Inner Beauty

When it comes to cabinet interiors, storage products, kitchen accessories and even closet systems, designers aren’t looking for just “another pretty face.”

“Organization of the interiors is talked about more than ever today by designers and consumers,” says Philip Martin, kitchen business development manager at Häfele, in Archdale, NC. “The consumer has realized that the inside of the cabinet is an opportunity to improve the kitchen and have better access to stored items,” he adds.

The frantic pace of many people’s lives makes good storage and easy access to items vital. After all, no one wants to waste time searching for items needed to work in the kitchen. And whether it’s a pantry or a cabinet, pull-downs, roll-outs and drawer systems with dividers provide plenty of accessible storage options for designers to work with.

But if storage is good, clever storage is even better. So says Dennis Poteat, marketing services for Blum, Inc. in Stanley, NC, who notes, “Designers want more originality in their kitchens. They are looking for good functionality in everything with a new, exciting look.”

This is the case in everything from the sink station – where built-in cutting boards, sink grids and other accessories keep things neat and organized – to pot fillers and other kitchen accessories to cabinet interiors, pantries and the like.

Of course appearance matters, but in addition to aesthetics, designers and their clients see the flexibility of the organization system as a high priority. “Consumers are looking for anything that allows them to create spaces specific to their needs,” says Poteat.

Jan Fitzpatrick, advertising manager for Grass America Inc., based in Kernersville, NC, agrees: “Consumers are much more aware of the interior of the drawer. They like the options of designing their interiors to meet their specific needs.”

Rob Jenkins, director of marketing/consumer sales for Rev-A-Shelf, LLC, in Jeffersontown, KY, says, “Interior fittings have come a long way over the years and I would say the biggest trend has been how they continue to evolve in function, aesthetics and quality. In addition to the cabinetry and limited accessories of the past, kitchen designers can continue their design inside the cabinets to provide a ‘total package’ for the customer.”

The idea of having a fully coordinated kitchen is carrying over to the inside of cabinets and drawers. “Interior fittings are coordinated throughout, from pantry pull-outs, base roll-outs and spice racks to cabinet pull-outs and corner solutions. Now it’s possible to have all of the interior elements be of the same harmonious design throughout,” says Martin.

Driving the Trends

Trends with regard to other elements in the kitchen – from faucet finishes to appliances and accessories – help to drive the trends in interior fittings as designers are coordinating from the outside in.

“More and more interior fittings are being designed to complement the design of the kitchen and hardware used,” says Jenkins. “There have been several products developed to match with the ‘stainless’ trend, as well as many wood products to go with the seemingly timeless ‘natural wood’ trend.”

He adds that, as a result, Rev-a-Shelf’s accessories in chrome/brushed aluminum, and its Wood Classics line, are very popular at this time.

Poteat agrees that the finish of other appliances has an effect on what goes inside the cabinets and drawers. “The popularity of stainless steel appliances seems to be spreading to other parts of the kitchen.” He cites Blum’s TANDEMBOX stainless steel drawer system as appealing to designers as a visual accent to these appliances.

Responding to this desire for coordination in the kitchen, Grass America, Inc. has introduced the Nova Pro drawer system with a champagne color, says Fitzpatrick. “It has a warmer tone than the metallic or stainless steel color. The champagne color blends well with the various finishes of hard woods.”

“For years the cabinet industry has focused on the design of the cabinets, and the customer had little choice in complete accessorization that matched throughout the kitchen,” says Martin. “A marriage of wood shelves with an epoxy wire that blends with the cabinet has recently been introduced to the market to meet consumers’ need for coordination inside their cabinets and the need for complete organization systems with high-function features.”

As consumers and designers demand better products, manufacturers are continually expanding upon their interior fittings to offer solutions for every possible application. Soft and silent technologies are on the upswing, and are being incorporated in drawers and doors all over the kitchen. Manufacturers are aware of the importance of ergonomics, accessibility, storage and work flow benefits as well, says Poteat.

To that end, Martin notes that Häfele has introduced a new program that features a patented non-slip surface that keeps the noise level down, since pots and pans will not slide around the shelf pull out. The collection also features fingerprint-free surfaces that minimize the cleaning needed with more traditional chrome finishes, he says.

Poteat also sees a need for an organization system that is easy to clean. “It’s inevitable that crumbs and drips will make their way into cabinets, so having removable trays that can be put in the dishwasher makes it easy to keep everything clean.”

Ease of use is another factor in what goes into the cabinets and drawers. Martin says, “Ergonomics also play a role in current trends in interior fittings. Consumers want stored items to come to them, rather than having to dig into the cabinet to retrieve items.”

What is standard in the high-end market is increasingly showing up in the mid-level marketplace as well, say manufacturers.

“Consumers in the mid-level market have become users of what I refer to as ‘affordable luxury’ products. In almost every industry, the luxuries of the high-end market are being offered at the mid-level market in slightly lessened versions,” Jenkins says. “For example, the look-alike stainless steel refrigerator with black sides, and the $30,000 Mercedes Benz. Yes, there is still a demand for the $100,000 Mercedes, or the “real” stainless steel refrigerator. But they sell a heck of a lot of the other ones!”

Poteat believes that the lines between high-end and mid-level markets are blurring. “The difference between the two is the customers and their knowledge about what they want in their kitchens.” He adds that more consumers are educating themselves about the products. “Their wish lists aren’t just about aesthetics and appliances anymore. They are focusing more on the cabinets they choose and asking for specific products that will make their kitchens more functional, more ergonomic, easier to use and easier to organize.”

Fitzpatrick says, “The high-end market is more cutting edge, with the willingness to try new innovations. They will pay to have the high-end products in their cabinets. This helps to drive the newest products into the markets. Once proven, the mid-level market will adapt to their [discovery of these products].”

Drawer Space

Manufacturers agree that drawers are on the upswing, more and more often taking the place of base cabinetry. “We see this trend continuing to grow because of the ergonomic, organizational and accessibility benefits of drawers. Even interior roll-outs seem to be a stepping stone for the customer – someone very traditional that normally wouldn’t consider drawers may currently use roll-outs,” says Poteat. The use of roll-outs can help convert a consumer to a drawer system later. “When planning their next kitchen, a designer only needs to point out that, instead of opening two doors and then pulling out [the] roll-out, it saves time to just pull out a drawer,” Poteat states.

Martin adds, “Large drawers became popular a few years ago based on the designs from Italy. Drawers offer dedicated organization from the traditional silverware for the dinner table to systems that store pots, pans and dishes. Drawer organization provides [ergonomic benefits] as well, just as pull-out accessories do, and are easier for the user.”

Jenkins adds, “Drawers bring the contents of the cabinets to your fingertips, making the items you use most more accessible.”

As drawers become larger, fittings must be made to accommodate the added uses. Fitzpatrick says, “Large drawers are a popular item in the kitchen. These drawers require a heavy-duty slide to carry additional weight capacity.” She notes that, because of this, Grass offers the Nova Pro system, which can carry up to 150 pounds in a drawer, as an option for large drawers.

Soft and Silent

As the demand for drawers increases, so, too, does the desire to have these drawers function easily and quietly. The soft-close and silent technologies are in greater demand than ever, manufacturers say.

Fitzpatrick continues, “Drawer slides in highest demand are the concealed undermount slides. It is requested that these items have a soft closing action [which] activates at the end of the closing cycle.”

“[Soft-close drawers] are standard at the high end, and more and more mid-level manufacturers are making them standard or, at the very least, an option,” says Poteat.

“Soft and silent started with drawer slides and recently added the doors by incorporating this technology into hinges. Interior fittings and sliding doors now use soft and silent [more than ever] as the consumer appreciates the environmental impact – less noise in the kitchen. We will see this become the standard in the industry,” says Martin.

Jenkins concurs, to a point. “I think that soft-close features will always be an upgrade, but to those who demand luxuries, it is considered standard,” he says.

In addition to the need for soft-closing functions, Poteat says, “With the growing trend in cabinets without pulls, there is a need for better ways to open these doors and drawers.” This year, Blum, Inc. will offer TIP-ON, which is an opening feature that allows doors and drawers to open with just a light touch.

In the Corner

A tricky area to organize has always been the corner, where items can be stored and promptly forgotten. Myriad options now exist to help designers fully utilize that space.

“There are many solutions, from door-mounted blind corner pulls-outs to hinged door pull-outs with back baskets that slide out into the kitchen independently for greater access, to our Lemans [model which features] two shelves that extend independently and completely out of the cabinet for easy visibility of the stored items,” says Martin.

And, with drawers on the upswing, Blum has introduced the Space Corner, a full-extension, heavy-duty corner drawer system. “If drawers are the best solution, then why not use them in the corner?” Poteat asks.

“Blind corner cabinets have always been the ‘Holy Grail’ of storage organizing solutions. But the rub has been designing a product that actually utilizes the available space the cabinet provides,” says Jenkins. Rev-a-Shelf’s latest blind corner solution is the 5PSP Series Blind Corner Optimizer. “This unit provides storage that is 100% accessible from outside the cabinet,” says Jenkins. “No more crawling into the cabinet with a flashlight!”

Customized Storage Rooms

Just as style, function and flexibility are important in interior fittings, the same holds true for closet space. “Consumers are now looking for beauty and elegance in designated storage rooms – just as they always have in the kitchen,” says Nanette Oliver, president of Cope Closet Concepts in Toccoa, GA.

No longer is a closet a jumbled mess of untapped potential. “These larger closet/storage spaces feel more ‘room-like’ vs. ‘closet-like’ – which has created a need for closet storage systems that are both functional and beautiful. Today, what you put in your closet can sell a house,” she continues.

“The current trend [in closet storage] is to offer a complete walk-in pantry that complements the features offered throughout the kitchen,” says John Jaworski, co-president of Proclosets in Pine Brook, NJ.

Homeowners are seeking to personalize their kitchen space while having the storage space available for larger items that may be needed on an occasional basis. “The trend is to offer these kinds of storage areas while also offering unique solutions for the homeowner’s interests,” remarks Jaworski. These might include tray dividers for the baker to store baking or cooling racks, or wine bottle and stemware storage for the wine enthusiast.

In the bath, closets can be as simple as a linen closet or as extensive as an attached dressing room that complements the bath area, according to Jaworski. “For dressing areas, the trend is to create the look and feel of customized built-in furniture.”

Denis M. Buch, president of Element Closet Systems in McHenry, IL agrees: “Closet systems have changed greatly in recent years in response to the increased size of master closets,” he says. “As the master closet has increased in size, it has become the main area of ‘furniture’ in the master suite. The master closet has become a dressing area, as well.”

But while function is key, appearance counts, too, manufacturers agree. And the trend in closet aesthetics mirrors that of the rest of the home. For example, in the past year, closet finishes are trending toward darker wood tones, according to Jaworski.

Finish trends also vary by region and/or geographic location, Oliver adds. “Historically, light finishes – white, whitewash and natural [clear lacquer] – have been the norm. Today, the main trend is shifting toward medium and darker wood tones.”

“The natural finish is [frequently] used in smaller closets,” says Buch. “Meanwhile, the darker finish is used in high-end applications where the closet is large.”

The needs in closet space are as varied as the people who use them, making customization important to designers and their clients. At Proclosets, this need is addressed through the company’s online system, where each job is custom designed online by the dealer. “No two are the same,” Jaworski says.

“Most closet systems – even wire shelving – can be customized to suit different storage needs,” adds Oliver. “No matter what materials or closet system your clients choose, I believe if they are serious about making the space work for their needs, [they need to work with a designer who understands closet planning].”

Oliver concludes, “Consumers are recognizing this and utilizing designers for their custom closets because storage is much bigger today and represents a larger chunk of dollars invested in a home than in years past.”

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