The transition from fixed to adjustable, and then to roll-out cabinet shelves has forever changed the way homeowners view storage in their kitchens. These certainly provide easier access to cabinet contents, but their greatest contribution may be serving as inspiration for the proliferation of storage solutions that has followed.
In fact, storage has become so top of mind these days that some type of cabinet accessory is being spec’d into virtually every kitchen design. Whether it’s roll-outs, pull-outs, blind corner storage solutions, magnetic knife blocks or cutlery dividers, to name a few, the list of options that can enhance storage is virtually endless.
“Our kitchens essentially include all base cabinets with some type of storage feature/accessory,” reports Nancy Jacobson, Kitchen Design Partners, in Northbrook, IL. “We rarely have a base cabinet with just shelves inside.”
Designers cite several influences affecting the increased awareness of and desire for improved storage, including those related to kitchen design as well as lifestyle changes.
“Desired kitchen layouts are mostly open floor plans where kitchens serve as the social center and gathering place,” observes Candace Nordquist, CKD, Candace Nordquist Interiors, in Gig Harbor, WA. “There is also typically more than one person in the kitchen, which affects the layout and, therefore, the storage we need to find.”
For Suzanne Duin, ASID, RID, clients are requesting more exposed storage, such as open shelves, which require attractive storage solutions. “In some kitchens, canisters on the countertop are coming back,” says the owner of Maison Maison, in Houston, TX. “Storage containers have to be much more attractive given that open shelving has become a trend.”
As such, baskets are particularly popular with Duin’s clients. “They are attractive, yet useful,” she reports, noting one of her designs, which features a butler’s pantry lined with baskets, has been added to more than 78,000 ideabooks on Houzz. “For example, my clients can have one basket for crackers and another for dried pastas, etc. They are easier for the client, and especially children, to access contents.”
Jacobson sees a reduction in wall cabinets pushing more function and storage into base cabinets. “If wall cabinets aren’t available near a cooktop, we need to provide a place to store spices and oils in base cabinets near where people cook,” she stresses, noting spice pull-outs are popular solutions. “It’s the same for wall cabinets that are eliminated near a sink. People still need to keep items, such as towels and cutting boards, near the point of use.”
Lifestyle changes – including the way people cook and eat – have also changed storage considerations.
“Anyone can go into a nice retail store and see a lot of gadgets that make food prep easier,” states Thomas ‘TK’ Kelly, TRK Design Co., in Nokomis, FL. “It used to just be a food processor, but now there are small appliances and hand tools such as knife sets, special peelers and corers, etc. that used to only be available to chefs, but are now available to consumers. Advancements in large appliances are also changing storage needs. Steam ovens are hugely popular, and so are undercounter refrigerator drawers and wine/beverage centers. It’s no longer about buying a 36″ refrigerator. There are more choices and more products for homeowners and designers so we need to work together to create the proper storage in the proper location.
“There are also so many more cultural influences and types of diets that are changing the way we eat,” he continues. “Now there are so many types of specialty foods available. As a result, how we prepare and store those foods is changing.”
Storage – either a lack of or inefficiency of – is often the reason people look to renovate their kitchens, notes Jacobson.
“We often ask clients what they don’t care for in their existing kitchen to help us understand why they are undertaking the project,” she notes. “Over 90% of them report that they need more storage, or more effective types of storage.”
Because storage is so important, storage considerations are often one of the first issues designers discuss with clients at the start of a kitchen project.
“Storage comes up at the first meeting,” reports Nordquist. “Typically, when we talk about appliances and how they fit into the plan, we also talk about storage needs because so many people have specialty coffee makers, mixers, etc., which all need specialty storage, which ultimately affects the layout.”
Storage enters into the equation early on for Duin as well. “Storage is always addressed at the point of drawing out the cabinets,” she adds. “From the very beginning, we focus on storage needs.”
While the most groundbreaking changes affecting storage may have occurred years ago, ongoing changes continue to enhance storage both functionally and aesthetically.
“I see storage going through more of an evolution of the groundbreaking introductions that happened 15 to 20 years ago,” observes Erik Mehr, erik kitchen design, in Avon, NJ. “I don’t think overall storage needs have changed too much. Instead, what I do see changing is the quality of interior storage features that are now available. They are sturdier and pull out more smoothly. They are also more efficient and provide greater accessibility as well as being available in higher-end finishes and appearances. In the case of corner storage, we now have highly engineered corner pieces that articulate out.”
For example, earlier versions of corner cabinet turntables were much more difficult to operate, he explains. “They were flimsy and easily unbalanced,” he states. “Now, those from the better suppliers are sturdy and are offered in chrome and other nice finishes. Some even have glass sides. They are much more high-end all the way around. For cabinet interiors, we are seeing options other than plywood and melamine, and we’ve seen upgrades from typical maple drawers to walnut.
“While these changes do offer improved functionality, they are still luxury items,” he continues. “People aren’t purchasing them for visitors to their kitchens. They are purchasing them for themselves. When they pull open a drawer or cabinet, they are pleased by what they see. It’s a little treat to see a nice, luxurious interior.”
Jacobson has also noticed the availability of upgraded accessories as well as an added emphasis on aesthetics. “Materials/finishes used in accessories also have more options available such as light wood, combinations of materials that are non-wood and walnut,” she says, adding many manufacturers that exhibited at KBIS in January were offering internal cabinet parts in walnut. “I am also seeing a change in the way things move, which is a great benefit for my clients who are interested in function. The overall theme is also about bringing the accessory to the homeowner, instead of the homeowner having to reach. Tall pantry cabinets with pull-out trays are also changing. New units where the trays move forward together as the door opens are seen as an alternative to individual roll-outs in pantries. Soft-close glides, which used to be limited to drawer cabinets, are now available on all types of accessories such as pull-out spice units and tray storage.”
For Nordquist, it’s about accessories that provide specialized storage, especially related to pots and pans and knives. Charging stations that can be hidden inside drawers are popular as well.
Nordquist and Jacobson also use drawers with systems that organize plates. “Dinnerware inserts for plate storage are another example of an accessory that meets a trending need,” says Jacobson.
“With pegs or adjustable dividers, clients have the flexibility to change configurations along the way,” adds Nordquist.
REEXAMINING THE CLASSICS
Today’s kitchen storage also focuses on reexamining many classic storage concepts – including drawers, pantries and appliance garages – and incorporating new twists.
Drawers are currently in vogue, offering convenient storage and ease of operation. Kelly prefers them over roll-out shelves, noting that drawers can save valuable minutes in a daily routine.
“One of the biggest changes we have seen with regard to storage is the pull-out [roll-out shelf],” offers Kelly. “But consider that you need to first open a door before reaching inside to pull out the shelf. After looking to see if what you need is inside, you can take it out, push the shelf and close the door. That’s a lot of work for a can of soup.
“Instead, we tend to do a lot of drawers with interiors that we custom divide based on needs,” he continues. “You can use one hand to open the drawer and the other to grab what you need. Drawers are all self-closing so you barely touch them and they pull themselves closed. All of that happens in a matter of a few seconds.”
Jacobson also likes to incorporate drawers. “With one hand and one motion, the homeowners can open the drawer to reach whatever they need,” she explains. “Drawers can be used to store almost everything in base cabinets, including utensils, bowls, Tupperware, measuring cups, pots/pans, bakeware, placemats, silverware, colanders, small appliances, dry food storage and pantry items. Drawers also look great when placed properly in the design.”
Mehr adds that drawers can also be less expensive than cabinets with roll-out shelves, so he encourages clients to consider the former, routinely specifying three drawer bases in many of his designs.
“Drawers are priced competitively with typical one-drawer, two-door cabinets with adjustable shelves,” he says. “And it really doesn’t cost much more to go up to a three-drawer base with two big drawers on the bottom for pots and pans. It’s something I always try to work into a kitchen to maximize storage. People really like drawers, and I don’t do many roll-outs, in part because of the cost, but also because they are a two-step process where you need to open the door, then reach in and grab the front of the roll-out. With a drawer base, you simply grab the drawer and everything is there for you. The sides on a drawer box also tend to be higher, so it keeps items contained so they don’t spill over the sides like they can with a roll-out.”
Nordquist loves to use corner drawers and specs them in many of her designs. “They are probably the storage accessory I use the most,” she says. “Compared to a lazy Susan – which can be clunky to use and doesn’t provide great access to the corner – corner drawers can be pulled out all the way so you can get to contents in the back. Three levels of storage make up for any space that may be lost because the drawers aren’t as wide as a lazy Susan.”
Appliance garages have also made a comeback, offering updated styles and improved operations. Nordquist often uses ones with doors that lift straight up and are flush with the cabinets for coffee makers and other items used on a daily basis. “A door that slides up vertically is out of the way and leaves countertop space available,” she states. “It also maximizes interior space of the garage, especially compared to pocket doors that can take up a lot of space.”
Mehr likes to use bi-fold doors on appliance garages, as well as on pantries and specialty areas such as breakfast bars and coffee stations. “I would say that my favorite storage item, and something that I use all the time, is the bi-fold door,” he offers. “It allows you to open the door and push it to one side. It’s a very smooth action. You don’t have to fight open doors on both sides of a cabinet. You can open the door up against a wall, out of the way. If you are next to an adjacent countertop, you can take items out of the cabinet and set them on the countertop without having a door in the way.”
For Kelly, storage is enhanced with the comeback of the pantry. “Pantries have always seemed to make a lot of sense, and now they’re coming back,” he remarks. “They are a great way to store a lot of bulky items that can clutter the kitchen. With those bulky items removed, we can create a kitchen environment with clean, uncomplicated lines where clients don’t feel weighed down. In a world where lives have become busy and cluttered, I find that one of the best ways to create a more peaceful and harmonious room is to add a pantry.”
Often furnished with base cabinets and lined with countertops and shallow-depth shelves, contents are efficiently stored and easily identified and accessed, he notes. “For example, pastas, grains and rice can be stored on one shelf, with labels facing out,” he says. “Top shelves that can be difficult for people to reach can be used for items that aren’t used very often, such as crockpots and turkey pans. Adding a built-in stool makes those shelves accessible, and a light that automatically turns on when the door is opened means no one has to fumble with the switch. When you walk into the room, everything is right there in front of you.
“And the real beauty is that a pantry doesn’t need to take a lot of space to be highly efficient,” he continues, noting that tucking it into a corner with as little as four feet in each direction affords plenty of storage potential. “The room can be framed with basic construction, then finished with a beautiful glass door that blends in or complements the rest of the kitchen. No one even has to know what is behind it.” ▪