Like consumers' lives, storage and kitchen accessories grow more complex, stylish and upscale.
By Daina Darzin ManningKitchens have evolved greatly since the days of big white refrigerators, linoleum floors and tile countertops. So, is it any wonder that kitchen interiors have gone way beyond the plastic cutlery tray?
Elaborate, beautiful constructs now enable consumers to utilize
every inch of their kitchens in an optimal way, according to the
manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
"People are gravitating toward higher-end, better-quality products," thinks David Noe, general manager and v.p./sales and marketing for Rev-A-Shelf, Inc., in Jeffersontown, KY. "Our standard products still sell well, and probably always will," he notes, but adds that a greater focus on design along with a need to use every inch of available space are making upscale cabinet interiors a great new frontier for designers and manufacturers. On the high end, he adds, "People are looking to replace what they had before, polymer or wire products."
"The hot trend right now is wood interiors," declares Kevin Aronhalt, product marketing manager for Häfele America Co., in Archdale, NC. "We've moved into the arena of solid shelving."
"There's a move to upscale [cabinet interiors]," adds William Byrne, v.p./marketing and sales for BHK of America, in Central Valley, NY. "The quality is improving and people are willing to pay a little more to get a product that's going to last them longer, [with better] materials and workmanship more design-oriented products that afford more flexibility in the kitchen."
Aronhalt adds that wire shelving is also on the decline, with upscale consumers choosing the more solid look of wood or wood mixed with chrome or stainless steel, since small items can fall through wire constructs.
Noe mentions brushed aluminum as a new interior option, while Philip Sheridan, director of kitchen and bath sales, OEM, for Knape & Vogt, in Grand Rapids, MI, cites a combination of wood and chrome wire as a hot look. "It gives you a much more upscale look," he believes. "The utilitarian look is gone, in my opinion, as far as accessory products are concerned. It used to be function was fine, but now, flair is foremost." He attributes this trend to the overall move toward natural materials and superior design as well as the furniture look in cabinetry. "Now, [consumers think] cabinetry is furniture and you want your furniture to look good, not only outside the box but inside."
Similarly, Jan Fitzpatrick, advertising manager for Grass America, in Kernersville, NC, mentions her company's Vario System, which involves a kit wherein birch wood slats with a lacquer finish can be customized to any drawer by any do-it-yourselfer who can wield a saw and measuring tape.
"You can look at your drawer and think, 'What do I want to make this drawer into?'" she elaborates. The system can make for a perfectly fitting wood cutlery tray, and can extend to other-room applications such as vanities and sock drawers, Fitzpatrick says. Grass America also offers a two-tiered unit with moveable shelves that works as a shelf for mugs, spices, etc. between a countertop and row of cabinets, she adds.
In the highest of the high end, consumers may even elect to finish their interior storage to match their cabinetry, but Noe believes most upscale consumers are happy with a high-quality stock wood product in birch or maple with a clear finish. "Storage products are difficult to fabricate one at a time," he notes.
Other materials are also making inroads into the storage market. Aronhalt cites white melamine wood components encased in polished chrome as a material gaining interest, while Jonathan P. Betz, owner of Custom Inserts, in Honey Brook, PA, cites his company's custom acrylic systems as another attractive and highly functional pick. "The [drawer inserts] are dishwasher safe; people like to know that what they're putting in their cabinets can be washed and sanitized," he explains. Plus, the clear inserts make the wood of the drawer show through for a pretty look and also make it easy to see what's in the various sections, which makes it a good solution for junk drawers, Betz notes. The non-porous acrylic is also extremely resistant to stains, he adds.
The inserts are custom-made welded with a clear chemical bond so as to utilize every bit of a drawer, without the slipping and sliding that's inherent with typical cutlery trays. Alternately, adjustable inserts will have a lot of deck space, so the drawer doesn't hold as much, he adds.
And, of course, plastic storage options are still a mass-market staple. "Function is more key," insists Joey Shimm, marketing director for Outwater Plastics Industries, in Woodridge, NJ. "The aesthetic isn't paramount."
"There's still a market for that," notes Aronhalt. "But the
trend now is [toward] natural materials."
"People are looking for organizational tools," declares Fitzpatrick. "[They] want things easy, neat and compact. Our lives are so quick-paced now, we don't have time to scrounge around for things. They're beginning to look at their drawers and trying to maximize their space," far beyond the usual cutlery dividers, spice racks and lazy susans.
"People want to take advantage of every nook and cranny," agrees Shimm.
Fitzpatrick cites well-organized pot and pan storage as a growing trend, with deep drawers becoming more popular. "People are getting away from cabinets with just doors," says Sheridan. "Pot and pan storage is the most difficult thing to do."
Noe points out that drawer-oriented systems have been prevalent in Europe for a long time, and the trend is now translating to the States, with drawer organization for pots and pans a priority. "It's a common sense approach," he says. "Drawers are a more expensive way to build a cabinet, but your access to a cabinet is better if you can pull it out to you."
"People are looking for more drawers and more storage," agrees
Byrne. "They're doing more entertaining and cooking in their homes,
[so] you find more and more people congregating in and around the
kitchen." Byrne adds that often, a great room arrangement will
couple a kitchen with a home entertainment room, where innovative
storage solutions extend to storing CDs, DVDs and the like. Shimm
notes that computers and TVs are also frequently part of the
make-up of a kitchen, with such innovations as
under-cabinet-mounted TVs allowing for more countertop space.
Recycling & Pantries
A more ecology-conscious consumer, coupled by mandatory recycling laws in many areas, has made the multi-garbage-bin pull-out one of the new storage must-haves, manufacturers report.
Two bins per pull-out are customary; some offer as many as four bins in one pull-out, though Sheridan points out the bins in this arrangement are quite small. "People like that," he says. "Whether they use it, I don't know. But recycling is a big issue." Consumers who need four bins (for garbage, glass, plastic and paper) frequently opt for two adjoining pull-outs amid the base cabinetry.
The pantry has also had a resurgence, with new and innovative storage systems being used to maximize this space. Sheridan cites "big expansive walk-in pantries with swinging-out racks" as a hot trend. "That is the number one storage area that most people ask for in a kitchen," he adds.
"[Pantries have] always been an integral part of what we've sold for years," agrees Noe. "But we've come out with more options. [The usual] pull-out wood trays and rotating polymer trays [are now joined by] pivoting chrome, pivoting wire, big pull-out pantries with real heavy-duty slat systems [and] individual pull-out baskets."
The corner "dead space" between banks of cabinets is also gaining new life because of recent innovations, says Aronhalt. "With better engineering today, we've really advanced in solving people's needs in the corners," he explains. "You depress the doors and they smoothly turn around and bring it to you." Some units have replaced the usual round, extra-large lazy susan configuration with a rectangular shelf that pulls baskets from the back of the cabinet for a full utilization of the corners, he elaborates. "Everything is pulled forward rather than spun around," says Aronhalt. "You're seeing a lot more creativity with that."
Several manufacturers also cited the breadbox pull-out as an
up-and-coming pick. Betz points out that consumers frequently use
the easy-to-clean drawer for other items besides baked goods, such
as rice, beans or flour. "They want to open a drawer and flip a lid
and have that product there," he says. "Everyone's looking
Another convenience that makes cleaning easier, suspended
seating systems are also available in new, fashionable finishes
that coordinate with appliances and faucetry, explains David
Wadley, sales manager for Seating Innovations, in Orem, UT.
A stainless steel chair back, coupled with a wood seat, is a popular pick for contemporary looks, he elaborates. For more traditional looks, antique pewter and antique brass are up-and-comers. And "oil-rubbed bronze has been really popular in the last six months," says Wadley, especially for rustic looks. Traditional wrought iron is also still popular, most commonly in black, but sometimes painted to coordinate with appliance colors.
Wadley points out that suspended systems work well in a highly
organized kitchen. "The chairs are always there, they're always put
up, you don't have to move them back and forth," he says.
"[Consumers] like the ease of cleaning they don't have to move
those bar stools, which can get really big and heavy. Ours are
always out of the way, and easy to clean around."
Better organization goes across the board to every abode from cramped urban condos where space is at a premium, to huge homes where the kitchen is the focal point of the home. And, everyone from overworked two-career couples with children to people with a passion for gourmet cooking are availing themselves of the new, innovative storage options. "Fifteen years ago, you had to force-feed people these products," says Sheridan. "Now, they ask [for them]." (Designers believe, however, that male gourmet cooks and those who like contemporary design are particularly drawn to organizational bells and whistles.
Aronhalt further emphasizes that better storage isn't strictly the province of the high end. "Everyone's looking for better solutions," he concludes, and insists an effective solution is available in custom, semi-custom and stock applications. "You're seeing a lot of combinations of materials. It's an exciting period of time with a lot of innovations." KBDN