The northwestern U.S. is not the place for frills and frippery, but for kitchens and baths that work hard and play hard.
“We are pretty eclectic here, plenty of contemporary design happening, but with all the natural materials technically fits into a transitional design style. We have a fair amount of older traditional homes as well, but even within those homes the traditional design is less fussy, simplified and cleaner,” says Paula Kennedy, owner of Seattle, WA-based Timeless Kitchen Design.
According to Kennedy, CMKBD, CLIPP, CACC, “I have two typical clients: younger tech professional families [who are often] first-time homeowners with moderate budgets; they do a lot of their own research, and have never remodeled before other than small DIY projects. They will stay in their home until the kids graduate, then they may sell.” She describes her other typical clients as “60-somethings, empty nesters nearing retirement, remodeling for their own enjoyment, thinking about aging in place, willing to spend more on luxury features, with slightly better budgets to work with.”
Designer Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS, owner of A Kitchen That Works LLC, is uniquely positioned on an island – Bainbridge Island, WA – and primarily serves a clientele that seems to be a distillation of larger northwestern preferences. “[Marketing guru Faith Popcorn] coined the term ‘cultural collective’ decades ago, and that defines my client to a very significant degree,” she says. “What it is is a person who makes buying decisions based on the good of the whole – they drive a lot of hybrid cars and stuff like that…they listen to NPR, they are educated, they’re traveled. They don’t do things to run with the Joneses – they don’t make buying decisions for that reason. They want what they want, but they recognize that I have a lot of knowledge and information and experience that will enhance their ideas.” She adds that, in keeping with Kennedy’s experience, these ideas are often centered around “sustainability…durability…functionality…accessibility.”
Portland, OR designer Robin Rigby Fisher, CMKBD, CAPS, CLIPP, chimes in that, while her clients are also looking for easy to maintain products and practical features like good lighting and environmentally responsible products, they are also “fun” and “willing to take risks,” and always place a great deal of value on Fisher’s expertise.
Sustainable and sensible
All three designers agree that many of their clients are older or retired and looking to age in place – some determined to do so no matter what due to a prohibitively competitive housing market. This necessitates the use of products that will stand the tests of both time and ease of use.
McCabe’s clients, who lean toward the “transitional/contemporary side – minimalism, no; traditional, not so much,” crave convenience hardware to create clutter-free countertops, such as cabinet pullouts and phone docking stations integrated into the countertops.
“‘Ease of living’ – that’s the style,” she summarizes.
Fisher agrees that “styles for kitchens lean more contemporary or transitional; bathrooms are typically more contemporary.” Her clients crave water-conserving features and steam showers, as well as easy-to-maintain surfaces. “People in the Pacific Northwest want to spend their time outdoors whenever it is not raining – not inside cleaning!”
Kennedy notes one aspect of convenience and ease in particular – “accessible stock/inventory.” She observes of her clients, “They are more willing to use brands they aren’t familiar with to have a faucet in a few weeks versus months.”
Her clients also embrace technological convenience – hands-free operation and voice activation are popular requests.
Both Kennedy and McCabe express a certain degree of wry frustration with the Northwest’s passion for shaker cabinet doors. “So much shaker cabinet door styles!” Kennedy exclaims. “It’ll be interesting to see how much longer before people become sick of it like they did with subway tile. I think as designers we need to lead the way on that and start pushing them a bit to other nice transitional door styles.” McCabe, meanwhile, is a bit blunter in her appraisal: “I just patently refuse. I am not installing a shaker cabinet. Not doing it. Don’t make me do that,” she laughs.
Overall, all three designers describe a similar sought-after aesthetic – “In one word, transitional,” Kennedy synthesizes. “Everyone is simplifying traditional elements, and if they like contemporary, they tend to prefer what we call Pacific Northwest Contemporary, which is a warmer contemporary aesthetic with organic natural materials.” She adds, “It’s dark and gray here, so we are constantly trying to counteract that in our spaces.” ▪