Ahead of the Curve

As most designers strive to stay abreast of current trends - and ahead of the curve - the task of anticipating the "next big thing" takes on added importance. When this is combined with an increasingly educated and discerning clientele, the result is an ever-evolving design landscape.

Today's kitchen and bath designers are finding that "anything goes," as designs are featuring a more eclectic tone - characterized by simplicity - yet still with complex combinations of product and styles.

"Clients want a look that gives the appearance of a collection of furniture, rather than a fit kitchen," offers Anthony Carucci, manager for Staten Island, NY-based Kitchens N' Things." In keeping with that idea, "they might mix some contemporary and traditional elements in together."

"Colors and weathered woods are also becoming more popular," offers Vesta Snell, president of Sarasota, FL-based Inndesign Inc. "The other trend is that medium-range cabinetry is being expanded to fit higher-end needs.

"We are also seeing very decorative hood displays, and there is a lot going on with appliqués, corbels and different flutes," she adds.

"We are also seeing the cleaning up of lines," says Peggy McGowen, ASID, CMKBD and owner of Houston, TX-based Kitchen Concepts, Inc. "Specifically, there is a term called 'rectilinear design' that is characterized by lines that are clean, simple and straight."

"There is a definite Asian influence - especially with the rectilinear design. I think this is because people want to simplify their lives," she continues.

This also influences the trend toward efficiency, "whether it is efficiency in energy - such as electricity, gas or water - or in our own energy and ergonomics," explains McGowen.

Customers are also being more efficient with their money, budgeting more for value than just expense, say designers.

Indeed, they agree that clients are spending on a new kitchen or bath, or other remodeling projects and additions, yet they are demanding more value right along with luxury. They are not spending just to spend, they further indicate.

"People want quality and value, but they don't want to spend more money than they have to," McGowan adds.

Yet, "kitchen sizes are continuously getting larger, while people are cooking less," comments Snell. "We're seeing the addition of extra rooms, such as the butler's pantry, for instance."

Specifically, Maxine Lauer, founder and president of Waterford, MI-based Sphere Trending, cites the purchasing behaviors of "empty nester" couples - who are downsizing their primary homes while buying a second or even a third home - as one of the key reasons for these trends.

Lauer discussed this and other trends at the recent Moen Inc. "Inspire 2005" conference, held in San Antonio, TX.

She offered: "Interiors are dividing into 'iSpace' (haven rooms) and 'weSpace' (communal rooms). We are also seeing 'Insperience' rooms for the individual, such as for meditation, and for multiple people the inclusion of home theater systems."

Lauer also noted several styles that are taking hold among multiple generations. She cited two - the "Weekend Cottage" theme, which is characterized by a sophisticated country aesthetic, and the glamorous materials and styling of "Vintage Luxe" - as up-and-coming trends. Also of note, she believes, are such styles as "Traditions," which draws inspiration from the past; "Urban Chic," a look that relies on open spaces and a new feminine approach; and "Primitive Mod," which features a global influence.

Overall, Lauer predicted a continued trend toward "casual comfort" projects, which reinforces consumers' requests for spa-like environments and personal retreats.

"There is a softness and cleaner lines in the master bath, as with the kitchen," observes Snell.

Summarizing, Snell offers: "With kitchens, many times, the design idea is spurred by a kitchen they have seen in a television show or a movie. With the bathroom, it is usually finishes or features that they see in a hotel [that they want to replicate.]"

She concludes: "The main thing to remember is: As we change, [designs] change."

Forecast: Style

Perhaps the biggest trend among up-and-coming design styles is the mixing of various aesthetics, Lauer pointed out.

"Home décor is becoming more eclectic. We are seeing an increase in the use of wallpaper, patterns and colors - which are new to today's young consumers," she explained.

"We're seeing a lot of mixing colors, for instance, where we put three different colors in one kitchen," says Snell.

Snell uses one of her recent projects as an example of this trend. "It is a cherry-colored, birch kitchen that has a traditional look," she explains. "It has an island with a weathered color to it - which almost makes it look like a piece of furniture. Then we added a plate rack in the microwave cabinet featuring those matching colors."

Likewise, green design continues to surge, as well, primarily because it "brings opposing forces together in harmonic ways," such as beauty and technology, Lauer said.

"'Grassroot' has become global grassroot, as our fascination with travel and the world is brought into the home," she added.

"Of course, we are seeing the use of renewable and sustainable materials," adds McGowen.

Summarizing, Lauer offered this advice: "Remember that each generation's luxury is the next generation's standard. So, elaborate shower experiences, for example, will be the norm for [someone in their early to mid-20s]."

Casual Comforts

Also of note is that master baths - much like their kitchen brethren - are borrowing space to create larger, more personalized, retreats.

"The baths are definitely getting bigger," says McGowen. "Some of my clients are empty nesters who are taking space from a bedroom and making large master baths, exercise rooms, sitting areas and personal retreats."

She also cites the influx of various materials, such as glass mosaics.

"Colors in glass - especially colors of water, such as teals and aquas - are very popular in the bath," McGowen adds.

"We even did one where the colors were more of a blue-ish gray, more along the lines of what you find in bays and lakes, rather than somewhere tropical. But, it is still a very soothing coloration," she adds.

Citing a need among clients to simplify the home, reduce clutter and create an emphasis on shape and structure, Lauer cited "Casual Comforts" as a noteworthy concept.

"We continue to see a move toward an organic, spa-like environment utilizing calming colors, organic elements and natural materials," she offered. "Texture is also a key element, and the shapes are rounded, soft and organic."

She also pointed to soft earth tones, such as sandstone, soft slate and rich browns, as up-and- coming hues. These are often combined with warmer materials, such as American walnut, bamboo and stone, she stated.

Furthermore, Lauer noted that designers can expect to include more unusual shapes in their kitchen and bath projects, such as fluid, wavy forms, half moons and low-profile applications.

Characterized by softer colors, such as cottage white, soft olive, taupe and stark black and whites, the design theme known as "Weekend Cottage" not only ties into the trend toward casual comforts, but is also at the forefront of what Lauer called "New Urbanism."

"This style offers traditional looks associated with the country and features simpler lines and cleaner patterns," she said. "The overall mood takes on a feeling that is decidedly more about the Hamptons than Nebraska, more 'upcountry' than down home."

Particularly popular with Zoomers and Gen Xers, this design style touches on urbanites' desire for "country" living while still maintaining a practical appeal for growing families and second homes, Lauer noted.

In terms of finishes, this design theme features weathered and white-washed looks, such as aged copper, hammered bronze, oil-rubbed bronze and textured pewter, which are often combined with faux woods, porcelain and metals.

According to Lauer, this style can be most effective with soaking tub and rain shower areas, as well as in utility spaces.

"As the style and sophistication of consumers continues to grow, expect to see this style through 2008," she concluded.

Touch and Go

Tactile touch points are also of growing importance to clients and are greatly impacting design themes, Lauer noted.

Therefore, she suggested that, should a designer need to add more hardness to a space, he or she can incorporate building materials to define and decorate the space, such as screens used as window coverings. Should softness be needed, plush or other similar materials can be added around electronics or on water closets, for instance.

McGowen offers: "The rectilinear style, for instance, at first glance appears to have a rigidity to it, but the softness comes with the finishes, which are matted down."

She adds that muted colors and natural materials, such as natural stone or ceramic tile, can also have a softening effect on the design.

McGowen summarizes: "Kitchens are a sensual area. Bathrooms are a sensual, and sensuous, area, so people want to retain that feeling. They want the textures and the colors and things to feel good and make the area comfortable.

The Great Outdoors

Lauer also suggested that there are unique applications being done in outdoor kitchens. "Outdoor decorating continues to get more upscale, with new treatments - such as outdoor wallpaper - now garnering attention," she explained.

"There are many new lines of outdoor cabinetry available," observes Snell.

She continues: "Plus, as things become more closed in, we see much more being done with outdoor furniture."

"Several things are driving this," adds McGowen. "For example, people are staying at home more, so they want to make the home more livable and flexible to entertain larger groups."

"People are bringing their indoor living spaces outdoors because the products are becoming so durable," says Snell.

However, with that brings an important design consideration, McGowen believes.

"All of the outdoor equipment is so big, and puts out so much heat and smoke, that it requires better ventilation," she says.

Other products commonly requested for outdoor kitchens include ice makers and refrigerators, McGowen adds.

"I would expect [outdoor kitchen applications] to continue for the next five years, and then we will have to figure out what the next thing is going to be," she concludes.

On the Rise

As Lauer noted, there are other design themes that could soon be taking greater prominence in kitchen and bath designs, including "Traditions," "Urban Chic," "Primitive Mod" and "Vintage Luxe."

For instance, the elegant and luxurious look of the "Traditions" theme offers a sense of timelessness that generates mass appeal, Lauer pointed out.

"Traditional looks are a mainstay," she offered. "However, evolutions of this look include additions of bolder colors, such as teal and aqua blues." When combined with finishes such as polished nickel, bright pewter, aged gold and warm mahogany, these colors become even stronger, Lauer noted.

She also noted that traditional design themes often feature intricate and ornate detailing, black and distressed edge treatments, and marble and medallion aesthetics.

"Urban Chic," or loft design, is also becoming popular, Lauer pointed out.

"With the loft movement continuing to grow, especially in non-traditional areas such as the Midwest states, this look continues to gain momentum," she explained.

However, as discerning clients' tastes evolve, so, too, does the characteristics of this design theme. "As it grows, loft is beginning to take on a feminine approach. The masculine styling of sleek lines, cold steel and industrial design remains, but we see it warming up a touch with additions of pale copper metals, feminine colors and patterns, and warmer woods."

To that end, Lauer cited modern mauves, raspberry, camel and mocha and mid-tone blues as colors associated with this look.

Conversely, polished chrome, sleek gloss and mocha satin are popular finishes, and unique materials are being seen, including leather, horizontal wood grains and concrete. Of course, she added, stainless is still wildly popular.

Featuring a minimalist yet all-in-one approach to function, urban chic is also rooted in mixed media and integrated technology applications, most often found in the urban second-home purchases of Gen Xers, Generation Now, and Zoomers (see related story, Page 96), she said. In fact, it is this focus on accessibility and mobility that has led Lauer to dub the design part of "suburbohemia."

"I anticipate that we will see various incarnations of this design theme through 2010," she offered.

For the more adventurous client, Lauer suggested "Primitive Mod" design, which taps into the traveling spirit and features a distinct African influence with dusty earth tones, desert naturals and russet as predominant hues, often complemented by extreme verdigris, hammered dark bronze and tortoise finishes.

"This trend has recently shifted to include brighter colors, and it should remain strong through 2008," she offered.

Natural materials also figure prominently in this design theme, with stone, and wenge and other exotic, grained woods showcased in the shape of tribal drums and stark geometrics, for instance.

She continued: "Rather than mimicking the looks directly from their original context, primitive mod adapts elements of global design, and reworks them into modern interpretations."

To create an even more eclectic look, Primitive Mod also features reinvented uses of snakeskin aesthetics (such as on pulls and knobs), abstract African-styled patterns and bamboo styling - usually combined with artisan accents and natural effects - and often found in the master suite to create a truly exotic bath.

Lastly, Lauer cited the "Vintage Luxe" look, which recalls the "cocktail culture" of swing music and Hollywood. It demonstrates a keen awareness of the luxurious lifestyle clients crave.

"Glamorous looks, materials and styling continue to move into all areas of the home," said Lauer.

To that end, she cited platinum, camel, cocoa luxe and teal tones as typical hues.

She continued: "In addition to the icy pastels and soft feminine pales of last year, we are also beginning to see deeper tones start to emerge, such as bordeaux shades, chocolates and jet blacks."

She added that this style also features a subtle shimmer - with a hint of sparkle - to capture the feel and style of the "Roaring '20s."

These looks are also often complemented by a variety of exotic materials, such as sophisticated skins and micro-tiles, as well as polished chrome, antique nickel and rose gold finishes.

Room to Grow

Inspiration for unique design applications and themes can sometimes be found from unlikely sources, Lauer noted.

For instance, the growth of second-home sales - especially by Baby Boomers and Empty Nesters - is leading to a downsizing of primary residences.

McGowen explains: "The overall square footage is being downsized, but the kitchen area is being increased. For instance, formal spaces, such as the dining room, are getting decreased [in size] or eliminated altogether."

Snell sees this trend occurring often, as well. "They are knocking out walls and borrowing space from other parts of the house to increase the size of the kitchen," she points out.

Similarly, one-person households are growing in popularity, which is leading to scaled-down furnishings and more storage needs, Lauer reported.

Borrowing from European design ideology, multi-purpose and functional spaces, known as "Flex" rooms, are growing in popularity, as well, with typical applications used for a home office or guest room, Lauer continued.

Conversely, the "Drawer House" concept - which condenses residential functions to one side of a room - is also a trend worth watching, Lauer believes. "This approach allows the owner to change the function of rooms by moving furniture in and out of the wall," she explains.

McGowen believes American designers would also do well to track emerging European design trends. "I think that every designer should try and attend the European trade shows. That is where the trends start, and [we as designers] can take the trends and tweak them so that they work for the U.S. market," she concludes.