Just as in the world of fashion, the 1980s came alive again in kitchens at the 2006 Eurocucina Italian Furniture Fair, held in Milan earlier this year. The dominant theme seemed to be retro – with looks reminiscent of design styles ranging from the 1950s to the 1980s. However, these looks were also punctuated with up-to-the-minute modular appliances such as independent ice and water units (sans refrigerators) and Japanese Teppanyaki grills.
Indeed, while everything old might be new again, technology was well represented, not only in the various displays, but at the FTK Technology for the Kitchen, located alongside the show and featuring some 16 exhibitors.
With 141 exhibitors from 20 countries and Italy, the biannual kitchen event drew nearly 225,000 trade visitors – more than half from overseas – as well as a host of major European kitchen product manufacturers, showcasing a wide array of exciting design and product trends. Additionally, a new International Bathroom Exhibition with 135 exhibitors was added to make the event even more appealing to kitchen and bath professionals.
What we Americans still call European styling – that is flat slab doors with C-channels and J-channels – was one of the newest looks evident throughout the exhibits. Doors with ribbed acrylic and scored woods were reintroduced, reminiscent of the first white Allmilmo cabinets that came into the U.S. 25 years ago.
Along with the reintroduction of the ’80s look came a general return to glitz in finishing materials. Gloss laminates and acrylic were reintroduced, and stainless steel and glass were used in both countertops and cabinet doors.
One intriguing novelty cabinet finish was soft leather, introduced by Snaidero.
Cabinetry colors included white acrylic or laminate with charcoal washed oak; beiges and taupes combined with highly figured woods; lime green and orange as seen in past years, plus black and white gloss acrylics.
Cabinets featured large integrated hardware, the C-channel and J-channel, rather then surface-mounted pulls. However, such integral hardware is not readily transferable to the North American market because of custom cabinetry sizing.
Cabinet door styling continued to be full-overlay slab construction. Many doors were finished with an aluminum framing to allow center panel material flexibility.
Cabinet finishes featured the look of highly figured woods including ebony, zebra, horizontal cherry, horizontal European oak and burled wood. Upon close inspection, it appeared that many of these were reconstituted woods for environmental concerns. This type of highly figured wood worked very well with thick PVC edge tape or an aluminum frame around the slab door. Often the woods were scored.
Taking conservation even further, Alno introduced a door program based on a patented ink-jet process that prints exotic woodgrains onto a controlled-growth wood substrate. The Alnoart Woodline program offers three book-matched veneer grain patterns – Brazilian Rosewood, Zebra and Beech Heart – all on an aluminium-encased, controlled growth, natural beech foundation. This technology can not only print from over 150 stock images and graphics, but also from personal photos or images provided by the consumer.
The general shape and configuration of the kitchens themselves tended toward minimal use of wall cabinets, with storage provided in long, continuous walls of tall cabinets. A common design motif was an open square metal frame with eased corners holding up an extended counter or attaching a hood to the ceiling.
Crisply designed, commonly sized appliance modules of ovens, coffee makers, ice/water dispensers, microwaves and even televisions, were often incorporated at eye level like building blocks into a clean horizontal line within tall cabinet elevations. Even a small “undercounter” modular refrigerator was used in this type of application. Similarly, these appliances were also aligned in mid-high cabinet sections typically 60"-64" tall.
The idea of open shelving as an integral part of base cabinets was seen repeatedly with the use of exposed roll-out shelves.
Designers often conceived of the kitchen in two parts: one, the more public area; and the other, a more closed off work area. One example was at Poggenpohl, where a “lounge atmosphere” was dominated by a media tree. The “tree,” made up of vertical elements in the room, provided space for a modular system of socket outlets, i-Pod dock, charging station for mobile phones and a touch-screen monitor. Power LED spotlights in the floating canopy illuminated the working area. With a loudspeaker unit for the i-Pod and atmospherically colored light shining through the translucent underside, it did resemble a lounge.
As a walk-in workroom in the background was the Back Box. Folding-sliding doors opened to reveal a kitchen with the appliances, storage capability and countertops needed to prepare meals.
In the lounge area, a “dining desk” split open when needed, revealing a concealed full-length function area housing various elements such as a tray, teppanyaki grill, chopping board and containers. Two trolleys fit into the open areas at the two ends. These trolleys park under the suspended worktop of the Back Box and provide space for Corian containers, champagne coolers and teapot warmers, toaster and trays in a standardized grid.
This was just one example of the overall theme in Milan of placing much more importance on the mechanics of the room, rather then the cabinets. This was evident in the new appliance configurations, the new use of lighting systems and the continued focus on cabinet interior storage systems, as well.
The concept of protection from infection or bacteria was a highlight in several parts of the show. One European solid surface manufacturer introduced a sink that was antibacterial. Alno introduced a cabinet interior and pulls that had a similar treatment.
One very intriguing appliance introduction was a built-in water and ice dispenser as a separate unit that could be combined with a coffee maker or a wine refrigerator in a refreshment center, moving this convenience feature away from the full-size refrigerator itself.
Another appliance of note was a modular television placed on a moveable post within a frame sized to match companion ovens and other appliances
The hottest new item in cooking equipment was the sleek, smooth teppanyaki Asian-style grill built into counter surfaces.
Elongated cooktops with the burners stacked next to one another along the front edge of the countertop, rather than front and back, offered a unique solution to a small kitchen in that the cooktop (with a down draft ventilation system) could be placed in a narrower countertop.
COUNTERTOP AND SINK TRENDS
There was less marble and quartz used on countertops, but much more stainless steel and painted-back glass.
Countertops were either very thin or very thick, with square or slightly eased edges featuring a minimal overhang. Many of the overly thick countertops were simply placed on standard cabinet heights, making these tops too tall for a petite cook. For example, one top finished off at 39.5".
The most interesting new innovations were motorized tops that were suspended off the floor at 30" but could be raised to 36", providing table seating or counter work surfaces. The second approach to movable countertops were surfaces that moved to the left or right, providing a table when needed but floor space when not.
Sink combinations often featured one deep sink and one exceedingly shallow sink with some type of pull across or sliding butcher block surface.
Another sink configuration consistently seen was a very elongated oversized (but shallow) trough sink.
Lighting systems were a new and integral part of the design statement. Specialized lighting arrangements along the backsplash were common. LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights were effective when built into the hood canopy. Overhead “starlight” ceilings added drama to kitchens. Changing colored lights defined the edges of countertops.
The interiors of cabinets were illuminated with a system similar to a closet switch so that, when the door was opened, the light turned on. In some cases, these LED lights were in front of the face of the cabinet. They were even more effective when they were placed just behind the cabinet frame.
LIFESTYLES AND CONCEPTS
From a lifestyle standpoint, Europeans, like Americans, have embraced the concept of a gathering kitchen. One of the best examples was a display titled “The Library Kitchen.” In a square space, the back wall was used as a work area facing the cooking island. A walkway then separated a similarly sized bar/table seating island finished off with a long bench across the opposite wall with a bookcase.
The fun of Eurocucina is that it also features a number of concept-only kitchens designed to amaze and stimulate. And while the “marketable” kitchens focused on clean, straight lines, the concept kitchens veered off into the opposite direction of wild and unpredictable curves.
Probably one of the most “far-out” examples of the shared understanding that a kitchen must be much more then a cooking environment was a Berloni exhibit entitled “Not For Food.” It showcased an angled black multi-functional work station and desk top that swooped down behind a white curved lounging area. (Think sectional sofa cloned to kitchenette/desk). It was explained as follows: “Not for food, the new concept kitchen. A multi-purpose space designed for the near future, when relaxation, work and food will co-exist in the same environment.”
Another concept kitchen by renowned architect Zaha Hadid with DuPont Corian was the Z. Island, a curvaceous, undulating white Corian wave-shaped island that looked like a piece of sculpture. Amenities included a nozzle for emitting perfume, built-in iPod and LCD display screen.
Leslie Hart is executive v.p. of the Irvine, CA-based Fry Communications and a regular columnist for Kitchen & Bath Design News. She is the former editor and publisher of Kitchen & Bath Business, and she has created custom books, magazines and marketing programs.
Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, is a well-known author, designer, speaker and marketing specialist. A member of the NKBA Hall of Fame, Cheever has authored several design education textbooks and currently manages an award-winning design firm, Ellen Cheever & Associates.