Five Strong Trends from KBIS and Beyond

Kitchen and bath design trends don’t change overnight, but they do seem to grow in importance. In the very recent past, I have had the opportunity to observe current trends as forecast and demonstrated by experts within the home design world.

From the Architectural Digest Home Show, two days spent combing the design showrooms of New York City, or time at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and the Merchandise Mart in Chicago and time spent there with design friends who had just returned from Milan, several strong trends were evident. These were reinforced by the sheer repetition from one venue or showroom to another, one product or material to another, one price point to another.

It is really amazing how certain trends seem to be repeated and reinforced through all of these experiences, so I thought I’d offer a few of the highlights and the most prevalent design directions.

These reflections are far from a complete report, but rather a review of the strong-est of those trends, offered to add to or reinforce your own sense of current trends, and to energize your work.


The color gray is everywhere: in cabinet finishes, tiles, wall and floor coverings – and even fixtures. While it has been around for some time now, it seems stronger than ever. Reclaimed wood finishes (think Restoration Hardware or Le Pain Quotidian furnishings) are a grayed out version, which is softer than the intense stains of the past. Tiles include porcelain that looks like the gray flannel suit, and stone from earthy basalt to Carrara marble.

The beauty of all of these grays is in the soft neutral backdrop and balance they offer to pops of more intense color…and in many cases, that color is orange. Like that gray flannel suit, the grays also make a good juxtaposition to our once and always favorite: white. While white never goes away, it was stronger than ever at KBIS, across all products and materials.


Texture dominated the spaces I visited, in tile, in wood and in fabrics. Maybe it’s due to our reverence for things crafted or the textures of nature, but texture is clearly a very hot trend.

In tiles, the surfaces were often deeply etched or grooved, or otherwise patterned within the tile, offering so much movement. In addition, they were set in patterns that created texture, such as the shaped mosaics set in a basket weave pattern, with continued strong linear direction.

Rough clay tiles, reminiscent of the Mexican tiles of the past, are part of this, in the form of French reclaimed tiles that have a waxed appearance. In wood, the texture ran deep in the unedited finishes and the return of bolder grained woods.

Counters were often matte or sueded, with front edges or apron panels that were deep or thick, and carved or deeply etched. To add to the sense of texture, the counters were layered, with one section overlapping the next.

Patterns on patterns on patterns seemed to be everywhere, graphic and with tone-on-tone combinations of various patterns on the same wall, in the same space.

Wallpaper continues to grow as well, both in the places it’s appearing, and in the size of the pattern. The interesting twist to this is that sometimes it’s not wallpaper, but tile imitating wallpaper – and waterjet cutting technology is making this a beautiful and seamless execution. Counter surface materials are being introduced with greater pattern and larger particulates in the mix as well.

Horizontal Lines

The continued emphasis on a strong horizontal line in design was prevalent in shows and showrooms I’ve visited, accomplished in some of the same ways as in the past, but also in some new ways. Heavy use of drawers continues to endure, of course for the functionality aspect, but also to draw the eye horizontally. Wall cabinets and open shelves that are shorter and higher than in the past – certainly influenced by European design – do the same.

While brick or subway tile designs are still present, there is a growing use of vertically stacked tiles and panels that seem to reinforce the sense of line, particularly horizontal. In the bath or shower, these stacked tiles are often broken up by an inset of tiles in the same finish but a different size and turned vertical, which seems to draw the eye horizontally as if the inset is wrapped by the rest of the wall.

These installations seem to create that monochromatic pattern mentioned earlier. The use of wire in lighting and furnishing design seems to contribute to this high contrast line as well.

Technology was everywhere, and particularly relating to touch control, from faucets to refrigerators, from lighting to cabinetry…and it is marching ahead faster than I can comprehend. There is greater variety in touch faucets, more with LED indicators as to hot and cold, and we can hope that, as is always the case, increased availability will bring the costs down. I even saw a water flow control mounted at the front of the sink that operated by touch and twist, glowing in a color to indicate the water temperature.

Not only can we operate faucets by touch, we can now operate many aspects of cabinetry and storage via touch, with base cabinets that open via a motorized system that responds to a bump from a hip, and backsplash storage that disappears behind the wall or base cabinet with the touch of a button, which seems to be a perfect place to store the flat screen television when not in use. Wall cabinet doors are on the move via touch controls and there are more options as to where they move: up, down or sliding sideways.

Last year we saw a prototype induction cooktop that adjusted burner size and shape with the touch of a finger, and this year it has basically come to life in a cooktop that recognizes the size and shape of a pan and activates heat in just that area.

This discussion could go on, but these observations are just a few of the trends, a stream of consciousness commentary on what’s out there. I hope this might offer some inspiration as you move forward with the spaces on your drawing board or computer screen right now.