As we approach the time of year when baking and family dinners are a priority, let’s take a look at the epicenter of activity – the kitchen. Once relegated to function behind the scenes, the kitchen has benefited greatly from today’s open concept floor plans. Kitchens are now a gathering hub, used for both cooking and entertainment. Even if you won’t be hosting any family dinners or consider yourself more of an eater than a chef, don’t overlook the importance of melding form and function to create an appealing and accessible space you will likely use several times a day every day.
Color Trends: When it comes to color, today’s cabinet selections represent opposite ends of the spectrum. White cabinets are still popular and pair nicely with today’s dark wood flooring options. We have found some great ceramic tile and vinyl options that provide the look of wood but easier maintenance and durability, particularly for commercial applications. In recent years, darker wood cabinets in natural cherry, walnut or mahogany and dark stains like espresso and clove, have become increasingly popular. These are often paired with white countertops and lighter flooring selections.
The color gray has also made its way into the kitchen, and not just for appliances (more on that below). This beige alternative creates a contemporary, sophisticated vibe. However, don’t limit yourself to a monochromatic or totally neutral color scheme. Adding a bold splash of color on a wall, island countertop, pendant lighting or a few decorative accessories complements the cabinets—especially today’s darker selections—to make a statement without overpowering the room.
Cabinets and Shelving: Even if your budget dictates stock cabinetry, there are a myriad of sizes and features to consider. But first start with the basics. Allow for a minimum of 15 inches of clearance between the upper and lower cabinets. For our firm’s senior living clients, we pretty much stick to this dimension which post-occupancy evaluations have indicated works better for reaching the top cabinets while still having adequate workspace. We also recommend under cabinet lighting and not just for seniors. There are a number of very simple, energy-efficient options to illuminate the work surfaces under cabinets. Just be sure to coordinate the size of the fixtures with an apron or light valance so you see the light, but not the fixture itself.
Kitchen cabinets at various price points also include options for better organizing your dishes and cooking implements. A quick on-line search reveals a myriad of options for pull-out shelving and accessible cabinetry readily available at your local Lowe’s. And, for today’s world where we are always connected, you can even find cabinets incorporating built-in charging stations and tablet holders. For easy accessibility, we recommend handles rather than knobs for hardware selections. Another current design trend we like is incorporating some open shelving which provides the added benefit of making its contents that much more accessible.
Appliances: Once again, there are a myriad of choices for color, style and accessibility. Refrigerators are available in over/under, side by side and French door configurations while both dishwashers and ovens now have drawer options. A common trend we try to avoid, particularly for senior living, is placing the microwave over the stove. In addition to accessibility issues, this can also create safety concerns if the user must lean over the stove to retrieve hot items from the microwave. Alternate locations include on or below the counter. If it must be above the counter, consider alternatives to placing it over the stove! The National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends a minimum 15 inch landing area for items going in or coming out of the microwave located above, below or adjacent to the handle side.
Stainless steel continues to be the most popular selection for appliances. This timeless option works well with both contemporary and traditional design styles. Manufacturers are also introducing some interesting variations with new lines like “ice” from Whirlpool or “artistry” and “slate” from GE. A number of high end manufacturers also offer a range of vibrant colors if you really want to make a statement. However, this could create challenges down the road if you need to replace a single piece. Stainless appliances from different companies will match, while colors (even neutrals like slate or black ice) will not.
Another option if you want to take your appliances to the next level is the Jenn-Air Obsidian refrigerator. Instead of the standard white interior, the inside of the Obsidian is a deep charcoal and includes multi-point, LED theater lighting to highlight your food and create an artistic look. The exterior is available as a custom panel or stainless steel finish.
For countertops, granite remains the design standard, but quartz and solid surfaces are gaining popularity due to their durability and distinctive design characteristics. Some other recent trends we like are introducing unique materials and textures—like a glass tile backsplash, soapstone countertop or new copper and burnished brass fixtures—while simultaneously embracing the fundamentals of clean lines and simple non-fussy designs. Kitchen islands and peninsulas are almost a must-have and are typically larger scale than in the past. When meal preparation is often considered a social activity, these spaces can do double duty as additional workspace and a serving table or even casual seating.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a cook, we all spend time in the kitchen so don’t overlook this busy, attention-grabbing space. For more ideas, we’ve included some additional resources below.
Kristin Novak, IIDA, LEED Green Associate has experience in all aspects of interior design for commercial environments including kitchens in multi-family housing as well as large scale production kitchens. Her advice is no matter how large or small your kitchen may be, the most important considerations are that it feels like home and fits how you live your life.
Interested in more kitchen design ideas? Here are a few great resources we found:
Starting in 1944 the University of Illinois conducted a number of studies of kitchen design and developed the fundamental design principles that are still very much in use. These days the National Kitchen & Bath Association updates and publishes these basic design standards for kitchens.
This site, “Thirty-One Kitchen Design Rules” includes some helpful illustrations.
If storage is an issue, this feature on Houzz.com provides some great inspiration ideas for kitchen storage.
Coming soon: 9 Cool Trends That Will Hit Your Kitchen in 2016.
7 Kitchen Cabinet Trends to Watch in 2016.