Function, Comfort Drive Kitchen & Bath Remodeling

While consumer budgets are projected to increase somewhat for kitchens and baths next year, the emphasis is definitely on function over fashion, with Baby Boomers expected to be the key growth segment in kitchen and bath remodeling in the coming year.

Comfort and convenience continue to be top priorities in both the kitchen and bath, with easily accessible storage high on consumers’ wish lists.

That’s according to a new survey, conducted for KBDN by the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI), a Charlotte, NC-based organization of manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and others whose revenues derive from activities that take place in the kitchen (see related Editorial, Page 7).

The survey, which polled some 280 kitchen and bath dealers and designers from all over the U.S. and Canada, looked at key remodeling trends in the kitchen and bath, from budget and layout choices to design preferences and most desired products.


When it comes to budgets, more than one-third (37%) of those surveyed say they expect consumer budgets for kitchen remodeling to increase in 2013 (see Graph 1) and nearly half (47%) expect budgets for bathrooms to increase in the coming year (see Graph 2).

So, where will those extra budget dollars be spent? In the kitchen, 42% are expected to increase spending on interior storage, 39% will spend more on countertops, 34% will increase major appliance expenditures, 32% will invest extra money in their cabinets, and 31% will increase their budget for sinks and faucets.

In the bath, those polled see 49% of clients upping their investment in shower systems and tub enclosures, 45% increasing spending on plumbing fixtures and fittings, 42% putting more budget dollars into interior storage solutions and 39% spending more on vanities.

One area where consumers seem to be decreasing their spending is in changes to the size or footprint of their existing kitchen or bath – a clear sign of a more cautious consumer. In fact, while the survey showed that the mean percentage of kitchen remodels that involved a change in size, shape or layout was 51% this year (see Graph 3), that number was 60% in a survey done earlier in 2012.

However, on a more positive note, more than one-third (35%) think that demand for changes to kitchen size or layout will increase in 2013, with that number higher among survey respondents who work in showrooms.

In the bath, the mean percentage of remodels done in the last year that involved a change in size, shape or layout was 43% (see Graph 4), while 36% expect to see increased demand for a size or layout change in the coming year.

Baby Boomers seem to be driving remodeling in both the kitchen and bath, with 65% of those polled saying they’re doing more bath projects for the 45-64-year-old set and 61% doing more kitchens for this demographic. Mature (65 and older) buyers were seen as the next largest growth segment in the bath, with 46% of those polled doing more projects for this age group. In the kitchen, aging-in-place designs and projects for 18-24-year-old buyers were each cited by 40% of those polled as being on the rise.

By contrast, families with children seem far less likely to increase their remodeling activity, with those polled seeing only 30% of this group increasing bath remodeling activity and 31% increasing kitchen remodeling activity in the coming year.

The good news, however, is that, across the board, all age groups are showing more increases in remodeling activity as compared to decreases – a sign that economic improvements are finally beginning to give consumers the confidence needed to engage in kitchen and bath projects once again.

Of course caution is still the watch word of the day, so it’s no surprise that partial or “stage” remodeling is also on the rise, with 67% of those polled expecting to see an increase in partial or stage remodeling in the kitchen in 2013, compared to a mere 7% who expect decreases in this area (see Graph 5).


When it comes to what’s trending in kitchen and bath remodeling, the biggest buzz words for both rooms are “comfortable” and “functional.” In fact, when surveyed about what attributes their clients most wanted in their new kitchens (see Graph 6), the two most-frequently cited descriptors were “functional” (81%) and “comfortable” (62%). Far less important were “light filled” (27%), “simple” (25%), “sleek” (19%) and “elegant” (18%). Only two percent said they wanted a “glamorous” kitchen – a far cry from just a few years ago, when glamour was all the rage.

“Functional” and “comfortable” also topped the list of traits consumers sought in the bath (at 73% and 56%, respectively), while “light filled” scored somewhat higher than in the kitchen (37%), followed by “elegant” (27%), “simple” (25%) and “sleek” (21%).

As far as the most desired kitchen amenities, dealers and designers surveyed agree that storage is at the top of consumers’ lists, with 80% of those polled citing islands as their most desired kitchen feature (see Graph 7), followed by roll-outs, pull-outs and roll-downs (79%), and drawers instead of cabinets (74%).

Also tying into the value trend, energy-efficient appliances were mentioned by 66% as a greatly desired kitchen feature, while mix-and-match materials/surfaces/finishes were cited by 64%.

Interestingly, although only 10% of those polled believe their clients will be giving more consideration to using eco-friendly products in the coming year, some 59% cited LED lighting and 56% cited recycling centers as desirable kitchen features, suggesting that the green trend has made inroads in consumer thinking.

In the bath, storage is also a prime concern, with the most desired amenities list (see Graph 8) topped by furniture-style vanities (60%) and his-and-hers vanities (55%). Other oft-asked-for bath amenities included super showers and customized storage (46% each), radiant heated floors (45%) and a private toilet compartment (42%).


When asked about their clients’ style preferences, casual or transitional styling was cited as the mostly likely to increase in popularity in the coming year, both in the kitchen and bath. This held across all designer and dealer segments except the independent designer, who was equally likely to see an increase in modern/contemporary styling.

In the kitchen, nearly half (47%) of those polled see casual or transitional as the hottest growing style, followed by modern or contemporary (32%), no changes in style (11%), traditional (5%), country (3%), Victorian/elaborate traditional (1%) or another style (1%).

In the bath, 40% of those polled see casual or transitional styling expected to grow the most in 2013, followed by modern or contemporary (37%), no changes in style (13%), traditional (8%), Victorian/elaborate traditional (1%) or some other style (1%).

While it’s often overlooked, consumer mindsets have a tremendous impact on their design choices and, as such, it was interesting to note how designers see those views coloring their choices. Among those surveyed, 42% viewed their clients as “middle of the road” – willing to be creative in small ways, but still making primarily “safe” design choices. Another 38% saw their clients as conservative, making all safe choices, while 20% said their clients are adventurous, seeking out custom designs that speak to their unique personal tastes.

When asked for specific examples of design preference differences they saw this year in the kitchen and bath projects they completed as compared to last year, the dealers and designers surveyed offered the following:

“We’re mixing countertop materials more and using more personalized products like stainless or some reclaimed products on islands or specialty areas, while keeping the rest of the tops in granite.”

“We installed all types of LED lighting in the kitchen: main can lights, under-cabinet task lighting, interior cabinet lights and even decorative pendant lights. The client was thrilled with the results.”

“We’ve done under-lighted glass counters in the kitchen.”

“We utilized face-frame cabinetry much more this year than in the past, mostly to achieve a specific style such as a classic design with furniture elements.”

“We specified more functional yet beautiful bath products (grab bars, faucets, shower faucets, etc.) for the moderately physically challenged and elderly.”

“I am putting in more touch technology features in the bath, and walk-in tubs and showers are in high demand.”