It was mostly a good year for the kitchen and bath industry. Designers, manufacturers, analysts and retailers saw an upsurge in consumer confidence. Brands continued to offer new products to meet consumer demand for energy efficiency, convenience, style and personalization. And spending was up, though not as heavily in some areas as others.
Bulls and bears
For professionals and vendors who serve this segment, 2015 was definitely a bullish year. According to Manuel Gutierrez, the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s consulting economist, “Construction of single-family homes is up in the 10 to 12 percent range, while remodeling is up in the low single digits. Both of these sectors, however, are tracking behind the growth of multi-family construction that is up more than 15 percent this year,” he adds.
Overall, shares Erin Gallagher, chief of insights for RICKI, the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence, there’s a lot of confidence in the market. “In 2010, the percentage of professional kitchen and bath designers who said their gut instincts told them business would be better in the coming year was 53 percent. Now it’s at 77 percent, so this should be a stellar year for the industry.”
Ferguson’s National Director of Showrooms Kate Bailey was also bullish on 2015. “We had another record year in our showrooms. As the economy continued to show growth and the housing market moved in a positive direction, we saw consumer confidence grow.”
Maria Stapperfenne, CMKBD and NKBA president, saw this mood while visiting many of the association’s far-flung chapters. “There has been consensus from those I’ve spoken to that it is a good time to be in the industry. Many feel a rush to capture all that they can while ‘the market is good,’ inferring that there may be another downturn and they’d like to be more prepared than they were previously.” While national remodeling and construction statistics were generally good for 2015, that may be sound reasoning going forward.
Regarding 2015’s bearish side, Gutierrez says, “The economic trend that has impacted the kitchen and bath industry the most is unquestionably the declining rate of homeownership.” That was seen in the fast growth of multi-family units, which are 90 percent rentals, he notes. “Homeowners remodel their kitchens and bathrooms more frequently than rental property owners. Moreover, when a homeowner remodels, he or she is more likely to use higher-valued products and the services of professionals,” the economist adds.
So what are confident consumers buying? “The biggest trend we saw impacting the kitchen and bath industry was home automation,” says Bailey. “We’ve seen a lot of manufacturers creating products that allow for individual personalization via technology and integration of the smart home.” This shows up heavily in the appliance category, having cooking tools interact with phones and tablets to start dinner remotely, for example. It’s also seen in countertops that charge phones, cabinetry and organizers that hold them, and in outlets that offer USB as well as electrical connections. “We are seeing a trend of products moving toward complete automation, as their functionality can be controlled from a mobile device,” the Ferguson executive adds.
Electronic faucets also fit into the automation category and were a big trend for 2015, Bailey notes. RICKI’s Gallagher agrees: “Hands-free and motion-sensor faucets are sexy and practical now, and they address the worries of the germaphobe in many of us. We see sales of faucets with these features increasing in the near future.”
LEDs are also a strong consumer trend, according to Bailey. “LED lighting was originally introduced because of regulations; however, consumers are requesting products that are high-efficiency and eco-friendly.” In past years, it was easy to find recessed ceiling cans and under-cabinet lighting strips, but finding an LED chandelier or pendant was a challenge. Their greater availability is a welcome trend for 2015 and beyond.
The most comprehensive kitchen analysis of what designers are specifying and homeowners embracing is the 2015 NKBA Kitchen and Bath Style Report. It was created from an online survey of its designer members from across the U.S. and Canada. For kitchens, they rated these 10 trends the highest:
Clean with an overall contemporary feeling. A fusion of styles and multiple colors in one kitchen
Multiples of appliances in one kitchen
The rise of steam ovens
Fewer standard kitchen tables, replaced by counters or tall gathering tables
TVs and docking stations
Focus on the user experience, from easy maintenance to accessible design. Considering the needs of all users in the space, including pets.
“The largest trend I hear about from our members regarding their work is the fusion of styles and multiple colors in one kitchen,” shares NKBA President Stapperfenne. That holds true in her own New Jersey-based Tewksbury Kitchens & Baths design practice, as well, but with clients leaning more toward transitional than contemporary. “TVs, docking stations and revolving design around the user-experience,” were the trends she saw most in her own projects.
Many of the kitchen trends – including multiple colors, multiple appliances, furniture-look pieces, wine refrigerators and fewer tables – can be tied to a strong consumer preference trend that RICKI spotted: “Islands, islands and islands,” declares Gallagher. “When we show designers a list of almost 30 kitchen features and ask which they consider essential ‘must haves’ in kitchen remodels now, three pop in particular: islands, full-extension drawers and trash/recycling bins.”
For bathrooms, these were the top 10 trends NKBA identified:
Clean, white, contemporary designs
Electric heated floors
User experience and accessibility
Showers and freestanding tubs.
“Clean, white designs centered around the user experience and accessibility,” was the bathroom trend Stapperfenne designed the most in 2015, she says. Ferguson’s Bailey saw an increase in gold-finished faucets sold, though nickel and chrome are still the NKBA survey leaders. Innovative storage included pull-outs and other organization features migrating from the kitchen to the bath. It also included smart medicine cabinets with an array of storage and personalization features tied into the home automation trend.
NKBA’s economist Gutierrez has some concerns about the industry’s financial health in 2016 that include mixed messages from the Federal Reserve on interest rates, those rates potentially increasing, declining household income, higher health insurance rates (for consumers and businesses) and a shortage of skilled construction workers.
The most important trend takeaway for designers is not the finish or even the space plan. It’s capitalizing on opportunities in your market when they arise. NKBA’s Stapperfenne saw that most clearly on her visit to one chapter this year: “The Hawaiian market was joyous! They can’t provide expensive products and kitchens fast enough for the new development projects going on in Honolulu. They’re giddy with excitement and motivation in anticipation of even more raging success stories!” What’s your ‘Hawaii’ for 2016?
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS is an independent designer in San Diego, the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work and the upcoming New Bathroom Idea Book (Taunton Press), and a blogger, design journalist, seminar developer and industry consultant.