A "new normal" has settled in across the kitchen and bath industry, far different than what was considered "normal" during the industry's peak growth years - and shaped by both the current economy and a new generation
of homeowners unlike any the industry has ever seen.
The emergence of these new consumers - younger, more diverse, more budget-conscious and more connected to key trends, thanks to the Internet, social media and cable TV - promises to create exciting opportunities for a market that's recovering from the worst housing downturn in decades. It also promises to create an unprecedented range of challenges for the design trade, even for savvy, experienced kitchen designers who think they've seen and done it all.
That assertion is echoed in spades throughout this month's issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News, in which several articles pinpoint important changes in homeowner demographics and their likely impact on kitchen design and sales.
One of the articles (see Barometers) suggests that "Generation X" - young adults aged 31 to 45 - are more likely than any other group of homeowners to fuel the housing recovery when it finally gets underway in earnest. The reasons are easy enough to understand: At 32% of the population of home-buying age, the Gen X population cohort isn't the largest, but it's the most mobile. And unlike Baby Boomers, whose decisions to delay retirement are also delaying their decisions to relocate, Gen Xers are in full force with both their careers and the need to accommodate growing families.
Kitchen designers clearly need to take note of this important development…and adjust their business plans and designs accordingly.
The second KBDN article (see Bridging the Gap) details many of the major differences in design preferences, product needs and buying patterns between each of the primary population cohorts: Mature Consumers, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials (Gen Y).
As if that's not enlightening enough, the third article (see Consumer Buying Trends) - based on the findings of a major new survey by Masco Cabinetry - makes it resoundingly clear that while all homeowners share a desire for multi-functional spaces that reflect their own personal style, each group clearly has its own unique needs, based on differing life stages and lifestyles.
Even more interesting is the survey's finding that while most homeowners say they're likely to live in their current home for another five to 10 years, and often have multiple generations living under the same roof, most don't feel that their current kitchen is designed for their evolving living needs.
Therein lies the opportunity - as well as the challenge.
The opportunity, of course, is for kitchen professionals to create designs that are specific enough to reflect the personal "hot buttons" of today's homeowners, yet flexible enough to accommodate a rapidly changing household demographic. On the flip side, the challenge is to recognize exactly who these new consumers are, and what turns them on when it comes to layout, countertop height, storage options, workspace requirements, aesthetics and other design considerations.
The realities of today's economy have changed how people live and how they view their homes, including their kitchens. Design professionals who understand the differing needs of each population cohort will be better prepared to deliver the kitchens that homeowners most want.