Many moons ago, when I started in the kitchen and bath design
business, I worked in a showroom whose leadership recognized the
opportunities for learning at the kitchen and bath show. Those of
us who earned the privilege of attending the show were assigned
seminars and design or product areas to research and report back
on. This year I traveled the show with several of those talented
designers and dear friends who have been teaching me this business
all these years, and once again, I learned through their
observations as well as my own.
True to my old habit of reporting back, this column highlights a
few of the ideas that captured our attention and the concepts that
we took home to put to use in future projects.
It is noteworthy that we began our Chicago experience at the
Luxe Home Center at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. Product and design
relating mainly to kitchens and baths, and somewhat to whole home,
have been moved to the main floor of the Mart and opened to the
public. Spending an afternoon with luxury products and materials,
designed beautifully into these showrooms much like a museum or
gallery, offered a wealth of design ideas. Add to this the
experiences found on the show floor and there is much to write
about and take home.
Counters & Cabinets
Among the ideas I took home are several relating to counters and
work surfaces. Variations in thickness are making huge statements,
such as laminates as thick as 8 inches in certain areas. They are
showing up in stone, usually 2″ or more, solid surface and
There are more applications of newer materials, including the
environmentally conscious surface material made from paper from
certified managed forests (Richlite), which appear almost
“soapstone-like.” With different thicknesses in counters, edge
treatments are varied, including a reverse bevel that in some cases
cuts back to a stainless steel trim band.
Along with thickness of counters in the European cabinet
showrooms, I saw depths of counters increased to incorporate
chambers on other accessories that fit into the back 6″ +/-. These
bays were flexible, providing for storage components including dish
drainers, knife blocks, utensil storage and more.
Another detail on counters has to do with design concepts that
seem to “float” the counter. In some cases the support immediately
below the counter is recessed, creating the sense that the counter
is actually floating. In other cases the support is glass or
otherwise colored to recede, and the effect is the same. This seems
to be a great idea for glass tops and for tight spaces.
Finally, on counters, “bold is beautiful” seems to be the rule,
not the exception. Where once an investment like stone for a work
surface would likely be fairly neutral or subtle, in these
showrooms and on this show floor, I saw bold colors and patterns
sort of “in-your-face” stone.
Over the last few years, designers have been promising and
predicting a new minimalism. Although this trend has been slower
than predicted, it is gaining, and no one does this better than the
European design profession. While we may not find ourselves
specifying Euro-style cabinetry in the majority of our projects,
their showrooms certainly offer us inspiration in terms of storage,
hardware and design details.
The above-mentioned storage components dropped into the back
section of the counter are one example. Wall cabinet systems are
another, including rack-like bottoms that allow wall cabinets to
function as dish drainers, although it is not clear to me how the
water dripping off the dishes knows to fall only in the sink and
not on the counter.
Another design direction more prevalent in European cabinetry,
but also showing up in traditional product, is the alternative wall
cabinet door. I could almost say it was rare to see a wall cabinet
hinged to open to one side, with alternatives including the
up-swinging door, sliding doors and beautifully executed tambour
doors, especially Hafele’s stainless steel version. In addition,
there were many variations on the theme of an aluminum framed door
with a variety of glass inserts. The different examples of this
door in various displays prompted one of my traveling companions to
comment that this concept mixes nicely where appropriate, but must
be compatible to the design concepts with which it will be sharing
Tile at the Luxe Home
Center and at K/BIS seemed to steal the show. I was inspired by all
of the small glass tiles, often iridescent 1″x1″ variations within
a color family showing up on the wall. This concept was very
successfully mimicked with 1″x1″ ceramic tiles at a much more
affordable price point.
And, are you ready leather tiles yes, can you imagine those
conservative white fixtures dressed with a red leather wall.
I also appreciated a tile created from small bars of slate and
other stone, creating amazing depth and texture. My last take-home
on the tile was an installation that turned glass tiles on end
between stone tiles so that the result is stone tile, grout, glass
line about the thickness of grout, grout again, stone tile lots of
I saved a teaser for my last take-home, and that is that we may
be on the verge of attractive supports or grab bars to complement
our designs. On four different occasions during the show I was
introduced to new product or brought into serious discussion
regarding product development to provide us with grab bars that
look good and work.
But, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We haven’t
touched on appliances, sinks (so much new there), air and soaking
tubs, the new product pavilion to name just a few.
Certainly, when you can, attend the show and visit our various
design centers. You’ll never run out of design inspiration. If you
are lucky enough to experience these places in the company of
talented and experienced designers, as I was, you’ll learn that