The beginning of each New Year is an exciting time for designers interested in “what’s trending” in style and home décor fashion. Major domestic and international exhibitions fill our January calendar: the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas, The LivingKitchen in Cologne, Germany, the Maison & Objet Show in Paris and the Toronto Interior Design Show. Color companies release the “Color of the Year.” Manufacturers launch new products, new styles and new innovations.

In addition to aesthetic updates, market research information is released in the media. In the first quarter of this year, many sources have commented on the changing demographics of our 2015+ client. Our major industry publications are reporting on specific product launches.

Let’s have fun and focus on the look of the new rooms we will create this year! The foundation of the new style of these spaces is found in the shifting preferences of our clients, as it relates to how such rooms “feel.” To be successful, design professionals must distill such dreamed visions into the reality of an actual room with specific products. So I will concentrate on the “feel” of a new kitchen or bath in this article – and then challenge myself and my colleagues to search out the needed details to create the “real” rooms inspired by imagined spaces.


Defining Contemporary

Let’s start with a perplexing question: What does the client really mean by “Contemporary” design?

For the past three years, Contemporary design has been reported as growing in popularity. However, the definition of contemporary is quite elusive. At a recent meeting, one designer said it well when she commented her clients might really be requesting a very traditional Shaker styled room when they use the word “Contemporary.” What they really want is a classic space – just more edited. She commented that what they really meant is they want to “close off, tuck away, put away, give away.” Such de-cluttering leads to “contemporizing” any space in their mind!

Such a comment is a good place to start because it reminds us to thoroughly gather information in our early meetings with clients, so the vision they have in their mind results in real-world environments they will enjoy living in. Use your portfolio, Web sites of respected manufacturers  or the photo collection the consumer brings to you so that the images define the style terms they use.

Next, let’s recognize an evolving “bridge” between Contemporary and Traditional styling that I’ve seen here in North America and Europe.

In a recent Houzz report on design trends for 2015, the interesting term, “Modern Traditional” was used. The concept makes sense: Clients want neither the streamlined, minimalistic look oftentimes called “Euro Styling,” nor highly detailed Traditional rooms. While we all have been honing our design expertise in creating Transitional rooms (a more tailored Traditional room), the concept of Modern Traditional is intriguing.

As designer Alexandria Knight of Korts & Knight suggests: “As a designer, I don’t want to be limited. I try to incorporate textures, curves and bas-relief doors into our designs. I also try to introduce an eclectic mix of materials, like metal and glass, as well as more interesting structural elements. By paying close attention to these principles, I am able to create more fully developed kitchen plans – no more boring kitchens.”

In an October, 2014 Traditional Home article, Mick de Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design echoed the designer’s comments when he said:“Minimalism is going away – people want simple, but not stiff and architectural. The kitchen is just as functional as before, but people want kitchens that speak to them emotionally. Thirty years ago, people were looking at catalog brands of cabinetry to define their kitchen, today they’re open to doing a kitchen that’s very unique – and just reflecting the client’s unique personality.”

This new definition of Modern Traditional is seen in rustic Contemporary themed rooms which feature a clean, simple cabinet layout, but may also feature a very distressed wood finish on the exterior surfaces – spaces that mix old objects with new materials or feature accents from the industrial world.


Color Trends

When it comes to design trends that will impact our work, there are several forecast trends worth looking at. First, it’s always interesting to see what’s new from the color world. This past January, with the help of my intern, Mary Slusser from the Philadelphia Art Institute, I researched the color world, studying color palettes and predictions from 10 companies and four color associations. While we’ve all read that Pantone suggested the new “Color of the Year” was Marsala, let me go beyond this one revelation!

An interesting color introduction I saw in the 2014 San Francisco Showhouse, created by Sarah Reep’s team at KraftMaid, was the introduction of cabinetry in “beautiful black.” Black was introduced in several of the international exhibitions in January, 2015 as well. Black makes a strong, sleek statement. It’s pretty dramatic, but not to be overlooked for the client who is looking for that something very special.

Returning to the world of color experts, after looking at all the palettes available from all the companies, I found the following common color palettes across all paint brands and color organizations.

The impact of global experiences has resulted in palettes of unrestrained, complex combinations of patterns and materials, partnered with bold hues. Somewhat impulsive and undisciplined in nature: colors seem to know no convention, as unexpected partnering happens in the “melting pot of imagination”. Non-traditional groupings of textures, finishes, shapes, patterns and forms comfortably share the same space in these non-conventional roomscapes.
Keep an eye on the travel-inspired tones that are reflected in this color palette. Color tones seem to be shifting to echo the diversity of our population: inspired by rich, bold Moroccan and Native American palettes, as well as the geometry and pattern-on-pattern oftentimes seen in the Asian design community.

  • A sense of optimism as the U.S. economy emerges from the recession has resulted in clear, bright color palettes. A feeling of good spirits and a positive outlook for the future is reflected in colors that focus on Mid-Century Modern design, presented in imaginative, clear, bright colors influenced by pastel post-war hues. The colors are supported in room settings featuring 1950s-styled flash-back furnishings, fabrics and accessories from the post-war period, yet are presented in a fresh and new way – just right for loft living and Jetson-styled high-tech gadgetry.
  • There is a continued interest in the beauty and refinement of the past, resulting in rich jewel tones set in elegant surroundings. Vintage romance and nostalgia for times past are reflected in palettes featuring oil-paint tones, reminiscent of old master paintings. Colors are rich: They seem darkened with the patina of age and accented by opulence. These palettes offer an invitation to step away from the noise of today’s technology to enjoy the order and elegance of experiences and relationships from the past.
  • There is a clear design desire to create restful, calming rooms by developing palettes that reconnect with nature, while being “present” in a thoughtful ‘right now’ moment. Palettes combine materials and colors that provide harmony between the man-made and the natural environment. This palette emphasizes a deep respect for both the simplicity seen in nature, and the strikingly textured complexity of the natural world around us.

So, how can you use this information in your work – right now? If you operate in a showroom environment, take a look at all of your displays. Can you make minor changes to reflect these palettes? Perhaps wall covering or backsplash changes, or maybe new light fixtures? Certainly, new accessories! Try to have these different palette categories reflected in the various rooms you present to the consumer.

If you do not work in a showroom environment, can you organize your portfolio to reflect these palettes in photographs of kitchen and bathrooms? Alternatively, simply research the color companies and organize some of their predetermined palettes in a way that you can share them with the consumer.


The Celebration of 'Hand-Made'

A second major trend I see throughout the international community of design is the celebration of “hand-made.” Even when an object is mass produced, designers are striving to present the object or a setting that could be categorized as a singular theme with all items made by hand. The goal seems to be to marry craft and industry.

This interest in the “hand-made” is repeatedly introduced through the use of textured and tactile materials. We have all seen natural marble, granite and quartz in honed finishes – that is just one example. More rusticated finishes on wood cabinetry throughout the kitchen or as accent pieces will continue to be of interest to consumers.

Reviewing the presentations made at the Salone del Mobile Milano EuroCucina exhibition in April of 2014 and the January, 2015 LivingKitchen Fair in Cologne, Germany, this interest in organic, expressively Contemporary – that enjoys a touch of nostalgia or vintage here or there – seems to be growing in popularity across the globe. European Contemporary kitchens featured such craftsmanship, typically seen in a special cabinet or in a weathered wood countertop in a room otherwise filled with smoothly finished cabinetry.

Many settings showcased wood veneers that had rusticated finishes, such as wire brushing or other design effects to add texture. One European manufacturer featured a room created by a Japanese architect, which had a decidedly “complex simplicity” design aesthetic.


An Appreciation for Opulence

A third trend (which makes me smile) is the definite appreciation for opulence. This was particularly noticeable at the 2015 Toronto Interior Design Show and the Paris Maison & Objet Show. Interior designers, often in the accessories displayed, celebrated the power of sparkle. Mixed metals or crystal chandeliers in pared-down Modern environments, for example.

At the Paris show, accessory bowls were carved from a single slab of Italian marble. This might have been seen in Paris as an accessory, but think of all the beautiful vessel bowls that are now available. Sometimes, our practical nature gets the best of us – we worry about the special faucetry needed, the maintenance of the countertop and other functional and maintenance concerns. However, we may be working with a client who just wants to exuberantly have fun in their powder room or master suite with a spectacularly carved, painted or glazed lavatory bowl and a very special faucet.

While I believe we will continue to see silver, chrome and stainless as three metallics used consistently in the kitchen – warmer metals such as gold, copper and bronze are being launched in decorative hardware, light fixtures, appliance accent strips, chair detailing and accessory highlights. Move beyond brushed nickel!

Another interesting thing I have seen lately is a movement away from all metals in a kitchen or bathroom matching one another. Mixing matte and gloss finishes, mixing a bronzy gold at the island sink while polished nickel is featured elsewhere injects energy and “vibe” into a kitchen.

Interestingly enough, in tandem with the products introduced in Paris, I saw some elegant, whimsical, beautifully detailed crystal cabinet hardware at KBIS. I urge all designers to revisit their hardware sources – and take a look at several new ones – searching for very special crystal hardware for luxurious bathroom settings.


The Expansion of Mid-Century Modern

Mid-Century designs continue to be popular, resulting in a series of reissues from noted industrial and interior designers as far as furniture. These pieces gained recognition in the 1950s – that is why it is called “Mid-Century Modern.”

However, the author of a recent article in Metropolis suggests we should embrace the aesthetic as a style not aligned to a time period, stating, “Mid-Century Modern no longer simply refers to a static period in time. Today, it is a design theory – a discipline that is no longer tied to the 20th Century post World War II design world. It is a theme that uses man-made products, beautifully sculpted woods, vibrant colors – all set in a setting with quietly restrained decoration.”


Details to Consider

  • Wallpaper that wows. I have been watching this reemergence of wallpaper for several years. In Houzz’s “Trend Watch: 13 Kitchen Looks Expected to be Big in 2015” by Houzz Contributor Natasha Sorca, wallpaper was again highlighted. A popular installation is to feature over-scaled, heroic wallcoverings in one area of the room: a “feature wall,” if you will, as opposed to creating a “focal point” with cabinetry within the overall environment. Providing a similar sense of style, bigger patterned ceramic tiles are also key design elements in modern spaces.
  • No/few wall cabinets! Not news to us, we know – what to do? Add pantries into your designs! I think we will continue to see large walk-in pantries providing the needed storage shelving in many kitchens in 2015.
  • An open, airy sense to the space; oftentimes, created by incorporating open shelving within the room. The designer’s challenge is how to make these shelves appear to “float” on the wall surface. A popular hanging system uses dowels or brackets that are attached to wall studs and concealed behind drywall. The support then slips into a channel or hole built into the back of the shelving. A key concern is the maximum weight these shelf systems can carry. I also think the wall space behind the shelving provides both a design challenge and opportunity for the planner. We need to think beyond traditional backsplash materials or applications. The cabinet material may become the wall covering, or this area may be just the spot for a grand tile or wallcovering pattern.
  • The continuing trend of mixing furniture-type cabinet pieces into both Traditional and Contemporary spaces. Oftentimes, mixing in the opposite style creates a dramatic, eclectic, welcoming environment. Think French armoire freestanding furniture piece in a room filled with highly lacquered full-overlay cabinets! Or, traditional white painted cabinets combined with a brushed wood finish on the island.
  • More attention paid to the architecture of the room. This is going to have a big impact on kitchen designers. As kitchens become integrated into overall living areas, we can no longer focus our attention on the set of cabinets we provide. The cabinet part of the kitchen plan cannot sit against barren walls. Today, designers are paying more attention to the architectural accouterments – the interior finishing systems, if you will – comprising of door casings, baseboards, crown molding and ceiling treatments.

With LED lighting systems becoming such an integrated part of our business, I believe that the ability to create tray or coffered ceilings – and illuminating them – can add to the drama of the spaces we work in. By the way, even in a simple kitchen with an 8-ft. ceiling, extending a flat molding onto the ceiling creates the sense of a tray: a great visual “trick of the eye.”

Around the world, the new approach to modern rooms is resulting in spaces that are much more humanized and unpretentious than the classic Contemporary interiors which in the past seemed to be all about the design, rather than the family. We are being asked to create rooms focused on providing a highly personal mix of beautifully designed products – yet, in a simple, pared down fashion. The consumer believes that this focus on simplicity will make the room easy to live in and manage.

This double request for organization and simplicity adds a new layer of responsibility to professional designers: They must create an overall storage system and manage the envelope of space allotted for the kitchen or bathroom so that it effortlessly manages the family’s possessions, and can support the various activities that will take place in that space. We can meet this challenge by focusing on the family first: how they live in the space, what materials appeal to them, and what possessions they love and hope to highlight in the new room! Then, we simply transition our professional emphasis to finding the right elements to build a “real” room!

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