Storage Solutions

With storage solutions more important than ever before, kitchen design professionals – and their clients – are reveling in the number of items available that make the kitchen and other areas of the home more efficient.

And, efficiency is not the only point; in fact, America is intent on getting organized. It doesn’t matter if the kitchen has been designed with a nod toward professional style, with the needs of a busy family in mind or as a beautiful place to entertain – today’s cooks want to be organized.

Likewise, kitchen accessories that simplify and streamline function or add a touch of luxury are all the rage right now. The current economic squeeze means many homeowners are remodeling their kitchens without expanding the actual footprint of the space. That doesn’t mean they want to give up their favorite luxuries – but they do want to incorporate beautiful, functional elements in the existing space. Kitchen accessories or interior fittings that maximize space are therefore more important than ever before.

Additionally, many homeowners are looking to add luxurious touches into their existing kitchens, which means upscale amenities such as floor warming systems and countertop warming mats are gaining in popularity.

Manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News have heard the call, and have responded with products that will make life easier. With the vast array of storage and interior fittings and kitchen accessories on the market today, designers now have many opportunities to turn dead space into useful storage, to make storage spaces more accessible and to add little touches of luxury to any kitchen.

Drawers and cabinets employ tools that would make an efficiency expert drool. Small spaces morph into pantries with attitude, and quiet features on cabinets that open and close with just a soft touch make any kitchen more enjoyable to work in.

Carefully evaluating every aspect of the homeowner’s lifestyle as well as specific needs, of course, is the place to begin. Once the designer better understands the clients’ needs and desires, the designer can choose from among the wide variety of innovative products features that will improve the look, efficiency and organization of the home.

Easy and Attractive

According to Donna Matsumoto, v.p./product development for Doug Mockett & Co. in Los Angeles, CA, “Convenience is always one of the most important factors when it comes to new kitchen designs. However, it can be tricky trying to incorporate convenience into a design without compromising the overall aesthetic appeal. Fusing style with functionality helps to streamline the modern kitchen environment.

“By concealing options and stowing away traditional kitchen appliances, modern design tends to create a very clean and simple feel while highlighting its basic features,” she continues.

Judd Lord, director of industrial design for Delta Faucet Company in Indianapolis, IN, agrees. “You can still find traditional Victorian and bridge-type architectures for those kitchens accepting of the period styles; however, much of design continues to move to a crisper, yet more casual look.”

Doug Mockett & Co.’s aptly named “convenience outlet” offers additional power in the kitchen yet disappears into the design. Matsumoto reports, “The unit tucks neatly away beneath the surface when not in use. It also comes equipped with a water-tight rim,” an important feature for kitchen applications.

Other design changes have added convenience to the overall appeal of the kitchen, according to Lynn Schrage, marketing manager for The Kohler Store, in Chicago, IL. She refers to features such as toe kicks that open a low-lying cabinet with just a tap, adjustable-height solutions and infrared and new wave technology as being increasingly important to kitchen design.

Schrage also explains that trends cross over. Everyone strives for a healthier kitchen environment, and touch-free technology not only makes opening a cabinet or drawer quiet and easy, it also helps avoid contamination throughout the home, she notes.

According to David Noe, general manager, v.p./sales and marketing at Rev-A-Shelf, in Jeffersontown, KY, the trend is also toward providing very specific storage solutions. There is a solution for everything, he explains, from cookware and cutlery, to foil and plastic wraps, to cleaning supplies and message and media organizers. And by personalizing storage solutions to the way the homeowner lives, it increases the chances that the homeowner will continue to stay organized long after the space is finished and the designer has moved on to other projects.

Draw-ing Room

Manufacturers agree that drawers now have an important place in the design of the kitchen. The popularity of drawers has led to innovative designs that maximize the use of the space inside. In turn, without these customized drawer systems, it’s not likely that kitchen drawers would have become so popular, manufacturers believe.

Notes John Baker, v.p., Valen USA, in Lexington, NC, “We see a trend toward wider and deeper drawers. Our customers expect these larger drawers to store untidy items such as boxes, canisters, jars and other things that, until recently, have been kept habitually in upper cabinets or on the countertop.”

The Valen organizational system “closes all gaps between the side of the accessories and the inside of the drawer body,” allowing for the desired built-in look “while maintaining a 100% modular system,” he stresses.

The built-in look is important for drawer storage components, according to Baker, but flexibility is a must. Systems need to “allow dividers and accessories to be rearranged according to the task assigned to the drawer, as that requirement evolves over time,” he asserts.

In addition to components that provide a built-in look, Valen has a pegboard system for drawers as well, according to Baker. The system works well for pots and pans, and canfit in any drawer.

“European designer metal drawer systems continue to increase in popularity, as well,” according to Dennis Poteat, marketing communications manager for Blum, Inc. in Stanley, NC. He notes that this kind of drawer system “allows these drawers to be personalized with custom inserts in the drawer side called “design elements.” These inserts can be made of common materials, such as tempered glass, wood, marble and acrylic, or uncommon materials including leather, architectural panels and poured resin panels.”

“In addition to function, color in drawers is big,” notes Jan Fitzpatrick, market and customer relations manager for Grass America, in Kernersville, NC. She reports that a champagne color is becoming a popular choice for Grass customers. “This warmer color complements wood cabinetry,” she remarks.

Fitzpatrick also believes that drawer finishes are trending in a new direction. Some of the Grass champagne and metallic drawer finishes have a clear gloss top coat. “We have gained attention from designers who thought that stainless steel was the only way to go for a sleek contemporary look,” she comments. “You can see the trend changing in appliances, too, as the manufacturers have introduced new textures and finishes that resist fingerprints.”

Quiet Time

The market continues to demand a gentle touch in the kitchen. As a result, today’s drawers and cabinets close quietly and open with a light tap.

In keeping with this trend, the “concealed runner with quiet closing” from Blum “continues to take over the lion’s share of the mid-to-upper-end kitchen market,” comments Poteat. “In fact, in most updated kitchens, this is no longer an option, but the standard.”

Karen Armour, product manager/home organization for Hafele America, in Archdale, NC says, “Functionality is the most important feature in accessorization, and the most important feature [of the drawers] is the smooth operation and soft-close of the runners.”

Phil Sheridan, director of distribution sales for Ornamental Products in High Point, NC, agrees that consumers now expect a drawer to close quietly. “Interior storage is best-enhanced with soft drawer slides,” he says.

While soft-close options have been available for several years, tap-to-open is a newer concept. This technology is based on an electrical drive that, once triggered, opens the drawer.

“It is ideal in a waste-bin application, for instance, because frequently your hands are full, dirty or both, and a simple knee-tap on the drawer opens it for you,” he explains. This kind of technology “can also be a great solution for people with physical limitations, medical areas that need to be kept sterile or anywhere you need an extra helping hand,” Poteat adds.

“Self-close, soft-close, motorized and other electrical products that bring wall and base storage components out with a simple touch” are examples of the type of technology that is growing in demand, stresses Noe. “While the economy has slowed its progress, it will be a growing trend for the future and eventually become more mainstream as costs come down on the technology,” he reports.

In this Corner

Since one of the goals for today’s spaces is an uncluttered look, kitchen and bath designers are seizing the opportunity to reassign dead space in the cabinet’s interior and get the most bang for their client’s buck.

In decades past, the spinning Lazy Susan was not the most efficient option for corner storage. Although the design of these products has been substantially improved, and is still in use, there are other interesting options.

Pull-out products are seen as a significant solution for this once challenging problem. And, according to Sheridan, “these pull-out products are expected to have similar functions as drawers – for example, self-close and soft-
close slides.”

Armour suggests jazzing up the kitchen with blind corner cabinets that offer non-slip surface pull-out trays, for instance. With these, the homeowner is able to store things more efficiently and view all the contents of the cabinets with ease, she comments.

Accessible and adequate pantry storage can be achieved with a bit of ingenuity and a customized system of pull-out shelving, as well. Tall pull-out pantries, often set in a narrow space, have gained popularity thanks to well-designed interior systems.

Spice it up

With regard to demand for other accessories for the kitchen, the ones most commonly mentioned by manufacturers as being in demand for the kitchen are knife blocks or knife slots, and built-in cutting boards. Spice bottle trays, sink grids and backsplash panels that slide or pull out for additional storage are increasing their market share as well.

“We are also seeing more specification of lift-up fittings in the upper cabinets to move the doors up and out of the way. This allows people to move about the kitchen without the hindrance of hinged doors remaining open and in the way,” comments Armour. Hafele offers lift up fittings in an array of movement – straight up, up and over the top, flip up – with soft-close features.

Grass America also anticipates increasing demand in this segment. “Overhead lifters offer wide space for storage, and lifting the doors up and out of the way make access very easy,” notes Fitzpatrick.

Designing Green and Universal

“Socially responsible designs and sustainability” are key factors in today’s kitchen design, reminds Rebecca Hewing of John Boos & Co. Hewing, national sales manager/Kitchen Countertop Division for the Effingham, IL-based

manufacturer, says “Using natural, renewable materials” and ensuring low-energy costs is important to today’s consumer. That’s part of the reason why the firm’s butcher block cutting boards are so popular, she notes.
“The green movement has made consumers more aware of the materials used in manufacturing,” agrees Matsumoto. “There is a heightened concern for eliminating wasteful products and using recycled material. The life expectancy

of a part can be taken into consideration to prevent multiple replacements, thus making durability a major factor.”
While this may present numerous challenges for the manufacturer and the designer, green innovations will undoubtedly be the end result and everyone will win.

With so many options available for kitchen storage and organization, even the fussiest cooks can make their updated kitchen designs suit their every need. That’s good news, too, for kids, the elderly population and anyone with physical challenges. Both designers and customers are embracing the concepts of Universal Design more frequently.

Many of the products used today as part of Universal Design were either custom made or designed for other purposes, according to Noe. “Many designers are looking for ways to address specific needs now and for the future as their customers age in their homes,” he comments.

“There may be opportunities for storage product manufacturers as some specific Universal Design applications reach a critical mass where products can be designed and manufactured to be sold for these purposes.”

Noe exhibits great optimism for the future of this product category. “Even though the economy and credit crisis continue to be a challenge for everyone in our industry,” he explains, “the storage product category remains very viable as consumers want more space-efficient and organized kitchens. Cabinet manufacturers and designers know that storage products can provide customer satisfaction and increased profits. There is no reason to be selling empty boxes.”

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