Trending Right Now: The New White

by Ashley Lapin Olian

It’s not going away any time soon, and not just because the temperature is below freezing in many parts of the U.S. and Canada. White has long been a first choice of designers, builders and homeowners in kitchens and baths, and
it’s fair to predict that as a continuing forecast for 2016.

“To put it simply, white is one of the most important colors in a designer’s palette,” says Stephanie Pierce, senior manager of the design studio at MasterBrand Cabinets. She notes that white shows up across style trends, from traditional to contemporary.

Paint giant Benjamin Moore even named Simply White its 2016 Color of the Year, surprising many in the business. “Through our global travels and research, we were struck by the strong use of the color white – whether white on its own or white used to frame and highlight other (at times bold) colors,” observes Andrea Magno, manager of the Benjamin Moore Color & Design Studio. “Each day we are inundated with messages that create the need for a place to pause, and white has the ability to accomplish this,” she shares. “Kitchen and baths are great examples of rooms where simplifying and refocusing on what is essential may be important,” she points out. So white is showing up in more ways than ever before, often in the same space.

“The light and airy feel a white kitchen provides will be forever classic and neutral enough to stand the test of time,” Pierce observes, adding, “The décor, textures and finishes that pair with it are what will continue to evolve. I believe we will continue to see many shades of white and off-white in 2016, as well as an infusion of warmer grays and taupe tones in both paint and stains to pair with it.”

White is a perennial favorite for kitchen cabinets, but only recently has shown up in the upscale appliance segment, where stainless and paneled fronts have flooded the scene for the past decade. Perhaps inspired by the iPhone, a flurry of appliances with sleek white glass appliance fronts have been showing up in high-end contemporary kitchens. Miele has been leading the way in bringing it to North America with its Brilliant White series, though other manufacturers have also shown glass fronts at European shows.

White has long been popular on apron-front sinks, subway tile and marble (and, more recently, marble-look quartz) countertops. You’ll still see those elements in 2016, but paired with some newer ones. “Historically, the trend has been to mix a dark stain with white cabinets for striking contrasts,” notes MasterBrand’s Pierce. “The current trend for white pairings [uses] lighter or more muted tones, such as pale wood stains or grays. In both of these instances, these lighter pairings highlight metallic accents in appliances or hardware more significantly and enhance a three-tone palette,” she says.

Pierce is also seeing off-tone white cabinetry that appears slightly grayer or khaki. “Textures were a big design influencer in 2015, and that will continue for 2016. However, there may be a shift from high gloss to matte sheens on opaque finishes that adds a new dimension to texture mixing,” the cabinet brand designer says.

“While gray and white/off-whites are [the] most common kitchen color schemes, mixed colors are emerging. About 60 percent of respondents said they did two or more color schemes,” according to the recently released 2016 National Kitchen and Bath Association Design Trends Report. “NKBA members reported pairing creamy whites with charcoal, and other light/dark combinations. White painted and gray painted cabinets top the list of most popular cabinet finishes. Dark natural is the third most popular,” the report reveals. Those additional colors often show up in backsplash tile, wall paint and the occasional accent cabinet or appliance.

National home builders are often reliable mass market trend predictors, as they have to balance new styles with a wide range of homeowner tastes. Misty Vickers has been a design consultant for David Weekley Homes for 12 years. “As a whole, shades of white throughout the home are most popular,” she shares. She’s also seeing a trend toward custom-color islands and furniture finishes in her higher-end homes. White and light countertops, many with that popular marble look, also show up in their client preferences and models. These may sit on top of stained or painted white cabinets. “David Weekley customers are split 50/50 among buyers opting for white and dark stained cabinets,” she notes. If you work in this end of the market, it’s helpful to track what builders are doing, as it’s what many of your mid-range clients will be looking for.

“We are seeing white cabinets in the master bath more often, and stained cabinets in secondary baths,” says Vickers. White sinks, toilets and tubs continue to lead in popularity at David Weekley, as they do everywhere else.

“In fixture colors, white overwhelmingly dominates, specified by 90 percent of NKBA members,” the trend report shows. Beige and bone were a distant second, with about a quarter of respondents expecting to use fewer of those colors in 2016.

One of the biggest differences in white fixtures today is material. Many of the newest freestanding tubs are made from a resin-based composite, giving them a softer, more matte finish than traditional models. White sinks in newer materials and formulations also bring a softer white finish. Even white tile, long a bathroom staple, has evolved with new textures, dimensions, patterns, sizes and shapes. Based on recent trade shows and showroom tours, expect to see more oversized marble-look porcelain slabs and retro re-interpretations (like updated penny rounds and hexagons) featuring snowy tones.

Benjamin Moore’s Magno is definitely bullish on the white trend. “There is so much possibility for white spaces, whether they’re layered white, white with wood, or white with high chrome and contrast – a room can become a canvas for expressing personality and style.” And isn’t that creative freedom what inspires designers the most? You just might not have predicted that it would be a snowy standard to usher in a new season of creativity.

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.

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