2012 NKBA Design Competition Winners

Winning projects for the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s (NKBA) 2012 Design Competition exhibited equal parts practicality and imagination. Whether a compact kitchen or a master bathroom, submissions were suffused with an energy and vision that gave no hint of an industry slowdown.

Stylistically speaking, entries ran the proverbial gamut of looks, from flamboyant powder rooms (always a popular platform for personal expression) to sleek, suave and elegant modern kitchens.

But while styles varied widely, the large number of transitional designs supported the key findings of an NKBA survey conducted in the last quarter of 2011, which found that a hybrid of traditional and contemporary design is now the dominant trend.

In the winning designs, color palettes trended reliably toward the middle of the road. In natural wood cabinets, medium and darker tones were prevalent. Not surprisingly, white continues as the leading color choice for painted cabinets for the kitchen and the bath. The NKBA poll results definitively point to gray as the up-and-coming hue: Its use in both bath and kitchen environments has doubled in the past two years.

Contest submissions showcased numerous surfacing materials, with designers strategically employing them to ratchet up the visual impact of their projects, as well as ensure durable performance in kitchens and baths. Despite slight declines in use, granite and quartz-based materials are still the top picks for counters, with solid surfacing showing an upward usage pattern. For backsplashes, ceramic tile and stone remain leaders, with glass also coming on strong.

Some common threads in storage solutions were apparent in this year’s winning designs. In kitchens, drawers markedly prevailed over cupboards in base cabinets, and floor-to-ceiling pantries – some with double doors that broke with the design of the perimeter door styles – kept ergonomics in the picture.

The NKBA design survey also identified some interesting trends in plumbing that were borne out by the competition entrants. Among the winning projects, pull-down faucets were nearly ubiquitous in kitchens of all sizes, suggesting that the detached side spray (and, to a lesser extent, the pot filler) has been decisively supplanted by this multipurpose fitting. While a range of finishes was represented this year – oil-rubbed bronze, copper and brushed nickel among them – the NKBA poll indicates that in the future we’ll be seeing a surge in polished silver finishes at the sink.

Innovative lighting plans were very much in evidence in both kitchen and bath submissions. Attributable to the increasingly versatile formats and improved color-rendering capabilities of light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, winners’ designs incorporated not only ambient and task lighting, but also eye-catching cove and toe kick installations.


Nearly 500 submissions from across North America were received for this year’s Design Competition. Entries were evaluated by a panel of eight judges: design professionals who hold either CMKBD (Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer) or dual CKD/CBD (Certified Kitchen Designer/Certified Bath Designer) status. Projects were scored on safety and ergonomics, design planning and principles, creativity and presentation.

The winning designers are scheduled to be announced at the Design Competition Awards Ceremony, to be held on April 24 during the NKBA’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) at McCormick Center in Chicago.

Sponsors for this year’s Design Competition included Jenn-Air, Silestone, This Old House, Waypoint Living Spaces, The Home Depot, Delta Faucet, 20/20 Technologies and HGTV Remodels.

Category changes

There were some notable changes in the submission categories this year for the design competition, made with an eye on the evolving conditions in design and lifestyle. Two of the three categories that have been included in previous competitions – Open Plan Kitchens and Master Bathrooms – were effectively absorbed into other existing categories.

Also eliminated from this year’s contest was the Showroom classification. According to the NKBA, a smaller number of entries in this category signaled a low level of interest on the part of association members. One of the determining factors in the category’s exclusion was the difficulty of establishing a fair baseline for appraising the vignette displays, according to NKBA officials.

Another shift was in the definition of kitchen sizes, which until now had been determined using the area of countertop in the room. Stating that kitchens have become more open and are not necessarily spaces whose functions are limited to meal preparation and dining, the NKBA revised its competition standard to mirror this more inclusive role.

Design categories for this year’s Design Competition include: Category 1: Small Kitchens (less than 150 square feet); Category 2: Medium Kitchens (150-350 square feet); Category 3: Large Kitchens (more than 350 square feet); Category 4: Powder Room (sink and toilet required, no tub or shower); Category 5: Small Bathroom (less than 55 square feet) and Category 6: Large Bathroom (more than 55 square feet).

Entries in the competition were also eligible for several “Specialty Awards” indicative of current directions in the industry. Examples of these include Green Design and Universal Design. In response to the still-challenging economic pinch, two designations – Budget-Friendly Kitchen ($40,00 or less, inclusive of all design, labor, products and materials costs) and Budget-Friendly Bath ($20,000 or less) – encouraged designers to demonstrate their bang-for-the-buck resourcefulness.

While names of the winning designers and the placement for the top designs will not be announced until the April 24 Design Competition Awards Ceremony, KBDN provides a sneak peak at the winning designs, with descriptions and photos of the 18 Design Competition winners featured on the following six pages.

Category 1: Small Kitchens (less than 150 square feet)

Mixing solid-front and glass-panel door styles animates the cabinets in this compact, U-shape kitchen. The sharp angularity and driftwood color of the tailored cabinets make a fine foil for the unexpected backsplash of stainless steel penny-round mosaics. A small, ceiling-mounted pot rack is tucked into a corner; the wall behind it is sheathed in mirror, adding some sparkle to storage.


Located above the wall oven, smooth top burners fit flush with the counter; the latter’s dark gray color forms a neutral boundary between the colored elements of the design and the honey-hued wooden base cabinets. On the backsplash, randomly staggered rectangular glass tiles bring a lively change of visual pace to the room. Square-shaded ceiling fixtures cast a contemporary light on the space.


A hand-scraped wooden floor and flamed-edge stone countertop introduce a bit of texture to this otherwise polished kitchen. Copper accents play off the rich, mahogany-stained cabinets: The metallic finish is found not just on the farm sink, pull-down faucet, pot filler and drawer pulls, but also in the curved mullions of the wall cabinets. Toe kick lighting adds a dramatic touch.

Category 2: Medium Kitchens (150 - 350 square feet)

An exuberant use of color and materials make this kitchen a show-stopper. Curving swaths of cast glass and stainless steel are artistically appended to two legs of the U-shape, white counter. The blazing red range has a chromatic counterpart on the opposite wall, where a coffee machine is housed in a scarlet cabinet of a surprisingly traditional style.


Banks of glass-fronted wall cupboards add translucency and lightness to this clean-lined, contemporary kitchen. The weighty island is constructed of slabs of book-matched marble, whose silver-grey veining is the only pattern in the room. A lacquered, floor-to-ceiling cabinet centralizes the cooking zone, housing wall ovens across from the cooktop.


Defying conventional floor plans, this step-saving design is organized along organic principles. The open kitchen is defined by arcing counters of varying heights, each with a dedicated function. Orienting the bamboo cabinets’ grain horizontally helps sustain the ‘movement’ of the room. The circular geometry is completed by a round range hood and sinks.

Category 3: Large Kitchens (more than 350 square feet)

Modeled after commercial kitchens, this design coalesces cooking and cleaning appliances into a massive island; the pro-caliber refrigerator is stationed adjacent to the stainless steel unit. The room’s focus on performance is balanced by two sociable seating areas: a banquette and a breakfast bar that offers a close-up view of the culinary action.


In this sleek design, double islands provide both a detour for foot traffic and extra counter and storage space. On the outer unit, a border of rift-cut walnut eases the transition from kitchen to living space, as well as identifies the informal dining zone. An orderly installation of appliances anchors the symmetry of the cooking wall.


The dual purposes of this kitchen’s island – eating and food prep – are expressed in several ways: two different overhead lighting designs, a split-level surface and a change from turned millwork to squared-off, parson’s style legs that support the dining half of the unit. A massive limestone hood houses the range, providing a focal point in the cabinet-wrapped room.

Category 4: Powder Rooms (sink and toilet required, no tub or shower)

In addressing its two problems – lack of natural light and an awkward spatial envelope – this powder room utilizes shiny and translucent finishes and a resourceful artificial lighting scheme. Glass-paneled interior walls capture light from outside the room; a canister fixture centered over the concrete basin provides focused task lighting. Foot-pedal controls add convenience.


Light, form and color are boldly concentrated to create this evocative powder room. A wedge of mirror extends the lines of the conical vanity (a contemporary classic designed by Philippe Starck). Low-voltage lights are strung on a cable that runs around the perimeter of the ceiling, lending a theatrical mood to the space. Side walls finished in glistening plaster allow the tiled feature wall to take center stage.


Belle-époque-inspired details and accessories give this powder room a fantasy character, while fixtures and a trough sink give a nod to contemporary design. Warm metallics – the bronzy tones of the faucet, hand-crafted towel bar and mirror frame – coordinate with the earthy colors of the tiled wall, floor and custom painted cabinetry.

Category 5: Small Bathrooms (less than 55 square feet)

A custom glass-tile mural enlivens this small bath with its floral pattern and multiple shades of blue. The room’s traditional ambiance is established with a casement window, beadboard wainscotting and surface-mounted cabinets. In a fun touch, the pedestal sink is fitted with a bubbler-style drinking fountain. The radiator enclosure not only protects against accidental burns but also supplements the limited set-down space in the room. A Euro-style glass shower shield preserves the view of the tile installation.


Windows on two sides of the shower aren’t the only reason this bath has an airy, open atmosphere. Running the bands of brightly hued mosaics vertically instead of cinching the walls horizontally also works to keep the small room from feeling boxed-in. Exercising a light hand in the use of color prevents the compact space from being overwhelmed.


The complicated ceiling detailing in this bath calls for a restrained treatment of cabinets and finishes. Large orthogonal floor tiles with a natural, mottled pattern influence both the scale and color palette in the room. Blocky cabinets have an assertive linear grain that’s highlighted by the dark tones, while sandy-hued wall tile, set in a continuation of the floor tile, brightens the space.

Category 6: Large Bathrooms (more than 55 square feet)

This spa-inspired bath is sufficiently spacious to be divided into well-defined zones for bathing, grooming and storage. In tandem with the pale-neutral color palette and large mirrors to brighten the room, the lighting is an effective combination of hard-working task and ambient fixtures, with a stretch of toe kick spots adding a bit of dazzle to the space.


Cantilevering the expansive vanity – and emphasizing its floating quality with an array of downlights hidden beneath the cabinet – adds a modern flair to this bath. Maintaining a consistent proportion between the floor tiles, drawer depths and counter slab unifies the design. Shielding the wall-hung toilet behind a sheet of etched glass maximizes the open floor area while providing privacy.


Abundant storage in the form of drawers and cupboards is sure to pre-empt trips to the linen closet from this traditionally styled bathroom. Crafted of alder wood washed with a warm mesquite stain, the cabinetry’s color is complemented by the toasty hues of the hard surfaces as well as the oil-rubbed bronze fittings, hardware and accessories. A shallow ledge – handy for stowing small toiletries – bridges the backsplash and mirror.