There is ample evidence that the market for professionally remodeled kitchens and baths is the strongest sector in the broader remodeling industry. Our March survey of remodelers found that 47 percent report their current level of kitchen and bath remodeling is higher than in previous years — a surprising figure given the slower market for remodeling activity generally.
What is also clear is that remodelers overwhelmingly view kitchen and bath remodeling as a key area for the growth of their businesses in the coming years — 92 percent agreed with this statement in our survey. They know that in good times and bad, homeowners hire remodelers to improve the two rooms they use most often.
Jerome Levine, owner of The Levine Group Architects & Builders Inc., Silver Spring, Md., explained the continued activity and vibrancy in kitchen and bath remodeling this way. “The good news is that people still want kitchen and baths. They still want to cook food and entertain, and they still want a nice environment to shower and use the bathroom.”
So what is it that drives kitchen and bath business in 2008? We drew upon a number of resources to provide as complete a picture as possible. First, we conducted a survey of remodelers which gave us a sense of the level of activity and some of the finishes and features they are seeing in their respective markets. Second, we pulled in photos and trends from recent winners of Qualified Remodeler’s Master Design Awards. Third, we conducted interviews with remodelers. Lastly, we worked with the National Kitchen & Bath Association to offer their input as to some of the macro-level trends that now drive kitchen and bath designs.
Trend No. 1: Color is king
Last year, on the cover of our Kitchen & Bath Industry Show issue, we presented a super sleek, gleaming white kitchen by Arclinea of Boston. This year we chose a luxe bath remodel by Classic Remodeling & Construction Inc. of Johns The rich colors and tones — from the deep mahogany vanities to the warm-colored walls — are emblematic of a common thread seen among many award-winning remodeling projects in 2008. But the trend toward the use of new colors and new mixes of colors goes way beyond an added richness says Victoria Strother of PS Construction Inc., Sacramento, Calif.
“We have some really dark kitchens, some really light kitchens and, in part, this is established by the color of granite that they choose. But by-and-large, people are experimenting more with paint color, going a little wilder, mixing lights and darks.
Before it was always cream trimmed with something,” Strother explains. “They are being a lot more expansive with colors — rust and gold, whites and purples, more intense brighter colors, more combinations. Homeowners are not afraid anymore.”
Across the country in the well-heeled sections of the Washington, D.C. Metro area, at least two remodelers are seeing the same trend toward color, and risk taking. Jerome Levine says he’s “put in Navy Blue countertops and splashy colors — and they work.” At the same time, he seems to be cautioning his clients against the trend. “Whether these colors will have appeal years from now, I don’t know.”
Cindy McClure, ASID, CR, CKD, owner and president of Grossmueller’s Design Consultants Inc. in Washington, says vibrant color is primarily showing up in appliances. “I’m seeing more mix of color, less stainless. We see black or white appliances and now some of the higher-end appliances are bringing in some bolder colors.” This is particularly evident in red, blue, green and yellow enameled ovens, stoves and cooktops.
In Minnesota, where Tim Mogck, AIBD, of Braden Construction does 99 percent of his kitchen and bath work, colors are changing, but not as dramatically. The purples and the navy blues are not showing up; instead they tend to be browns and warmer tones shown in the project on the cover of this issue. “I’m seeing more light colors. We see lots of enameled white cabinets with a dark island or some kind of darker wood species.”
In our survey of remodelers, the use of color was not asked directly, but boldness in color can be inferred by top styles of kitchens and baths that remodelers say are in vogue. Contemporary, transitional, and European styles have risen toward the top of the kitchen styles, with classic styles still holding the top spot. For baths, contemporary was the No. 1 style, well ahead of classic, which was trailed closely by transitional, country, and retro.
Trend No. 2: A changing view of storage
The vast majority of kitchens in the U.S. have similar arrangements for storage — cabinets underneath counters and cabinets up top. But several remodelers we spoke with say they see a trend away from overhead cabinets and other overhead storage racks, like pot hangers and wine racks. The trend is being driven by the overarching goal of achieving more openness and to create larger multipurpose spaces. Overhead storage units and cabinets are increasingly seen as blocking lines of sight and making rooms seem tight.
“We used to just hang overheads and wine racks,” says Victoria Struther. “Our clients are not doing that. They like islands. They’re looking for more gathering areas in the kitchen — more counter space. Getting rid of the overheads tends to make the room more open and inviting. But it creates a problem in that the overhead space is no longer available and the storage must be relocated. As a result, we are seeing larger walk-in pantries. We have to do more with the remaining cabinetry to utilize space more efficiently — such as corner cabinets with lazy susans. “We are not necessarily expanding the space. We are trying to utilize the space better.” (See our cabinet trends, “Form-Function Balance”.)
In Minnesota, Braden Construction’s Mogck is keenly aware of the disappearing upper cabinet. “People are minimizing upper cabinets. Many lineal feet of upper cabinet space are simply going by the boards. Designers are responding to clients in the understanding that the kitchen has long since stopped being just a kitchen. It is so much a part of the larger control and entertainment area of our clients’ homes,” adds Mogck. “They want kitchens to be less kitchen-like.”
Mogck also sees the changing nature of storage in the increasing call for built-ins — built-in appliances especially — and it is related to the disappearing upper cabinet trend. Built-ins have long-since-emerged as a trend at the higher end of the market.
We are now seeing it at moderate price points. Call it the mainstreaming of the built-in look, says Mogck.
“Kitchens are open to adjacent areas,” he explains. “Appliances are getting more built in, more built in as drawers. There are more undercounter refrigerators, freezers or microwave drawers. And these days, you can walk into a space and not know where the refrigerator is because it’s camouflaged by the cabinetry.”
Trend No. 3: A stronger connection to the outdoors
Last year, Jerome Levine and his Silver Spring, Md. company earned top honors in the “Kitchens over $100,000” category of the Master Design Awards. According to the judges, the award was given in large measure for creating a kitchen that had a strong connection to the outdoors, despite its significant original limitations. The project was originally a narrow and dark row house.
Having sat idle for 30 years, the kitchen reflected the prevailing trends of the period: It was small, dark and isolated from the rest of the house. The clients, a ceramic/glass sculptor and her husband, desired light, open space areas for the display of artwork and a great atmosphere for entertaining.
After speaking with the clients extensively, the designers settled on infusing the space with an “open loft feel.” Partitions were eliminated, creating a seamless flow from kitchen to dining room, including seating areas and display room for artwork along the walls.
Long surfaces provide the optical illusion of additional space; bulkheads housing the HVAC ducts help to subtly define and divide the kitchen and dining room. A tray ceiling over the island houses indirect up-lighting and a long, sleek pendant light. According to Levine, one challenge was “finding ways to include more light.”
The key solution was a new grid of glass spans across the rear façade.
“People very often want to feel connected with the outside, especially in the kitchen,” explains Levine. “They want glass and a visual connection as well as — very often — an easy physical connection to the exterior for warm weather cooking. Both a visual and practical connection is wanted. In the DC area, cooking season and outdoor living can run from May through the end of October.”
Trend No. 4: The rise of practical, function-based choices
According to research conducted by the Remodeling Futures Program at Havard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, remodeling activity is expected to moderate throughout 2008. But the lower level activity is also likely to be accompanied by a moderating of budgets dedicated to kitchen and bath projects, experts say. The logic is that someone who may have been willing to invest $100,000 in a kitchen remodeling project two years ago when home-price appreciation in many parts of the country was pacing at double-digit percentages may now only be willing to invest $75,000. That reduction in job size is reflected in a newfound practicality shown by kitchen remodeling clients.
“Clients are not necessarily expanding their space; they are trying to utilize the space better,” explains Victoria Strother of PS Construction. Other remodelers echoed the same sentiment.
“The thing that I’m seeing most is people are making wiser choices,” says Grossmueller’s Cindy McClure. “They want to get more bang for the buck. The choices aren’t as extravagant. They still want beauty, but more functional, practical beauty.”
The continued strength of classic styles in both kitchens and baths, according to our survey of remodelers, is also reflective of the trend. The aesthetics of classic styles has held strong appeal for homeowners for several years; now those classic styles also seem to reflect the rise of the functional and the practical.
“I think people are getting more tuned in with function than with the wow factor — wouldn’t it be great to have a big whirlpool tub — but the idea was better than the reality. In some ways the clientele who can afford new kitchens and bathrooms are more reality based and more function based,” says Levine. “We ask if they are tub or shower people. At first the idea of a whirlpool tub still means something — luxury — but now people are thinking we’ve got at least one tub in the house — for resale value we have to have at least one. But for the master bath, we have the freedom to make the master bath function the way we live in the space — and that means taking out a tub very often and putting in a large shower — two sets of shower heads, body sprays — or hand-held.”
The move from tubs to spa-like shower systems has also been noticed by McClure and Mogck. “I’m getting rid of a lot of master tubs. We are doing larger, more functional, dual-person showers as opposed to jetted tubs,” notes McClure.
“People are finding they don’t have time to soak in a tub. It’s much more practical to have a shower, but not just a practical shower,” adds Mogck, “but something that is as luxurious and relaxing as a tub can be, a different type of experience. Plumbing manufacturers have responded by offering really cool high-end valves and shower heads.”
Trend No. 5: The power of granite and quartz
While some trends come and go, but granite, and increasingly quartz surfaces continue to hold steady allure to kitchen and bath remodeling clients. This year’s survey of remodelers shows that granite remains the overwhelming choice with homeowners, garnering the top place for countertops among 32 percent of the respondents. Engineered stone and quartz ranked second on the list, earning the top choice among 19 percent of the remodelers surveyed. (See chart 1)
Why does granite and quartz continue to be the most preferred type of surface material? Remodelers we talked with cite the range of color choices, the uniqueness of each particular surface and the sleek luxurious look of the polished finished product. And its particular color, when installed, seems to drive all of the other color choices for the room.
“We have some really dark kitchens and some really light kitchens, and it’s established by the color of granite they choose,” says remodeler Victoria Strother. “Granite is still very popular but we hear complaints about temperature. It’s cold. So they like to heat granite.”
In Minnesota, remodeler Tim Mogck attests to the strength of granite, but some clients are choosing quartz. “While granite is still the most popular by a long shot, quartz is becoming a very popular choice — you don’t even see laminate anymore.”
Jerome Levine sums up the love affair with granite this way: “Granite is still wonderfully popular and I think it’s going to stay popular for a very long time; the beauty of the material is just unsurpassed and it’s versatile.”