Life Well Lived

As any kitchen and bath designer knows, a good design needs to be aesthetically dynamic and highly functional. Just as important, however, is the need to capture the unique spirit of each client and create a space that will not only reflect the client’s lifestyle, but enhance his or her life.

So many factors can influence the overall look of any given space. In particular, design and material choices are often impacted by the client’s age, gender, family situation and couple status, as well as who is sharing the home, such as elderly parents or young children.

Family Friendly

Families today do not operate like their predecessors, and their kitchens need to reflect that.

Busy families and lifestyles mean there is less time to use the kitchen for traditional needs, like cooking, according to Danny Lipford, a Mobile, AL-based remodeling contractor. “With working families, people have less time to cook, and technology continues to decrease the amount of time it takes to prepare a meal,” stresses Lipford. “It’s all about saving time.”

“Whether it is a family of two or six, my clients continually ask for convenient storage, convenient placement of appliances and enough refrigeration storage,” states Robin Denker, owner of Kitchens by Design Gallerie in Westlake Village, CA. “They ultimately ask for seating that is comfortable, where they can watch a flat screen or take in a view – a place where they can linger.”

Indeed, today’s kitchens are multi-functional spaces “where you not only prepare a meal or have a snack, but also do homework and work on your computer. Today’s kitchens encourage family togetherness,” stresses Lipford.

At the core of family life is Generation X, a group busy raising children and running from the job to the soccer field.

“Gen X and their families are always on the go, so it is important to consider design layouts that will help ease their fast-paced lifestyles over a long period of time,” notes Paul Radoy, senior designer for Ann Arbor, MI-based Merillat, who worked as the kitchen designer on a major remodel with Lipford.

“Gen Xers also welcome a taller, bar-height table, as this allows family members or friends to pull up a chair and chat, or a child to work on the latest school project while parents are cooking dinner,” explains Radoy.

“And because there is usually a lot going on in the kitchen, they prefer open floor plans for their kitchens, with peninsulas or galley configurations, flexible pantry storage and other options, like two sinks,” he offers.

Denker reports that his Gen X clients typically have younger children, so they ask for a larger capacity refrigerator to meet their needs.

This generation prefers uncluttered spaces, so creative storage options are important for hiding things like small appliances, Radoy continues.

Uncluttered design is also on the request list for Gen Xers. “Gen X demands true contemporary or transitional contemporary appeal. This means slab doors, some with glass inserts, single colors repeated throughout, stainless or hidden appliances, high-end brand names for appliances, solid color quartz or stainless or concrete counters,” notes Chris Donaghy, managing owner for Lorton, VA-based Kitchen Brokers. “Shine and pizzazz are the key terms when dealing with Gen X.”

Hot Spots

In addition to immediate family, extended family and entertaining at home continues to be increasingly important.

“Be it family or party guests, space for others in the kitchen is almost always a request,” stresses Denise Laridaen, owner of Cabinet Creations in Mauston, WI. “Whether it is a child doing homework or a friend visiting while the homeowner cooks, seating and countertop space is needed.”

“Everyone gathers in the kitchen,” she continues. “There is a significant need for seating at an island or peninsula, which will also serve as a buffet space for parties.”

“There is no doubt that kitchens are becoming more social than ever before,” agrees Radoy. “As a result, islands are becoming larger and walls are being taken down, which opens up the kitchen floor plan and allows for more social interaction.”

Donaghy agrees that Kitchen Brokers is still heavily involved in opening up living spaces to allow for open and free space planning. “This lends itself to both entertaining and to socializing while cooking,” Donaghy explains.

“We have noticed that clients do not want to have their backs to the action. They want to see what is happening, which I think is part of our new multi tasking nature.”

Older Interests

While the desires of older clients may often be predictable, some will surprise designers with their offbeat requests and their open-mindedness when it comes to design.

“My mature clients mostly ask for wall ovens and refrigerators with freezers at the bottom, although size does not seem important to them overall,” reports Denker.

“And, the mature buyer insists on double wall ovens for sure,” adds Donaghy.

When designing for baby boomers and more mature clients, another thing that’s important relates to transitioning table heights in order to make working in the kitchen easier, Radoy says. “[Elements] such as a standard-height table near or connected to an island and storage options that are easy to reach and well organized, are ideal kitchen features for this aging population,” he notes.

Laridaen says that she has been designing smaller kitchens for older clients, so it is important to make the most of the space. “By redesigning the layout, we have increased the amount of storage and countertop space for older customers, and typically improved access with roll-out trays,” she says.

While many of the ideas used to attract baby boomers and mature customers are not out of the ordinary, many of these clients are also surprisingly embracing some of the newer technologies and trends, such as speed cook ovens, induction cooktops, two-zone wine refrigerators and exotic woods such as Lyptus, anigre or bird’s eye maple, notes Donaghy.

“They do tend to shy away from the high gloss that appeals to the younger market,” Donaghy continues. “This group likes products that match and are cohesive and make sense.”

However, while mature buyers are often set in their ways, “with some prodding, they can be influenced to change their methods and patterns if the designer can give good reason. The most common refrain from a mature buyer is, ‘But that is how I have always done it,’” explains Donaghy.

Most importantly, adds Donaghy, it is key to remember that “the mature buyers in our market like timeless style, super high quality and the bells and whistles they could not afford when they had a household of kids.”

Gender Gap

With regard to kitchen and bath design, what piques the interest for men as opposed to women is still often separated by a chasm.

Laridaen believes that most design and materials selections for the kitchen and bath are still handled by women.

“Women often think about where they will keep each individual appliance. For instance, the mixer has to have a special home. Others want every small appliance out of sight.”

She notes that men tend to focus on the mechanical systems, and definitely show more interest when a recreation room bar is in the plan.

“Recreation room bars often feature an undercabinet refrigerator, a separate icemaker, microwave oven, dishwasher, TV, and sometimes a pizza oven,” she comments.

Donaghy notes that gender in product selection has stayed consistent with the stereotype. “In married clients, the wives nearly all look for easy care, bright sunny spaces and punches of color. The husbands demand stainless steel and chrome, earth tones and, in most cases, deep dark woods.”

“Women typically gravitate toward stylish product and design choices, while men tend to think very practically, and look at how durable or functional the product is,” Radoy offers. “Men typically choose a product that is low maintenance, and they aren’t focused on it being a showcased featured of the home.”

When decisions are made by a couple rather than one person, kitchen amenities often include an extra sink and additional countertop work space to “accommodate two people functioning at the same time,” states Radoy.

“The appliance decisions tend to be made by the member of the couple who cooks more,” notes Denker. “Most often, it is the cooktop or range where more of the dollars are spent.”