Trend Observations from KBIS and Beyond

This has been a spring of design/trade shows, show houses and new showrooms, and it seems like a great time to observe the trends – those that remain strong, those that move from emerging to established, those that show signs of passing, and a bit of whatever is making news.

With this as a goal, here are a few observations and reflections on what I have seen this season, colored by contributions from design friends to help round things out. Not intended to be complete, this is a report on things that caught my eye and hopefully might help to inspire your design directions moving forward.

Color, Pattern and Texture

Still going strong, gray is more available than ever in everything from new quartz colors in more subtle patterns to cabinetry to appliances (GE – slate). Even flooring is showing up in deeply textured grayed finishes on wood, creating a sense of age in the surface. White is, as always, strong, and this year it is showing up in more than cabinetry and counter surfaces, including a resurgence in white appliances, hardware and even faucets and fittings.

Texture is, for me, the most irresistible element in the design of our spaces today, with more tiles that are basically three-dimensional in reality (Ann Sacks) or in finish. There’s also a growing use of technology-driven patterns on wall surfaces and panels. Patterns continue to be geometric or architectural in tiles, counter surfaces and wall panels (Formica anniversary collection, or, again, Ann Sacks). Corian introduced a prototype for several deeply textured finishes intended for wall or vertical applications, and Silestone introduced a new suede finish that speaks to texture and also to the growing use of matte finishes on everything from hardware to fittings to hoods.

Having observed these trends, the exceptions were striking, such as the sheen of the ice white on floating glass appliance panels (Jenn-Air), the lacquered finish on cabinetry (Christopher Peacock, NYC showroom) or the polished nickel or copper hardware that almost appears to have been poured on (Christopher Peacock showroom). An interesting contrast to the linear, geometric patterning, quartz patterns seem to show less granular pattern and more movement in new offerings (Silestone).

Universal Design

KBIS was a wonderland of decorative and functional hardware, making all parts of the cabinetry move easily and all storage within the cabinetry move into reach and out of the way with incredible ease. While this topic deserves an entire column, I’ll just mention a few key features that inspired me.

First, deep, dark storage spaces not only come out to the cook, they are also lighted – think drawers or corner storage spaces that light up when the cook opens them. Speaking of corners, there are now more and better options for accessing maximum storage in those spaces, including accessories that fit when the returns on the corner are unequal. And, whether room or cabinet, doors are no longer an obstacle as they slide up or over and out of the way in a variety of ways and with incredible ease.

Technology and Lighting

Technology is changing the game, and the change is exponential and constant. It changes our work in at least three ways – aiding us in designing and communicating, giving us more flexibility and options in the products we can specify, and impacting the spaces we design and the activities and equipment we design for.

A few highlights that this non-tech designer has been wowed by include great training and information on social media as an essential part of your business efforts. If you have not put Houzz or Pinterest to work for you, do it. If you’re not sure how, hire the expertise to get you there.

There were numerous high-tech product options on display this spring, but one favorite this season is the smart induction cooktop that senses the size and shape of the pan to be used and concentrates energy to precisely heat and cook. Another technology that seems to be moving to the general market is the technology that allows products and spaces to be controlled remotely and via a motorized system – be it a door to a cabinet or room, a television behind a wall cabinet, a faucet or a ventilation system. At the touch of a button, it opens, closes, operates softly and efficiently. Now there is the “cool” that we crave – and high efficiency, too.

One last technology that bears comment is the growing use of photography and digital printing and the surfaces available as a result. Formica led several years ago with its large-format series. Its current anniversary series is another example. But this does not surprise the design community. An Italian company, Fiandre, showed a porcelain surface, available in 5'x10' slabs, that was digitally printed to look like stone or quartz, and it does, it does!

As for cabinetry, Custom Cupboards has introduced a digitally printed series of finishes for its cabinetry, with all sorts of images and patterns that enhance every style, my favorite being one that felt like the old men’s club – very old English.

Another interesting panel treatment I observed was a translucent panel lit from behind that made up the surround on an island. I wonder where this digital printing and the use of panels will take us – there are just so many options. The presence of LED technology was everywhere at every show, showhouse and showroom. It has revolutionized lighting applications in our spaces, and the main thing that strikes me from a design standpoint is that is takes so little space, energy and installation effort.

Finally, as we design spaces, we need to accommodate the technology that is part of every household. KBIS introduced some interesting options for storing and charging our tech devices – some that pop-up out of the counter, some that are included in outlets and some docking stations that hang in the backsplash.

As I gathered my notes to write this column, it seemed to me that so much had stayed the same, there might be little to comment on. The truth is, design directions do change so slowly, but trends and inspiration are always out there. I hope my reflections from the spring shows may trigger your creativity in some ways