Bridging the Gap

Many different issues and elements influence which trends rise and fall and which products meet with success or failure among today’s consumers. Environment, income and individual personality all play a major role in influencing kitchen and bath design, as does another element – what generation the client belongs to (see related Editorial).

Connecting on a personal level with a client is something all kitchen and bath designers strive for. It makes a job go more smoothly, and usually produces a more satisfying end result. Additional work and referrals are often based on likeability and the ease in which a designer and client work together.

“For you to become likeable, you need to understand how customers view their world,” stresses Cam Marston, a generational marketing expert, motivational speaker and founder of Generational Insight, in Mobile, AL.

“Generational perspective has a lot to do with how people view their world.”

Janel Davenport, president, Janel Davenport Kitchen & Bath Design, in Evergreen, CO, notes that she approaches customers of different generations in different ways. “Each generation has a different value system,” she notes.

“There are different priorities from one generation to the next.”

Marston identifies the four main generations with purchasing power in today’s marketplace: The Matures are 66 and older, the Baby Boomers range in age from 47 to 65, Generation Xers are 32 to 46 years old, and the Millennials, or Generation Y, are under 30.

When selling to members of the Mature group, Marston advises that you emphasize your expertise, and make things easy for them. “They believe in dedication and sacrifice, and that experience is the best teacher,” he comments.

Baby Boomers are a core group – 80 million strong. They are the biggest generation of consumers, and their success is visible. “They are workaholics and are defined by their work, and they love their trophies,” he reports. They are interested in high-end amenities such as state-of-the-art kitchens.

The two younger generations are less focused on the team mentality of the older groups and more in tune with the idea of the “unique individual,” Marston notes.

“GenXers are the first generation that was told that they were special and unique,” he stresses. He warns that they exhaustively research everything, and are very difficult to please. “They educate themselves and don’t trust others to teach them. However, once they make the decision to trust you, they are very loyal,” Marston adds.

The last of the group – the Millennials – are only now coming into their buying power (see Inside Today's Showroom). They are an optimistic group, according to Marston, though they are busy and stressed. “The future is very short term to them, and they have huge goals,” he notes. They also want instant gratification, he stresses.

Trends for All

While Marston notes that, the younger the consumer, the more things are focused on individuality, clients across the board are looking for “materials and designs that say something about them,” comments Rebekah Zaveloff, CKD, principal, KitchenLab in Chicago, IL and co-founder of Design in a Bag. “They want things that are unique and individual to their homes and lifestyles.”

While the common notion is that older clients would lean more toward traditional while the younger set would embrace more contemporary styling, Gail Bolling, co-owner, The Kitchen Company in North Haven, CT notes that this isn’t really the case. “I’m not really seeing a generational difference in that regard. I have older clients who want something very contemporary, such as a slab door, because it’s going to be easier to clean and they’ve already had a kitchen with a fussier door,” she explains.

“I see more older customers interested in contemporary kitchens,” agrees Debbie Jacobs of Glen Alspaugh Co. in St. Louis, MO. “Often it represents a complete turnaround from the more traditional homes they have sold in order to downsize. Along with paring down their possessions, they are adopting a more modern style in their decorating choices and are eschewing fussy, detailed cabinetry that is harder to maintain.”

Bolling also notes that cleaner-lined transitional and contemporary looks are featured in design magazines and television design shows. “HGTV is huge,” she reports. “If clients have seen it on television, they want it.”

Across the generations, open-plan kitchens continue to gain momentum – for different reasons. Younger clients want the kitchen to operate as the control center of the home, while older customers are looking to entertain their children, grandchildren and friends comfortably in a large space.

“Younger clients are less entertainment oriented,” reports Davenport. “These are young families that tend to be made up of two-career couples. They’re very busy, and entertaining is a real casual pick-up pizza kind of thing. Their sensibility is more about having the kids in the room with them so they can see what is going on. Everything is open.”

Davenport notes that she is knocking out walls right and left on remodeling jobs. “We’re creating tons and tons of openness. There is no isolation of the kitchen; it is right in the heart of the house. Everything is built right around this nucleus – places for kids to play and do homework. That’s how younger people are living.”

The message center remains a must-have for families on the go. “People are using laptops now, so it’s much easier for me design-wise because I don’t have to devote an area of the kitchen to a computer, keyboard and printer,” states Bolling (see related story, Page 44). “Now, you just need to have a place to charge a laptop and cell phones, as well as a spot for the mail and keys.”

Because of the traditional, colonial-style homes in her market, Bolling isn’t designing a lot of open-plan kitchens. However, she is trying to open them up as much as possible.

“A lot of times we are opening up the space between the kitchen and the dining room, creating a more casual dining room that can be used more on a daily basis but that also works for entertaining,” she comments. “Hopefully by opening it up and creating room for an island in the kitchen, we can create a casual seating area, because for young couples with families, with kids on different schedules eating at different times, it creates a nice place for them to gather that is a little less formal.”

Dollars Versus Green

Of course, interest in environmentally safer and greener products continues to grow, especially with GenX and GenY.

“There are more requests for green products from the younger generation,” confirms Bolling. However, she notes, “we’re still not seeing a lot of buying because, when it comes down to it, doing a kitchen is so expensive that the added cost is just too great.” Those who are fairly affluent or committed to green will follow through, however.

“There is a lot of interest in green materials,” agrees Davenport. She designed a bamboo kitchen for younger, trendier clients who had young children and were concerned about indoor air quality. “In this case, the homeowner was willing to spend more money on the products because of sensitivity and indoor air quality issues.”

Younger clients are not only interested in green products and technology, but actually in the mechanics of how they work, notes Davenport. “Water conservation is a huge issue in Colorado, so the newer technologies that limit water flow in showerheads but still give you a nice, tingly shower – that type of thing is really important here.”

Davenport adds that while her younger clientele is more interested in green, they often have to scale back. “They really do start out wanting it, but if it’s too much of a premium, they will compromise, because they really want to minimize the investment,” she reports. “They don’t see themselves as being in their houses as long as another, older generation does.”

Future Investment

That view also determines what types of products and how many of them ultimately end up in the remodeled kitchen.

“Members of the Baby Boom generation are still thinking of quality and longevity,” notes Davenport. “They want something that is beautiful, but they are very focused on the quality functions. They will not sacrifice quality for looks. They are still very much in an investment mindset. They look at a kitchen or bathroom remodel as a long-term investment.”

The younger generations are generally more price sensitive, Davenport reports, “but it’s also more about the appearance. They will sacrifice some quality to get a trendier look, or the look that they want,” she stresses.

Compared with the Boomers, GenX and GenY consider themselves more mobile, so the investment mindset is a lot less important, notes Davenport. “It’s more about what’s hot and trendy and what looks interesting,” she reports.

“You need to approach clients regarding how they use their homes, their kitchens and whether or not this is a long-term, ‘forever’ house or not,” concludes Zaveloff.