Design Inspiration from K/BIS 2004

Many moons ago, when I started in the kitchen and bath design business, I worked in a showroom whose leadership recognized the opportunities for learning at the kitchen and bath show. Those of us who earned the privilege of attending the show were assigned seminars and design or product areas to research and report back on. This year I traveled the show with several of those talented designers and dear friends who have been teaching me this business all these years, and once again, I learned through their observations as well as my own.

True to my old habit of reporting back, this column highlights a few of the ideas that captured our attention and the concepts that we took home to put to use in future projects.

It is noteworthy that we began our Chicago experience at the Luxe Home Center at Chicago's Merchandise Mart. Product and design relating mainly to kitchens and baths, and somewhat to whole home, have been moved to the main floor of the Mart and opened to the public. Spending an afternoon with luxury products and materials, designed beautifully into these showrooms much like a museum or gallery, offered a wealth of design ideas. Add to this the experiences found on the show floor and there is much to write about and take home.

Counters & Cabinets
Among the ideas I took home are several relating to counters and work surfaces. Variations in thickness are making huge statements, such as laminates as thick as 8 inches in certain areas. They are showing up in stone, usually 2" or more, solid surface and quartz.

There are more applications of newer materials, including the environmentally conscious surface material made from paper from certified managed forests (Richlite), which appear almost "soapstone-like." With different thicknesses in counters, edge treatments are varied, including a reverse bevel that in some cases cuts back to a stainless steel trim band.

Along with thickness of counters in the European cabinet showrooms, I saw depths of counters increased to incorporate chambers on other accessories that fit into the back 6" +/-. These bays were flexible, providing for storage components including dish drainers, knife blocks, utensil storage and more.

Another detail on counters has to do with design concepts that seem to "float" the counter. In some cases the support immediately below the counter is recessed, creating the sense that the counter is actually floating. In other cases the support is glass or otherwise colored to recede, and the effect is the same. This seems to be a great idea for glass tops and for tight spaces.

Finally, on counters, "bold is beautiful" seems to be the rule, not the exception. Where once an investment like stone for a work surface would likely be fairly neutral or subtle, in these showrooms and on this show floor, I saw bold colors and patterns sort of "in-your-face" stone.

Over the last few years, designers have been promising and predicting a new minimalism. Although this trend has been slower than predicted, it is gaining, and no one does this better than the European design profession. While we may not find ourselves specifying Euro-style cabinetry in the majority of our projects, their showrooms certainly offer us inspiration in terms of storage, hardware and design details.

The above-mentioned storage components dropped into the back section of the counter are one example. Wall cabinet systems are another, including rack-like bottoms that allow wall cabinets to function as dish drainers, although it is not clear to me how the water dripping off the dishes knows to fall only in the sink and not on the counter.

Another design direction more prevalent in European cabinetry, but also showing up in traditional product, is the alternative wall cabinet door. I could almost say it was rare to see a wall cabinet hinged to open to one side, with alternatives including the up-swinging door, sliding doors and beautifully executed tambour doors, especially Hafele's stainless steel version. In addition, there were many variations on the theme of an aluminum framed door with a variety of glass inserts. The different examples of this door in various displays prompted one of my traveling companions to comment that this concept mixes nicely where appropriate, but must be compatible to the design concepts with which it will be sharing space.

Style Elements
Tile at the Luxe Home Center and at K/BIS seemed to steal the show. I was inspired by all of the small glass tiles, often iridescent 1"x1" variations within a color family showing up on the wall. This concept was very successfully mimicked with 1"x1" ceramic tiles at a much more affordable price point.

And, are you ready leather tiles yes, can you imagine those conservative white fixtures dressed with a red leather wall. Definitely inspiring.

I also appreciated a tile created from small bars of slate and other stone, creating amazing depth and texture. My last take-home on the tile was an installation that turned glass tiles on end between stone tiles so that the result is stone tile, grout, glass line about the thickness of grout, grout again, stone tile lots of texture there.

I saved a teaser for my last take-home, and that is that we may be on the verge of attractive supports or grab bars to complement our designs. On four different occasions during the show I was introduced to new product or brought into serious discussion regarding product development to provide us with grab bars that look good and work.

But, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We haven't touched on appliances, sinks (so much new there), air and soaking tubs, the new product pavilion to name just a few.

Certainly, when you can, attend the show and visit our various design centers. You'll never run out of design inspiration. If you are lucky enough to experience these places in the company of talented and experienced designers, as I was, you'll learn that much more.