"We have seen more focus from the OEM level, with [large, low to mid-level] cabinet manufacturers focusing more on storage solutions," adds Ryan Grevenstuk, product manager/kitchen & bath products with Grand Rapids, MIKnape & Vogt. "The more this product is shown at the big box stores and at the retail level, the more it will become mainstream. People are always looking for ways to differentiate themselves and upgrade their products, and the kitchen is a key area in the home where they look to do this."
But he adds that what's considered a sophisticated product currently won't go mainstream for a few more years. "The items that are now found at Target, home centers, etc. were the sophisticated items of yesterday." With today's instant multi-media communication technology and general faster pace of life, the process of mainstreaming is speeding up, he elaborates. "We've already found the more sophisticated storage items leaking into the mainstream for what we would consider ahead of schedule."
Now that multiple technologies are available for the ultimate high-functioning cabinet, the new challenge is to combine them, believes Martin. He believes the hot thing on the market is "the integration [of] the full-extension aspect [and] soft-close features. Not only is it self-closing, it's soft-closing like your door slides."
Other refinements include full-extension pantry organization, which rotates, pulling the stored items right in front of homeowners, so they don't have to reach around to get items, making for more efficient storage. "Now you can put a pantry against the wall and it only has to stand out 6" or 8" off the edge of the wall," Martin elaborates. "And you can rotate it to get access to that blind side of the pantry organization."
The advent of the Great Room concept and the furniture look have changed the way consumers perceive their kitchen's footprint. And the double "row of boxes" also seems to be going by the wayside.
"We heavily promote kitchen designs where base cabinets are outfitted with drawers instead of with doors and shelves," says Branner. "Drawers allow the cabinet contents to come to the person rather than the person having to bend and reach into the cabinet." He cites his company's ORGA-LINE systems as a strong choice for a consumer who is increasingly savvy about functionality.
Maxwell points out that, "We spend a lot of time as cabinet makers with roll-out drawer systems. They maximize the use of the base cabinet, but in doing so, they now have base cabinets with drawers and an intricate system of roll-out trays. I think at some point someone's going to say, 'It's much more economical to just do drawer bases.'"
"We've been selling pull-outs for 25 years, [base cabinets] haven't gone away yet," counters Jenkins. "I think there will be room for both," believes Häfele's Martin. "Certainly, drawers are becoming more interesting." He cautions that the new, extremely heavy drawers must be supported by appropriate technology to ensure safety and continued functionality. "We have a drawer organizations system [with] rack-and-pinion hardware," he notes. "When you open up a big drawer, you always have to be aware of the racking, because [when there is] a lot of weight in it, one side [tends to] retract quicker than the other, and you'll have a racking effect."
Innovative kitchen storage has long been an art in Europe, where smaller domiciles mean every inch counts. U.S. suburban kitchens are much larger, but "It is just as important to American consumers to make smart use of space, no matter what size the kitchen," says Branner.
That's because, no matter how much space people have, there's never enough, going with the old adage that things contract or expand to fill the amount of space available.
However, sometimes it takes thinking outside the box to come up with new ways to save space. To that end, kitchen dealers and designers faced with limited space may want to consider suspended seating, wherein chairs no longer clutter up the works for overscheduled consumers who have minimal time to clean, explains David Wadley, regional sales manager for Seating Innovations, in Orem, UT. Suspended seating is "never out in the aisle, will never tip over, nobody will gab a chair and move it to another room, it's always there," he elaborates.