As kitchen and bath designers well know, the basis of any design means creating an aesthetically dynamic space that is also highly functional. However, combine that with the ability to capture the unique spirit of each client, and designers will succeed in achieving designs that not only enhance their clients’ lifestyle, but life.
While the obvious challenge is the countless client lifestyles with which to account for, that also means there are countless solutions available as well.
So whether it is a single-led household, a family with kids, eco-conscious Gen Xers, or any other possible lifestyle consideration, the solution is often simple: Offer comfort and convenience.
To that end, roll-out trays and wood dovetailed drawers, for instance, are common requests, as are large islands for cooking and eating, or perhaps a powder room vanity for bath applications.
Robin Denker, owner of Kitchens by Design Gallerie in Westlake Village, CA, concludes: “Whether it is a family of two or six, my clients continually ask for convenient storage, convenience in placement of appliances and enough refrigeration storage. They ultimately ask for seating where they can take in a view or one where they can linger. My favorite kitchens are the ones that resonate and say ‘Eat, enjoy and linger!’ ”
One life to live
So, what are the common lifestyle needs that designers will encounter?
Danny Lipford, a Mobile. AL-based remodeling contractor who recently renovated a Tudor home (including the kitchen and two baths) for a family with a busy lifestyle (called the Kuppersmith project), offers: “Busy families and lifestyles mean less time for traditional uses, like cooking. But as the design of kitchens has changed, they have also become multi-functional spaces where you not only prepare a meal or have a snack, but also do homework and work on your computer. Today’s kitchens encourage family togetherness.”
Paul Radoy, senior designer for Ann Arbor, MI-based Merillat, who was the kitchen designer on the Kuppersmith project, adds: “We are seeing more multi-generational households. As a result, we are implementing multiple works stations in kitchen design providing optimal function for various situations. It is no doubt that kitchens are becoming more social than ever before.”
Chris Donaghy, managing owner for Lorton, VA-based Kitchen Brokers adds: “We find working with single households, for instance, to be much easier than working with couples. The married dynamic requires some serious psychology training to cut through the emotional clutter! We’ve found that single homeowners are independent thinkers with excellent decision making skills.”
Radoy continues: “In either situation, lifestyle and entertainment needs of the two groups may trump the number of head of households. Generally, a couples kitchen amenities may include an extra sink, appliances and additional counter work space to accommodate two people functioning at the same time. This could also hold true for a single person who entertains frequently with a friend.”
Donaghy adds: “For us, green design is another new norm in our market. We are seeing calls for water-based low VOC finishes, recycled products, farm grown hardwoods, sustainable counters and LED lighting. Green design is nearly even cost-wise with traditional kitchens and the ‘feel good’ aspect of doing the right thing is enticing to nearly everyone.”
For Denker, she too sees clients adopting an eco-conscious lifestyle.
“I see a trend to have as many windows in the kitchen as possible. I add windows to the kitchen or simply increase the width of the existing ones to allow for more natural light.”
Likewise, she adds that clients are opting for an outdoor living space which includes a barbeque area along with generous counter work space.
Donaghy concludes: “Another truly growing market for us is the gay market. We find this market to be nearly ignored, when in reality, they are truly the best clients a designer could want. We find this market to be educated, kind, stylish, caring about the environment, and aware of the travails of remodeling. Over the past three years, nearly 40% of our jobs have been for same-sex couples.”
Of course, the most lifestyle contrast comes from the design preferences among the various generations, the designers agree.
Donaghy explains: “Gen Y has very high expectations, but no knowledge of costs or product selection. So, we work twice as hard for half the profit.”
Denker offers: “Gen X clients also typically have younger children still at home, so they go for a larger capacity refrigerator.”
Donaghy also points out that Gen X buyers are the most active buyers right now, as either first-time or second-time homeowners, “with distinct tastes, the budget to satisfy any selection and the feeling they deserve a stunning space.”
To that end, he says Gen X typically looks for contemporary or transitional appeal, including slab doors, glass inserts and single colors repeated throughout the space, as well as stainless or hidden appliances and concrete counters.
“Generations X and Y want the best, now. They do not want to wait, or save up,” adds Denise Laridaen, owner of Cabinet Creations in Mauston, WI.
“Gen X and Y are all about convenience. Also, they are more likely to choose products that are environmentally friendly,” says Lipford.
Donaghy notes that Baby Boomers are very slow to decide and are the most budget conscious, while mature buyers, by comparison, are interested in timeless style and high quality with as many bells and whistles as possible.
In fact, Baby Boomers – particularly those who are about to retire – will often play it safe and select laminate tops, for instance, says Laridaen.
“Others will go with granite countertops, because they feel it will be the last one they buy,” she says.
“Transitioning table heights to make working in the kitchen easier is something to consider for this generation,” says Radoy.
Denker adds: “It seems that my mature clients mostly ask for wall ovens and refrigerators with freezers at the bottom, although size does not seem important to them overall.”
Laridaen notes that she has been designing “very small kitchens and even smaller baths” for mature clients.
“By redesigning the layout, we have increased the amount of storage and countertop space for them and typically improve access with roll-out trays,” she says.
Lipford concludes: “[The one denominator I look at is] when someone renovates their kitchen or bath, is it’s usually to update outdated features, to get more space or to maximize the space they have. For years, people have looked at bathrooms, particularly master bathrooms, as retreats with lots of amenities, while in the kitchen it’s all about flow and open spaces.”
Home sweet home
Lifestyle factors that never go out of style are a desire for comfort and convenience, the designers agree.
“Home is where we are comfortable, and home is where we spend most of our time,” Denker says.
Laridaen offers: “Family and entertaining at home have been important for some time, now. Be it family or party guests, space for others in the kitchen is almost always a request.”
According to Denker, the appliance decisions seem to be driven by the cook with the cooktop or range typically where most dollars are spent.
Laridaen adds: “Women almost always handle the selections for the kitchen and bath. Some women will select a door style simply based on how easy it will be to clean! Women often think about where they will keep each individual appliance. For instance, the mixer has to have a special home while others want every small appliance out of sight. Men tend to focus on the mechanical systems and when a recreation room bar is in the plan, men will get a bit more involved.”
She notes that men prefer rustic woods such as alder and hickory, while cherry and maple are popular, too.
Donaghy agrees: “Gender in product selection has stayed consistent with the stereotype. In married clients, the wives nearly all look for easy care, bright sunny spaces, and punches of color. The husbands demand stainless steel and chrome, earth tones, and in most cases, deep dark woods.”
To that end, Denker recounts a couple of recent kitchens she designed for mature clients with very specific cooking needs.
“Their love for cooking was identified by their specific needs,” she says. “He is 6’2″ and she is 5’2″ therefore the space required a two-height island.”
Specifically, the higher area where he could chop and mix was set at 40″ which allowed for seating, and the lower area was set where she could cook more easily. Their desire for minimum clean up helped to dictate to me an induction cook top as well.”
“The other kitchen was for a couple where she is an avid baker and wanted an island big enough to roll out dough. She got what she wanted. He’s an avid cook and got a range with all of the gadgets. For the island, I installed a 4′ long electrical strip on the underside so she is able to easily access the plugs for her baking equipment.”
Laridaen adds: “Whether it is a child doing homework or a friend visiting while they cook, seating and countertop space is needed. Also, recreation room bars are fairly popular for entertaining and found in the lower level of the home.”
She also shares her own recent bath project designed for a single, mature client.
“An elderly lady remodeled her small bath and the goals were to switch from a tub to a shower, incorporate the washer and dryer from the basement, and maintain storage space. In contrast, couples have larger houses with larger baths, and usually want two sink areas, a walk-in shower and separate tub,” she says.
Donaghy concludes: “Overall, we are heavily involved in opening up living spaces. This lends itself to entertaining and to socializing while cooking. We have noticed that clients do not want to have their backs to the action, which I think is part of our new multi tasking nature.”
Technology too plays a key role in defining a client’s lifestyle.
Donaghy explains: “As increased technology makes our lives easier, the more our clients seek simplicity. All my clients want simple products at the highest quality. We will spec easy-to-use flattop induction cooking and LED lighting, for example.”
Laridaen adds: “The higher-end projects definitely have more appliances and more gadgets to work in. On the flip-side, I use the hood and microwave over the range, because of limited space. Recreation room bars [for male clients] often feature an undercabinet refrigerator or two, a separate icemaker, microwave oven, dishwasher, TV, and sometimes a pizza oven.”
Denker offers: “What technology does create is the sleeker look of appliances for this decade and going forward.”
Lipford concludes: “With working families, people have less time to cook and technology continues to decrease the amount of time it takes to prepare a meal. Plus, there are even refrigerators that will order your groceries for you. It’s all about saving time.” KBDN