Kitchens and baths remain a strong segment of the remodeling market, because like other remodeling markets in the current construction economy, homeowners are choosing to stay in and renovate their existing homes rather than purchase or build new homes.
These two areas of the home have traditionally been the beneficiary of the bulk of most homeowners’ careful planning and renovation dollars, and that should continue to hold true. While the economic slowdown has certainly affected the overall scope and expenditure on kitchen and baths, people simply aren’t willing to skimp too much on the rooms they use most. They want a certain flair and style while incorporating as many creature comforts and features that make their daily use as enjoyable as possible.
“Traditional is still the predominant design style, but it is constantly evolving and incorporating contemporary elements,” says Peter Ross Salerno, CMKBD, owner of Peter Salerno, Inc. in Wyckoff, N.J. “I’m seeing a lot of sleek, European styling and contemporary elements like glass, stainless steel and concrete being combined with traditional American ‘warm’ elements like cherry cabinets.”
This fusion of contemporary and traditional is not really a new trend, but rather a continuation and evolution of what’s been going on in kitchen and bath design over the last decade or so. Consumers love the clean, straight lines of European-inspired faucets and appliances, but they still crave the rich warmth and comfort of traditional American elements such as cherry cabinetry and farmhouse sinks.
“People nowadays are going for what I call the ‘soft contemporary’ style,” says Alan Hilsabeck, Jr., CMKBD, RID, president of Hilsabeck Design Associates in Flower Mound, Texas. “I’m seeing fewer intricate carvings and moldings and more proportionate lines and simple elements. Most people are trying to achieve a simple elegance for a calm, relaxing and tranquil design aesthetic.”
The results from the National Kitchen and Bath Association 2010 Kitchen and bath style survey reinforce this notion and shows that the soft contemporary trend is nationwide. More than 75 percent of NKBA members surveyed said that traditional styling was the style of choice for their customers, but more than half of survey respondents stated that they also incorporated many contemporary elements into their customer’s designs as well.
The economic effect
Activity in the kitchen and bath segment of the remodeling market has remained strong, but many are seeing customers scale back on their overall scope and budget. “Before the bubble it was all about the ‘bling factor.’ But the downturn has caused people to demand added value – not just gadgets that look cool,” says Ji Kim, industrial design manager for Moen. “They’re willing to spend a little more money, but only if the product looks good, makes use easier and is durable.”
Hilsabeck, whose firm specializes in medium-high to high-end projects, says many of his clients are scaling back a bit in the scope of their projects. He says consumers in general are more educated on realistic cost as opposed to simply focusing on price, which means they aren’t remodeling on the cheap, but they are eschewing “dream items.”
“People are scaling back on jetted tubs, for example. They still want a good quality jetted tub, but they aren’t going for the chromatherapy, fancy leather cushions and other bells and whistles,” says Hilsabeck. “When my customers want a new kitchen or bath on a budget, they no longer want to tear out entire walls and move plumbing or electrical components. They stay within the existing footprint and are being very careful with their material choices.”
Salerno specializes in very high-end kitchens and baths only, and says his clients are sometimes scaling back, but those who are concerned about budgets are putting remodeling projects off for a time until the economy bounces back. “I’ve seen some scaling back on flooring and countertop choices, but most of my clients are simply postponing because they don’t want to compromise on any features,” he says. “Above all, people still view their kitchens and baths as showpiece rooms that they and their guests can admire, but more importantly they also realize they will be spending a lot of time in these rooms and they want to enjoy the entire time.”
In the lower to middle segments of kitchen and bath remodels, the NKBA survey found there is a definite trend toward cost-efficiency, which emphasizes value over lowest price. These customers will still spend an average of 15 to 25 percent of their home’s value in a kitchen remodel (10 to 20 percent for baths), but in the current economic climate that often leads to frugal decisions. That can mean anything from going with counter-depth slide-in appliances to achieve the look of built-ins without the price tag, to re-using old granite from a kitchen remodel to spruce up a bathroom vanity.
So, what effects have the recent glut of style-savvy but cost-conscious consumers had on what’s been installed in recent kitchen and bath remodels? Generally speaking, luxury kitchens and baths are still sporting all the fancy features and components that high-end customers crave, and those remodels in the lower price points are gleaning some of those features deemed conducive to a better experience, while forgoing those that are too frivolous for a tighter budget.
Faucets – Pull-downs remain the faucet of choice for kitchens, with many customers choosing those that require only a one-hole cutout for a streamlined look and easier cleaning. Hilsabeck says his clients are looking for functional pieces of art in the kitchen and still choosing multiple showerheads and body sprays in the bathroom. Brushed nickel is still the hot finish, but Venetian and oil-rubbed bronze are becoming more prevalent. Polished chrome in both the kitchen and bath and all white faucets in the bathroom are gaining in popularity as well.
Sinks – Hammered copper and custom fabricated stone and concrete sinks are still popular in high end kitchens, while stainless steel still rules in the other price points. For bathrooms, Hilsabeck says he sees a nationwide movement away from vessel bowls – mostly due to care, cleaning and maintenance issues. “Undermount is dominant now, and partially recessed bowls are gaining in popularity because you can get the look of a vessel bowl, but cleaning is easier and you can still have a deck-mounted faucet as opposed to the added expense of wall-mounting,” says Hilsabeck.
Countertops – Granite still dominates the landscape, but engineered stone surfaces are making great gains in all price points. Salerno says his clients will choose just about any surface from natural wood to concrete to stainless steel if it helps them achieve the look they crave – no matter what the maintenance issues. Cost-conscious customers will often mix and match surfaces, using expensive granite on a center island for visual effect while installing solid surface or high quality laminate in other areas. Many people are splurging on natural stone, ceramic and glass tile for backsplashes or accent areas to add a little “pop” for very little added expense.
Cabinets – Cherry, maple and alder (in that order) are the most popular cabinet materials, and white/neutral furniture-grade paints and finishes are becoming more common. Clean, straight lines and simpler molding and trim are in demand, as evidenced by the rise in popularity of Shaker style cabinetry. Task-oriented cabinetry and work stations are on the rise, such as baking stations with tray drawers and other cabinet spaces to house specialty appliances.
Flooring – Hardwood flooring dominates the kitchen landscape, while porcelain and ceramic tile are the materials of choice in bathrooms. “I’ve seen a lot of scaling back on travertine and other natural stone tiles,” says Hilsabeck. “Porcelains and ceramics now have a huge presence because of their high quality and much lower price.”
Lighting – The main trend in this category is energy efficiency, as LED fixtures continue to become more popular. More and bigger windows are in vogue for natural light and views. Designers are constantly looking for new and different ways to incorporate lighting into kitchen designs, from clever under cabinet and task lighting installations to those that are less utilitarian but nonetheless have great impact. “I installed fiber-optic lighting into the concrete countertop of an oceanside home, and timed it to dim and brighten in unison with the sound of the waves outside,” says Salerno. “The homeowners were blown away.”
Green aspects – The universal acceptance of high efficiency faucets and fixtures and energy star appliances has been good news for green advocates, and on-demand tankless hot water heaters and hot water recirculating pumps are strong sellers, but other eco-friendly measures are still considered not worth the added expense and hassle to many consumers. “My clients aren’t necessarily going out of their way to seek green items, but some are more popular because they provide the look consumers want -- such as bamboo flooring,” says Salerno. “Reclaimed items are popular, but more for their design interest as opposed to the green aspects. I’ve had large range hoods fashioned from reclaimed tin ceilings and people love the look and function, but the recycled aspect is just a bonus for my clients – not a necessity.”
The future for kitchen and bath trends looks bright, as designers, manufacturers and homeowners alike will continue to push design and performance advancements. “One area that I feel will move forward in the near future is greywater re-use,” says Paul Patton, senior product development manager for Delta. “Manufacturers are working right now with the medical community to get standards written, and once they are adopted and accepted by the public, that will be a huge new product segment for kitchens and baths.”
The combination of electronics and faucet design will also continue to evolve. Touchless faucet technology has gained strong acceptance and manufacturers are constantly fine-tuning the technology and its implementation. And other electronic features are making inroads as well. “Digital showers where the user can pre-set temperature and pressure settings, start their morning shower by remote control and program multiple showerheads are very promising,” says Ji Kim from Moen. “Those types of things are still a luxury trend right now, but those always seem to trickle down to the lower price points and the frivolous features are culled out and the technology gains more widespread demand.”
As far as designs and motifs go, most in the industry agree that it will be a continuation of the last decade or so – soft contemporary with a mix-and match mentality. Consumers will continue to combine certain elements from sleek European designs into their familiar and comfortable traditional motifs.
“It seems like our industry has been pushing contemporary for a few years,” says Salerno. “But it’s really not contemporary versus traditional. It’s a fusion of both styles and this is where I think we’ll be going for at least the next ten years or so.”