In times of stress, people turn to familiar items and ideas that offer a sense of peace. The same holds true for color, according to kitchen and bath designers and members of the Color Marketing Group (CMG). And, while consumers have gotten more comfortable using color in various rooms in the house, they are still opting for more neutral tones in the kitchen and bath.
There isn't one lone reason for this color trend, say designers and CMG members. Rather, there is a combination of reasons at work here.
One reason is consumers' uneasiness about the world today, which is causing them to choose soothing, subtle tones and safe, neutral hues. Another reason is that a new kitchen or bath can be a major investment, and the remodeling process itself can be disruptive, so consumers want hues that will remain in style for more than a few years. More daring colors can be saved for areas that are easier to update.
"For the most part, people are putting intense color on walls because it's easy to change," says Connie Edwards, CKD, CBD, CMG, and director of design at American Woodmark Corp. in Winchester, VA. "Most people shy away from color on more permanent and expensive items, such as cabinetry and flooring, because they are thinking of their long-term investment."
"Color is being used more as a complement," agrees Klaudia Spivey, CMKBD with Denver, CO-based Design Times.
"There's a lot of neutrality in kitchens. People are considering their permanent fixtures, and whether they can change the color [down the line]. So they are opting for color in the form of paint or wallcoverings," notes Kathryn Taylor, CKD and co-owner of Design Gallery in Carbondale, IL.
As for wood color, Spivey notes, "We are seeing a lot of alder stains with glazes Painted woods have a lot of glazes, as well. People are looking for finishes that have a lot of depth to them, so it's taking a lot more steps to create that look." She further notes the popularity of wood tones, such as cherry and alder with glazes, in the bath.
Other calm hues such as blue and green are appearing in the kitchen and bath, too, say kitchen and bath designers and CMG members.
However, today's blues are subtler, and the greens are more "grayed out" and more muted than the blue-green teal tones of years ago. Some designers even say that green is becoming the new neutral, as it is being included on some neutral palettes. Indeed, green has changed over the years from the muddy teal color 10 to 15 years ago to its current light, blue-green form that's more inspired by glass, notes Gin Guei Ebnesajjad, manager for product styling and development, DuPont Surfaces in Wilmington, DE.
NEUTRAL, NOT BORING
As evidenced by the evolution of green, the flat neutrals of years ago have received a make-over. They are more complex, deeper and richer than ever before, and offer a multi-layered look.
Indeed, says Rebecca Ewing, color theorist, member of CMG and owner of her own design firm, In Living Color, in Atlanta, GA, "It is not your mother's beige anymore."
Ewing maintains that consumers are choosing "good, complex neutrals as a background," then applying color by "mixing complements on the color wheel, a light, warm color with a cool [hue]."
"Neutral values are selling well as a backdrop," concurs Sarah Reep, ASID, CKD, CMG, director of design for Middlefield, OH-based KraftMaid Cabinetry, Inc. and Kitchen & Bath Design News columnist .
So, if consumers like red, they are using colors such as red or orange to accent a neutral background, says Ebnesajjad. To that end, she says "the backsplash is a place where people feel that they can express themselves" with color.
Classic colors, such as a very dark gray or white mixed with ginger and honey wood tones, are stronger now, adds Reep.
Designers are noting that colors are now cleaner interpretations of those seen in years past.
Ellen Cheever, CKD, CBD, ASID, of Ellen Cheever and Associates in Wilmington, DE, is seeing more "crystal clear colors," such as crisp white, blue and yellow. "They are not 'grayed-out.' Consumers are focusing on colors with dimension. For example, that's why there is a rise in iridescent tiles and glass tiles, in stone and quartz." These materials have depth, making neutral colors more exciting, she adds.
The neutral palette includes not only paint colors in a myriad of complex, multi-layered shades, but also countertop material and patterns that offer a swirl of neutral colors; mid-tone wood finishes on cabinetry, and metallic looks of, say, polished nickel on faucetry and stainless steel on appliances.
Alan Asarnow, CMKBD, CR, of Ridgewood, NJ-based Ulrich, Inc. notes stainless steel is becoming the new neutral because consumers believe "there's safety in stainless," especially since consumers could spend thousands of dollars on an appliance and they don't want to choose something that will date their kitchen.
POPS OF COLOR
When stronger colors are used in the kitchen and bath, they tend to be concentrated primarily in the accents and accessories, such as the dishes, plates and even seating in the kitchen, and durable artwork in the bath, color experts agree.
However, while these may only seem like baby steps in terms of color, one larger step is the use of color to differentiate an island. This could be as simple as using a darker or lighter wood finish on the island in contrast to the rest of the cabinetry, or having cherry accents and moldings paired with maple cabinetry. Or, it can be as bold as a painted or glazed finish on an island to play against mid-toned perimeter cabinetry, or even having a rich cherry finish on an island to contrast with perimeter cabinetry finished in a variation
As for kitchen cabinetry colors, "we are seeing a lot more lighter tones in the contemporary styles, and for the traditional styles, people tend to be going toward darker tones," says Jeanné Sei, president/owner of Kitchens by Jeanné, Inc. in Santa Fe, NM. "A cherry wood with a dark glaze or maple in darker colors [marks] traditional [styles]. In contemporary [designs], they're still going toward the lighter tones, such as honey on the maple for the flat doors and the real contemporary-style hardware, such as brushed nickel."
Sei believes what's driving this trend is the need for contrast and the need to brighten up kitchens. The same drive is behind lightening the bath and creating contrast there, as well, she adds.
"We do a lot of light maple, and a nice warm cherry. The countertop surfaces are usually beige tones or neutrals [in the kitchen]," notes Taylor. " We will do a two-tone maple kitchen where we have a darker brown or a maple with a brown glaze. The quarter-sawn oak in a darker color is getting popular."
Cheever believes consumers are leaning toward "dark, bark-type or sable-colored browns" when it comes to wood finishes.
Asarnow is also seeing a trend towards darker, richer woods, such as cherry, alder and walnut, with white oak seemingly making a comeback.
"People are looking for wood grains, and painted finishes are evident. Other colors are coming in as accents," he says, adding that, for the bath, he's seeing softer colors being used for the master bath in order to create the perfect retreat.
If there is color at all on the majority of cabinetry now, then it is appearing as a glazed finish, which is most often found in kitchens and baths that feature an Old World or traditional look, Edwards notes.
Countertops can also be used to differentiate a space, but the trend in terms of applying color seems to be going toward granite and other natural stones that feature a larger particulate. That offers a platform to introduce some color within a more neutral format, and creates movement within a kitchen or bath design.
However, countertops like cabinetry and plumbing fixtures are among the permanent installations where consumers aren't going to risk a bold color choice.
One up-and-coming area where color is branching out is cabinetry hardware, say
According to Ewing, hardware is something she counsels her clients to view as an item that can bring color to a kitchen or bath, while being more cost-effective to change than cabinetry or plumbing fixtures.
However, Edwards disagrees, noting that, "There really isn't a lot of color in hardware these days. Rather, the metallic influence there is huge."
SOFT & SATURATED
Some kitchen and bath designers see a dual color trend currently taking shape: the aforementioned complex neutrals and soft, saturated colors that offer more depth.
"There are two different directions today for vibrant color," remarks Cheever. "There are the oranges, blues and greens seen in the Mid-Century Modern movement. And then there are the toned-down colors, such as sea-foam green, sea blue and sky blue."
Reep also believes there is a dual kitchen color trend taking place. "There are two color directions for the kitchen. One is a muted palette with a lot of tone-on-tone color. The other is a trend toward a clean, crisp celadon [green] color and rich reds. Clear creams are also popular," she says. In the bath lighter colors prevail today, she adds.
However, most designers agree that if vibrant colors termed "tertiary colors" by Ewing are making headway at all, they are doing so as deeper, yet subtler versions of the almost-Technicolor hues of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Even some of the neon colors that were hot fashion colors in the 1980s, such as the neon yellows and greens, have been reformulated and are re-appearing as bright, cheery yellow accents and as a pear green accent. Edwards cites pear green as a neutral hue that can work with browns, yellows and dark, coppery reds. She adds that she sees yellow coming into the kitchen and bath in more "jolts" of color.
One shade that's making headway, according to CMG members Ewing, Edwards and Reep, is red not a bright red, but more of a coppery or rustic red. The color is also appearing in the types of cabinetry finishes consumers are choosing today. However, it is important to note that in cabinetry, there are more hints of red, such as in a natural cherry finish, rather than bold, painted red or red-glazed finishes.
"There are red-based colors in stain today," notes Reep, who cites cherry and honey-spiced maple as examples of those stains that feature hints of red.
"There are lots of reds today. Not primary red; they are a little toward orange or to violet, perhaps, but they are all rich," says Ewing. It's one example of strong, saturated, tertiary colors, she believes. Other examples include yellow-green, blue-green and blue-violet.
Since color trends tend to evolve over time rather than change suddenly, kitchen and bath designers agree that neutral palettes and calm colors will probably remain in vogue for some years to come, with bolder colors creeping in primarily as changeable accents.
Bolder colors will only make headway if world events stabilize, consumers' stress levels decrease and the economy kicks into high gear, many believe.
"I don't see a big swing in terms of color in the near future," says Reep. "There will continue to be saturation and color, but nothing loud or brassy. Consumers will look for colors that show a resilience, colors that are upbeat, that revitalize." KBDN