Kitchen design must be flexible, simplify life for the consumer and pay attention to detail. And nothing adds to the detail of a kitchen like highly functional and aesthetically pleasing interior fittings.
Additionally, kitchen accessories such as radiant floor heating can add a touch of warmth and luxury to a space, making it a more upscale and enjoyable place to spend time.
Although the oversized “trophy kitchens” of yesteryear are on the wane, manufacturers and designers agree that homeowners still want quality products that enhance their kitchen, both functionally and aesthetically. For kitchen accessories, that means upscale amenities that make the kitchen more enjoyable to use. For interior fittings, it’s all about greater accessibility.
Doug Mockett & Company, Inc. design consultant Peter Stathis of Virtual Studio in San Francisco adds, “Designers are focusing on solutions that will simplify life for their increasingly busy clients. The biggest trend relates to improving functionality of interior fittings and accessories toward improved ease of use.”
When it comes to interior fittings, there also seems to be a greater expectation of quality than in years past.
Daniel Tripp, product marketing manager at Hafele America Co. in Archdale, NC says, “Many manufacturers are offering more and more accessories as standard options rather than only as an upgrade. As a result, many showrooms are now updating their displays and loading them up with accessories rather than simply showing them from a catalog. They are differentiating themselves from their competition by offering a more thought out and more functional kitchen that provides easier access to the items that are stored for all users.”
With the demand for better functionality and ease of use, soft-close features seem to be gaining ground.
Dennis Poteat, marketing communications Manager for Stanley, NC based Blum, Inc. sees a growing demand for hinges that offer the firm’s soft-close feature. “The ease of installation and functionality are also pushing more manufacturers and cabinetmakers to make soft closing their standard,” he says.
Jan Fitzpatrick , customer & market relations manager for Grass America Inc., in Kernersville, NC, affirms that soft-close drawers and hinges are becoming a standard. “Drawers, especially ,have redefined their closing action with the soft-close action and you find this in undermount slides, double wall slides and in some ball bearing slides.”
In a well designed kitchen, everything has a place. Selecting the appropriate storage solutions allows designers to ensure that this happens, and allows consumers to customize their space to their specific needs. Shari McPeek, marketing manager for Rev-a-Shelf in Louisville, KY notes that designers are looking for functional, stylish products that can answer several client demands.
“Many designers are asking for products that will bring the contents of each cabinet out to them and allow the storage goods to be neat and tidy,” says Poteat.
Tripp adds that designers need to maximize storage space for their clients, noting, “Many homes are getting smaller and more and more of the family activities are taking place in the kitchen.”
Fitzpatrick concurs: “Organized storage is still on the increase. It seems that every nook and corner has some type of storage device. Having the ability to arrange a drawer for storing bottles and boxes is important.”
Manufacturers agree that both drawer and corner storage remain hot trends. Doug Mockett, CEO of Doug Mockett & Company, Inc., in Manhattan Beach, CA, sees evidence of this fact in the increased sales of wide bar pull styles. “Sales of knobs have dropped as buyers move to large drawer storage in lieu of cabinets.”
Poteat doesn’t think the drawer trend is slowing either. “Drawers bring the contents of the cabinet out to you, rather than you having to squat down and dig into the cabinet. In addition to the ergonomic benefits, full-extension drawers give you a good overview of what is in the drawer so it is easy to find what you need,” he says.
McPeek points out that drawer storage serves many purposes, including bringing items within reach of children and those who have limited reach. Drawers are also easy to customize, based on changing needs. “Take our peg board systems. They can be installed easily and have both press-in pegs and now press-in accessories for holding pans, lids, canisters, etc.,” she says.
Corner storage is always a hot topic, as well. Almost every kitchen has some sort of corner storage, whether a simple plastic Lazy Susan or a more upscale solution like Hafele’s Magic Corner, Tripp says.
McPeek notes, “People basically want to get the most out of their space and that is so true with corner storage…and they want both design and function in a product today.”
Blum combines the two with a drawer corner unit, according to Poteat, who comments, “If drawers are the best solution for storage in every other cabinet in the kitchen, why not the corner?”
STYLE & FUNCTION
Interior fittings and accessories come in as many configurations as there are personalities of designers and consumers. But regardless of the style or design, Tripp believes that space optimization is key. Designers want to get the most useful storage out of the space they have to work with, and do it in a way that blends seamlessly with the appearance of the kitchen, Tripp explains.
McPeek notes that designers and consumers are looking for electric options, as well as soft-close mechanisms and a variety of finishes from wood to chrome and glass. “They want items that can change and grow with them,” she notes.
Adjustability is also important, according to Poteat. “Storage items change due to a change in shopping habits (from shopping weekly to bulk shopping), people moving, family members returning to live at home, etc. That’s why it’s important to “pre-plan” the kitchen by taking possibilities like these into consideration. It’s a lot easier to start out by planning for life’s natural changes than it is to have to redo everything a couple years down the road.”
When it comes to finishes, nickel and satin stainless steel are still the most popular, followed by satin chrome and polished chrome, Mockett says. “These finishes, combined with interesting, contemporary hardware, meet the most popular aesthetic requirements.”
Stathis adds, “Long pulls in a variety of finishes are popular. Long handles feel good on the hand and may be mounted vertically or horizontally. Though stainless steel remains a best seller, the trend towards specifying multiple materials and colors within a single space opens up the possibility for specification of other hardware finishes – such as bronze, matte black, even colors.”
Fitzpatrick sees the champagne color making headway in the form of wire accessories and metal drawer systems. “This warmer color complements wood cabinetry which makes it more appealing,” she says.
Hafele’s most popular finish is also a champagne finish. “It is an ‘Eco-Friendly’ powdercoat finish that has a very warm tone and is a great accent with stainless steel and matt nickel and most of our accessories use a maple tray with a champagne finish wire surround,” Tripp says.
Poteat emphasizes a common desire for fittings and accessories that are not seen or heard. “People buy concealed hardware because they want it…concealed,” he says. “Designers want less noticeable hardware and interior fittings but don’t want to give up the soft-close.”
Although visual appeal is top priority, convenience and efficiency are also important in the fitting and accessories market. Stathis says, “Efficient kitchen organization offers a more enjoyable and more realistic way for busy people to spend their leisure time. Increasing efficiency and convenience within the kitchen space is very important to today’s consumer simply due to the extraordinary pace of contemporary life.”
McPeek mentions that people want the most out of everything, and accessories are no exception. “They want items that take up less space, free up valuable time (example: prep stations in the kitchen…by having everything in one place you save time) and are convenient for everyone to use.”
While many items are becoming standard in a functional kitchen design, there are still some upscale kitchen accessories that offer an added “wow” factor. Radiant floor heat is one such accessory, as it adds both comfort and a sense of luxury. Trends in this category, while similar to the overall accessory market, have some market -specific elements.
Mark Hudoba, senior product manager for Uponor Residential Radiant Heating in Apple Valley, MN, mentions that the biggest trend in radiant floor heating is using renewable energy, such as geothermal and solar, to heat a home. “Radiant heating enables geothermal and solar systems to run more efficiently and maximize energy savings. In addition, rising energy costs and federal and local tax incentives have made these systems a more lucrative investment for the homeowner.”
New radiant controls, like Uponor’s Climate Control Network System, that integrate the radiant heating with the rest of the HVAC system, are becoming more and more popular as well, says Hudoba. In addition to increasing system efficiency by integrating the heating, cooling, ventilation and humidification systems, these controls also can allow the homeowner to control the system remotely via the Internet.
Radiant heat can also increase the resale value of a property according to Hudoba. “Adding radiant floor heating to a kitchen allows homeowners to not only experience the incredible comfort and energy efficiency radiant provides, but it also adds value to their home when it comes time to sell,” he says.
Some topics arise over and over again, regardless of the product being discussed. No trend discussion seems complete without touching on elements of green design, Universal Design and the effects of the current economy. Each subject seems increasingly important to the consumer, and therefore to designers and manufacturers.
While Mockett believes that green design isn’t as high on the customer’s list as one might think, he adds that his company is environmentally conscious in the way they operate. “We stay on top of it using recycled materials, print our catalog on recycled paper with soy ink, use green packing materials where possible and practice energy conservation throughout our facilities.”
McPeek says, “We all know it [green] has been a buzzword for a few years now. I think that people really want to go green but with the economy as it is, people are opting to wait or purchase other products that meet their price point. That’s why I really like the idea of dual waste bins, they can be used to create a recycle center, allowing for those who want to make a contribution to green a reality…and they can do so even within [a more modest budget].”
Hudoba finds that green issues play a large role in the radiant floor heat market. “One of the most attractive features of radiant is the energy efficiency it provides. Consumers are becoming more and more educated in the sustainable building markets and they are learning that radiant is the way to go – especially when it incorporates with renewable energy sources, such as geothermal and solar.”
As the population ages, Universal Design becomes increasingly important as well. Blum, Inc. has an interesting take on this trend, as the firm conducted research using an “age explorer” suit, which ages the wearer to 70+ years old in a short period of time. The suit simulates many issues that older adults face, such as range of motion, reduced muscle strength, arthritis and decreased vision.
This research allowed the company to test the functionality of its product offerings to see if they made it easy to access items in a cabinet, says Poteat. “When we test products and try out various solutions, we wear the suit a minimum of two hours to really feel the full effects of the suit. This helps us be sure that the products we create and launch to the market really will be beneficial to all kitchen users.”
Tripp points out that functional storage options provide a great alternative when talking about Universal Design. “The ability to pull the contents of a cabinet out rather than having to bend down and perhaps get on your knees to reach an item is a major plus,” he says. “Users of all ages and abilities benefit from a kitchen with more drawers than doors and with pull-outs rather than items sitting in the back of a dark cabinet.”
As for the recession, the economic downturn has certainly had an impact on overall design in the kitchen, but perhaps not as significantly in the area of fittings and accessories, according to manufacturers interviewed.
Stathis says, “Designers tell me that some clients, who may have once sought custom cabinets and furnishings, are maximizing their project budgets by using stock cabinets and retail furnishings. These same buyers value quality interior fittings and accessories and continue to spend in these areas.”
Fitzpatrick adds, “The general population wants to get the best value for their money, but people also realize that cabinetry is a long-term investment. They will still pay somewhat more for what they want because of the longevity of a kitchen. You also have to remember, the kitchen is still a mainstay in the home, a gathering place for family and friends.”
For that reason, many consumers don’t want to compromise quality for a better deal. “People are taking a harder look at every dollar they spend and they want to feel like they are getting the best value for their money and they insist on products with a long life,” says Tripp.
McPeek believes that those who are unaffected by the economy are still pulling out all the stops, but those who have been affected – or think they might be – are looking for options that meet both their need and their budget.
Hudoba says, “I believe people are now expecting more for their dollar to get the biggest return on their home value.” He adds that in today’s climate, most everyone is being frugal with their money. “People are purchasing different sizes of systems but the trends for energy efficiency, comfort and value bridge all price points.”