The growing trend toward multifunctional kitchens has impacted many aspects of design, but nowhere is this more evident than in interior fittings and accessories. In a challenging economy that has consumers less willing to expand the footprint of the kitchen, designing greater functionality into smaller spaces becomes essential.
Additionally, demand for greater time efficiency means consumers not only want to maximize every square inch of storage space, but they also want accessories that simplify and streamline everything from meal planning and cooking to clean up, recycling and entertaining.
As a result, designers are being forced to think big and small at the same time. Organization and functionality are the buzzwords, but keeping the kitchen aesthetically pleasing is also key.
“With the hectic lives in today’s world, this new center of the household must be organized,” says Mark Mrozik, national sales manager for Hettich America L.P., in Alpharetta, GA. “Time can’t be wasted looking for ingredients or utensils.”
“Organization has become a key element in almost every aspect of a person’s life,” agrees Jan Fitzpatrick, customer & market relations manager for Grass America, in Kernersville, NC. “People are so busy that they have to be organized to fit in all of their activities. The kitchen is no different. One likes to open a drawer or cabinet door to find exactly what one is looking for, always in the same place, quickly and efficiently.”
One way to organize the kitchen is the concept of specific zones, such as food storage, food prep, baking, cleaning and recycling centers.
“Designers are selling these concepts to consumers as part of the overall kitchen layout, not just as add-ons,” says David Noe, general manager, Rev-A-Shelf, in Jeffersontown, KY.
There’s no question that consumers are more space conscious than ever, and this has made organization an increasingly important priority in kitchen design. Additionally, kitchen accessories that promote greater convenience and time savings are also in high demand.
As a result, “You could say that kitchens are being built ‘smarter,’ with more of an eye toward value than extravagance,” says Daniel Tripp, product marketing manager for Häfele America Co., in Archdale, NC.
Consumers have become accustomed to better organization in other aspects of their lives, from custom closet systems to multifunctional cell phones to cars, so it is only natural that they would expect a similarly high level of organization in the kitchen.
“Remember when cars used to be purchased based mostly on the exterior appearance and horsepower?” asks Daryl Nauman, key account manager for Häfele America Co. “Today, the form and function of the interior (GPS, Bluetooth, iPod plug-ins, appropriate interior lighting, etc.) are often major points in automobile marketing.” The same theory holds true in the kitchen, he notes.
Indeed, consumers are constantly searching for easy-to-use storage products that will save them time and space, adds Charles Costa, chief executive officer for Sidelines, Inc., in Scottsdale, AZ.
Kitchen designers are also seeing greater demand for elements that personalize a kitchen. As a result, manufacturers note, many of them are incorporating a few useful and clever interior organization items to set their designs apart while also adding a fashion element.
“It’s not enough to just offer a nice door style or glazed finishes anymore; these have become commonplace even in lower-priced cabinet lines,” says Nauman.
Blum believes that drawer organization isn’t just an add-on product; it is an integral part of any kitchen and should be planned from the beginning to match the space available, the work zone and the user’s habits.
“In our Dynamic Space concept, we suggest looking at the items that the homeowner needs to fit into the kitchen as a first step in storage planning,” says Dennis Poteat, marketing communications manager for Blum, Inc., in Stanley, NC. “Separate those items into the zone that will hold them and plan organization drawer by drawer so the user sees the importance of organized interiors and how they will affect the work they do.
“We feel the best way for a designer to sell [interior storage accessories] is in a complete kitchen solution,” adds Poteat. “The drawer organization should be such an integral part of the kitchen that the buyer couldn’t think about removing it.”
Bigger drawers are also hot right now. “Larger drawers are designed to hold larger cooking and serving utensils,” says Mrozik. “The modern kitchen demands that these items be organized and readily found.”
Fitzpatrick notes that interior fittings also need to be easy to clean. She says, “The Magic Sorto system from Grass includes trays made from stainless steel that are safe for food and hygienically approved, with the individual components removable and dishwasher safe.”
Smarter storage is also key, according to Tripp. “Having a pantry pull-out that brings all the items in the cabinet into easy view is smart storage,” he says.
Due partly to open floor plans, kitchens continue to be dominated by base cabinets, with fewer wall cabinets being used. So, the base cabinets need to carry most of the storage in a kitchen.
“Given the challenges of retrieving items at floor level, there’s a great desire to have items pull out of the base cabinets into easy reach,” says Nauman.
Noe believes the growth in the organizational product category is both economic and demographic. He says designers now see interior organizational products as an extension of the exterior design.
“Functionality is an important differentiation and is a way to add an important profit margin to a project,” says Noe. “The trend toward aging Baby Boomers lends itself to easy access needs. They also like gadgets so Boomers like the functionality of every application.”
Continuing with the smart storage trends, Knape & Vogt is designing more products for undercounter and pantry storage that utilize every inch of available space. An example of this is the firm’s Pull-Out Lazy Susans. “These have drawers that pull out of a Lazy Susan so the homeowner is not forced to get down on all fours,” explains Steve Beckwith, senior marketing services manager for Knape & Vogt, Mfg. Co. in Grand Rapids, MI.
Ultimately, consumers want ease of use, manufacturers concur.
“They want the stuff in the back to magically appear in the front,” says Costa. “They want it to be easy to change the height of a rack to accommodate the new, extra-tall box of chips they just bought at Costco. They want the pots and pans in the back of the blind corner cabinet to easily slide within reach so they don’t have to take out half of the other pots and pans to get to them.”
For that reason, Sidelines offers an array of moving, swiveling, pivoting and pulling interior cabinet rack fittings to deliver ease of use, he adds.
Along with storage, soft-close products are among the most requested items, and have become pretty much a standard item, according to Tripp.
“The most popular feature in today’s cabinetry is the soft-close element,” states Fitzpatrick, who adds, “Electronic drawers are gaining in popularity in a variety of applications. The use of handle-free drawers that open with a touch is only limited by the imagination.”
Poteat adds that Blum’s Blumotion soft closing for doors and drawers is by far the company’s most requested feature. “The wow effect when the customer first sees it is unmatched,” he says.
Costa notes that this is “already available on many of our products,” and adds, “we are moving towards offering soft-close on all of our pull-outs.”
However, while soft close is certainly one of the most universally accepted improvements in recent years, Noe warns that it presents a problem with some storage products, given that most of the mechanisms and technology were designed for doors and drawers. “Bigger, more complex storage products do not always translate well to current soft-close materials,” he cautions.
Whether it is soft close, smart storage or Universal Design, the one thing consumers still insist on is that the products be aesthetically pleasing.
“It must match the decor of the kitchen,” confirms Mrozik, who adds that new technology plastics and metals allow for easier cleaning, and better function with increased strength.
The combination of wood and metal seems to be hot right now. Häfele offers all-metal units and all-wood units, but the majority of what it does is its Arena product that combines a wire frame that is either a chrome or Champagne finish with a wood bottom in either maple or white.
“The chrome finish is growing in popularity, but we still sell a lot of Champagne, as people are matching it to stainless steel appliances and matte nickel fixtures,” says Tripp.
“We’re getting a great reaction to flexible-drawer storage systems, especially ones that mix metal and wood for improved function and appearance,” adds Nauman.
The wood-based Arena shelves are sealed to be water tight against spills, which, according to Tripp, helps ensure long-term durability.
Another way to make the new products aesthetically pleasing is with interior cabinet lighting. “Having a well-lit cabinet is a huge organizational aid,” says Nauman. “Who would purchase a refrigerator or oven without an interior light? Yet we often seem to tolerate cabinets that are very dark inside.”
Interior lighting options increase consumer desire to have attractive cabinet interiors. And, more cabinet manufacturers are focusing attention on the quality of their interior finishes.
“All of this draws more attention to what’s ‘inside the box,’” says Nauman.
While the economy has slowed the influx of new products, innovations continue to be seen. And, in some cases, these ideas will come from other rooms of the house.
Knape & Vogt developed a heavy-duty shelving and organization system that combines shelving and hang rails into one unified system. The Matrix Wall Organization System was originally developed for garages, to help a homeowner get everything off the garage floor, according to Beckwith. “As many new kitchens are beginning to adopt that ‘Food Network’ look, with open shelving and hang rail accessories, Matrix becomes a perfect solution for this kind of ‘working kitchen,’” he says.
Likewise, everything from built-in cell phone and computer chargers to recycling products are now becoming mainstays in the kitchen, simply because the kitchen has increasingly become the “everything room” in many homes.
And the green trend is likely to be more evident in material choices going forward, as the eco-friendly movement continues to sweep the country, manufacturers agree.
But while the future may still hold many questions, one thing is certain: Consumers’ desire for aesthetically appealing products that offer greater accessibility, enhanced storage and improved convenience and time savings will continue to play a key role in the future of kitchen design.
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