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Kitchen & Bath Trends

Today’s homeowners want more out of their kitchens and bathrooms – more space, more design and more high-end features. Leading kitchen and bath remodelers talk about what they are seeing in their markets.

March 31, 2007

Aging Baby Boomers Create Opportunity

Large commercial-style appliances are a favorite in high-end kitchens, whether traditional or contemporary.
Photo courtesy of Case Design/Remodeling

Over the last few years, the average consumer has been bombarded with information about remodeling. From network and cable television to books and the Internet, there are multiple sources making your customers more knowledgeable than ever before — but mainly about products, not design. While some remodelers see this as a threat, the smart ones realize it is a chance to show their expertise. This is especially true in the kitchen and bathroom, rooms becoming more important to homeowners.

"The consumer today certainly has a lot more product knowledge than even a few years ago, but at the same time it can be very overwhelming for clients," says John Audet, associate vice president and general manager of the kitchen and bath division for Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, Md.

The problem for most consumers is that there is so much information out there, they don't know where to start. They may have plenty of ideas, but they need a professional's help to make them work.

"They see those shows on HGTV or they bring in a picture from a magazine and tell us they want their project to 'look like that.' Our job is to take those ideas and apply them to their situation in a way that makes sense," Audet says.

That makes it increasingly important to show clients design skill rather than just the latest and greatest products.

"The key is the design," says Terri Schmidt, vice president of dreamkitchens/dreamrooms in Madison, Wis. "Clients want this to be the trophy in the home. They usually have ideas, but they don't know how to get to that final point."

Although every client is different, most are happy to have someone there to sort it all out for them, says Dale Contant, president of Atlanta Design & Build in Marietta, Ga.

"We still do a lot of shaping of the project," he says. "Most people out there trust our common sense when it comes to designing their project."

Hiding appliances behind cabinets or mounting them under countertops such as this microwave is one of the bigget trends in kitchen design.
Photo courtesy of Case Design/Remodeling

Integrating the Kitchen

So what are consumers looking for in kitchens? Simply put, more: more integration, more space and more high-end features.

"They want a kitchen they can be proud of," Audet says. "They want a sense of pride in a room that everyone will come over and see."

The biggest trend in kitchen design is certainly opening the room up to the rest of the home.

"Almost every project we do is associated with opening it up, making the room a part of a living room/family room addition," says Mark Hughes of GTM Architects in Bethesda, Md. "In most older homes, the kitchen is largely closed off from the rest of the home, and that's not what people want anymore."

The desire to integrate the kitchen with the rest of the house is in response to its changing role in the home from a utilitarian cooking space to the center of all activity in the home.

"It's not just a functional room anymore; it's part of the living space now," Audet says.

While integration is something clients are asking for, it's important to make sure the design works with the way people live, says Keven Schmidt, president of dreamkitchens/dreamrooms.

"If they're going to use it to cook while entertaining, we need to ask them about what they'll be doing," he says. "Let me put it this way: if you're going to be cutting the head off a chicken in the kitchen, that's not something I want to be seeing while I'm having a cocktail. It's sometimes better to be behind closed doors with the kitchen."

That's why dreamkitchens/dreamrooms focuses on not just what customers say they want but the team also asks clients how they use each room on a daily basis, Keven Schmidt says.

Openness can also be created by adding windows or enlarging existing openings.

"Allowing more natural light in during the day can create that illusion of more space, without having to tear down walls or add on," Audet says.

Remodelers are using different colors and styles on cabinets (top) to accent the differences between islands and wall and base cabinets. Although white cabinets are not as popular as they once were, remodelers still install them in a number of homes.
Photos by Ken Wyner, courtesy of GTM Architects

Homeowners are also choosing to improve their kitchen by better integrating the dining room by removing the doors and walls that separate it from the kitchen. Others are eliminating it all together in favor of more space in the kitchen and an eat-in "country kitchen" area.

"We are seeing people move away from the formal dining room," Contant says. "It really depends on how families use them. We find that people don't use them because they're not convenient, so if we can better incorporate the room it is much more likely to be used."

If people keep their dining rooms, they typically opt for making the room friendlier and easier to use on a daily basis. Families very rarely keep two large dining areas, choosing instead for smaller areas like a breakfast nook or island seating to complement another space in which the family can gather for meals.

"If they're maintaining the dining room, it's because they're getting rid of the eat-in kitchen area," says Terri Schmidt.

Creative Kitchens

When it comes to specific features of the kitchen, the answers to what homeowners want varies depending on the region, client's age and style of the home.

"We see everything," says Terri Schmidt. "We're still doing white cabinets. We're seeing a lot of the European country trends, and at the same time, we'll see more stylish looks, like Asian fusion."

One of the most common features people tend to change is the cabinets. With a lot of work being done in older homes, wood tones still dominate the more traditional kitchens.

"Nobody's using oak," Contant says of the older, upper-middle-class neighborhoods his company works in. "Cherry and maple are the two most popular, and we're seeing some interest in hickory."

Atlanta Design & Build is finishing most of its cabinets with natural glazes to give them a more antique look. The company is also using a lot of two-tone cabinet designs, choosing a different color or style on cabinets around islands to contrast with the rest of the kitchen, Contant says.

Besides a trend toward darker colors, Hughes says homeowners with GTM opt for simpler, less-detailed cabinet doors. At the same time, they put more emphasis on hardware details such as pulls and hinges.

That emphasis on detailing carries over into countertops, with homeowners looking to separate their kitchens through unique treatments. Granite is still the dominant material by far, and accents and other features can help the countertop stand out.

"People are looking for more one-of-a-kind counters," says Terri Schmidt. "We're finding that a lot of people want to choose their own slabs so they can get the exact look they want. That's not something we would have seen a few years ago."

Other materials, like wood, glass and concrete are being used for some countertops, but just as often homeowners are using them as accent materials with predominantly granite tops, she says.

Contant is also seeing a lot of mixing of materials in countertops, with some clients expressing interest in marble and wood. Thicker granite tops from stacking two slabs on top of each other for a different look are also popular.

Homeowners are also approaching appliances differently.

"People are definitely focusing on the function of the appliances now more than just the aesthetics, "Terri Schmidt says. "They are really concerned about the outcome of the food they prepare. They want to make sure the appliance they choose will get the job done."

Energy-efficiency also affects clients' choices.

"People are really looking at the Energy Star-rated appliances," Audet says. "Rising energy costs have really brought that issue to mind for a lot of people."

That's part of a larger trend toward incorporating green features into remodels, Audet says.

"We're really embracing that and we're seeing more people ask about that when we remodel," he says. "We expect it to keep growing, so we're always looking for ways we can reuse materials in a kitchen or bath remodel."

Hughes says GTM's clients frequently ask about green, but reports most don't implement it.

"It's something they're aware of but not real familiar with yet," he says. "I feel we're just at the beginning of this trend."

The bathroom continues to be the "retreat" for homeowners, where they can relax and get away from daily stresses. Remodelers are incorporating luxury features, such as countertop sinks and jetted spas.
Photo courtesy of Case Design/Remodeling

Bathrooms Mirror Kitchens' Trends

Bathroom remodels are reflecting many of the same design trends as kitchens. Homeowners particularly want more space.

"Generally, we're being asked to open things up, to create more space and to bring more light into the room," Contant says.

That means designs using loads of glass and glass block to create the illusion of fewer divisions within the space, allowing smaller rooms to look bigger. In homes with small bathrooms, clients want larger spaces that allow two people to use the room at the same time.

"With most families having both people working, it's important that they be able to use it simultaneously," Hughes says.

And, they want luxury items too, especially in master baths.

"The master bath is the retreat," Audet says. "People want to feel pampered."

Many of Case's Washington-area clients travel frequently and stay at high-end resorts and hotels across the country and overseas. They want to incorporate into their homes the features they see during their travels, such as heated floors, towel warmers and multiple shower heads, Audet says.

Furniture-style lavatories are one of the most popular trends in bathroom design.  Photo by Ken Wyner, courtesy of GTM Architects

"They want to treat themselves to a luxurious, spa-like feeling that recreates what they experienced," he says.

Another popular luxury feature is a television in the bathroom.

"We're mounting little flat screens in there all the time now," Contant says.

Like in the kitchen, darker colors are making a comeback in the bathroom. In cabinets, flooring materials and fixtures, homeowners are selecting a richer, more natural look. Brushed nickel and antique bronze are the most popular choices for fixtures and faucets.

"Brass is way out," Contant says. "We are still seeing some chrome. People are moving away from it, but it will never go away."

Green remodeling is playing a role in bathrooms as well, with an increased interest in renewable materials and water conservation through the use of dual-flush toilets and other technologies. Advances in ventilation systems are also improving indoor air quality.

Case is installing many environmentally friendly fans that run at a constant low level to circulate the air, then automatically cycle up or down when someone enters or leaves the room. Atlanta Design & Build reports interest in central exhaust fans. They are located away from the bathrooms in the attic and draw from two or three locations. They last longer and create much less noise, Contant says.


Aging Baby Boomers Create Opportunity

There are now more than 36 million people over age 65 in the United States, representing about 12 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And more than 80 percent of them own their own homes.

Not surprisingly, remodelers are seeing an increase in demand for universal design features in the bathroom.

Another popular trend in bathroom design is the large glassed-in shower with multiple heads.  Photo courtesy of Case Design/Remodeling

"We're doing a lot of master bathrooms and putting in a lot of showers to replace tubs," says Dale Contant, president of Atlanta Design & Build in Marietta, Ga. Other common changes include raised vanities and toilets, larger doorways and showers with built-in benches.

As baby boomers show a greater desire to stay in their homes than previous generations, universal design will only become more important.

"People want to stay in the homes they've had for years," says John Audet, associate vice president and general manager of the kitchen and bath division for Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, Md. "We are seeing more and more people reach those higher ages and ask for these features."

GTM Architects of Bethesda, Md., is often asked to design spaces that make it easier to incorporate aging-in-place features later, says partner Mark Hughes.

"Where it's a two-story home, we're turning a downstairs bathroom into a full bath and adding a guest room with the idea that it could eventually become a master suite," he says. "In other cases, we're not mounting grab bars in bathrooms, but we are putting the blocks in place in the walls so they can be mounted later."

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