Design trends from overseas from ornate Victorian styling to the minimalist 'less is more' look continue to gain favor in U.S. kitchens and baths, with European and Asian influences increasingly visible.
by Janice Anne Costa
"The European marketplace has always been a trend setter in the design industry," believes Steven Gurowitz, CEO/owner of Interiors by Steven G. Inc., in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
"International design trends have always affected this country in terms of our approach to things," agrees Ben Thompson, principal of the Manhattan, NY-based Ben Thompson Associates. "We go back to the days when we were adapting things like Gothic and Romanesque and various trends in Europe that we were bringing into America, and then [redefining] them through our own 'American Style.'"
Throughout Europe, the minimalist design ethic seems to be predominant, particularly in the kitchen, where the unfitted look remains the hot trend.
Notes Bathrooms+Kitchens magazine editor Philippa Turrell, "Although there is still a market for [the] traditional, particularly in rural areas of the U.K., generally, less is more, as fashion-led consumers seek the minimalistic styling favored in mainland Europe. This is most evident in the kitchen, where there is a growing trend for pared-down furniture, echoing the directions from Italy and Germany."
In terms of cabinetry, Turrell points to Shaker framed doors as "the bread and butter sale of the U.K. kitchen specialist," though she adds that "there's also a growing trend towards flat fronted, soft formed doors. Less patterning and detailing on doors has meant the design focus of kitchen furniture is now placed upon strong silhouettes. This is mirrored in the movement towards the 'unfitted' look with mid-height wall units, tambour doors, open shelving and adjustable legs."
She further notes that "blonde woods are the biggest sellers in the U.K.," with maple and birch at the forefront of kitchen design. "However," she adds, "there has been a definite move in the U.K. market towards the richer reds of Cherry and Alder."
Much like in the U.S., the key to U.K. kitchen design right now is "consumers marking their individuality in the kitchen, often achieved through mixing of materials," according to Turrell.
"With the advent of stainless steel, and more recently aluminum appliances, kitchen schemes are featuring metal on doors," she adds, noting, "Metallic laminate lookalikes and metal framed doors have grown in popularity, while transparency has also formed a key look for the British kitchen, with the introduction of glazed doors and shelving."
Just as the contemporary colors, pared down furniture and modular designs of European kitchen design have had a small but significant impact on kitchen design here, so, too, have Asian-themed designs become increasingly in vogue in the U.S.
One of the reasons for the growing appeal of Asian-style design, kitchen dealers say, is that the world is growing smaller as travel overseas becomes more common. Business travel makes "foreign" places seem less foreign, and because of this, many Americans who go abroad frequently find themselves bringing back ideas along with souvenirs from their trips. To that end, Lance Stratton, ASID, showroom manager at the La Jolla, CA-based Dewhurst & Associates, points to a recent client whose business in Japan inspired him to request a kitchen with Far East design sensibilities (see related story, Page 52).
As Stratton explains, "With more people doing business in the
Orient, or in South America, or Mexico, we are seeing a lot more
influence from those places [showing up in design here]. The
time they spend over there makes them more sensitive to the things
that are going on over there, and that can [translate into] design
Gurowitz agrees: "You see in the Orient how they are taking building and design to another level especially with the minimalist approach. I think that is the way of the future."
"From the Orient, we are seeing minimalism and a cleaner line,"
Stratton says. "There are more natural woods rather than lacquers
that we are used to seeing from Europe. We are also seeing more of
an influence from Japan and China where they use natural woods
presented in that clean way. The importance of good design in
smaller spaces is what we're learning from Japan. For many years,
they've been creating designs in very limited space."
A place renowned for its beautiful, vivid use of color and stunningly detailed tile designs, Italy is known for being a trend leader in the tile and surfacing markets. At the annual Cersaie in Bologna, the world's largest annual exhibition of ceramic tile and bath furnishings, both longstanding and newly emerging trends in the tile market provide inspiration for designers not only from Europe, but from all over the world.
For instance, in terms of colors, the hottest tile trends in Italy encompass "blues and greens, as well as warm colors including rust, brown, terra cotta and orange," according to Abbate, who adds that, "organic blacks and whites are also popular."
Not surprisingly, softer hues of these same colors are also gaining popularity in the U.S., with water color blues and greens, and more toned-down versions of browns, oranges and other earth tones seeing a revival. This dovetails the desire for "nature-friendly" colors, which has become increasingly popular with American consumers looking for designs that incorporate soothing, restful colors.
Likewise, the growing interest in mixing textures is mirrored in Italian tile. As Abbate notes, "Textural surface treatments are the newest trend. There is an emphasis on rich, three-dimensional surfaces that are inspired by materials including fabric, bamboo, sand, sisal, linen, woven rugs, wood, basket weaves, gravel, bark and tooled leather."
Likewise, the trend toward metallic and glass finishes that
we're just beginning to see gain momentum in U.S. kitchen and bath
design is in full swing in Europe, and Abbate cites the popularity
of "metallic and glass finishes that shimmer with the addition of
innovative materials, including sea glass, gravel and stainless
Of course not all global trends translate well to U.S. design, as many U.S. designers have come to realize. When asked what design ideas they have successfully adapted for use here, responses vary widely.
According to Gurowitz, "clean, neat and underfurnished" is a design ethic that works as well here as it does overseas, and he notes that simplicity will always have an important place in design.
States Thompson, "I've always used Mediterranean to make my statements. Much like the Japanese style, it has a flimsiness and chic, sheer effect that I like."
Less successful are what some refer to as "trendy trends." As Gurowitz says, "Trends never work. Going back to basics is forever. That is why the brewer chair is classic. Why does the chair sell for 1,000 years? Because it's simple. It's neat. That's the key."
Likewise, designers warn against going with form over function. As Stratton notes, "I've seen a lot of manufacturers experiment with cabinetry that is not connected to the floor. It's up on legs. But we're not ready to give away that type of storage. Our customers need cabinetry that maximizes storage."
Likewise, he notes that a design style must suit not just the room, but the rest of the home. "You can't just say 'I want a minimalist kitchen' if it's not meeting the house's style. It may not be appropriate to the size and scale of what the designer is trying to accomplish. You can't forget about the context of the kitchen. It has to relate. The danger is creating a kitchen that is entirely on its own."
So, will global trends ultimately redefine how kitchens and baths are designed in the U.S.? Or, are consumers in the U.S. married to traditional American design?
Stratton sums it up best: "I think the magic is in the combination of all these things. Taking what we know from our traditional American style, whether Colonial or Arts and Crafts, and combining those with what we've learned from other cultures that's what's important." KBDN