANSFORM is what is billed as the first 13-millimeter quartz overlay surface, allows fitting over existing countertops, a big saver of both time and money. The product is low-maintenance, scratch-, stain- and heat-resistant, and comes with a lifetime warranty. More than ever, the scope of available finish options is mind-boggling -- from wood-grain looks, including laminates like Formica's oak herringbone veneer, to materials such as leather and even porcelain tiles, which themselves offer a range from stylish shagreen to geometrics to metallic mixes and even 3-D.
As in other areas of the home, warm metallics have been trending. So we're still seeing brass, sometimes with sheen and sometimes burnished, and a little bit of rose gold. There seems to be more of a comfort level mixing metals as well. So faucets, appliances and hardware don't all have to match up.
Black does seem to be striking a chord, and one of the most striking combinations recently debuted was a black and gold chic contemporary model, part of the Litze collection at Brizo.
The pull-down, commercial-style faucet is ubiquitous, distinguished by finish, motion tech (touch-free) and a variety of sprays. One at Delta creates a perfect bubble. Kohler has a three-spray option -- one for fragile fruits and veggies, one for heavy-duty cleaning and one for filling pots.
Many hardware manufacturers are featuring a full range of metal choices for each collection, with both matte and shiny choices available. You'll also find elongated pulls, which seem more modern than knobs. This larger scale, whether chunky or skinny, is better suited to the proportions of taller cabinets and longer drawers -- a trend we're seeing from Europe
And Grohe adds fun to its line of faucets with a wardrobe of silicone sleeves for a pop of color.
Cabinetry still is popular in gray tones that range to warm brown -- stained, grains, painted. Walnut is emerging as a new favorite; so is horizontal planking -- smooth or rough for more rustic looks. Modern styles are so significant that more traditional manufacturers are wading in to answer growing demand, including Wellborn, which introduced a frameless collection called Aspire.
Open shelving is offering visual relief to rows of cabinets, either in floating planks (wood or stone) or those supported with decorative brackets. Islands also float, or they get support from a pair of front legs, a welcome lightening up of the familiar monolithic form. And the island "table" is gaining traction, much in the spirit of the sexy red grill on castered legs that architect David Rockwell designed for Caliber, so that people could gather 'round.
As ease of use and smartphone connections ramp up, some companies already are looking to kick it up a notch. London-based Moley this year launches what it calls the first robotic kitchen, which will include an "iTunes style library of recipes." On the demo video (www.moley.com), someone touches a digital screen, programs in Grandma's spaghetti Bolognese, and you see a pair of white robotic arms doing all the work with ingredients set up at the stove. "It can mimic the skill and flair of a master chef" boasts the website. The hands even clean up. Bravo!
-- Brizo, 877-345-2749, www.brizo.com
-- Caesarstone, 818-779-0999, www.caesarstoneus.com
-- Dacor, 800-793-0093, www.dacor.com
-- Formica, 800-367-6422, www.formica.com
-- Frigidaire, 800-374-4432, www.frigidaire.com
-- GE Appliances, 800-626-2005, www.geappliances.com
-- Hafele America, 800-423-3531, www.hafele.com
-- InSinkerator, 800-558-5700, www.insinkerator.com
-- Kohler, 800-456-4537, www.kohler.com
-- Liebherr, 866-543-2437, www.liebherr.com
-- LG Studio, 800-243-0000, www.lgstudio.com
-- Monogram, 800-626-2000, www.monogram.com
-- Rev-A-Shelf. 800-626-1126, www.rev-a-shelf.com
-- ROHL, 800-777-9762, www.rohlhome.com
-- Scavolini, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.scavolini.com
-- Smeg, 212-265-5378, www.smegusa.com
-- Thompson Traders, 336-272-3003, www.thompsontraders.com
-- U-Line, 800-295-5510, www.uline.com
-- Viking, 888-845-4641, press 2, www.vikingrange.com
-- Wilson Art, 800-433-3222, www.wilsonart.com
A look inside
Besides slide-out drawers, what improves interior storage? Lots of compartments and bins, which are even better when you can configure them to your needs. Add LED lights, and you won't have to squint while you search.
And even though you may not see it, you're certainly aware of the sometimes bad smells that come out of that sink disposal. InSinkerator has an answer: citrus-scented baffles; and even cleaning pods to keep things smelling fresh.