High-tech gadgetry and highly functional designs are among
the latest inspirations from Europe’s recent domotechnica.
by Mary Kurtz, CKD
While the 21st century may not be the space-age, “Jetsons-style”
dream many fantasized a century ago, kitchen design and product
trends emerging in Europe show that society is indeed catching up
to that original ideal.
Clean lines, stark colors, sleek designs and appliances with
stainless steel and aluminum finishes marked strong aesthetic
trends, while “smart” products and storage and high-tech wizardry
illustrated how planning, preparing and cleaning up after meals
could be almost as easy as touching a few buttons.
These were just a few of the trends on display at the recent
domotechnica event in Cologne, Germany, which spotlighted a wide
range of products and design ideas from Europe, as well as from
around the world.
Cabinets and countertops are appearing in a wide array of
materials and colors on the European front, heralding hot trends to
watch for in the U.S., while appliances that can be programmed to
cook meals when no one is home are also up-and-comers. In addition,
technology that allows kitchen activity to be monitored via
computer, allowing home owners to activate their kitchen appliances
from a remote location, was evident.
European kitchen designers’ ability to marry practicality with
beauty was apparent at domotechnica’s LivingKitchen “world of
experience” exhibit. The LivingKitchen hall was divided into eight
kitchen “worlds,” each designed to showcase different trends
appealing to various lifestyles and demographics.
The four kitchens featured in “The Great Outdoors” focused on
the outdoors and ecological living, a significant trend in Europe.
Incorporating ecological aspects and a closeness to nature, these
vignettes showcased how the kitchen can be used not only as the
focal point of family life, but also as a link between the indoors
and outdoors. Featured in the four kitchens were a host of natural
materials, and colors and designs borrowed from nature blues,
beiges, greens as well as marble textures, glass and subtle
lighting to reflect nature’s influence.
The Mediterranean style of the “Tuscany and Technology” section
incorporated six kitchens that combined high-tech function with a
warm ambience and cracked, natural stone flooring.
The “Country and Lifestyle” section of nine kitchens featured
the most traditional settings. Elegant comfort was the focus, with
wood and white finished cabinets featuring cross designs over glass
doors mixed with antique and cane furniture and baskets. Checked
and flowered wallpaper and checkered floors helped to personalize
the spaces, with traditional wood tables finishing out some of the
To attract the cosmopolitan individual, the “Cross and Culture”
segment featured four kitchens stripped down to the bare
essentials, using Asian minimalism and the principles of Feng Shui
also a slow-but-growing trend in the U.S. In keeping with the
demands of the purist, clean lines and lacquered surfaces in basic
colors of black, white and red were prominent. Stainless appliances
enhanced the simplicity of the designs.
The eight kitchens featured in “Bold and Easy” were designed to
appeal to the younger generation of first-time buyers. The kitchens
featured strong colors and mixed materials in bold, artsy designs.
The updated, fresh use of color included shades such as dark blue
and purple shown on the cabinets which were often laminate with
white cabinet pulls adding contrast. Oven doors sported artistic
designs in colors matching the ventilation hoods above. The overall
look was clean and modern.
“Loft and Casual” combined traditional materials such as wood
with newer materials, including laminates, plastic and stainless
steel. The open structure of loft-like settings, which can be found
in such urban centers as New York, Tokyo and Berlin, encourages
more daring combinations throughout the space. Red laminate and
black cabinets featured stainless drawer and door pulls,
complementing the stainless appliances throughout. More traditional
wood countertops enhanced the eclectic feel of the space.
The “Form and Function” display featured 10 larger kitchens that
focused on function. Clear lines and practical materials projected
a streamlined approach, while large cabinets offered significant
storage space, with hidden storage compartments making the rooms
even more functional. Cabinets also featured open areas for easy
access, as well as baskets for convenient portability. Softer color
combinations prevailed, with white and pale to medium wood shades
The final kitchen collection of the LivingKitchen, “Elite and
Emotional” was comprised of eight understated kitchens that
featured basic colors such as white, black and gray richly and
classically woven in combination with stainless steel, aluminum and
Pale colored laminate and light wood cabinets were highly evident,
and several companies also displayed a “puffed” or “pillowed”
laminate door and drawer head. Traditional wood door styles were
prevalent in the English country and Tuscany kitchens, where square
raised-panel doors and small latticed flat-panel doors were
featured. Hardware was either integrated into the drawer, or was
featured in the design as a large stainless steel pull.
When it came to storage, very wide and deep drawers were the
norm, with many customization options on display. One company’s
drawer bottoms resembled a pegboard, with adjustable quarter-round
wooden pegs and wooden dividers to allow for plate, cup and dish
storage. Another company had stainless steel inserts, while still
another offered a combination of both. Other manufacturers’ drawer
bottoms were rubberized perfect for the freestanding adjustable
plate and cup holders. Occasion-ally, a bank of drawers would be
different than the others to add intereststainless steel or
aluminum, frosted plexiglass or industrial-looking glass
For the most part, wall cabinets were not very tall and usually
hinged from the top or folded horizontally and again hinged from
the top. There were also many roll-up and slide-up doors.
U.S. designers might also find some interesting lighting ideas
from their counterparts overseas, who often used halogen lights
under the wall cabinets, not hidden with a light rail, but used
instead as a feature itself always with a frosted glass cover. Some
were positioned on a 45-degree angle on the back wall.
Open shelves abounded, and there was some interesting use of the
space between base and wall cabinets. One company featured a midway
system that had integrated sockets, knife blocks, lighted shelves
and sliding doors and cubbyholes. Another had a fold-down electric
slicer, which is a particularly popular item in European kitchens.
It was clear that storage is a top priority overseas, just as it is
in the U.S.
European countertop trends mirrored the U.S. trend of featuring
tops at several different heights and in several different
materials all within the same kitchen. The material used for the
countertop usually fit the task granite, solid surface or stainless
steel around the cooktop and sink; laminate, wood and butcher block
in other areas. The most common edge treatment on granite and solid
surface was the no-drip edge.
Another interesting cabinet that called for a special countertop
treatment was the convex-curved base cabinet. Usually displayed in
the corner, in some designs this cabinet could be found on a
24-inch rotating base in the middle of a straight run. These convex
cabinets, which are ideal for liquor storage, were always topped
with a butcher block or solid surface cutting board about an inch
higher than the adjacent countertop.
As for cabinet trim and moulding, these items are still not very
popular in European kitchens. Vertical sliding doors work better
when there is no trim to get in the way, and kitchen furniture is
often moved with the family when changing residence. Base cabinets
were also shown without the detachable toekick panel, which makes
for a more industrial, serious-cook look.
Many of the kitchens in the LivingKitchen exhibit featured very
large apron-fronted sinks with drainboards much like the
old-fashioned porcelain and cast iron ones we often see replaced in
remodeling jobs in the U.S. Striking Italian and German sinks were
made of fireclay and solid surface composites. Some had high backs
for wall-mounted faucets, while others had a deck mounting.
However, all of the sinks were one to two inches higher than the
adjacent countertop. One sink had a large bowl that was stepped at
the bottom so that the user could wash up using less water, since
water conservation is a major concern overseas. However, with this
becoming increasingly a concern in certain parts of the U.S., this
trend may soon be making its way to the U.S.
Europeans are very environmentally conscious, highly aware of
water and energy consumption issues. The number of technologically
advanced appliances that take these factors into consideration, all
while fitting into the smaller space of the European style kitchen,
was impressive and something American designers can expect to see
more of as energy efficiency becomes increasingly important in the
Among the stand-out appliances exhibited were a trash compactor
that fit under the sink; a flat screen television that was also a
computer and central household command center, mounted in the
middle of a granite countertop; built-in steam ovens, and built-in
espresso coffeemakers. Most of the appliances that could be seen
the oven, cooktop and hood were stainless steel or aluminum, an
up-and-coming material because of its ability to hide
While cooking with gas has been the accepted norm, new technology
promises new options. A completely reworked generation of induction
hobs combines the advantages of gas with the convenience of glass
ceramic hobs, to offer an alternative to cooking with gas, reports
domotechnica. Due to the small amounts of radiated heat, the units
can be fitted above drawers without the need for an additional
protective base. The new hobs can also be installed above ovens.
The functions are indicated on a display, and the hot plates are
controlled by sensor buttons, with up to nine settings featured.
Sensors are up and coming for all types of electrical appliances,
and are increasingly replacing switches.
Innovations in oven cleaning systems were also noted, with new
developments based on a silicon-coated surface with almost total
non-stick properties. A pyrolitic cleaning process, also operated
via sensors, burns all residues in the oven to ash, which can then
be easily removed with a cloth.
Stainless steel or stainless steel and glass ventilation hoods
from several Italian companies combined stunning aesthetics and
sleek, airy designs with plenty of functional extras. Some could be
run by remote control, and one extractor even recycled water
through horizontal glass panels, continuously cleaning the air.
The dishwashers and the refrigerators/freezers on display were
almost all built-in, with dishwashers set at all different heights
some even opening to the height of the countertop. In some designs,
a free-standing refrigerator in retro-style and intense color such
as red was used as a striking focal point.
Among the refrigerators shown was the ART 599 from Whirlpool
Europe. The company was the recipient at the show of the European
Energy+ Award on behalf of the 220 liter refrigerator, which boasts
energy consumption of only 0.48 kWh/24 h, in energy class A and is
HFC free. The refrigerator has been recognized for outstanding
energy reduction of up to 40 percent as compared to average
In making the refrigerator more functional, the Elica Group from
Marche designed DoorWay, a stainless steel refrigerator door that
is equipped with a flat screen connected to an internal “thin
client” computer. An infrared keyboard that is easy to use and
handily operable at a distance makes managing a shopping list,
writing down recipes and connecting to the Internet amazingly
simple. The system allows on-screen interaction, connecting
automatically to an Application Server Provider, getting from the
refrigerator door the same functions as a personal computer. It can
even be used to watch television or as a video telephone. The
future for this product includes a touch screen monitor, which can
be operated by finger touch.
The newest dishwashers on display also had some unique features,
such as a setting for water hardness. The quantity of water in the
rinsing phases can also be increased, as can the fan time in the
Just like in the U.S., kitchen appliances were also evident in
areas other than the kitchen, including dens and master bedroom
suites. In keeping with this trend, a Lilliputian-sized kitchen was
among the show’s offerings. Resembling a big wardrobe with overall
dimensions of about 5′ W x 6′ D x 2′ H, the unit is suited for a
small city apartment or master suite. When the doors are opened, a
full kitchen from Siemens is revealed, including a
refrigerator/freezer, a small dishwasher, a two-burner cooktop, a
microwave/convection oven, a small sink and faucet, a recycling
unit and some storage.
Mary Kurtz, CKD, is the owner of Mary Kurtz Kitchens, an
independent kitchen design firm. She is currently living and
working in Europe after designing kitchens in the Washington, D.C.
area for the last 10 years. Mary can be reached at