Mining for Gems at the 2013 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show

A kitchen fully-furnished with well-decorated items including intricate wooden cabinets with glass doors.

When kitchen and bath designers talk about jewelry, you get an idea how much these spaces have changed.

Artful accessories were only one feature showcased in New Orleans at the recent Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS), the annual trade show that designers and builders use to stay up to date on the latest in kitchen and bathroom trends.

As revealed at this year's show, there is nothing cookie cutter about kitchens today. Consumers want a kitchen that not only reflects what they consider their unique style, but they also want one adapted to their lifestyle.

“If you look at where products have gone for the kitchen, it is almost as though each piece is taking on its own handcrafted artisan feel, depending on the product,” explains Karen Salyer, a design specialist with Wellborn Cabinet, Inc.

Appliances usually grab the most attention at shows like KBIS, but this year, overall trends — especially for cabinets — seemed to take center stage. A transitional look, which seamlessly merges traditional with contemporary, continues to gain favor. “Shaker with a twist” is the way Salyer describes the style that ditches the fussy details of the traditional old-world style in favor of more streamlined panels and details.

Shades of Gray

White continues to be the preferred kitchen color scheme, but you wouldn’t know it walking the floors of KBIS, where gray, ranging from warm puttied slate to silvery driftwood, seemed to dominate.

Gray has been trending in interiors for the last couple of years and, beginning in 2010, started to find its way into kitchens. The NKBA annual design trends survey shows the use of gray in kitchens and baths has increased significantly in the last three years from 9 percent of kitchens in 2010 to 55 percent at the end of 2012. Paint is popular, but increasingly designers are calling for a wash of color or glaze that allows some of the grain of the wood to show. Dark hues recently in vogue are beginning to recede in favor of mid tones. Woods such as oak, bamboo and walnut with straight grains are in demand.

Island Time

Kitchen islands, which continue to become longer, are one facet where consumers feel they can be more creative, says Brenda Bryan, executive director of the Research Institute for Cooking and Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI). Islands also are one area where consumers feel they can be trendier and safely put their own unique stamp on the kitchen without jeopardizing the entire space if they grow tired of the design or it becomes outdated.

Let's Make it Personal

Overall, personalization was an overwhelming theme at KBIS. Earlier this year, Jonathan Adler introduced a line of colors for Kohler sinks that enliven even the most subdued palette. Last year, Bertazzoni, a manufacturer of high-end stovetop ranges, introduced a line of colors that include red and lemon yellow. Preferences for glass-tiled backsplashes have risen from 42 percent to 64 percent in the last two years, according to the NKBA survey.

Increasingly open floor plans mean less wall space, which has manufacturers and designers scrambling for ways to up the amount of storage and functionality. Thus, they are incorporating storage into every inch that they can. Drawers are preferred over upper cabinets and, in some instances, upper cabinets are giving way to open shelves. Doors that open upward enhance accessibility.

As in the rest of the house, LED lights are another kitchen trend, but unlike in prior years, the focus for lighting is on the inside of cabinets — drawers light up when they are opened, which means no more searching for lost items in the dark.

Last year, technology that enabled faucets to turn on with a touch was big news. This year, manufacturers such as Moen and Kohler added more motion capabilities. Cabinet manufacturers also jumped on the motion-activated bandwagon with cabinets that open and close automatically in response to a touch.

Quartz is Rising

Don’t expect to see granite or stone disappear any time soon from countertops, but quartz continues to gain favor with consumers looking for ease of maintenance. With honed finishes such as “Suede” recently introduced by Silestone and colors and patterns that mimic the real thing — but without the downside of granite or marble — expect the appeal to grow.

Kitchens are clearly the most important room in the house, but in the future that might become even more of a reality. Today, they are positioned on one side of the home. Bryan predicts they will eventually migrate into the center of the home.

The next cooking sensation? Induction. Although the technology has been around for decades, using magnetic energy to heat the cooking vessel rather than the cooktop is on the cusp of going mainstream.

While stainless is still holding its own, colors are creeping back into appliances. “Younger generations grew up with stainless and they want a change,” says Bryan. So it’s no surprise to find black appliances creeping back into popular demand.

Laminates are also experiencing a revival of interest, especially among younger homeowners for whom it is a whole new material, says Bryan.

What's Next?

Expect to see technology become integrated even more into kitchens, especially as more consumers look to food apps, says Bryan. And cabinet manufacturers are actively pursuing ways to integrate charging stations into their products.

Next year, the gems might change, but chances are they'll continue to shine even brighter.

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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