Storage Spotlights Accessibility

Regardless of whether they are buying a new home or remodeling their current one, today’s consumers consider the kitchen to be the home’s main attraction – and abundant, well-organized and accessible storage is a major plus. So it’s no wonder that designers are focusing on custom storage solutions that enhance functionality and accessibility in the kitchen.

The rise of the multi-functional kitchen has further increased the need for flexible storage options. “Kitchens have become the focal point in the home,” says Daniel Tripp, product marketing manager for Hafele America Co. in Archdale, NC. He adds, “They have become multi-use spaces where there is much more going on than just food preparation. To accommodate the range of activities that are now taking place in the kitchen, designers and consumers are more focused on increasing the functionality of the space.”

Manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News generally agree that designers and consumers are seeking a wealth of attractively designed storage products that provide a variety of easy-to-use options. Meeting the individual needs of each homeowner is tantamount to success.

President/Owner James Vogt of the Grand Rapids, MI-based manufacturer Vogt Industries maintains, “Trends haven’t changed all that much in the last few years.” However, he insists that while “trends come and go,” the products that don’t hold up will surely disappoint the customer. And, says Vogt, “Everybody wants a kitchen cabinet that’s easy to use.”

While cabinet manufacturers may disagree, Vogt maintains that kitchen cabinets “all look the same from the front.” For that reason, he says, “Customers need to be aware of what’s inside.”

He believes both designers and manufacturers need to keep in mind an important question: When you open the door of the cabinet, what do you find that will help make things more convenient for the customer?

Great Expectations

Busy Americans are keen on getting organized, and with fewer homeowners willing to invest in expanding the footprint of their kitchens, maximizing existing space is increasingly important.

Homeowners want more storage space, but they are also demanding more accessibility to that storage. They are rejecting the old configuration of hard-to-reach cabinets that simply filled up space or required superhuman contortions to access stored items.

Today’s consumers are demanding customized and extensive storage options, and designers and manufacturers both recognize the growing importance of this. “One of the biggest trends we are seeing is that cabinet storage accessories are not being viewed as options any more…they are becoming an expectation,” explains Tripp. He adds, “As a result, we are seeing more and more cabinet manufacturers building storage features into their standard designs. Many of our customers have found that the interior details of their cabinetry can be a source of significant competitive advantage.”

Shari McPeek, marketing manager for Rev-A-Shelf, in Louisville, KY, believes the shift in U.S. population statistics is impacting the market. She states, “With the growing ‘Baby Boomer’ population, you are seeing more designs take accessibility into consideration.”

Tripp concurs: “Because functional hardware can help people interact more effectively and efficiently in their living environments, it can play an important role in bringing the core principals of Universal Design to life. Our aging population and other consumer lifestyle trends will continue to drive interest and demand for hardware technology that enables good Universal Design that optimizes functionality of kitchen cabinets for everyone in the household.”

Blum, Inc.’s Dennis Poteat agrees that kitchen plans that allow access and visibility to storage “tie in well with Universal Design.” Poteat, marketing communications manager at the Stanley, NC-based manufacturer explains, “Touch-to-open system(s) for drawers and lift doors allow them to open with a light push or pull on the front.”

These products are not just for older consumers, however. Gens X and Y value speed and efficiency, and touch-control products can help to streamline and simplify kitchen functionality.

Placement of drawers is also becoming more prevalent in many kitchens. Those drawers, of course, function better when well organized and accessible.

“Drawer organization is still popular since there are more drawers and fewer wall cabinets in open-plan kitchens,” explains Jan Fitzpatrick, marketing manager at Grass America, in Kernersville, NC. She adds, “More use of islands creates storage space but only under the counter. Deep, heavy-duty drawers can handle bottles and boxes…efficiently, if there are adjustable dividers to keep everything in place. Lifters are also becoming more popular for easy access to the cabinetry. This gives you full utilization of the interior cabinets.”

Meeting demand for drawer organizers is also on the minds of the staff at Custom Inserts, located in Pomeroy, PA. They, too, recognize the growing market for large, customized drawers in the kitchen space. Jonathan Betz is president of the company. “More recently,” he says, “we see demand for inserts to fit into larger drawers and spaces that need to be organized. Today, it’s not unusual for us to build custom inserts that are 32" or 34" wide, which makes a beautiful acrylic organization insert.”

Betz also explains that the company’s customized drawer inserts are “easily [the firm’s] most popular feature.” He adds, “Rather than one design that we see as being more popular than another, special orders, which allow customers to make up their own designs to fit their needs, are a very large percentage of our sales. This way customers get exactly what they want.”

Green Light

Many manufacturers interviewed agreed that the number one green product consumers are asking for is LED lighting. LED (light-emitting diode) lights are energy efficient and durable with a long service life. They are also cooler than other lights. And, while LED lights are more expensive than other lights initially, they are cost-effective in the long run because of their energy savings and durability.

Tripp points out that LED lighting in cabinets and drawers is one of the most important trends today. “…LED is the biggest story here,” he says. “LED lights use 90 percent less power than conventional light bulbs. They also have an extremely long service life of up to 25 years or more, 40,000-50,000 hours. In addition, they contain no harmful mercury.”

Tripp continues: “LED technology has opened a whole new world of possibilities for designers and cabinet manufactures. Their low heat generation and wide variety of styles allow them to be used in ways that were either impossible or impractical with halogen or florescent lighting. LED accent and task lighting can now be incorporated into virtually every area of the kitchen, including inside drawers and cabinets and underneath the toe kick.”

LED lighting is important to Stephanie Straatman’s customers, as well. Straatman, customer relations manager for Task Lighting in Kearney, NE, explains that the color consistency in LED lights is a good quality and LED fixtures work well as undercabinet mounting, for example. “LED fixtures offer a lot of light with a small amount of energy, and that’s important to our customers,” says Straatman, who notes: “Our customers are requesting the newest in LED technology.”

McPeek agrees that demand for LED lighting is up. “…People are looking for LED lights that are easy to install, have unique features like dimming, and are cost efficient.” While the green movement has impacted the kitchen and bath in a variety of ways, there is still plenty of room for growth. “One way [that the green movement has impacted the industry] is by state compliance, as each state now has certain requirements for products…” says McPeek. She expects more requests for ecologically sound products as the economy improves.

No Noise is Good News

Quiet and discreet are words that describe two of the latest trends when it comes to interior fittings and technology in a modern kitchen. Soft-close and easy-touch technology and products that hide small appliances when not in use are among the most sought-after items.

Manufacturers agree that the industry is responding to demand for soft-close products. “Everything is moving toward the soft-close,” explains Fitzpatrick. “First it was drawer slides but now hinges are in demand with the soft-close action. Drawers have redefined their closing action with the soft-close action and you find this in undermount slides, double-wall slides and in some ball bearing slides,” she adds.

Fitzpatrick also points out that customers prefer a soft-touch mechanism that opens and closes drawers and cabinets with barely any contact. “With wide and heavy drawers being more popular, having drawers open and close with a slight touch makes it easier for the elderly or wheelchair bound,” she explains.

Poteat agrees this trend is building and says Blum is seeing more customers choose soft-close hinges. “[Consumers] are looking for soft-closing drawers and doors as a standard in mid- to high-end kitchens and as options in economy lines. They are also excited about our touch-to-open waste/recycle bin sets. Just a light touch of your knee is all it takes to open the waste bin drawer when your hands are dirty or wet.” Poteat adds, “Lift doors allow them to open with a light push or pull on the front.”

With smaller kitchens, it can be harder to create a neat, uncluttered appearance, which is why products that streamline the look and functionality of the kitchen remain in high demand.

“We are seeing increased demand for automatic or mechanical door cabinet and drawer openers as well as mechanical lifts that can hide televisions or kitchen accessories when they are not in use,” says Tripp.

Doug Mockett, CEO of Doug Mockett & Co. in Manhattan Beach, CA, sees this as a strong trend that is part of a movement toward “keeping a clean overall look.”

He adds, “The hottest trend at the moment in kitchens is the basic universal idea of having hidden or low-profile features. Any accessory that can easily be stowed away when not in use is ideal.”

Other hide-away products are also in demand. “With a growing demand for hidden power options, re-locatable power taps are a huge hit on kitchen countertops and kitchen islands,” says Mockett. “Power stations are a great addition to any kitchen. They bring ease and convenience to the surface level and hide away when not in use.”

Straatman sees an increased desire to relocate receptacles from the walls to underneath the cabinets. Concealing power strips, chargers and even some lights contributes to that overall clean look in the room, as well. Some lighting fixtures, says Straatman, allow one to “see the effect but not the fixture.”

Finishing Up

When asked about popular finishes in storage accessories, manufacturers’ replies vary. “While the move toward white is seemingly industry-wide, the actual hardware components don’t necessarily have to follow suit,” says Mockett. “Satin stainless steel is extremely durable and still delivers a classic look in any kitchen, whether on a contemporary white motif, or on a more traditional wood theme,” he adds. “In fact, having that subtle contrast creates a harmonious balance.”

Fitzpatrick agrees: “From a hardware perspective, the stainless steel look is still very popular.” She adds, however, that the color champagne is also in demand for some products. And, according to Tripp, who has also seen champagne surge in popularity, matte nickel and chrome are in demand, as well.

Rev-a-Shelf’s McPeek reports that chrome is still very popular in wire products. She adds that in lighting, black, satin nickel and oil-rubbed bronze – in that order – are standouts.

Although all of America is anxiously awaiting better news from economic forecasters, hardware and interior fittings seem to be faring well, even with the economic uncertainty. According to Mockett, “Kitchen hardware is a vastly growing market – one that we’ve seen explode in our product line in recent years.”

McPeek points out, “People are now requesting items that once were considered luxuries…we at Rev-a-Shelf have actually trademarked a word that describes this…Necessories. [These products] are accessories that are considered necessary for the organization and function of your kitchen.”

That trend is not expected to abate any time soon. As the economy improves and kitchen projects increase in numbers, homeowners are expected to continue to demand better functionality, organization and beauty in the most frequented room in the house.