The kitchen redefined: Lifestage needs for generations B, X, Y

Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y … each generation impacts the way consumer goods are bought and sold, and kitchens are no exception. The economy has created a “new normal” affecting more than just homeowner bank accounts, regardless of generation. It has changed how they live, their priorities and how they view their homes, including kitchens. Regardless of the generation, homeowners look to get the most out of their investment, which includes a kitchen that looks great and addresses their needs.

Design professionals who understand the needs of each generation are better prepared to deliver kitchens homeowners want and in which they’re willing to invest limited dollars. To understand the cabinetry and countertop products and design elements Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y want or need in their kitchen spaces, Masco Cabinetry, home of the KraftMaid, Merillat, QualityCabinets and DeNova brands, completed its GenShift 2011 study in February 2011. The study incorporates an online survey conducted on behalf of Masco Cabinetry from Feb. 28-March 2, 2011, by Harris Interactive among 1,027 U.S. adult homeowners aged 18 to 65, as well as Nielson-Spectra data.

Survey results reveal that 24 percent of homeowners aged 18 to 65 live in a multigenerational house, and 73 percent indicate their current kitchen is not designed for universal living needs.

Universal living refers to the unique architectural and design elements necessary to achieve both beautiful and functional living spaces regardless of age or physical abilities. Based on this study, it’s believed that building and design professionals who have a strong understanding of design solutions to meet clients’ multigenerational needs will be more likely to create kitchens for universal living.

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers represent the largest single population growth in U.S. history. Born between 1946 and 1964, this group encompasses more than 76 million people.

Baby Boomers are at a lifestage where they are often in charge of their parents’ care, which has allowed them to better plan for their own senior years. In fact, Boomers find aging-in-place to be more desirable than relocation, and according to the study, 63 percent of Baby Boomers plan to stay in their current home in the next five to 10 years. The survey also discovered 75 percent of Boomers don’t feel their current kitchen layout is universally designed for their living needs.

The following cabinet and countertop design considerations can solve several mobility, accessibility and functionality needs:

  • Transitioning from a 42-in. bar height table to a 28- or 30-in. table is easier for this generation. And, because Baby Boomers frequently use their kitchens for entertaining, a standard-height table near or connected to an island is an ideal extension of the kitchen.
  • Eighty-seven percent of Baby Boomers are interested in a semi-open plan (with few full or half walls) or a completely open floor plan. Wider walkways or paths throughout the kitchen and adjacent rooms allow for easier mobility.
  • Storage options must be easy to reach and well organized, as do trash and recycle locations, medicine and even pet food needs, without the help of another individual. Pullout storage options are ideal for this demographic.
  • Aesthetic needs include cleaner lines, some color and/or texture, but nothing too loud or dramatic.

Gen X

Of the three generations, Gen X represents the smallest group and the most skeptical. Born between 1966 and 1978, this is the generation that looks to its friends for advice more than anyone or anything (i.e., the Internet). Unlike their Baby Boomer predecessors, Gen X tends to steer away from a monochromatic style.

This generation is in its busiest years, between taking care of children, and working both at an office and at home. According to the survey, nearly half (49 percent) of Gen X homeowners said they planned to stay in their current home in the next five to 10 years.

Knowing that this generation and their families are always on the go, the following design considerations can ease their fast-paced lifestyle over the long period of time they intend to be in their homes:

  • On a typical weekday, this demographic spends nearly an hour in their kitchen paying bills or doing homework (theirs or assisting their children). Therefore, the importance of multifunctional spaces can’t be understated.
  • They appreciate a computer near the kitchen, which allows them to continue cooking dinner, answer homework questions, read the latest update from their social media accounts or verify the balance in their checking account.
  • They welcome a taller, bar-height table. This allows a family member or friend to pull up a chair and chat, or a kid to grab a quick snack after school and work on the latest school project.
  • For those without children, the function of the space changes slightly. This group is more focused on friends, cooking and wine clubs, and intimate dinners for two and baking. Typically, an entertainment space is adjacent to the kitchen.
  • In terms of kitchen extras, the survey found that 68 percent of Gen X homeowners said a place for hiding small appliances was top on their list. Creative storage options are favored among this demographic, which prefers uncluttered spaces.
  • Thirty-nine percent favored open floor plans for their kitchens. They also preferred peninsula or galley configurations, flexible pantry storage and other options, such as two sinks.

Gen Y

Also known as the Millennials, members of Gen Y were born between 1979 and 2002, and consist of as many as 87 million consumers. In sheer market power, the number of Gen Y births tops their Gen X and Baby Boomer predecessors, setting them up to have more market clout than that of either of the previous two generations. They’re now entering the market for big-ticket items like homes — many as early as 26 years old.

This is the generation that isn’t likely to wait for a purchase. Gen Y looks to third parties on the Internet for advice and the lowest price for getting what they want now. Raised on positive reinforcement, their parents’ motto tends to be “love the one you produce,” resulting in the self-confidence to go after what they want. And, they’ll return the love, as the recent survey found that 40 percent of Gen Y homeowners said they expect their parents will live with them in the future.

  • In addition to enjoying an open kitchen layout, the Gen Y kitchen may be the most versatile. It needs to meet young child needs, like high chairs and storage options for small, kid-friendly dishes, and adult needs such as an entertainment area.
  • Pullout drawers providing easy access to snacks, pet food and small quantities of prepared items are appreciated.
  • Forty-five percent of the segment indicated a place for spices is a top-three kitchen extra that is most important in a kitchen layout.
  • The aesthetics for this demographic follow a “keep it simple” philosophy. This includes cleaner lines, less detail and easy-to-clean surfaces.

Tying It All Together

Clearly, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y share the same love of multifunctional storage solutions and kitchen spaces that reflect their personal style. However, each has its own needs in the kitchen. Designs for today’s kitchens need to be specific enough to reflect the personal wants and needs of today’s homeowners and flexible enough to accommodate a rapidly changing household demographic. Considering the number of households that include multi-generations, including adult children, aging parents, multigenerational marriages, and children and grandchildren, universal design is important to a universal audience. To view the complete study and other related materials, visit