Intuitive Interiors

Just like your mother always said, it’s what’s inside that counts. While appearance certainly makes an impact, equally important is the convenience and utility of the fittings and accessories inside kitchen cabinets and drawers, say manufacturers recently surveyed by KBDN.

Dennis Poteat, marketing communications manager, Blum, Inc. in Stanley, NC says that customization is one of the biggest trends he sees in the accessory and interior fittings market.

“It’s important to consumers that they are able to make changes to their storage spaces for their ever-changing needs. As new gadgets [and] appliances come on the market, people want to be able to make a space for them in their kitchens, [specifically] in their cabinets.”

Jennifer Peterson, director of sales for Bensenville, IL-based Vance Industries, agrees. She sees innovative new kitchen storage that expands on the existing cabinetry as a top demand. She also sees a trend toward utilizing unused and often overlooked space in the kitchen.

Marte Yerkins, v.p. of market development for Grass America, Inc. in Kernersville, NC adds, “Concerning function, convenience seems to be a preference. Some design trends command that no visible decorative hardware be shown, so new touch-latch mechanisms for doors and drawers are being used.”

Becky Newman, v.p. of Internet sales and business development for Pine Brook, NJ-based, says, “The design trend throughout the home, including kitchens and closets, is to utilize every possible inch of space in an aesthetic efficient way that is easy to access.”

Old Standbys and New Favorites

With the abundance of kitchen accessories available on the market, the must-haves are as varied as the designers and consumers who choose them. Drawer organizers, waste containers, sink front tip-out trays and products that make use of space that might otherwise be overlooked top the list, according to manufacturers.

Peterson notes that Vance Industries has addressed the growing demand for that extra space with a host of new products designed to increase and simplify storage, including a product that slides directly under an existing wall cabinet shelf to put that space to good use.

Peterson also sees a growing demand for under-sink cabinet protection. “So often, base cabinets are damaged when kitchen plumbing fails and goes unnoticed under the sink,” she comments. Vance Industries addressed this need with the Under Sink Tray, which can be trimmed to fit and rests in the base cabinet below the kitchen sink.

Rob Jenkins, director of marketing and consumer sales for Rev-A-Shelf LLC, in Louisville, KY notes that its filler pull-outs continue to see great demand, even in a slower market. “We love this application because it highlights our core competency in creating usable, valuable space where it was once wasted,” he says.

Karen Armour, product manager for Häfele America in Archdale, NC says, “One of the more notable trends in the kitchen is the attention given to noise.” She adds that a quiet kitchen is possible, even with door- and drawer -slamming kids in the household. “Most slides now come standard with some type of soft-closing feature.”

In this regard she cites Häfele’s Arena Champagne accessory collection, which includes soft closing slides as standard hardware. The line also features patented wood bottomed trays with a non-slip surface to prevent pots, pans, cans and bottles from sliding around when the drawers and pull-outs are in motion.

Spring is the prime time for new product introductions in the kitchen and bath industry, and many manufacturers note that accessory and storage options will be in hot demand.

Blum is introducing a fourth addition to its Aventos lift systems, the Aventos HL, next month. The door on this system lifts parallel to the cabinet, and closes silently back into place with Blumotion technology. Its parallel opening allows for a wide range of use, says Poteat, including wall cabinet and countertop appliance garage applications.

“The advantage to all Aventos lift systems is that they lift the door up and out of your way. A cook could open all of the wall cabinets in the kitchen while working and not close them until they are done,” says Poteat. “Imagine not having to open and close cabinet doors every time you remove an item, or not having to worry about hitting your head on an open door while emptying the dishwasher.”

Touch-open technology is also gaining in popularity, with many manufacturers introducing products with electronic-opening systems. Grass has developed the Sensotronic system, which opens with just a slight depression on the drawer front, and closes with a light push.

“For safety, as if a hand or finger were in the way, the drawer will instantly reverse to avoid pinching,” says Yerkins. “Up to 23 drawers can be controlled by a single processor, which supplies low-volt power and monitors the position of each drawer. We call it an intelligent system because drawers that may collide, as in an inside corner configuration, are prevented from opening if another is in the way.”

Blum has developed an automatic drawer system, the Servo-Drive , which allows drawers to open automatically with a touch on the drawer front or light pull on the handle. “This new development is based on an electrical drive that, once triggered, opens the drawer for you,” says Poteat. “The drawer has no fixed connection to the drive unit, which enables it to stop in any desired position.”

Rev-A-Shelf is also releasing a new line of products, starting with a series of waste containers that has “Rev-A-Motion,” a heavy-duty soft open/close feature.

Customized Choices

Having products that look and function exactly as desired is important to designers and consumers, particularly in the luxury market. Custom solutions turn a kitchen into a one-of-a-kind space. Peterson says, “We believe customization is key to the market. People want to express themselves with custom cabinetry.”

Poteat agrees: “Consumers want a kitchen planned to suit their individual needs. They want their storage items taken into consideration when the cabinets are planned.” Manufacturers offer a wide range of options that can be fully customized to suit the individual, from drawer organizers and accessory hooks and pegs to pantry systems.

Finishes, materials and style of accessories and fittings also vary widely. With all of the choices available, a designer or consumer can find – or create – exactly what has been envisioned.

“There are certain styles that sell better than others, but there seem to be more options in the market now than ever before,” says Poteat.

Armour adds, “The rich, warm finish of brushed stainless steel is not only classic, but the most sought-after finish from basic products to top-of-the-line products. The use of stainless appliances sets the tone, the cabinetry finish is the complement, but wait, the style doesn’t need to stop there. Open those doors and drawers and the beauty of your kitchen can extend out from those cabinets.”

Yerkins has seen a demand for champagne and metallic finishes, such as those in Grass’ Nova Pro drawer series. Since introducing these products, which have a clear gloss top coat, Yerkins says, “We have gained attention from designers who think that stainless steel is the only way to go for a sleek, contemporary look.” He adds that the attention comes because consumers who buy conventional stainless products “eventually regret the decision because the porous metal retains fingerprints.”

Jenkins sees designers coordinating finishes throughout the kitchen, now even more than before. He says that the predominant style seems to be a mix of traditional and contemporary elements, such as glass doors and inserts, more drawers and less wall cabinets, and more wood elements.

“There has been evolution in recent years, but mainstream items such as raised-panel doors with various finish combinations continue to hold strong and remain popular,” he adds.

Storage Solutions

Drawers with full-extension, concealed mechanisms, soft-close functions and high-load capacity are in great demand, says Yerkins. He also sees a demand for deep drawers that have a comfortable ability to be subdivided for organizing and keeping things in place.

Manufacturers agree that the trend toward using drawers rather than base cabinets is growing. “The drawer cabinet parade continues. More and more consumers want ease of use and accessibility. Drawers just make more sense,” Jenkins observes.

Poteat agrees: “We see more drawers in base cabinets because of the obvious ergonomic benefits. Interior roll-outs are still popular, but people are starting to realize that drawers are better because it takes two steps to get to roll-outs: open the doors, pull the roll-out (and hope you don’t scratch the doors.) With drawers, it is just one easy step to get the same ergonomic and organizational benefits.”

Armour adds, “Base cabinets are definitely moving away from hinged doors. Drawers and pull-outs allow the contents of the cabinets to be pulled out and fully accessed. The days of bending down to reach into a base cabinet are gone.”

Manufacturers continue to offer a variety of unique blind-corner solutions as well. Pull-outs, drawers and sliding trays bring the contents of the cabinet to the forefront. Poteat says the Space Corner by Blum is unique in that “it brings the contents of that huge cabinet right out to the user, and offers three or four drawers instead of just two tiers. It can hold large items typically stored in the corner, but can also have utensil drawers – storage that is typically not available in the corner cabinet.”

Häfele also offers many blind-corner solutions for cabinets, including its latest addition, the LeMans Corner. The product is an adjustable two-tray system that glides completely out of the cabinet, delivering even the items in the farthest reaches of the cabinet to the front, explains Armour.

“The unique shape, smooth function, 65 lbs.-per-tray load capacity and shelves that can easily be adjusted to the height that the customer desires make this the wow accessory tucked away in the corner of your kitchen,” she adds.

No discussion of storage in the kitchen can be complete without addressing pantries. Newman says, “Pantries are no longer just shelving for food storage. Homeowners and professionals can create an extended and customized version of their home’s kitchen cabinetry using the custom pantry design tool.”

Elements that have proven popular in the pantry include slide-out accessories, from baskets for storing linens or recyclables, to slide-out spice and wine racks. Stationary accessories such as stemware racks and tray dividers, adjustable shelving and custom doors can be incorporated into the pantry design to give the space a luxury, customized appeal, says Newman.

Accessibility and Green Design

Universal Design has had an impact on all kitchen products, and accessories and fittings are no exception.

“Our Sensotronic drawers are an ideal option for Universal Design. With wide and heavy drawers being more popular, having drawers open and close with a slight touch makes it easier for the elderly or wheelchair bound,” says Yerkins.

Poteat says, “Our newest concept, Dynamic Space, focuses on ergonomics in the kitchen. By planning base cabinets with drawers, bending, kneeling and stretching into the back corners of a cabinet can be eliminated. Full-extension drawers bring the contents outside of the cabinet. Even items in the very back corners come all the way out to the fingertips. Everyone can use drawers, which make all items easily accessible.”

The shift toward “green” design that is permeating every aspect of kitchen and bath design shows up in accessory and fitting trends as well. Rev-a-Shelf is introducing a line of Green accessories made from rapidly renewable materials and through environmentally friendly processes. “This is a category that will not replace our current product offering, but will address the customer base that demands these options,” says Jenkins.

Poteat adds, “In regard to green design, many consumers are looking for products that are environmentally friendly, such as our Tandembox drawer runner system and Orga-Line flexible dividing system. Consumers are realizing that these products aren’t solely for the contemporary kitchen. With the right drawer fronts, when the drawers are closed you can’t even tell what kind of drawer runner system is being used.”

Peterson notes that products that can help repair and restore a kitchen are appealing to eco-conscious customers. Vance Industries’ built-in Surface Savers allow a homeowner to save a countertop from damage by simply cutting out the area of damage and replacing it with a stainless surrounded glass cutting board. Additionally, liners such as the Under Sink Tray hide damage and protect from further damage. “For less than $20, a homeowner can use an Under Sink Tray instead of replacing a base cabinet to achieve a clean look under the sink. The same is true for our drawer organizers,” Peterson says.

Easyclosets is also mindful of the green trends, currently meeting California standards, which are set to go into effect on January 1, 2009, for formaldehyde emissions and overall air quality. “One of the highest priorities at EasyClosets is to stay aware and ahead of all relevant regulatory policies that impact our products,” says Newman.

And staying ahead of the trends remains key to the storage and accessories market.

For more Kitchen Accessories, Interior Fittings and Storage Aids, please visit Products Gallery.