What are designers excited about bringing their clients this season? To get the answer to this question, I asked pros from across the country who do extensive kitchen and bath projects to share their favorite appliances, fixtures, faucets, flooring and more. They are:
- Northern New Jersey-based Sharon Sherman
- Lisa Kahn in Naples, Florida
- Tulsa-based Mel Bean
- Susan Klimala in Chicago
- Seattle area-based Anna Popov
- Jerilyn Horn in rural eastern Iowa
Why ask designers for their favorite kitchen and bath product types? Who better, really? Designers work on these spaces five or more days a week for years on end, and they learn over time what works and what endures, what matters and what’s just a fad. Whether you’re in Seattle or Sarasota, Augusta, GA or Augusta, ME, you’ll find product insights from your colleagues around the country in this column. I hope you find them valuable.
“I am a big believer in a steam oven,” shares Sherman. This category offers “all the cooking abilities of a regular oven in a smaller cavity.” She notes that they’re great for baking, too.
Popov likes speed ovens, she says, “As they combine multiple appliances in one, help to eliminate kitchen counter clutter and lend well to the streamlined look we love while keeping ultimate functionality.”
Kahn loves large column refrigerators, she comments, especially those that are wide enough to accommodate full-sized trays and are panel-ready. “I’m always trying to get that furniture look in our kitchen designs,” she adds.
The same is true for Bean, who likes their visually clean look, she says, but her personal favorite appliance takes no cladding: It’s “a killer coffee maker!” Hers gets used daily, she shares. (Her clients’ probably do, too.)
Klimala is a coffee maven, as well, she declares: “The one appliance that I would say is a splurge but that I feel is worth it is a built-in coffee maker. We use it daily – there is nothing like feeling pampered first thing in the morning.” She likes that the built-in appliances reduce countertop clutter.
Horn is bullish on induction cooktops. “This is a great choice for safety reasons. And it’s easy to clean.” Klimala also likes induction, praising its speed and low maintenance. Since food doesn’t burn onto the surface, it’s much faster and easier to clean than gas. It also cooks faster than even high BTU gas burners.
KITCHEN FIXTURES AND FAUCETS
Kahn likes stainless and single-bowl farmhouse sinks for their ease in handling large pots, she comments, and is a fan of workstation sinks. “They are so multifaceted,” she adds, noting that they’re great for cleanup. Bean agrees, declaring them super functional. She’s also a fan of farmhouse sinks, she adds.
When it comes to faucets, Sherman likes the pro-style models and hands-free technology. “We are installing mainly touchless versions,” the designer notes, adding that they’re “great for kids, as they can see the color of the water temperature.” Popov is a tech fan, too, she reveals, praising it across the board for making cooks’ lives easier.
“I love a good, high arched kitchen faucet with an integrated, flexible spray,” Kahn says. “Single-lever water control is also important because you can turn it on with your elbow or whatever you might swing in the right direction.”
KITCHEN CABINETRY AND COUNTERTOPS
Klimala shares that her “go-to features are tray dividers, typically above the ovens, double trash – preferably with touch-to-open so you don’t have to touch the cabinet with your chicken fingers – a lift-up appliance garage, large-tiered spice drawers, roll-outs and lift-up appliance garage and deep drawers below the cooktop.” Custom accessories are what luxury are all about, Sherman points out.
“I tend to try to put corner drawers in almost all of my designs just because it’s a little more unexpected and more custom looking than seeing a lazy susan or a door in the corner base,” shares Horn. She also likes lid organizers in her pot and pan drawers. Bean loves using upper cabinets that extend to the countertop with retractable doors, she reports; they provide the perfect spot for regularly used small appliances.
The designers were largely bullish on natural stone, especially quartzites. Popov cited soapstone as a soft-to-the-touch choice with a modern aesthetic. Horn opts for engineered stone, she offers, for its low maintenance properties and versatility. Bean likes both natural quartzite and engineered stone, recommending honed or leather finishes for camouflaging use. Polished finishes show everything, the designer exclaims. Klimala shares that while she’s a natural stone fan herself, most of her Chicago area clients are asking for engineered.
“Another material we often introduce is butcher block,” Popov shares. “It always checks the boxes for both functionality and aesthetics,” the Seattle area designer adds. Khan observes that natural wood brings charm to a space in much the same way that natural stone does.
Horn’s favorite kitchen flooring materials are luxury vinyl tile planks and porcelain tile for their low maintenance and durability, but notes that LVT is softer and warmer underfoot. Popov mentions cork as an often-overlooked favorite: “It is a great material, very soft underfoot and durable.
SHOWER TYPES AND FEATURES
Steam was a popular choice among the designers. Sherman notes that it’s ideal “for water conservation, along with health and wellness.” The New Jersey pro also likes linear drains for curbless showers to enhance clean lines and accessibility.
Klimala likes digital shower valves, she adds. “[They] allow homeowners to customize a pre-set temperature, spray, steam and even music by the user. It is a nice and fairly inexpensive upgrade that our clients have been very excited about.” Popov noted that every primary bathroom her firm designs has both rain shower and handheld showerheads.
When it comes to enclosing showers, frameless glass and slab walls – both natural stone and porcelain – were top shower choices for the designers. Bean praised their spacious effect and minimal grout, which reflects a cleaner look. Even when she’s not specifying steam showers, the Tulsa designer says she likes to completely enclose a shower with glass to keep the warmth in.
BATH CABINETRY AND COUNTERTOPS
Accessories were a hot pick for the designers. “We always include pull outs that are pre-wired and configured to hold electric toothbrushes, shavers, hair dryers and straighteners, etc.,” shares Popov. “We also really like allowing for a wastebasket under the bathroom sink,” she adds, noting its enhancement of a minimalist look for the space. Bean likes pull-out shelves in sink base cabinets for convenience and accessibility.
Khan specifies drawers with organizers and electrical outlets to keep vanity tops free and clear, she notes. “Uncluttered countertops makes getting ready a breeze and helps us feel more relaxed in our bathrooms.” The Florida designer also loves mirrors with built-in light channels. “Great lighting makes makeup application and shaving a pleasure.” Horn likes to add lighting underneath wall-mounted vanities for sophisticated style with added safety.
“Drawers that pull out and store hot styling tools, as well as the ability to remain plugged in, are very popular,” Klimala shares. “I prefer frameless cabinetry in the bathroom; since wood expands and contracts with moisture, I feel that, over time, using a frameless full-overlay product vs. inset styling is a better choice.”
Natural stone was a popular choice among the designers, as it was for kitchens, but they noted that staining tends to be less of an issue in bathrooms.
BATHROOM FIXTURES AND FAUCETS
Undermount porcelain was the dominant choice for the designers. “I love a nice, white bowl with a rounded bottom for simple rinsing,” Kahn shares. “As much as I love the look of the more recent, flat bottomed sinks, I don’t like the way that toothpaste and soap stick in the corners after using them,” the Naples designer adds.
When it comes to faucets, Khan leans toward widespread sets with high arched spouts. Horn prefers those to mini-spreads too, she notes, but her favorites are two-handle wall mount models for their unique, custom look. For modern and accessible bathrooms, she opts for single handle faucets. Bean also likes wall-mount faucets as a focal point, she says, but it depends on available space.
“Porcelain tile is still the best choice for durability and cleanability in bathroom installations,” Sherman observes, adding a preference for matte finishes to reduce glare and non-slip surfacing for safety. Klimala agrees, preferring porcelains that look like natural stones for their low maintenance, and extolling the pleasures of heated floors – especially for her frigid midwestern winter nights.
Horn opts for matte porcelain, she shares. “I’m a fan of extreme scale tiles – 24″x24″ down to 1″x1″ mosaics,” she adds.
These six designers, working in distinctly different regions of the country, share many of the same approaches to durability, accessibility, functionality, comfort and aesthetics of their product choices. With the benefit of years of experience, they’ve learned what works while also clearly embracing the latest innovations. Chances are, you are, too! ▪
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an award-winning author, wellness design consultant and industry speaker. You can learn more about her design industry presentations, books, Clubhouse events and consulting services at jamiegold.net.