Global Trends

In an increasingly global society, examining design trends from overseas can often provide innovative ideas for kitchen and bath designers here in the U.S. Indeed, simply reimagining and reinterpreting European design ideas can often lead to a wealth of creative design inspirations – and solutions.

This was evident at the 2010 EuroCucina Fair, held in Milan, Italy this past April during the same week as the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Chicago. Some U.S. designers attended the show early, planning on returning to Chicago. Others planned to attend EuroCucina after spending a day or so at KBIS. Needless to say, volcano ash changed many travel plans! However, attendance was unexpectedly high at EuroCucina, and the Fair was brimming with creative design presentations.

The Milan Fair was housed in four multi-story buildings. Italian kitchen cabinet manufacturers presented their collections in oversized booths (stands). It should be noted that the show was not just a product exhibition – it was also a showcase of ideas: some shared with the public, others carefully guarded. The exhibits were huge enclosed spaces with some of the new innovative products presented in the public part of the floor space. As much as half of the space was then reserved for design/business firms that represent the company.

In a restaurant-like setting, business was conducted as the details of new products were presented, and display orders were taken. One overall comment: it is amazing how common themes were seen throughout the competitive stands. It was almost as though a memo went out to everyone highlighting what the key design trends would be, or types of product innovations presented.

These enormous display spaces focused almost exclusively on the cabinetry the manufacturer produces. Very few appliances were included in these total room settings. Typically, an oven – or a series of cooking appliances – appeared in some of the displays, along with a cooktop and a hood. If refrigeration was included at all, it was carefully tucked away inside a pantry. Under-cabinet appliances were non-existent. U.S.-sized microwave ovens were not part of any of the displays.

This approach to the displays allowed the cabinet companies to present new and innovative storage systems, functional hardware, decorative hardware, finishes and styles without being encumbered by the limits of a more realistic working room setting.

Therefore, designers visiting the Fair learned to consider how they might adapt a new idea to a space currently under development.

Cabinet Storage Details

At this year’s show, key design details noted by those attending included the following:

  • Mechanized, functional hardware within the cabinetry. Cabinet doors that opened and closed themselves were evident, as were televisions that lifted out of a counter, down from a cabinet or moved left to right. Large, oversized floor-to-ceiling glass or veneer doors that bypassed other doors manually or in a mechanized fashion were also seen. Tambour doors that were automated were on display as well.
  • Imaginative uses of the backsplash space. Unique solutions to backsplash spaces were highlighted. Sizing deeper base cabinets so a storage ledge can be created in the backsplash area was one solution. Storage units recessed in the backsplash area and then concealed by doors (that lifted up behind the wall cabinets to provide access) were suggested. Storage systems that dropped down from behind wall cabinets, or extended up from behind base cabinets, was another unique approach to use the space between the countertop and wall cabinets.
  • An intriguing new approach to accessibility. Several manufacturers introduced small, compact kitchens that were literally concealed behind tall doors (that neatly stacked out of the way in a sophisticated pocket when the kitchen was in use). In other cases, long walls of floor-to-ceiling cabinetry provided accessible storage, offering an alternative to wall cabinets.

Great Table Ideas

As in years past, table-like seating areas were included in almost every display. Large, comfortable tabletop extensions wrapped around islands or peninsula cabinet arrangements, supported by practical and beautifully sculptural metal legs. For the last several shows, attaching 30" high “real” tables has been a recurring theme in the displays. This approach makes sense from a space management standpoint: Attaching a large table to a part of the kitchen – so individuals can still sit facing one another – saves at least 36" of walkway required around a table. What was intriguing at this show was the creative table legs that were used.

In addition to the focus on 30"-high tables, several displays added a bistro-type raised 42" second gathering spot. This is an idea that would be very functional for a multi-generational family.

New Hardware Designs

Regarding style, Karen Williams of St. Charles of New York noted key new design solutions for cabinet access.

Hardware integrated into the cabinet (actual separate decorative hardware pieces that were routed into the door) eliminated any protrusion.

The return of the “no hardware” C-channel or J-channel door style, first introduced in the 1970s, was also evident. In fact, the SieMatic press release highlighted the return of such a door style – one the firm originally launched.
However, integrated or integral hardware design is only successful in a very symmetrical design. Therefore, the cabinet sizing must be specified to provide a balanced elevation.

As an American designer observing European styling, it is important to understand how cabinets are sized. European kitchen designers create long, oversized cabinets, then separate and segregate different types of storage within that cabinet. Therefore, at this show (and in years past), huge 48"- to 60"-wide double drawers were seen as a typical base cabinet arrangement. Within these drawers, systems such as the Blum Dynamic Space storage arrangements are included to divide the interior into functional storage segments.

North American designers specify individual cabinets designed to serve different functions. American cabinets also come in a wide variety of sizes and configurations, while European units are much more driven by the overall aesthetic of the design.

Countertop Design Ideas

When it comes to countertops, the designs presented were more of a continuation of creative solutions launched in 2006 and repeated in 2008 rather than some ground-breaking new approach. Below are some of the key trends in evidence at the Fair:

Countertops were either unbelievably thin (1/4"!), or very dramatically oversized. In both cases, minimal overhangs were the norm. This approach is very doable when a tight fit – indeed, a scribed fit – is not planned: a show site given. However, I have my concerns about minimal overhangs in a “real life” setting.

One idea that was new was the marriage of the countertop overhang and its integral hardware channel. The sense of a very thin top was created by back beveling the counter underside, creating an air space between the countertop flushed with the cabinet space.

One manufacturer introduced an intriguing 3mm-thick porcelain top that had a beautiful aesthetic. There were some big, chunky concrete countertops, as well.

Polished stainless steel counters were part of many settings – as they have been in the past.

No laminate tops were in view, and very little marble or quartz. White solid surface counters were seen everywhere.

Increasing the countertop height with no cabinet modification creates awkward, non-working countertop heights. I was surprised European manufacturers did not reduce the toe kick to 3" or 4" from their standard 6" to balance function and aesthetics.

Color, Texture & Sheen

Color, texture and sheen all played a role in the designs on display. Here are a few of the key trends:

Many attendees commented on how open, light and airy the room settings were. Crisp, clean white countertops were seen everywhere.

Lots of glamour was evident at this show – shiny surfaces were everywhere! High-gloss laminate finishes, lacquers and glass were on display, as were glass cabinet doors with coordinating hardware.

While white dominated, light and bright colors – pinks and fuchsias, for example – were seen on the show floor as well. Interestingly enough, there was no more lime green or European orange – these colors have been replaced by vibrant reds, pinks and purples.

Very little dark wood (no Wenge) was on display. Heavily figured, horizontally grained wood doors seen in 2008 were replaced with lighter woods with an understated grain pattern.

The Italian presentations are always stunning, and this year was no disappointment. While a more neutral palette dominated, the beauty was in the details.

My key learning from this year’s Fair does not reflect one or two transferable ideas, but rather the value and elegance of creating a kitchen in large blocks of space rather than focusing on the individual cabinets. Starting the planning process with the overall shape of the various segments of the room, then detailing work stations, makes sense.

Additionally I look forward to creating new cabinetry designs with totally integrated hardware as well as considering new mechanically driven storage systems. Lastly, re-introducing custom tables and combining various counter heights will work for our busy clientele as well.