The View From Abroad
New European looks feature elegantly styled minimalist looks
and innovative proportions.
By Daina Darzin Manning
Few will argue that, when it comes to global trends, the world is
shrinking. Advances in telecommunication, the growth of virtual
technology, a greater cultural diversity than ever and an
increasingly global economy have all served to shorten the
distances that separate us, intellectually and emotionally.
Yet perversely, the smaller the world gets, the greater the
breadth of creative opportunities it provides for all of us. Is it
any wonder, then, that as globalization becomes a more and more
dominant force within our culture, design is flourishing like never
In fact, future trends in America often originate in Europe, so
kitchen designers who want to stay on the cutting edge might want
to keep an eye out for minimalist looks that dramatically change
the traditional proportions of cabinets, islands and other kitchen
European influences have always been evident in some of the
trendiest kitchen and bath designs, and as global lines continue to
blur, we can expect to see European sensibilities continuing to
color American kitchen design in ways both large and small,
according to Grahame Morrison, editor of the renown British
publication, The Kitchen & Bathroom Designer.
Morrison, who spoke about the European design influence at the
recent Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Orlando, believes that Italy
renowned by many as the style capital of the world enjoys the
greatest influence on European design, followed by Germany and the
United Kingdom. Product and design trends from these countries are
increasingly making their ways overseas, as American participation
in such European design shows as ISH, held in Frankfurt, Germany
earlier this year (see related story below), and the biennial
Eurocucina, which took place in Milan, Italy in April of 2002,
helps to spur interest in design innovations from abroad.
The result is that today’s designers are discovering a host of
tools for their design palettes from new materials and unexpected
uses for color to non-traditional proportions and innovative
Bank of Cabinets
Current European design
eschews the usual cabinetry arrangement that winds around the top
half of the room, according to Grahame. Rather, European cabinets
are often situated on one wall, with a large square of cabinetry
frequently surrounding wall ovens for a clean-lined square
The result is not only a more streamlined appearance, but also a
more organized room, as storage is concentrated and the rest of the
floor plan more open to allow for easier traffic flow.
“Clean lines” is also used to describe European cabinet styling,
though the newest cabinet designs may be spruced up with exotic
wood veneers such as apple or pear, unexpected materials, such as
aluminum, or eye-catching opaque or frosted glass doors.
Because European homes and
apartments tend to be much smaller than American ones, kitchen
space is at an extreme premium. Hence, European design is forced to
do more with less something American designers can certainly learn
from, as today’s consumers increasingly look to pack more amenities
into their kitchens especially in remodeling jobs where expanding
the space is not really a possibility.
To maximize space, many European designers work with “linear
style,” which emphasizes horizontal lines to make a small space
seem bigger, lighter and wider.
Additionally, Morrison notes that in small spaces, storage
solutions must be carefully planned out. Ergonomics are important
in European storage design, so storage not only has to fit into the
space, it also has to make sense from the standpoint of making the
kitchen functional for all of the occupants involved.
To that end, he suggests such innovative solutions as a
free-standing storage piece with a clear glass top, which allows
one to see the contents of the large drawer below without opening
it something that saves space and time.
European cabinet makers also make use of every space, no matter
how tiny, with innovative pull-outs such as a 6″-wide storage unit
for a “dead” area between cabinets. Similarly, a unique 12″-wide,
tall unit can store more than a conventional base unit, Morrison
Waste management and recycling are an important part of European
kitchen culture, so pull-outs for multiple trash cans are standard,
The new European island is
either much larger or much more furniture-like than the traditional
American model, Morrison says. Some of the hottest European designs
feature off-the-floor islands with legs (though this does make
plumbing the sink quite the challenge, he adds).
Alternately, islands may be enormous, with massive storage below
to maximize the space, or lack thereof, in a smaller kitchen.
Morrison cites a particularly striking island that features a
spectacular 4-5″ thick, rough edged limestone top, which not only
provides ample storage, but also provides the design with an
overall serene, natural look something that ties in well to current
trends in the States.
Curved shapes are also a hot new
trend in Europe that many believe will translate well to the U.S.,
whether applied to starkly modern pieces, retro-inspired
transitional styles, or elegant neo-traditional design.
As an example of this, Morrison notes a striking design by
Giemmegi Cucine, which features curved wood cabinetry and a yellow
color scheme that evokes a sense of retro Mid Century Modern
Indeed, elegant curves with a splash of color can make a
powerful and unique design statement, giving the kitchen a strong
Lighter, with an airy,
satiny finish, aluminum is the appliance metal of choice for
forward-thinking European kitchens, Morrison reports. It not only
looks great, it also resists fingerprints. It’s already making
inroads in the U.S., as evidenced by a number of aluminum
appliances on display at this year’s K/BIS. In fact, aluminum is
even being used for some cabinets to create an exciting new
Refrigerators, however, are smaller in Europe than in the U.S.,
and are often completely hidden behind cupboard drawers, since
these are not considered a luxury item the way they are in America,
While many of the most popular materials in Europe mirror those
used here, such as stainless steel, European design also favors the
use of exotic, expensive wood veneers such as apple or pear, and
opaque or frosted glass doors. Morrison notes that there’s not a
big custom market in Europe but the up side of this is that this
results in more imaginative stock design. Similarly, Europeans
remodel less frequently than Americans, so the trend is towards
more clean-lined, timelessly minimalist design. Only England
remains more traditionally minded, he states.
But even there, transitional design continues to grow in
popularity, using traditional hallmarks as a jumping off point for
imaginative design that breaks new ground. A good example of this
would be Mark Wilkinson’s elegant furniture looks, which have
already gained a following in the U.S.
The “great room” concept has
definitely translated to European design, with the kitchen prep
area often designed to face the table of the adjoining dining area
so hosts can prepare food while entertaining guests, according to
In the U.K., recently constructed housing espouses the “grand
room,” which combines lounge, dining room area, kitchen, TV room
and utility room. This development further strengthens the trend
towards furniture style, with such traditional details as wood
panels, cracked glaze and pilasters, as well as Victorian and
In more contemporary designs, the retro vibe of Mid Century
Modern is gaining popularity.
Of course many Americans still eschew contemporary design
completely, and even those who favor more cutting-edge, minimalist
looks may still want a more toned-down version that retains some
But, while few Americans aspire to kitchens that are totally
European in design, today’s kitchen designers may still find
inspiration in the view from abroad, adding some European flair to
create new and innovative design options that are as rich and
multifaceted as the global and cultural influences that define