The View From Abroad

The View From Abroad

New European looks feature elegantly styled minimalist looks and innovative proportions.

By Daina Darzin Manning

Yet perversely, the smaller the world gets, the greater the breadth of creative opportunities it provides for all of us. Is it any wonder, then, that as globalization becomes a more and more dominant force within our culture, design is flourishing like never before?

In fact, future trends in America often originate in Europe, so kitchen designers who want to stay on the cutting edge might want to keep an eye out for minimalist looks that dramatically change the traditional proportions of cabinets, islands and other kitchen design components.

European influences have always been evident in some of the trendiest kitchen and bath designs, and as global lines continue to blur, we can expect to see European sensibilities continuing to color American kitchen design in ways both large and small, according to Grahame Morrison, editor of the renown British publication, The Kitchen & Bathroom Designer.

Morrison, who spoke about the European design influence at the recent Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Orlando, believes that Italy renowned by many as the style capital of the world enjoys the greatest influence on European design, followed by Germany and the United Kingdom. Product and design trends from these countries are increasingly making their ways overseas, as American participation in such European design shows as ISH, held in Frankfurt, Germany earlier this year (see related story below), and the biennial Eurocucina, which took place in Milan, Italy in April of 2002, helps to spur interest in design innovations from abroad.

The result is that today's designers are discovering a host of tools for their design palettes from new materials and unexpected uses for color to non-traditional proportions and innovative cabinet configurations.

Bank of Cabinets
Current European design eschews the usual cabinetry arrangement that winds around the top half of the room, according to Grahame. Rather, European cabinets are often situated on one wall, with a large square of cabinetry frequently surrounding wall ovens for a clean-lined square shape.

The result is not only a more streamlined appearance, but also a more organized room, as storage is concentrated and the rest of the floor plan more open to allow for easier traffic flow.

"Clean lines" is also used to describe European cabinet styling, though the newest cabinet designs may be spruced up with exotic wood veneers such as apple or pear, unexpected materials, such as aluminum, or eye-catching opaque or frosted glass doors.

Linear Style
Because European homes and apartments tend to be much smaller than American ones, kitchen space is at an extreme premium. Hence, European design is forced to do more with less something American designers can certainly learn from, as today's consumers increasingly look to pack more amenities into their kitchens especially in remodeling jobs where expanding the space is not really a possibility.

To maximize space, many European designers work with "linear style," which emphasizes horizontal lines to make a small space seem bigger, lighter and wider.

Additionally, Morrison notes that in small spaces, storage solutions must be carefully planned out. Ergonomics are important in European storage design, so storage not only has to fit into the space, it also has to make sense from the standpoint of making the kitchen functional for all of the occupants involved.

To that end, he suggests such innovative solutions as a free-standing storage piece with a clear glass top, which allows one to see the contents of the large drawer below without opening it something that saves space and time.

European cabinet makers also make use of every space, no matter how tiny, with innovative pull-outs such as a 6"-wide storage unit for a "dead" area between cabinets. Similarly, a unique 12"-wide, tall unit can store more than a conventional base unit, Morrison reports.

Waste management and recycling are an important part of European kitchen culture, so pull-outs for multiple trash cans are standard, he adds.

Island Shapes
The new European island is either much larger or much more furniture-like than the traditional American model, Morrison says. Some of the hottest European designs feature off-the-floor islands with legs (though this does make plumbing the sink quite the challenge, he adds).

Alternately, islands may be enormous, with massive storage below to maximize the space, or lack thereof, in a smaller kitchen. Morrison cites a particularly striking island that features a spectacular 4-5" thick, rough edged limestone top, which not only provides ample storage, but also provides the design with an overall serene, natural look something that ties in well to current trends in the States.

Hot Curves
Curved shapes are also a hot new trend in Europe that many believe will translate well to the U.S., whether applied to starkly modern pieces, retro-inspired transitional styles, or elegant neo-traditional design.

As an example of this, Morrison notes a striking design by Giemmegi Cucine, which features curved wood cabinetry and a yellow color scheme that evokes a sense of retro Mid Century Modern design.

Indeed, elegant curves with a splash of color can make a powerful and unique design statement, giving the kitchen a strong focal point.

Adding aluminum
Lighter, with an airy, satiny finish, aluminum is the appliance metal of choice for forward-thinking European kitchens, Morrison reports. It not only looks great, it also resists fingerprints. It's already making inroads in the U.S., as evidenced by a number of aluminum appliances on display at this year's K/BIS. In fact, aluminum is even being used for some cabinets to create an exciting new look.

Refrigerators, however, are smaller in Europe than in the U.S., and are often completely hidden behind cupboard drawers, since these are not considered a luxury item the way they are in America, Morrison notes.

While many of the most popular materials in Europe mirror those used here, such as stainless steel, European design also favors the use of exotic, expensive wood veneers such as apple or pear, and opaque or frosted glass doors. Morrison notes that there's not a big custom market in Europe but the up side of this is that this results in more imaginative stock design. Similarly, Europeans remodel less frequently than Americans, so the trend is towards more clean-lined, timelessly minimalist design. Only England remains more traditionally minded, he states.

But even there, transitional design continues to grow in popularity, using traditional hallmarks as a jumping off point for imaginative design that breaks new ground. A good example of this would be Mark Wilkinson's elegant furniture looks, which have already gained a following in the U.S.

Open Plans
The "great room" concept has definitely translated to European design, with the kitchen prep area often designed to face the table of the adjoining dining area so hosts can prepare food while entertaining guests, according to Morrison.

In the U.K., recently constructed housing espouses the "grand room," which combines lounge, dining room area, kitchen, TV room and utility room. This development further strengthens the trend towards furniture style, with such traditional details as wood panels, cracked glaze and pilasters, as well as Victorian and Gothic-influenced design.

In more contemporary designs, the retro vibe of Mid Century Modern is gaining popularity.

Of course many Americans still eschew contemporary design completely, and even those who favor more cutting-edge, minimalist looks may still want a more toned-down version that retains some American sensibilities.

But, while few Americans aspire to kitchens that are totally European in design, today's kitchen designers may still find inspiration in the view from abroad, adding some European flair to create new and innovative design options that are as rich and multifaceted as the global and cultural influences that define them. KBDN