The kitchen is the heartbeat of the home for many. When the pandemic hit, kitchens were no longer limited to meal prep and entertaining. In a matter of weeks last spring, they became the all-purpose space for millions of American families.
COVID-19 – and the lockdowns that came from it – changed many home owners’ relationships with their kitchens, says Deryl Patterson, President, Housing Design Matters, Inc., Jacksonville, Fla.
“During the day, our kitchens became our home offices, or they became our kids’ classrooms, or maybe they were even both at the same time,” Patterson says. “Then at night, you had to push all the stuff away, and they became our experimental kitchens and restaurants.”
Lockdowns are lifting, and vaccination rates are increasing, so will home owners revert the kitchen back to a place for occasional cooking? According to a recent survey by Hunter, a consumer marketing communications firm, a vast majority of Americans (71 percent) who said they are cooking more now intend to continue doing so after the pandemic ends.
Spending on residential improvements will continue to grow at a healthy pace over the next two years, according to NAHB. In the second quarter of 2020, NAHB asked remodelers if they had observed an increase in demand for different types of projects, specifically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and kitchens ranked third among the top 12 remodeling projects.
The kitchen design trends below reflect input from remodelers and designers, as well as data from the What Home Buyers Really Want, 2021 Edition, a nationwide survey conducted by NAHB of recent and prospective home buyers.
Low-Maintenance Surfaces in the Kitchen
Cleanliness is here to stay, and home owners are seeking out materials that are easier to maintain and are more resilient, says Michael A. Menn, Principal, Michael Menn Ltd., Northbrook, Ill. NAHB survey results found the desirability for sensor-operated faucets in the kitchen increased more than 10 percentage points in less than five years (53 percent in 2020 vs. 38 percent in 2015).
Hardware made from antimicrobial materials — such as coppers, brasses and bronze — are becoming more commonplace, says Doris Pearlman, President and Founder, Possibilities for Design, Denver. Research has shown that materials such as copper can reduce the transmissibility of viruses and bacteria.
Beyond fixtures and hardware, countertops and flooring that are easy to maintain without sacrificing a stylish aesthetic are increasingly attractive for home owners. “Everyone wants quartz countertops now,” says Leo W. Lantz, President, Leo Lantz Construction, Inc., Glen Allen, Va. “There is no maintenance. You don’t have to worry about spilling a glass of wine on it, then the countertop is stained forever.”
Luxury vinyl tile or planks is the leading flooring option because of its durability and ability to simulate just about any style of wood or stone. “If the floor has epoxy grout, it is easy to maintain. You just wet mop it verses a traditional tile floor where the cement-based grout gets dirty easily,” says Lantz.
Bigger Kitchen Islands in Remodels
More time spent in the kitchen has renewed the appeal of the island and its ability to accommodate four chairs instead of two, says Menn. The request for double islands jumped among home buyers, from 28 percent in 2015 to 40 percent in 2020. “If one island is great, two islands is certainly better with multiple cooks in the kitchen,” says Pearlman.
Electrical outlets in the island are gaining momentum to accommodate kitchen appliances and mobile devices. “The island or peninsula with a side wall is equipped the same way I would do for an office now,” says Menn, whose clients now ask for USB outlets.
Smart Kitchen Appliances
Kitchen appliances such as ovens and refrigerators that can be connected to the internet through WiFi or Bluetooth are considered smart kitchen appliances. In 2019, the United States was the world’s largest market for smart kitchen appliances (though Asia now is the fastest growing market, according to Grand View Research's Smart Kitchen Appliances Market Analysis Report).
“People are spending a lot more time at home, so they are investing in things like high-end appliances,” Lantz says. “I’ve seen more Sub-Zero refrigerators and smart appliances being installed in the kitchen now than ever before.”
NAHB’s survey shows an increase in desirability for smart refrigerators (36 percent to 45 percent) and smart ovens (35 percent to 44 percent) from 2015 to 2020. An attractive feature for home owners is the ability of smart appliances to be controlled remotely from a mobile app or voice assistant.
Personalized Design Post-Pandemic
Home owners are less influenced now by the marketability of home improvements. The change in mindset is due in part to people staying in their homes longer, says Lantz. “For ages, white kitchens have been in over 72 percent of the kitchens we put in, but now we are seeing people using alternative colors like aqua for the entire kitchen versus your traditional white cabinets. And we are adding splashes of colors in kitchen islands.”
A variety of color requests are being made for different elements of the kitchen, including refrigerators and ovens. And bold color appliances are a nascent trend. Still, nearly two out of every three buyers (64 percent) prefer stainless steel appliances, according to NAHB.
Herringbone and mosaics are among the top patterns for personalized backsplashes. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of home buyers, according to NAHB, say a customizable backsplash is a desirable kitchen feature.
Activity-Based, Mood-Boosting Lighting
The kitchen is not only for cooking, so lighting choices need to support various levels of activity. Remodelers are recommending a mix of track lighting, ambient lighting and decorative fixtures depending on the space.
Home owners are also keeping their mental health in mind. “When you take light into your kitchens, it is really important to understand that white light – especially during the winter months, especially during dark sequestered times – is really important to elevate your mood,” says Pearlman.
Convenient Storage Solutions
Soft-close doors and drawers are in high demand versus the traditional builder-grade cabinets, says Lantz, especially for older clients who want nicer finishes in their home.
More than half of home buyers say they want pull-out shelves (68 percent) and special-use storage (60 percent), according to NAHB. “The requests for spice and utensil pullouts that are close to the cooking areas are important, since people are cooking in the kitchen more instead of going out for meals, like they may have done in the past,” says Lantz.
It’s an office, a classroom, a restaurant — it’s the modern American kitchen.