The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

Lighting Up Kitchens, Baths

In the not-to-distant future -- circa 2025 or so -- kitchens in new homes may be little more than a table that displays recipes and menus, cooks food, warms drinks, and charges mobile devices. IKEA calls this concept the Table for Living.

Sony, on the other hand, has a different take. The electronics giant thinks tomorrow’s kitchen will be somewhat more elaborate, with robotic arms dropping down to chop vegetables, cook your food and then deliver it to the table.

But those concepts are far down the road. After all, six years is an eternity in the housing business. What you will be seeing next spring, if not this fall, are kitchens and baths with extra windows for more natural light, splashes of color, and a lot of mix-and-match styles, according to the latest research from the Meyers Group and MetroStudy.

The two major advisory firms based their findings on responses from a diverse group of 28,000 consumers, from singles to mature families, in all income ranges.

Some people don’t see much value in consumer preference surveys like this one. They view it as pie-in-the-sky data, and say only when homebuyers put their money where their mouths are will the truth be told. Perhaps so. But like it or not, builders use these studies to design their newest models. And high design is important, to both builders and buyers.

Indeed, design is second only to location when it comes to the reason people move, according to these respondents. It’s even more important than price, the size of the house or the quality of the local schools. And as far as builders are concerned, kitchens and bathrooms are high-value design areas.

“That’s where people live,” says Mollie Carmichael, a principal in the Meyers firm. “It’s where their families gather.”

As she related it in a recent webinar, the study suggests two major trends ahead for kitchens: One, which has been going on for some time now, is a shift to a more modern look, especially in higher-end houses. The other is “a huge trend towards more light,” which makes kitchens not only feel larger but also feel better.

“Light matters,” said Carmichael, who has also worked for giant builders Lennar and Pulte. “It makes everything feel bigger.”

That’s especially true when it is accompanied by better storage, which is another item for which would-be buyers are hunting. And builders should be going to great lengths to give it to them. “Well-planned storage can make a 2,000 square-foot space seem like 2,500,” Carmichael said.

Look for above-the-counter shelving and cabinetry you can pull down and pop back up, and serving centers in the kitchen instead of the dining room. Another possibility: slimmer, possibly longer, kitchen islands that don’t take up as much space but are just as functional. “It will feel more like entertainment space and less like utilitarian space,” she said.

Also look for more color in the kitchen. White is still the dominant cabinet color, and Carmichael believes it will remain so. But black accents “will be everywhere,” perhaps on window frames to start with, but branching out from there.

You might also see builders experimenting with three white walls and a brighter, bolder color on the fourth wall, or maybe darker, contrasting kitchen islands. Anything that adds depth.

Colorful appliances -- bright red or heather green, for example -- aren’t new, but they’ve become “a bigger phenomenon” than most housing pros thought they would, she said. “They add personality to a place that should have personality. It’s eclectic, it’s fun.”

In smaller houses, where space is at a premium, homebuyers might also see smaller appliances that are just as attractive and functional as their larger brethren. Carmichael called them “right-sized appliances,” and said they aren’t just for apartments anymore. “They allow you to get more life out of your home. There’s more room for entertainment.”

In bathrooms, meanwhile, the research shows that people still favor tubs and showers in their main baths. And 2 out of 5 prefer freestanding tubs, even when they are an “extra” not included in the base price. Tiled shower floors instead of pans are hot, too, as are zero-threshold entries, dual showerheads and, in some cases, no shower doors.

Finally, laundry room suites are continuing to gain importance. They’re growing in size because a third of respondents want a mudroom or drop zone for bags and packages. And 3 out of 5 are willing to pay extra for built-in pet spaces, such as a dog-washing zone.

Others want a small office, and almost all mentioned a need for a space to recharge their electronic devices -- perhaps tucked away in a drawer for a cleaner look .