In the fall of 2008, as the financial crisis played out, many remodeling clients put projects on hold. Today those clients, many with projects still on hold, feel distinctly less well off. They have seen the value of their homes depreciate 10, 20 or even 30 percent while fluctuations in investments have similarly clipped their net worth.

Somewhat battered, many prospective clients are dusting off their plans and getting back to the drawing board. But they have changed, and their budgets are likely scaled back. If their 2008 budget for a new kitchen was $100,000, they may spend only $75,000 this time around. And, say four leading kitchen and bath designers who shared their market insights with Qualified Remodeler, clients are taking their time and being more deliberate through the design and product-selection process. The overriding goal is value, guided by a professional they trust.

“Clients are more cautious today. I think there has been a genuine loss of trust across our nation in all business sectors. The consumer today is not as willing to simply trust their design professional,” says Ellen Cheever CMKBD, ASID, of Ellen Cheever & Associates, Wilmington, Del. “They want to cautiously consider each part of the project to ensure that they are getting the best value. The client wants more time to make the decision to move forward. Secondly, there is much more attention to the total investment figure. Even with clients that can invest whatever they would like to, there is a more careful sense about what is a reasonable number.”

Interviewed separately, designer Ann M. Morris, CMKBD of Allied Kitchens & Baths in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., echoed Cheever’s point without prompting.

“Consumers are savvier now. And trust is on top. Money is down at the bottom,” explains Morris. “Yes, they are being more conservative with their money, but they are picking the right person to do the job. It is not about somebody saying ‘I have $100,000 but I am only going to spend $50,000.’ If they trust you, there is a way of taking that $50,000 and saying, ‘We are not going to use that high-end paint. We are going to change from cherry to alder. We are going to do accents of a glass countertop instead of a full glass countertop.’ They get conservative, but they still want the value. They still want the look. And the trust has to be there. They’ve got to know you are making the right decisions for them.”

Project size has not been an issue with the clients that Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design in Chicago has been seeing of late. But the desire for a quality project is certainly greater, he says.

“I think there is even a stronger desire for value. I think people now want to do the best possible project in terms of quality. People turn to quality during tougher times. I think that if people are really going to do something, there is a tendency now to do it very well in all ways. We are not seeing people trying to shave corners. I see people who want a great value.”

Consultant and NKBA educator Les Petrie, CMKBD, who designs kitchens for clients in the mid-Atlantic region is seeing a mixture of consumer sentiments in the wake of the financial crisis and recession. At the lower end of the project spectrum, customers are investing in one or two key areas that they value most, while trading down in others. At the higher end, Petrie echoes De Giulio’s sentiment. Customers (mostly in the urban areas) are coming back to the market with undiminished wallets and even stronger aspirations.

“In the urban areas, it is not uncommon for requests very similar to what we saw three and four years ago, where money is no object,” says Petrie, who lives in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, but hails from Pennsylvania, where he still sees customers. “Many people sat on the sidelines for awhile, and they realize that even though we may be facing 10 percent unemployment, they are not unemployed. They still have the resources and the wherewithal. People, after awhile, get tired of being told that things are bad. So I think the cliché is that they are sick and tired of being sick and tired. And I think they are doing it by spending the resources that they have held in reserve for the last couple of years.”

Looking for partners they can trust with their investable remodeling dollars, kitchen and bath remodeling clients are seeking value and quality knowing that they’ve got time and a slower market on their side. For remodelers and designers, the market in 2010 is about building trust by being at your best concludes Ellen Cheever. Customers now expect more time and better attention to detail from the professionals with whom they choose to partner, often trying to seize the upper hand.

“Their mind-set has changed. They are a little tougher in negotiations. And they are almost presenting themselves in a way that says ‘aren’t you fortunate that I may buy from you.’ So that is a fascinating change in the power struggle if you will,” says Cheever. “As a result, I am seeing the better design firms focused on being at the top of their game — ultra-clean showrooms, absolute positive attitudes, very consultative in their approach to selling, very interested in discussing trade-offs, being very professional — but avoiding discounts to get the job.”

In addition to changing the way they shop and plan their projects, kitchen and bath remodeling clients operating in a post-recession mode have also signaled detectable shifts in design trends.

Lifestyle: Kitchens still at the center

The current recessionary times have, if anything, served to reinforce the high value people place on having a comfortable home, chiefly in their kitchens and baths. Many designers say that clients re-emerging from a pause in the market still see the kitchen as their primary living and entertaining space. For families it is the place where kids do homework before dinner. It is a place where several members of the household are preparing food at the same time.

And, as always, it is a place where clients like to “hang out,” says Mick De Giulio.

“Whether clients use a kitchen for cooking or not, you always hear from people that everyone always hangs out in the kitchen. And they want people to hang out in the kitchen,” says De Giulio. “So as a result the question is, how can a kitchen best be designed to have people hang out in that space? What that translates to for me is to look at ideas for living in the kitchen, because the kitchen is a family room, because the kitchen is a living room. I am promoting more the idea of a really central living design and this means a more holistic approach to design. It is the driver of how the main floor of that house functions, because people are going to spend the most amount of time in the kitchen.”

Les Petrie agrees; he sees little change in the essential “relaxed” lifestyle for kitchen spaces that has been sought by clients for the past several years. Therefore, kitchens need to be open to other spaces in the home, while at the same time being somewhat mindful to attenuate sounds and conversations from other parts of the main floor.

“The desire is for open and inviting kitchens. I don’t see where that has changed significantly in the last several years, but we do have to be careful of noise interference of course in the kitchen area from a family room,” says Petrie.

“That said, we still find that clients are asking for an area where they can congregate together as a family, or when they have friends and neighbors in, have a nice, open and easy flow to the kitchen. It is still a very relaxed lifestyle, even in very traditional kitchens, some of them highly ornamented with a lot of accoutrements.”

Essentially, clients today are not losing sight of their lifestyle goals for their kitchens, but they are doing it against a backdrop of tighter budgets or, at the very least, greater scrutiny of investable dollars. This scrutiny, suggests Ellen Cheever, is playing out in a series of trade-offs in all areas of the kitchen space based on individual tastes and ideas. “I am seeing consumers moving away from luxury purchases to have the fanciest or the most coveted thing on the block. They are moving away from keeping up with the Joneses. They are moving toward a new definition of luxury that appeals to the individual — with individual design — and all the things that make their project just for them.”

Lifestyle preferences vary greatly depending on budget and life-stage. “What I am seeing is for many budget-minded consumers is a willingness to consolidate appliances to maximize storage and work space because the whole family is gathering in the kitchen,” says Cheever. “I am also seeing an interest in building jobsite pantries with open shelving in place of buying elaborate, expensive cabinets for a pantry storage application, which can free up funds as well. With younger families the idea of everything behind closed doors does not work so well. Different people are cooking. Different people are emptying the dishwasher. Things don’t get put back into the exact spot where Mom put them. For these younger, active families it makes sense to be able to open a door and walk into a pantry that is all open shelves because they can find what they are looking for. A pantry also means there are fewer wall cabinets to the benefit of the social nature of the room. People want clear site lines to see what is going on in the balance of the space.”

Styles: Warmer, simpler but with bling

Stylistic preferences — the colors, finishes, and themes — commonly seen in post-recessionary kitchen and bath design tend to vary widely depending on demographics and life-stage. Whiter, brighter kitchens are timeless and are increasingly specified by clients. At the same time eclectic, more organic, natural materials with earthy tones are also being sought out. At the other end of the spectrum, Gen Y and Gen X clients who grew up with iPods in their hands are increasingly finding value in plastics, laminates and other man-made finishes. Then there is a blend of everything in between, all based on individual tastes. Two constants seem to be a strong desire for warmer, simpler designs and an interest in green. Green and sustainable products is a discussion point in most initial consultations, with many clients demonstrating an interest in incorporating green elements into their projects, even at a higher cost.

Ann Morris of Allied Kitchens and Baths says the mixtures and contrasts seem to run the gamut. She is seeing a lot of white kitchens with sleek contemporary designs, but with other clients she is using natural stone flooring and hearths as ways of anchoring and accenting a palate of rich organic colors and materials along with a splash of glitz.

“I am seeing more organic. People are doing a lot of earthy bathrooms and earthy kitchens,” says Morris, “and mosaics will never go out. There are colors that you can get with these tiles. They even put gold in it, so a little bit of glitz comes in. You can mix the organic with the glitz. In other words, you can go really organic and put in a crystal knob, like crystal jewelry, like Restoration Hardware.”

Three years ago his Beaux Arts kitchen for German appliance manufacturer SieMatic was emulated widely. Today, white with warm tones as well as a desire for “clean and fresh” tends to be what Mick De Giulio is offering clients.

“Anything warm is in style,” says De Giulio. “When I talk about warmth and comfort, these terms can be ascribed to some of the finishes. That means whites with more reds in them than blues. This leaves people feeling more secure and more comfortable. If you are talking about fresh and clean, that means a hint of yellow. That is always nice, because that makes people feel good.

“I am going to Italy in a few weeks, just before K/BIS, and it is always interesting because you will always see these bursts of colors coming from Europeans,” adds De Giulio. “I have already seen some materials in purples and greens, which have always been popular in some of their kitchen colors. When it comes down to it, a lot of times these colors are what the manufacturer is doing to grab people’s attention. But people like the tried-and-true, the classic, long-life, warm tones and not being too crazy with the colors that can date the kitchen.”

Ellen Cheever is seeing clients in the 30 to 45 age group gravitate toward man-made materials. “It is really a celebration of man-made materials,” says Cheever. “Here is what I am saying: More vinyl floors, a return to interest in man-made floors as opposed to natural wood. I think we are going to see a return to laminate wood-grain fronts on cabinets, which the Europeans have done for years beautifully. Wall coverings are coming back into play because they are very durable and textured. The wall coverings today are so different from the big flowers of the ‘70s. They are three-dimensional wall coverings today, so they add this complex simplicity. You don’t have a pattern on the wall; you have a texture. It makes the space more inviting, but not overbearingly sophisticated in a New York apartment sense.”

For Les Petrie, traditional styles win the day with most of his clients, with contemporary and transitional styles filling out the balance. “Because I live in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and practice all over the East Coast, principally in central Pennsylvania, it is interesting to note that the predominant style is still traditional,” says Petrie. “There is also a strong contemporary element. If we had to put a percentage on it I would say that traditional is 65 percent and contemporary is coming in up to 40 percent.

“One of the styles that is re-emerging, and some of my contemporaries are saying that they are just seeing it re-emerge, is the Shaker style with a full overlay application,” notes Petrie. “It is very crisp, very clean, because it lends itself quite nicely with a neo-contemporary. There are elements of mission style, Shaker style, very crisp and somewhat unadorned. Those who would not necessarily go for a high-tech contemporary look really like the clean crisp lines of the full overlay Shaker style because it gives that nice, relaxed neo-contemporary look.”

All four designers report an interest in green, even if just in passing. Morris is steering her clients toward the low warm light emitted by energy conserving LED lights. They like the lower energy consumption as well as the warm tones, but they are sold by the long life of the bulbs which may need replacing once every decade.

Cheever reports a strong interest from clients in the manufacturing process, the efforts that manufacturers take to reduce formaldehyde in the construction of cabinets. She is also seeing a great desire to know that old appliances and cabinets are being reused. “And some firms talk about ‘deconstructing’ the kitchen. They don’t talk about demolition or tear-outs anymore. They will remove the reusable appliances, and remove countertops and remove, clean and save cabinets. They deliver all of the products to the Habitat for Humanity store, and they then write a letter of value for the consumer.”

Much of the interest in green revolves around water saving fixtures and faucets. There are fewer multiple-head showers. Bathtubs are smaller and are frequently selected without air jets, though micro-bubbles are in favor. Contemporary styles in bathrooms are married with dual-flush and low flow options.

“Every year they are getting more and more green especially in bathrooms,” explains Ann Morris. “I am always doing the low-flow toilet and clients feel good that they are doing that. Additionally, the tubs are smaller. They are not filling it up with water as much anymore, like they used to. They are using the air-injected showerheads. There is a lot going on in that area.”

Top Design Trends in 2010

from the National Kitchen and Bath Association

As it does each January, the NKBA surveyed its members on design trends. This year’s results may be somewhat at odds with the stylistic trends offered by Ellen Cheever, Mick De Guilio, Les Petrie and Ann Morris. Cheever says the differences are rooted in semantics alone. You be the judge.

KITCHENS

Traditional is the New Contemporary
Traditional will continue as the most popular kitchen design style in 2010, with contemporary following closely behind; Shaker style is seeing a surprisingly strong resurgence. Shades of whites and off-whites will be the most common kitchen colors in 2010, while brown, beige and bone hues will also be popular.

Cherry on Top
Cherry remains the most popular wood for kitchen cabinetry, followed closely by maple, while alder increases in use. As for the finishes placed on those cabinets, medium natural, dark natural, glazed and white painted will all be common. Other colors of painted cabinetry and light natural finishes are in decline, however, as are distressed finishes.

Floored by Tile
Ceramic and porcelain tile, as well as natural stone tile, remain popular kitchen flooring options, but hardwood will dominate the kitchen landscape more than ever in 2010. For countertops, granite continues to be the most popular option, but quartz will nearly catch up in popularity. For backsplashes, ceramic or porcelain tile and glass will serve as the primary materials.

Flexible Faucets
Standard kitchen faucets will become less standard in 2010 in favor of more convenient models. Pullout faucets continue to increase their market dominance, while pot filler faucets will also become more prevalent. Kitchen faucets will most often be finished in brushed nickel, followed by stainless steel, satin nickel, and — surprisingly — polished chrome.

Undercounter Refrigeration
French door and freezer-bottom are the two most popular styles of refrigerators, and side-by-side refrigerators remain a popular option. A surprising trend is the extent to which undercounter refrigerator drawers are being used in the latest kitchen designs. Perhaps even more surprising is that undercounter wine refrigerators have been recently specified by half of kitchen designers.

A Range of Cooking Options
The tried-and-true range continues to serve as the workhorse for cooking, although the combination of a cooktop and wall oven is beginning to overtake it. Gas will maintain its position as the most popular type of cooktop over electric, although induction cooking continues to gain in popularity due to its energy efficiency.

Dishwasher-in-a-Drawer
Standard dishwashers, with the traditional door that pulls from the top down, will once again be easily the most common type in 2010. However, an increasing number of dishwasher drawers will be installed in kitchens this year for their convenience and their ability to wash small loads of dishes in each drawer, thereby saving water and electricity.

Top Design Trends from the NKBA continued

BATHROOMS

In with the Old, Out with the New
Traditional will be the most popular design style in bathrooms in 2010, as contemporary designs will be a distant second, followed by the Shaker style as an even more distant third. Beiges and bones will be the most common colors used in bathrooms, followed by whites and off-whites, and then by browns, indicating a somewhat subdued color palette this year.

Ceramic and Granite
Ceramic and porcelain tile will be the dominant flooring materials in bathrooms this year, while natural stone will continue to prove popular as well. Though increasingly popular in kitchens, hardwood flooring won’t become common in bathrooms in 2010. For vanity tops, granite will remain king, with quartz and marble also proving popular options.

Simple Fixtures
Perhaps more than ever, the most common color for fixtures will be white. Bisque and off-white will be the only other fixture colors at all common in new or remodeled bathrooms. For sinks, simple undermount models will be most popular, followed by integrated sink tops, drop-in sinks, vessel sinks and pedestal sinks.

A Nickel for Every Finish
Faucet finishes in the bathroom are similar to those used in current kitchen designs, with brushed nickel continuing to lead the way in 2010. Polished chrome and satin nickel will also be incorporated into many bathrooms, just as they had been throughout 2009. These faucet finishes will be followed by bronze and stainless steel.

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