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Trends to Keep an Eye on in 2020

A bullish market for 2020 suggests continued growth in the kitchen and bath market, with an emphasis on smart technology, greater use of color and more anti-microbial and dirt-resistant finishes.

authors Jamie Gold | December 2, 2019

It’s that time of year again…Holiday decorations are showing up everywhere, holiday music is in the air and everyone is looking forward to some well-deserved time off in a few weeks. That means it’s also time for an annual kitchen and bath trends wrap-up, with predictions for the new year built in. Let’s look at what’s hot with some wonderfully well-informed industry pros:

  • Bill Darcy, chief executive officer of the National Kitchen & Bath Association;
  • Jay McKenzie, director of consumer insights and research at leading builder marketing firm BDX;
  • Consumer design and remodeling site Houzz editor Mitchell Parker;
  • Kate Bailey, director of showrooms for major retailer Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery;
  • North Carolina-based certified kitchen designer, general contractor and smart home industry presenter Scott Koehler.

Steam showers fit into the wellness trend.
Photo: ThermaSol/Available through Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery

Market trends

This has been a good year for the industry, and McKenzie is largely bullish on 2020. “Most forecasts show strong demand. Interest rates remain near historical lows. The oldest millennials are entering their mid-30s, a key age for first-time homebuyers, and 10,000 baby boomers per day are heading into retirement.” Those retirements often mean relocation to aging-friendly residences, and remodeling existing homes for accessibility and empty nest upgrading. “While economic and political uncertainties come into play, consumer demand looks to remain strong as we enter 2020,” he asserts.

Houzz’s Parker also saw a good 2019. “Spend[ing] in kitchen remodels, the most popular room to renovate, jumped 27 percent in the past year. This follows a 10 percent increase in median kitchen spend[ing] in 2017,” he notes. “Median spend on guest and master bathroom remodels, the second and third most popular rooms to renovate, grew by 17 and 14 percent, respectively,” he adds.

It’s not all rosy, however, McKenzie points out: “Offsetting some of that demand are headwinds that include the increasing cost of land, labor, building materials and costs for regulatory compliance.”

“Based on the results of our Kitchen & Bath Market Index in collaboration with John Burns Real Estate Consulting, the availability of skilled labor, costs of materials and trade issues are top concerns for the kitchen and bath industry,” NKBA’s Darcy observes. “The projects are out there, but finding skilled, qualified professionals (plumbers, electricians, finish carpenters) to complete those projects is getting harder and harder.  Labor shortages make costs go up and projects more expensive.”

Smart technology trends are being driven by clients.
Photo: GE Cafe/Available through Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery

Tariffs have also had an impact, McKenzie points out, and there is not a resolution as of press time, though one could be reached before this issue hits your mailbox or screens. “Tariffs increased from 10 to 25 percent on 500 products often used in new home construction or remodeling,” he notes, adding that uncertainty added to project woes, but didn’t deter clients from completing them.

Another trend is generational, McKenzie comments: “The housing market is now driven by tech-native millennials. Features that excite baby boomers are simply expected by younger buyers. Builders are pushing hard to deliver on wellness, technology and sustainability – but also at a price younger first-time buyers can afford.” This is a challenge for their kitchen and bath suppliers, and for those professionals remodeling for these clients.

Other trends the marketing executive sees are multi-generational living and income-generating home sharing. This often drives demand for full-service second kitchens and dual master baths.

Kitchen and bath technology

One of the major trends noted by all of the pros was the increase in technology. This is showing up in two distinct ways, says smart home presenter Koehler. One is how it can be used by the industry itself to make its work easier. The other is how it can be used by consumers. “The thing I am most excited about right now is augmented reality,” he shares. “AR gives designers the ability to mix the real world and the virtual world into one experience. I think this will upset the status quo for kitchen and bath design dramatically, even more than CAD software did in the ’80s,” he predicts.

Smart mirrors are also trending in bathrooms. Photo: Dream Kitchen Builders/Scott Koehler

On the consumer side, “The most talked-about things in my presentations this year are connected appliances, smart speakers and personal data privacy,” Koehler notes. He sees the latter as one reason why some consumers are hesitating; another is finding a real benefit for them. He’s optimistic, though: “Good use cases are coming for smart kitchen tech. Look for things that can learn – like appliances being able to learn your preferences and habits.”

Ferguson’s Bailey agrees. “Within the next few years, smart home appliances may be a feature that most consumers expect,” she predicts. “In 2020, we’ll be looking at the connected kitchen as a whole – not just singular appliances with Wi-Fi capability,” pointing to off-the-shelf systems that can allow families to manage their homes from one device. “Seamlessly connected technology can help homeowners work smarter, not harder.” The retail executive also predicts new roles for tech: “Going into 2020, we think technology will support aging-in-place design. Automation offers many solutions for the aging-in-place community in all categories – plumbing, lighting and appliances. Aging adults quickly recognize the benefits of advanced functions like voice controls for smart lighting to increase safety, and therefore they are a population who are adopting it with eagerness.”

“By 2020, it’s estimated that 63 million households in North America will have ‘smart home’ systems,” predicts NKBA CEO Darcy. “That’s nearly 50 percent of all homes.” Consumers are ahead of designers, he believes, and this needs to change. “In 2020, we anticipate more manufacturers [will] introduce technology applications into their products. That means there is also an increased need and demand for more education and collaboration between the design community and technology integrators.”

The association’s recent bath technology study pointed to these consumer preference trends: “Based on our most recent bathroom technology study, homeowners say their top bathroom tech solutions include smart showers and tubs with automatic temperature controls and sensors, heated floors, motion control or voice-activated lighting and leak detection devices that are connected to
mobile apps.”

Koehler also sees a strong case for tech-driven lighting. “Smart lights are going to continue to grow at a very rapid pace,” he notes. They are also driving a growing smart mirror trend, especially for makeup application. Voice control ties into this, as well, but Koehler sees it as coming on stronger with smart watches than home speakers. 

While stainless steel is still popular, color is also showing up in appliances.
Photo: Kitchenaid/Available through Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery

Kitchen trends

Meyers Research conducted a survey of more than 25,000 homebuyers in partnership with BDX-owned consumer platform, NewHomeSource.com, several top builders and a leading mortgage provider. According to McKenzie, these were some of its insights:

  • 61 percent of buyers want a super-pantry with ultra-storage and are willing to pay a $4,500 premium for it;
  • 49 percent want a butler’s pantry and will pay $2,500 extra for it;
  • 50 percent of buyers want a kitchen island, 7 percent want a breakfast bar, 43 percent want both;
  • 30 percent of buyers want a farmhouse sink – and are willing to pay $500 extra for it;

These are likely to interest remodeling clients, too. Style-wise, BDX sees stainless appliances continuing to be the leading choice, white cabinets as the dominant trend and blue islands “having a moment.” Waterfall ends are also still popular. Houzz is seeing a strong trend toward walnut cabinetry and new takes on classic subway tile, including unique textures and larger sizes. They’re also seeing an emerging trend in colorful appliances among site visitors.

Ferguson’s Bailey is seeing color show up in kitchens too. “Last year, the trend shifted to more customization; the ability to change the sink’s color and material according to the design for total customization appealed to homeowners.” She sees that continuing into 2020. “In 2019, homeowners began to adventure into new finishes like rose gold and warm brass. Although these are finishes that have been on the market for a while, they are just warming up now! In 2020, we’ll see matte black also more widely adopted,” she predicts.

NKBA surveyed designers for their wish lists, which included the following:

  • Designers also want to see more cabinet color and stain options, as well as new types of materials and finishes that can be used for doors and drawer fronts.
  • Color, color and more color are on designers’ minds when it comes to countertops. Designers want to see more bold and saturated color options. Designers also want more integration of metallic, glass, lighting and technology integration into countertops.
  • More prep sinks, a wider range of materials/finishes and the need for more anti-microbial and dirt-resistant finishes are tops on the list for designers when talking about kitchen sinks. Designers also want to see workstation sinks in more sizes.

Clients and designers both enjoy the ability to customize fixtures.
Photo: Kohler/Available through Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery

Bathroom trends

Houzz editor Parker says shower ledges are supplanting niches. “A shower ledge is much more straightforward and requires a build-out of only a few inches into the shower space. We’re seeing people run it along the length of their shower stall to give tons of space for shower essentials,” he observes. He also sees bathroom seating extend beyond the toilet or shower bench to give homeowners a place to relax or web surf.

“As we move into 2020, the popularity of the freestanding tub continues,” Ferguson’s Bailey remarks. “Manufacturers are beginning to offer unique sizes and designs, so homeowners can find a style that fits their layout and décor.” These include Japanese-inspired 41″-round and 51″-long tubs in natural-looking materials like stone, concrete, copper and marble.

Homeowners are also opting for self-cleaning and bidet-style toilets, showers with LED lighting and digital controls, and tubs with built-in lighting and heated backrests, Parker shares.

Digital showering and steam are strong trends Bailey expects to continue into the New Year, as homeowners begin to appreciate their wellness benefits. “Another trend you can expect to see in 2020 is exposed shower plumbing fixtures. As more homeowners adopt new finishes, they are enjoying showing off their plumbing fixtures and starting to view them as art. The industrial look combines perfectly with a modern white marble.” Bailey also sees light layering increasing. This will show up in artistic sconces flanking vanities, shower lighting and decorative fixtures above tubs.

Darcy’s NKBA designer survey and the Meyers Research Consumer Insights Survey noted above, which was conducted by Meyers in partnership with BDX, pointed to these preferences:

  • Designers want to see more floating cabinetry, better storage solutions for small items like jewelry and skincare, as well as more color and finish options, especially wood patterns.
  • Designers are looking for more unique shapes and materials for bathroom sinks.
  • One of the most requested new advancements in water conservation is actually behind the wall – mobile leak detection which, in the event of a leak, could save someone thousands of dollars.
  • 77 percent of homebuyers want dual showerheads – and are willing to pay an $800-plus premium for them.
  • 59 percent of new homebuyers want a walk-in shower and a separate tub – and are willing to pay a $2,500-plus premium for this.
  • 34 percent want a steam shower for a $2,000-plus premium.
  • 31 percent want a granite or natural stone master tub and shower surround – and are willing to pay a $2,000 premium for it.

Buyers also want master bathrooms with views, white cabinets, farmhouse and vessel sinks, matte black finishes, touch-free operation, bold geometric pendant lighting and smart technology with wellness features (like health-monitoring mirrors, smart scales, smart toilets, advanced air handling and personalized lighting and sound), his surveys showed.

Last words

While some style and technology trends are continuations of what we’ve seen already, it’s clear that designers and manufacturers will have to pay close attention to keep up with market challenges and client preferences in 2020. Are you up for it? ▪

Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an independent design consultant in San Diego, the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work  and the New Bathroom Idea Book (Taunton Press), a design journalist, and NKBA Chapter Presenter.  Her website is jamiegold.net.  She was named one of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ 50 top innovators in its inaugural list.

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