Kitchens Today: Neutral with a Dash of Pizzazz

A beautiful gray-themed kitchen, neatly designed using several modern furniture and decor pieces.

Contemporary kitchen, like this light gray one, are popular this year, say kitchen designers.

What’s in for kitchens?

Clean lines, built-in cabinets and simple door styles dominate, as do gray-and-white cabinets, say members of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), when talking about trends found in kitchens today.

“White and gray are overarching in today’s kitchen, tomorrow’s kitchen, next week’s kitchen,” says Drew McGukin of Drew McGukin Interiors in New York, who moderated a press conference discussing the findings of NKBA’s annual industry report. 

If this all sounds a little blah, think again. Plenty of pizzazz was in evidence at the annual Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) held in conjunction with the homebuilding industry’s International Builders’ Show in Orlando in January. Although neutrals grab the most attention, the design story for kitchens in 2017 is multilayered. 

“It’s about making it your own. The trend is to look like you are not following a trend,” explained Alberto Villalobos, co-owner of Villalobos Desio and Ethos in New York City. “There is more art and bringing color and texture into basic white and grays. ” 

It’s no surprise that the contemporary style has overtaken traditional as the second-most popular style after transitional. Variations on contemporary include mountain modern and coastal. Industrial and mid-century modern are emerging design styles. Designers say consumers increasingly look to their homes as a calming oasis. Kansas City designer Jennifer Bertrand, who also hosts HGTV’s Point Over!, pointed out, “It’s also about having things so you feel like you are in control.” 

Designers also say American consumers crave texture and the warmth it brings. Look for reclaimed wood for floors or as an accent, as well as texture from stone. “Natural elements – wood and stone – help ground us and white and gray tend to highlight those materials,” observed Karl Champley, an award-winning master builder from Los Angeles.

While there is no sign of preference for gray slowing any time soon, painted blue and high-gloss cabinets were very much in demand at the show, as was black as a color scheme. All three are emerging as new trends, but don’t think of hard lacquered surfaces. Instead, colors such as blue and black are apt to have a softer, brushed finish. 

Throughout the trade show, there were glimpses of muted bronze tones and other metals as designers mix materials and metals across surfaces and as accents even in tiled backspaces. Also, gaining in popularity are two-toned kitchens. Wood cabinets still dominate kitchen designs, but younger, male designers are apt to use metal cabinets, which is identified as an emerging preference in NKBA’s survey. 

For countertops, quartz continues to be the most popular material and it continues to trend upward, while granite, the second-most popular countertop material, is trending down. Not on the list are some of the new laminates, which increasingly mimic marble and other materials. Expect to see more interest in these materials in the future. 

Nothing captivates modern cooks more than appliances. Manufacturers are upping performance and the professional appearances of appliances in a range of prices. According the NKBA members, induction cooktops and convention ovens are trending higher. Microwave drawers are outpacing freestanding or built-in microwaves. Steam ovens are still gaining traction. 

For the last few years, manufacturers have been searching for an alternative to stainless steel. This year saw the introduction of a darker finish, which is more resistant to fingerprints, that is dubbed “black stainless.” 

Also prevalent were column refrigerators, which allow homeowners to custom configure refrigerator and freezer space in a sleek design.

Once again, colors were prevalent as an option for ultra-high-end appliance models, often from European manufacturers. Accents of brass and copper turn expensive appliances into a jewel-like centerpiece in an otherwise streamlined kitchen. 

Among the most popular cabinet features, according to NKBA design members, were rollouts and pull outs, which often enable customization to an individual user’s needs. Each year, KBIS showcases new ways in which cabinets are outfitted. Manufacturers such as Hafele continue to reinvent the way cabinets are used and closets and laundry rooms are configured. LED lighting in cabinets is another feature giving new meaning to storage. 

NBKA members say interior barn doors and pocket doors are specified more often and their usage is facilitated in part by less expensive better looking hardware. 

Technology is fast becoming a standard feature particularly in appliances. About one third of NKBA professionals included wiring and options to incorporate future tech integrations. All but the most basic appliances include some type of technology. The integration of a camera into refrigerators, which enables shoppers to check out what they need while they are at the store, saw a big increase in the last year. 

Also, continuing to trend up were accessible and/or universal design features. “Good design should be accessible for anyone,” says Villalobos.

Camilla McLaughlin is an award-winning writer specializing in house and home. Her work has appeared in leading online and print publications, such as Yahoo! Real Estate, Unique Homes magazine and Realtor Magazine. She has also freelanced for the Associated Press.

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