Interior Fittings Increase Efficiency, Accessibility

Interior fittings make a kitchen function efficiently, while acessories are the finishing touches that make a kitchen complete. These products are critical to making the room look and function in a way that matches the needs and desires of the homeowner. Increased organization and flexibility in a kitchen space top this list of wants, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Additionally, items that promote the ability to comfortably use every inch of these spaces, from pull-outs and lazy susans to LED interior lighting, are on the rise.

“Kitchen designers are attempting to help their clients take full advantage of every nook and cranny of their living boundaries,” says Joey Shimm, director of marketing for Outwater Plastics Industries in Bogota, NJ. Storage aids and organizers offer consumers many benefits, he says, including enabling consumers to recreate and utilize the architecture of their kitchen to its fullest potential.

Daryl Nauman, key account representative for Hafele America Co. in Archdale, NC, says, “Even as kitchen budgets remain tight, consumers are looking to add function to their cabinetry with well-chosen accessorization. Pantry storage and organization seems to be the number one priority and area of growth.”

Each kitchen is used in unique ways by the individual consumer, and accessories and storage options must be flexible enough to fit individual tastes. “Every kitchen is different, but the idea is the same – maximize efficiency while still keeping a clean, concealed look. Oftentimes, in order to accomplish this, some customization may be required,” says Billy Peele, sales associate for Torrance, CA-based Doug Mockett & Company, Inc.

Debbie Cannon, marketing services manager and DYNAMIC SPACE specialist at Blum, Inc. in Stanley, NC, agrees that designers are looking for accessories that allow options for customization. “What makes a kitchen truly unique is the individual storage requirements of each homeowner. Because of this, in addition to our ever-changing storage needs, adjustability in the planned organization products is very important,” she says.

Louis Brun, marketing manager, Industriel, for Richelieu in Montreal, QC, agrees. He believes people are looking for solutions that maximize hard-to-reach places, as well as organization and flexibility in drawer fittings.

Practical Products

With a wealth of new products introduced in the market, there is an interior fitting or accessory for every need. Manufacturers offer products that add to the overall functionality and comfort of a kitchen, from cabinet and pantry organizers to soft-close features, electrical add-ons and radiant floor heating.

“Interior storage underneath the sink can be a constant struggle – cleaning solutions, soaps and other solvents drip, stain and otherwise ruin the cabinetry,” says Peele. “Undersink liners help to prevent the deterioration of the wood from harmful liquids and give a nice, clean finishing touch.”

“Designers are not only looking for add-on items, they’re also looking for cabinets that are solutions,” says Cannon. “Every cabinet has the same amount of space to work with in terms of height and depth – it’s choosing the cabinets that have been created to capitalize on the available real estate inside of each cabinet. That’s what designers are looking for.”

Soft-close is another feature that is in high demand, becoming almost standard these days. “[Soft-close] has branched out from the drawers to the cabinets and now is frequently requested,” says Jan Fitzpatrick, customer and market relations manager for Grass America Inc. in Kernersville, NC. In addition to appealing to the consumer, she says, new advances in soft-close hardware offer more adjustments for the installer.

She notes, “In drawers, you are seeing three- and four-way adjustments from side, height, depth and tilt. This allows for perfect alignment of drawer fronts.” Fitzpatrick adds that the soft-close feature is popular enough to push manufacturers and cabinet makers to make it standard rather than an upgrade.

Shari McPeek, marketing manager for Rev-A-Shelf in Jeffersontown, KY, says that electrical accessories are also on the rise, including door lifts, electric-assist waste containers, motion-sensor lighting and touch plumbing fixtures.

Radiant floor heating offers the homeowner both comfort and energy efficiency, says Mark Hudoba, director, heating and cooling at Uponor North America in Apple Valley, MN. “With simple systems used in the ‘high-value’ portions of the home, the comfort is the primary driver of the two. Ancillary benefits, such as the elimination of air ducts and floor/wall vents, are appealing to designers and interior decorators,” he says.

Interior Lighting

When every inch of space is being used, having the proper lighting to find everything inside can be essential, leading to the current trend of coupling the right accessories with interior cabinet lighting.

Shimm adds that LED lighting is taking the place of incandescent or fluorescent interior lighting options. “LED lighting, despite its initial growing pains, which encompassed its new-to-market high cost and less-than-desired early performance, is on the fast track today to replacing all other light sources,” he says.

McPeek says that a desire for energy-efficient products is why LED lighting has become a must have. “Small, versatile, with various color options that include Daylight, Warm and Cool, it is the perfect addition to any room design,” she states.

Coordinated Appearance

The usefulness of a product is important, but so, too, is a look that blends into the kitchen design and enhances the overall appearance of the room. “Kitchens are becoming more of an extension of the other living spaces in the home, so there is more emphasis on the design aspect of the kitchen and the overall flow of the room,” says Peele. “Contemporary kitchens are incorporating a lot of white in the design to give an ultra-clean look. This opens up a lot of space for subtle color accents from the hardware. Drawer pulls in Satin Aluminum or Satin Stainless Steel make a great contrast,” he adds.

Add-on products should complement cabinetry and be easy to maintain as well. “People want products that blend seamlessly into their cabinets,” says Cannon. “Many materials, such as stainless steel, tend to last longer and are easier to keep clean than products made of wood, which hold in stains and get etched or scratched easily.”

McPeek says products that meld with a design are important, especially with open floor plans becoming more the norm. “Gone are the days of adorned, in-your-face fittings/accessories. People want quality, stylized fittings/accessories that complement their design,” she says.

Having a wide variety of options in finishes and styles is also of importance, say manufacturers. “More than before, consumers tend to have specific tastes in finish and style,” says Nauman. “While we still see the strongest demand in satin metal finishes coupled with wood tones, we see an increasing number of customers asking for polished metal finishes often coupled with gray or other solid colors.”

Brun says Richelieu sees a big demand for full maple/wood finishes that match the cabinetry, such as its Ripa system, and modern finishes that combine plastics with modern materials, as found in the Brillanté panels.

Wood drawer boxes still dominate, according to Fitzpatrick, and the hardware is often concealed to enhance the beauty of the wood box. Popular colors include metallic stainless steel and champagne finishes, she adds. The interior of the drawer can be fitted with drawer systems like the Nova Pro and DWD XP from Grass, which offer divider and railing systems to customize the interior while matching the drawer sides, she says.

Universal Solutions

Universal Design certainly includes items intended to assist an aging population, but manufacturers are quick to point out that the ultimate goal is to have products that work for any age and ability.

Nauman says, “Allowing a kitchen to function well in busy, often multi-generational, households is a big priority for many people, and not only at the upper price points. Ease of use and good access make sense to everyone. As we age, this tends to become even more important.”

Cannon adds that designers are looking for storage solutions useful for people of all ages. “Planning a kitchen is a lot more than choosing what colors, materials, appliances, door styles, etc. are desired in a kitchen. It’s about creating an environment that will be comfortable to use and make life a bit easier for years to come, no matter what life brings,” she says.

McPeek says people are looking for “Better Design” rather than “Universal Design.” “Unfortunately some people still hear ‘Universal Design’ and think ‘Aging In Place,’ leading them to steer clear because they are not ‘old,’” she says. Better design means thinking about how space can be used to its fullest potential, she adds. “You do this by incorporating functional design ideas like adding more large and lower drawers, multiple-height countertops and adding accessories such as pull-out pantries, waste containers, task lighting, etc. that better your design for today and tomorrow.”

Peele says fittings that can be used in any kitchen cabinet or drawer are an easy solution. “Simple, space-saving devices with universal applications can help to maximize the existing usable space,” he says.

Added Value

While a slow economy obviously has an impact on the optional products consumers and designers choose for a project, manufacturers say current economic conditions haven’t had a large impact on the market for accessories and interior fittings.

“Economics will always play a part in the decision-making process on a project as large as cabinetry, but because the kitchen is such a major part of one’s lifestyle, the longevity of the purchase will outweigh the cost. Homeowners will find a way to purchase what they really want, especially in the kitchen,” says Fitzpatrick.

Shimm says that storage options have matured in recent years, becoming more refined, as well as easier to use and install with each new generation of product. As these storage aids and organizers have become more commonplace, their cost has been reduced and this type of product line is more readily accessible to consumers in a wider range of financial brackets, he says.

Nauman states that the market varies by price point, but nearly all price points in kitchens now include some accessories, such as a pull-out waste unit in starter kitchens. “As kitchen size has tended to shrink in this economy, squeezing maximum use from this smaller space has tended to increase the use of items such as blind corner storage units,” he notes.

McPeek says the current economic climate prompts people to be more conscious of their purchases. “They are doing their research online and reading reviews. They don’t necessarily want the cheapest price but instead want to be sure they are purchasing the best product within their means,” she says.

Brun adds, “Interior fittings of high quality are more sought after, including items that add value to the overall space.”

Radiant floor heating systems, long considered a luxury home accessory, are also becoming more accessible, says Hudoba. With the recession, he reports, simple, smaller and more affordable radiant systems are becoming more popular. Uponor recently introduced the Radiant Ready30E, a pre-assembled mechanical system, to address this need in the market. “Essentially, the radiant heating segment continues to remain strong in the luxury residential market, while expanding into the ‘standard’ home and also the residential remodeling market,” he says.

Efficient Elements

Components added to the kitchen should help consumers get the most out of their space in limited amounts of time, say manufacturers.

“We are an overly busy society,” says Cannon. “Efficiency and convenience are important for those of us who are always on the go and rush through making meals – as well as for those of us who find solace in cooking. Any time designers can create a kitchen that exudes efficiency and convenience, the homeowner will be happier in a kitchen that evokes this kind of harmony.”

Nauman says issues of efficiency have a big influence on the products people choose. “Parents in busy households don’t have time to rummage through cabinets while packing their children’s lunch in the morning. Everything needs to be organized, visible and accessible. Kitchens tend to be beehives of activity and need to accommodate times of heavy activity with multiple tasks being done. Simple items like extra counter surfaces that pull out of drawers come into frequent use to create temporary extra work space during these high-activity times.”

Peele adds that efficiency demands keep the market moving forward with innovations. “There will always be a demand for incorporating new ideas into traditional concepts,” he concludes.