Visions From Abroad

Visions From Abroad

Whether one lives in Boston, Burma or Belize, there are inherent design elements that all clients cherish, say leading design experts.

By John Filippelli

So says Paul Taylor, editorial director for Ellerslie, Auckland, New Zealand-based Trends Publishing International, publishers of Kitchens Trends and Bathroom Trends. Taylor addressed some of these design trends in his seminar, "The World of Luxury: The Language of Design" at the recent Luxury Kitchen & Bath Collection show in New York.

"There are sociological influences that are similar [wherever you live], so when you look at a kitchen, there is a lifestyle decision as to why that [space] exists [that helps define its design]," he offers.

David Peer, president and founder of Far Hills, NJ-based European Country Kitchens, agrees: "People bring in the things that are meaningful in their lives whether it pertains to their ancestry, Eastern European extended families, South American open-cooking hearth styles or Pacific Rim simplicities and ceremonies."

As a result, Taylor says there are several design trends that are finding their way into kitchens and baths across the globe. Some of these include the emphasis on cabinetry as furniture, the integration of his-and-hers baths, and the use of exotic veneers and materials things that speak to consumers on a personal, emotional level.

Likewise, he notes that kitchens throughout the world are becoming more intimate perhaps with a small sitting area connected to create a "Great Room" effect.

He adds: "The framework of [U.S. kitchens] is lightening up, both in the palette and the detailing. In the last few years,
I have seen it change from very dark, heavily carved kitchens to an increase in contemporary."

Wherever one lives, the kitchen design must also reflect the functional needs and lifestyle of the user. For that reason, Joan Picone, senior designer and partner at European Country Kitchens offers: "Many clients have two homes where they can put things in that suit the lifestyle there. A New York apartment has the frenetic pace that demands simple things. You find materials such as glass or poured concrete and terrazzo materials there. I think French Deco is a very big influence in the city dwellings.

"The opposite is true in the summer home, weekend retreat or ski house where they want to get away from anything fast-paced. The materials here are soft, honed and heavily textured."

Peer adds: "The whole idea is based on eclecticism and personalization to be surrounded by things that you collect when you travel to show off your sophistication. [However], the customer [also] wants low-maintenance, highly functional spaces that look good."

Bill E. Cheek, CMG and director of design of Dupo, IL-based American Decorative Surfaces, Inc., summarizes: "People are traveling and seeing information from all over the world, and seeing these things [is creating] a whole new look."

Furniture Finds
According to Peer, "Bringing  in 'found pieces' is one of the biggest trends" of European-influenced kitchens.

"The trends have been pretty evident and constant for quite a while. That is to integrate furnishings both visually and functionally," he offers.

"You can either put in furniture pieces or you give the cabinetry some feature of furniture, such as legs, so it appears not to be just cabinets," Taylor concurs.

But there is a caveat: "It's only when it has been integrated with the countertops, the appliances, the tiles and the lighting that you [have a completed look]," Peer warns. "You're not going to use furniture to make a kitchen because there is too much function that has to be tied together."

Adds Picone: "[There are also] different types of hardware that enable you to open the cabinetry straight instead of left to right. This way, you can close the whole kitchen and make it disappear.

"The other beauty of the furniture-oriented kitchen is that if I have an old butcher block table or hutch, I can take it with me," she continues.

"Another big look is the traditional, distressed and tattered look. Anything that's made to show its age is a big thing. We saw blackened furniture at [the International Furnishings Market] in High Point, NC in the fall," Cheek notes.

Picone concurs, citing a project where she had the top of a Sub-Zero refrigerator removed, had the motor covered and retro-fit with curved radius panels on it to look like an old icebox. She also retained an artist to paint legs on it and make it looked recessed.

"I think we will see more artisan-crafted pieces that go right across the board from fine contemporary to fine ornate and
traditional," Picone adds.

For Taylor, the use of furniture pieces meets a simple need. "The U.S. kitchens tend to be bigger, so as it comes down in size, storage becomes an issue. In European kitchens, you probably have the same amount of things, but in a smaller space," he describes.

Thus, he says, designers are integrating multi-purpose areas for congregation and special areas for storage such as butler's pantries and offices or, in some cases, creating multiple kitchens.

For Picone, there's a lot that can be learned by integrating design styles from different countries. She adds: "A trend I'd like to see is the European idea of bringing the plumbing and the mechanical into the room in one spot and then running it underneath the toe kick. That would make things so much easier."

While stainless steel is still popular, Taylor says other materials have also begun to excite his clients. For instance, he cites copper, pewter, marble and terrazzo countertops as highly requested elements, as are exotic veneers, such as timbers.

"A stainless steel panel behind a range area would look out of place here," he explains. "Our equivalent would be back-painted glass with a large panel raised to the ceiling and extended along the wall beyond the range."

The reason, states Peer, is that there is a strong call for textures: "European influences push the mantra of sleek surfaces and modern materials such as metals, stone, concrete and glass."

Picone adds: "In Europe you see the plexiglass or clear and frosted glass on cabinetry fronts."

Picone also cites PYROLAV, a French lava rock countertop product, as another unique material that can help achieve the specific look clients desire.

Meanwhile, international trade shows, such as Coverings 2003, held in Orlando, FL, and Cersaie, held in Bologna, Italy, offered insight into some of the growing Italian tile trends. For example, tiles like Del Conca's "Cervinia," a weathered-look tile with linear looping inserts interspersed with metallic accents and Cerdisa's "Marmo Antico," a marble-look porcelain tile featuring curving fleur-de-lis reminiscent of ancient Rome are hot.

Also of note, and found at Cersaie, were Mirage's "Granito Ceramico," a patented material that combines the durability of vitrified stoneware with the luster and natural look of real granite.

Bathing beauty
International influences are also being seen increasingly in the bath, says Taylor. For instance, he says the bath is no longer being isolated, but rather it is a part of the entire master suite, perhaps with a special room attached, such as a make-up room.

Picone agrees, noting: "You also might see a fireplace in it or an exercise room connected to it. It has become a big area."
Taylor also suggests that clients are requesting a strong connection to the outside, with natural materials, such as concrete, stainless steel with a wood exterior, terrazzo counters and marble flooring as popular choices.

Picone concurs, adding: "Physical materials that copy wood detailing [are popular]. For instance, I will install tile crown moldings and beveled brick tiles... I am even seeing exotic marbles and honey onyx. There are also areas of baths where people are doing wood floors, rugs and chaise lounges."

As a result, Taylor cites sculptural elements, such as vanity vessels in porcelain or glass as popular choices all over.

"A big trend in the luxury end is the his-and-hers baths. The look is definitely spa-like. They all like the bells and whistles," says Picone.

Taylor adds that furniture pieces are popular in the bath as well as the kitchen, as are free-standing tubs and sleek and intricate faucetry.

Lastly, lighting that offers an elegant and dramatic mood, says Taylor, is not only enhancing the ambience of master baths, but is also moving into powder rooms.

Color, always popular in the more adventurous European market, has been increasingly making inroads in the U.S. However, when it comes to choosing the right color, it's not just about what's trendy, Peer reports. He explains, "It's not so much what is the hot color, but what is my hot color."

Indeed, color is such a strong personalizing element, that Cheek believes, "Clients will give on the design before they give on the color."

However, while color trends definitely make their way around the globe, Cheek notes that color trends take time to develop and reach other countries: "Two years ago, we [saw] walnut in high-end cabinets and furniture, and it's now just filtering into the U. S."

"For the first time, the palettes of Southeast Asia, Europe and the U.S. are starting to meld together," Cheek adds. "You also have to include South Central Asia in the mix today because we're seeing [key] color trends coming out of India and Pakistan, [such as] the whole red look that started about four years ago from the very high-end European bath and bed, and that has now moved into a purple, red, orange kind of look.

"In the bath, I am seeing the reds and browns with pearl next to them, such as on an accessory or shower curtain," he describes, noting that he's also seen "a lot of striped brights and geometric brights," plus black and white as a single-color look.

Picone concludes: "I'm [also] seeing restful colors in the bath, such as cream, white and soft greens and blues." KBDN