Real Kitchens, Real Trends

(ARA) - It’s easy to open decorating magazines and daydream about all the expensive, cutting-edge kitchens inside. But when it comes time to put their cash on the barrelhead for a new kitchen, what are consumers actually willing to pay for?

A nationwide survey this spring of more than 500 kitchen dealers, sponsored by Decora´ cabinets and Kitchen and Bath Design News, asked that very question. Dealers unanimously said their business is booming -- but that customers aren’t necessarily buying into every trend that comes along.

“I think the biggest thing this survey taught us is that people are spending more today on their kitchens than ever -- usually between $25,000 and $75,000. But they’re still spending carefully,” said Elliot Sefrin, publisher of Kitchen and Bath Design News, a monthly trade publication for kitchen designers. “After all, they have to live with their decision for a very long time. They’re only willing to spend money on things they believe will truly make their lives easier,” he added.

While the survey uncovered volumes of detail about customer preferences, from knobs to cabinets to appliances, it also revealed some central kitchen-industry truths:

Traditional designs are in, but traditional colors are out

When asked to rank design styles in order of popularity, dealers coast to coast generally ranked Traditional as number one, followed by Mission/Prairie Style, Old World European, Transitional, and Country. Modern/Eurostyle was dead last.

“It makes sense,” said Jill Ross, designer for Drexel Interiors, a dealer of Decora´ kitchens in Oak Creek, Wis. “Customers want timeless looks . . . something they know they’ll like just as well in 10 years. And the majority of houses are traditional in design, so traditional kitchens just flow better,” she added.

While traditional kitchen designs may be popular, the standard traditional color scheme of barn reds, butter yellows, hunter greens and cornflower blues has been knocked from the top spot by a more “transitional” color palette of earth tones, with deep dark chocolates, vibrant greens, warm beiges and pumpkins. Metallic tones such as bronzes and nickel finishes are also in vogue, dealers said. Robin’s egg blue, lavender, and rich eggplant are all popular with incoming customers, who want to freshen their homes with color.

White kitchens: Not dead yet

The white/off-white kitchen, that icon of the 1990s, is a long, long way from life support, dealers say. In fact, a majority said it’s still the most popular cabinet color they specify. “This one surprised even us,” said Cathy Hitz, brand manager for Decora´, an Indiana-based maker of semi-custom cabinets, which are sold through more than 1,000 dealers nationwide. “What I think we are seeing with white kitchens, though, is a greater sophistication . . . the use of chocolate glazes over white to subtly accent more complex moldings, or white cabinets paired with accent cabinets in black or dark brown for the base or island,” she said.

And, in fact, there is considerable truth to the industry trend spotting, which says that light, natural wood cabinets with subtle glazes will be the next big trend. In fact, natural wood cabinets in maples and light cherry were a very close second to white, with traditional dark cherry or mahogany finishes, and contemporary deep brown shades trailing behind.

Some luxury items are becoming standard

When dealers were asked where their customers were most likely to spend their money, a few very clear winners emerged, namely: granite countertops, elaborate mantle hoods over the cooktop, nickel finish faucets and knobs, and pull-out spice rack cabinets. But what feature won by the largest margin? The pull-out garbage can cabinet.

“Used to be, the kitchen was stuck back in an unused corner of the house, away from the action. But now, with open floor plans, kitchens are looking a lot more like furniture. Molding embellishments like mantle hoods and columns help define the space and create important focal points in wide open spaces,” said Ellen Cheever, a well-known kitchen designer, design educator, and columnist for KBDN. “The kitchen is now the hub of the house, and they are demanding that it function well. They want to plan their kitchen storage down to the square inch with storage accessories, so they’ll never have to stoop or look disorganized in front of guests. They want the best hardware and faucets, which function like jewelry in the room. And isn’t the pull out garbage can just the great equalizer? Who among us wants to dig around for the recycling and garbage bins, after all?” she added.

Growing luxury trends help drive sales

Even if you aren’t a gourmet cook, high-end professional appliances have their appeal. In fact, a majority of dealers in this survey reported that they specify kitchens with high-end, professional grade appliances at least half the time.

“Stainless steel finish appliances have been popular for a long time now. But most of my customers aren’t just content to have a lower end appliance with a stainless finish. They want the six-burner range, the large capacity refrigerators and the highly-engineered dishwashers. Even if they hardly have time to cook, they want to feel they have the facilities to entertain a crowd in style,” said Bonnie Settle, a designer and dealer of Decora´ cabinets at Cornerstone Design in Atlanta, Ga. Dealers also noted the growing popularity of under-the-counter appliances, like wine chillers and beverage centers, which keeps special items from crowding the refrigerator.

Flooring and lighting for the kitchen have gone upscale, too. Instead of vinyl, the vast majority of customers are investing in hardwood or ceramic tile floors, which tied for first place among flooring choices. Dealers said nearly all their customers opted for recessed lighting layered with task and pendant lighting, as opposed to the unforgiving, single-fixture overhead lights of yesteryear.

Some items will always be “boutique” trends

Upscale trends, like butler’s pantries, farmhouse sinks, secondary prep sinks, talking refrigerators and counter-mounted flat screen computers still have a long way to go to gain mainstream acceptance. According to the survey, only small percentages of dealers report regularly designing with these features.

“Some innovative items are slow to move beyond the home magazines, or the homes of the very, very rich,” said Hitz. “But what I think consumers can take comfort in is that there are so many, better-made, better-designed choices available today at many price levels. The kitchen industry has everything you need to make the kitchen the most beautiful and functional part of your home,” she added.

To view a special report on the Decora/KBDN “Real Deal” Dealer Survey, visit www.decoracabinets.com.

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