By Mary Umberger
Chicago -- You're planning a new kitchen, as the heart of your new home. Should you go for the trend, for what's hot? Or go for staying power?
Well, as with many things in life, it depends.
Some people passionately crave The Next Big Thing. If you're in that camp, you might consider the sleek, modern lines that are flowing toward our shores from Europe.
On the other hand, if you're agonizing about how to design a room that won't be guilty, in a few years, of the cardinal sin of being "dated," you might want to adopt a "transitional" style.
In any case, steer clear of strictly traditional looks and of overdoing the ornateness -- those popularity ships aren't going to sail again anytime soon.
That's what kitchen design guru Brenda Bryan told attendees at the recent Kitchen & Bath Industry Show here, an annual trade event that brought thousands of manufacturers, designers, builders and other industry professionals together to get a grip on what's next for the two rooms that dominate our homebuilding and remodeling decision-making (and our pocketbooks).
"One of the most significant things we're seeing in the marketplace is more of a shift toward contemporary, modern styling," said Bryan, executive director of the Research Institute for Cooking and Kitchen Intelligence, an industry consultant in Charlotte, N.C., in a trends presentation to attendees. She defined "modern" as streamlined, sleek, and with little embellishment; it's "a big trend" in kitchens now, she said.
On the other hand, if you're aiming for more timelessness -- a look that's unlikely to evoke the dreaded label of "dated" should a video crew from HGTV's "House Hunters" find its way into your kitchen in a few years -- so-called transitional styling will have more staying power, Bryan said.
As the name implies, it's a blending of styles.
"Traditional may be busy, ornate. With transitional, you'll still have granite countertops and stainless-style appliances," Bryan said. (More about those later in our story.) "The design is generally clean-lined, but might put just little bit of ornateness in the trim around the kitchen island. The lighting and faucets will be more on the contemporary side."
This year's show seemed to lack any single boffo product -- such as, say, the dishwasher "drawers" that wowed attendees a few years ago -- but there were some noteworthy categories and sightings. Highlights:
Kitchens have migrated outdoors, big-time
Once seen only in warm-weather climates, so-called "outdoor kitchens" have crossed geographic boundaries and spread around the country. And their elaborateness may know no bounds, according to manufacturers at the show, who said sales are strong.
"People want to start entertaining outdoors earlier and stay outside longer in the season," according to Ted Minnema, who was manning a booth for Napoleon Fireplaces and Grills.
To achieve that, some homeowners are seeking ways to generate warmth during those chillier evenings, such as with his company's Bellagio Patio Torch, which delivers a four-foot flame using propane or natural gas.
Some of the products carry stratospheric price tags, such as Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet's pizza oven, at $6,500, which is designed to bake your favorite pie (and other foods) outdoors.
"Yes, people may really spend $100,000 for an outdoor kitchen, but getting one doesn't have to be at that price level," said Christopher Mordi, a Kalamazoo spokesman. "It can be a do-it-yourself project or you can go with less-expensive lines. You can get a pretty nice arrangement for $5,000."
Inject a pop of color
Glass sinks were everywhere at the show, in the proverbial rainbow of colors, many of them with coordinating wall tile.
Elyse DeRoo, marketing manager for the Modono Glass Collection, said recent technology has enabled manufacturers to add intensity to the color; some of them even seem to "change" color--one of the company's blue wall tiles, for example, seems to be purple if you view them from another direction.
The glass-sink mania even extends into the kitchen. JSG Oceana Decorative Glass claims that its Hard Roc sink technology is tough enough to handle the bumps, thumps and sudden temperature change that accompany food prep and cleanup.
Another unexpected pop of color came from Delta, whose contemporary Fuse line of kitchen faucets is part stainless, part chili-pepper red.
Put some brakes on your water bill
The emphasis on all things "green" at previous incarnations of KBIS wasn't so overt this time around, but saving water was a recurrent theme. Specifically, several companies have introduced shower heads that they claim reduce water usage by mixing it with air.
Danze's "air injection technology" showerhead, for example, helps increase the velocity of water pressure without affecting performance, according to Jeanine Murray, associate brand manager for the company. She said the technology saves up to 20 percent of water consumption.
Stainless steel is still king, but it has some challengers
Because many appliance manufacturers continue to take an economy-induced pass on participating in this show, it's hard to judge whether stainless' long-running dominance of the market will continue, though numerous trend-watchers at the show said the ubiquitous metal continues to hold consumers' hearts.
And though stainless faucets abounded, numerous companies were pushing the hardware in gold tones, ranging from bronzes to some with a touch of pink.
If stainless steel is holding its own, granite is entrenched
"Granite is not going anywhere. It's about 60 percent of the market," according to Perry Liu, president of Bestview International, a countertop company in Wood Dale, IL, that was exhibiting at the show.
For one thing, the industry is mining the stone in more areas nowadays, thus increasing the variety of patterns available. And more efficient production methods means less wasted stone, keeping prices down, he said.
Still, laminate countertop manufacturers are coming ever-closer to mimicking the look of stone--they've ramped up their photographic reproduction of the real thing. And both Wilsonart and Formica, two major manufacturers, were showing trim moldings that eliminate that telltale black line that joins the countertop surface to the edge trim.
Quartz manufacturers were all over the show floor, touting what they claim is their countertop product's superior durability and ease of maintenance.
"Transitional" doesn't mean no bling at all
Those ubiquitous quartz companies were showing lots of patterns with a bit of metallic sparkle to it.
"It's just a trend toward dressing up the kitchen," said Kelly McDyre, a spokesman for Cambria. "When you entertain, everybody ends up in the kitchen, so people may want to add a little glitter."
If you can't resist the lure of ornament, Carpe Diem was showing crystal-encrusted knobs and handles that resembled jewelry more than hardware--probably because company owner Anne Stiedl is a former jewelry designer.
"It's a way to add some ornament to a kitchen or bath," Stiedl said. "It's for people who want it but don't want the big old 'Dancing With the Stars' glass ball."
Some ideas were just clever, and worth singling out
Tired of seeing the same old decorative tile inset in your kitchen wall day after day, year after year? Kitchen Palette enables homeowners to switch out the inserts in less than 30 minutes, according to the company. The product, designed to fit into the wall behind conventional cooktops and ranges, is available as a blank frame you can customize with your own tile, and slip it in and out of the wall as you please. It's also planning a series of finished, ready-to-go tile versions.
Tile-Redi has a similar spin -- do-it-yourself mosaic tile niches with everything you need in one kit (11 colors), intended for uses all over the house.
If your family's zeal to charge its cell phones is clogging up your kitchen's electrical outlets, the U-Socket from FastMac has introduced a replacement electrical receptacle that not only powers your toaster but also has two or more USB power ports for phones, IPods, iPads, etc. They're UL-approved, according to inventor Abbi Vakil, and come in a number of configurations.
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago whose work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Inman News and many other leading print and online publications.