Regional Roots, Global Style

Southwest colors in a New York loft? The romance of Charleston on the coast of Florida? California chic in Minnesota? Designers are beginning to wonder just what is going on with kitchen and bath design these days.

In the past, design trends tended to be fairly regional in nature, and therefore relatively predictable. Contemporary styles were only found in metropolitan areas on the coasts, and traditional reigned everywhere else. Any new trends started on the coasts, and trickled slowly inland.

“The joke was always: ‘What is the trend for Minnesota? Well, the trend is what was on the coast five years ago,’” comments Lori Jo Krengel, CMKBD, president, Kitchens by Krengel, in St. Paul, MN. “We never had to be real visionary because it was just going to happen.” With the advent of the Internet, and the increase in continental and world travel, however, things are definitely changing.

“Trends definitely move across the country more quickly than they used to,” reports KBDN columnist Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, owner, Mary Jo Peterson, Inc. in Brookfield, CT. She notes, however, that the metropolitan areas and the suburbs are still “often at different places at different times.”

Krengel reports that consumers from all areas are asking for specific types of design. “Whether it’s a Tuscany flavor, a European flavor, an Asian-rim influence – people are finding things that appeal to them on a global level, and they’re bringing them in and wanting them to be applied to their little kitchen regionally,” she says. “As a designer, it’s fun.”

People are traveling more and they see things in other parts of the country and the world and want to incorporate those things into their own homes. “I recently had a woman bring a picture of a bathroom suite in a luxury hotel where she had stayed, and she wanted her bathroom remodeled to reflect that particular bathroom because she thought it was very relaxing,” Beverly Dalton, owner of Signature Kitchen & Bath, Inc., in Bowling Green, KY reports.

“I had a client the other day pay the builder a compliment by saying, ‘my husband said that coming home every evening is like spending time on a European vacation.’ It was the highest compliment I could have heard, because the clients take a lot of European vacations, and that’s what they wanted their home to feel like,” remarks Julie Stoner, ASID, CKD, president, The Rutt Studio on the Mainline, in Wayne, PA.

Heidi Huddleston, CKD, manager of the Manchester, NH-based Dovetailed Kitchens, adds that she also has clients who are travelers, and “they often ask us to incorporate elements from their European vacations.”

Missi Bart, CKD, principal at Renaissance Design Studio, Inc., in Sarasota, FL notes that many of her clients want something that no one else has, “something that is uniquely their own.” To accomplish this, they often look to other areas of the country and the world for inspiration. “We do designs based on looks from Provence, Hampton Beach, Tuscany, even Charleston,” she reports. “Charleston is an architectural style that you don’t see very often in Sarasota, but it’s starting to have more of an influence here – complete with the use of brick, vibrant room colors, chandeliers. It’s just a beautiful, southern, traditional look.”

“Travel is having an impact,” agrees Peter Collins, designer at Alure Home Improvements, in East Meadow, NY. “Regions such as Europe and Asia are so dynamic in their design, and those influences are spreading like wildfire in the Long Island, NY area.

Collins adds that, while there seemed to be reluctance toward contemporary in the region a while back, “it was that cold contemporary. But now, with the influence of the Asian minimalist looks and the stark Italian design, in combination with the warmth of wood and other natural media, they’re a lot more receptive to contemporary now.”

“I am seeing more contem-porary, but it is with woods,” agrees Terry Schwartzman, senior designer, Kitchens Southwest in Scottsdale, AZ. “It’s a warmer contemporary, and it’s not glossy.”

While Dalton notes that designers are still doing mostly wood cabinets in her region, “they take on a cleaner line, with less ornamentation,” she comments. “For a while we were using a lot of the onlays and corbels, but today the lines are cleaner and made to look a little bit more like the more contemporary cabinets.

I’m doing a little bit more contemporary design now. I’m still doing a lot of traditional, but now it’s more of a transitional look,” she comments.

“Here in Naperville, a suburb of Chicago, we’re seeing a push toward more contemporary and away from traditional to cleaner lines,” reports Jessica Gomes, designer for Casa Bella Design Center, in Naperville, IL. She adds that this trend was unexpected. “We have a fairly new showroom, and while we have a few traditional displays, it has been our contemporary ones that have been the biggest pullers.”

Still, many designers report that traditional still has strong roots in kitchen design. “If I do 10 kitchens, maybe half of one is contemporary,” reports Krengel. “Even though customers come in and ask for contemporary, it’s not really contemporary.”

Robin Rigby-Fisher, CKD, CBD, president, Pegasus Design, Inc., in Portland OR notes that some of her older clients who are in a higher income bracket are purposely embracing the older traditional look. “A lot of young people are moving into the downtown area and are doing much more contemporary looks, and older clients are trying to fight that trend,” she explains. “I think people who are stable and who have had their money for a while are leaning more toward the very, very elegant traditional look. I’m putting chandeliers in kitchens like crazy!”

Personal Preferences
Regional design preferences are often driven by consumer desires and personalities.

For instance, “if it’s a first-time home buyer, typically they’re going to try to be trendy,” remarks Krengel, “sometimes to the detriment of it 10 years from now.”

Anna Maria Vona, v.p. at Carmana Designs in Philadelphia, PA notes that her customers are going for very high drama with regard to their kitchens. “People are going for very sleek, modern, urbane, jaw-dropping, make-your-friends-green-with-envy looks,” she notes about the Philadelphia area.

Her firm did a ribbon-striped African mahogany kitchen for a granite/marble showroom, and “everybody wants this kitchen because it’s so dramatic,” she comments.

Wendy Hall, CKD, interior designer, Home Valu Interiors, in Urbandale, IA would like to see consumers design their kitchens in keeping with the architecture of their homes, but she doesn’t see that in her area of the Midwest. “I think that’s kind of sad,” she remarks.

Instead, “they see what their friends have, and they do what’s hot and what people talk them into.” She also notes that sticking with the home’s style is usually more expensive, “and customers will say they don’t think it’s worth that much more to try to be specific to the style of the house.”

One of the ways people are reflecting their personalities as well as depicting their region of the country is through the use of color and tile.

“Because of the desert environment, we still get requests for softer colors, such as sage green,” offers Schwartzman.

Huddleston notes that, while her region of New England is fairly traditional, her firm is doing a lot of custom color right now. “People are looking to do unique things in their own homes,” she comments, noting a slight trend in purple as an example. “We’ve done five kitchens with purple custom painted on the island or some accent pieces. It’s fun for us, because it’s not really considered traditional.”

“For a while, we were very reluctant to use color in the parts of the home that were going to remain there for a long time,” comments Dalton. “Designers would encourage people just to use color in their wall colors or wallpaper or accessories. But today, people are a little more likely to use color in areas that are to remain, such as the granite countertops and the tile and things they won’t be replacing readily.”

“We do a lot of tile backsplashes where we can play with color,” comments Hall, “glass tiles, metal tiles, things like that to kind of personalize the space and make it different from the next one.” Glass tiles are hot, she states, along with metals and textures – rough looks and a lot of tumbled marble.

“We’re seeing a lot more interest in glass tile – really individual design, including geometric shapes,” agrees Rigby-Fisher. In the Pacific Northwest, however, the tile takes on a more neutral tone, because everything has an earthier feel.

“Tile backsplashes really add warmth to the room and can personalize the space,” comments Stoner. She notes that one client asked the tile artisan to create a backsplash that reflected her backyard. “It was a relief tile with depth and texture to it, and she wanted the scene to include all of the animals in the backyard – such as the local crane and the fox that would run through every once in a while, as well as her pets – and all of the different things from nature, such as the pond and trees.

“So, I think we are finding a lot of clients who are going more artistic within the tile backsplashes, and sometimes that can lend to whatever region you are in,” she continues. “In a coastal region such as Florida or California, you might choose brighter colors of blue and turquoise. Here in Pennsylvania, we’re seeing a lot of jewel tones and Tuscan warm colors, tone-on-tone browns, colors that blend and complement the rest of the home and its furnishings.”

While personal style is important, most designers believe that people still choose kitchens and baths that blend with the overall style of their homes.

“For the most part, once clients have selected a home, they want to stay true to the architecture. When people come in and start describing their homes’ style as one of their first sentences, I know that the architecture is important to them,” Stoner comments.

Schwartzman says that she always asks what the house is supposed to be. “I try to design for the house, and it seems like that’s what people really want to do,” she states.

Krengel notes that older home- owners are more likely to have an appreciation of the home’s architecture, often because they’ve lived in a home previously that didn’t have that kind of detail, “or they lived in a home that had that kind of detail, and they may have messed it up.”

Huddleston notes that, though her clients may want to do something a little bit outside of the norm, they are often working with historic properties, and people are trying to maintain the architectural integrity of their home. “A lot of the national publications feature kitchens that are much larger, with much larger ceilings than we have in our homes,” she explains. “We’re often limited by ceiling height, lots of doors and windows and things like that.”

Gomes notes that her firm looks to incorporate things that make the design blend with the home’s architecture as well as incorporate things that make it stand out. “So, it might be a traditional house, but then you use a natural stone backsplash that has a glass insert in it – kind of an interesting contrast of the traditional with something a little more up to date and unexpected,” she comments. “It’s kind of that happy mix of making the room look like it belongs in the house, but it looks different from your neighbor’s house.”

“We start with the home’s architecture and blend the cabinetry to fit with that architecture and the home’s furnishings, so that it’s one complete look,” says Bart. But, she does note that consumers’ attitudes are changing. “Most people today are designing the kitchen for themselves. Years ago, it was always for resale, but resale never comes up anymore,” Bart observes. “Today, my clients are building their kitchens for themselves and their families, and the time they’re going to spend there.” The result is a lot more individuality in the design.

“While there’s a great respect for the architecture of the home,” notes Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, president of Ellen Cheever and Associates in Wilmington, DE, “today’s clients are a little more comfortable expanding a little bit beyond the boundaries when it comes to their kitchens.” While she notes that a sleek, contemporary kitchen wouldn’t be found in a Georgetown mansion, “you might find a much more tailored contemporary. It’s a little more adventuresome – not too far away from the roots of the home, but not necessarily trying to recreate a theme.”

Regional Distinctions
While design elements from other parts of the country and the world are making an impact on regional design, distinctions to specific areas remain.

“You see a lot more prairie influence in the Midwest,” stresses Cheever, “while there is a lot more formality down South.”

While Florida used to be the land of contemporary and light, Bart notes that this is changing. “Most of my clients are very traditional, and they’re becoming more interested in darker and medium-tone woods,” she reports. “People are no longer afraid to go darker.”

Bart believes that people of that region are simply interested in a change of pace. “When people moved here, they got rid of their gorgeous dark antiques and they bought wicker and light and pickled,” she comments. “But now, everybody is going opposite – to the dark, the mahogany, the distressed, the pine.”

Of course, there are still those who prefer contemporary, but they are looking at natural wood tones such as honey. “They want that very traditional, earthy feel,” she observes. While she adds that white painted looks are still popular, those are going more traditional, as well.

In Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, as it is in other parts of the country, there is a trend away from painted cabinets and distressing. “Across the board I’ve heard designers say that stains are their big sellers,” offers Gomes. “People are switching from that painted, distressed, Tuscan or French look and doing stains – especially medium to darker stains that give that richer look.”

While dark woods are gaining in popularity in the Southwest, Schwartzman notes that distressing is still popular there, as well as the Tuscan look. “It’s not a true Tuscan look,” she reflects, “but rather the Americanized version of Tuscan – overdone, with all of the heavy moldings and corbels, and lots of glaze. Either people want this heavy look, or they want just the opposite.”

Vona notes a similar trend in the Philadelphia area. “Either they want a look that’s very organic, a light wood with no stain, slate tile, non-honed granite countertop, or they want dark and dramatic, where everything is shiny and polished and stainless steel,” she offers. “It’s either understated or bling bling.”

“Oregon is very green,” stresses Rigby-Fisher. “People are very interested in things like cabinetry made out of wheatboard, and oiled finishes instead of varnish finishes. We’re also doing a lot more cork on floors, and using a lot of creative materials.”

Still, while the desire is there to get away from stainless steel and granite, consumers often end up with these materials because they work best in the kitchen. “Granite is the lowest maintenance, the easiest to take care of, it looks beautiful and it adds value,” she states. “The bottom line is still that it needs to be easy to take care of. So, even though people have this idea of going to different materials, in the end they come back to the safe ones.”

Though granite is a top seller, Rigby-Fisher notes a trend toward an antique finish of granite. “People are interested in something that feels different,” she comments. “They’re much more tactile. They want to use all of their senses in their kitchens.”

Even when customers in that area request contemporary designs, Rigby-Fisher notes that it’s not European contemporary. “I’m not doing a lot of lacquered finishes,” she remarks. “This is still the Pacific Northwest, and we do a lot of wood. But people are asking for exotic woods; they don’t have to be certified, but they make sure that they’re not an endangered species wood.”

Unique species of woods, whether it’s cabinets or floors, are also making their mark in America’s heartland, according to Hall, where people are spending more money on high-end items. “Lyptus is one in particular that is featured in a new cabinet line that is doing well,” she offers. “We also do tons of millwork here, which you don’t see that much in other areas of the country.”

Rigby-Fisher adds that people are having more fun with their kitchens, doing a lot more curves and different shapes. “It’s not just straight runs of cabinetry anymore,” she comments. “People are interested in creating something individual, so we’re playing with different door styles and doing variations on slab designs.”

Lifestyle also continues to dictate most of the regional design elements being incorporated into American homes.

“We have a lot of women who stay at home, and they like to cook, so appliances are really important,” reports Gomes, “and people have specific requests about what they want their appliances to do. We also have people who do a lot of baking, so they want to have specialized baking centers.”

Krengel sees a huge demand for kitchens with adjacent mud rooms or back entrances that will hold boots and jackets for the whole family. “Customers are requesting a space for each member of the family that can hold a purse, briefcase, backpack or kids sports gear,” she observes. “People want to keep the clutter out of the kitchen, but know that there is an area for gear. It’s a family orientation, and puts a high priority on organization of the family.”

Schwartzman notes that restaurants that are just wine bars are becoming popular in the Phoenix area, so there is a strong interest in incorporating wine coolers into the kitchen. Climate and weather-related issues also play a role in the choice of some of the amenities used in kitchen design.

With regard to appliances, Schwartzman notes that she almost never includes a grill with a cooktop. “With warm weather the majority of the year, people only grill outside,” she comments. “An inside grill is a big no-no.”

Lighting is an important element in the Pacific Northwest, because of the rainy and overcast weather. “We don’t have a lot of natural light – it’s gray a lot – so people want to see warmer colors, which is why wood works so well here,” comments Rigby-Fisher. She puts a lot of work into the lighting of a room, “because you can do a fabulous kitchen, but if your lighting isn’t good, forget the design.”

She adds that lighting is a particularly good area for people to add color to their designs. “People are really wanting to do neat light fixtures, really interesting fixtures, in their kitchens,” she comments.

Tile flooring is gaining ground in the Midwest, where in years past it has been a luxury reserved for only the higher end customers because of its cold surface. The advent of more affordable floor heating systems has opened the door, however.

“Because it tends to be cold here a fair part of the time, people are looking for surfaces that are warmer and have texture to them, rather than those that have a glaring, shiny surface,” comments Krengel. “Floor heat has allowed people in Minnesota to enjoy some of the beauty of the tiles from around the world.”

Whether design influences come from the house down the street, the cities on the coast or hotels half-way around the world, kitchen and bath designers are helping their customers make them their own.