Retro Designs on the Future

by WOHe

Walking out of a home center with a roll of duct
tape to fix my vacuum, a plastic tarp to contain the leak in the
attic and a large supply of the caf”s chocolate eclairs to
repair my mood, I see the cashier shake her head sadly. “We live in
strange times,” she murmurs, convinced I’m preparing for a disaster
greater than leaky roofs and lint-covered carpets. And, while only
the eclairs speak to my concern over world events, I can’t help but

“Shock and awe” until recently, words I used only
to describe my feelings the day the dog ate my couch suddenly have
taken on a whole new meaning. The world is a changed place, and
whether you support the war or not, you can’t help but feel the
prevailing mood of solemnity, as daily reports of bombings and
casualties bombard us from every side.

Is it any wonder, then, that people are developing
a renewed interest in days’ past, and kitchens and baths that
remind them of safer, happier times? Retro design is becoming
hotter than ever, with the ’50s gaining popularity in ways we
haven’t seen since “Happy Days” ruled the airwaves.

At the same time, we’re seeing a renewed interest
in warm and cozy environs over high-powered glitz, even at the high
end where impressing the Joneses used to be a perfectly fine reason
to invest in impractical baubles that did nothing but look
expensive. “Comfort is the new glamour!” the media screams, and
there’s no question there’s a growing sense of nostalgia at work
The fact is, a lot of people out there would like to turn back the
clock, and the design world is clearly picking up on this trend.
Old World looks, furniture styling and colors and finishes that
strive to create a feeling of history are increasingly the rage, as
if age, alone, could convey some kind of magic to protect us from
the dangers of an uncertain future.

Families are in; high tech for the sake of gadgetry
is out. Even stainless steel is getting “warmed up” to make it
softer and more family friendly. Nobody wants anything that
whispers of a “cold” home; whether the style is contemporary,
transitional or traditional, people are looking for something that
evokes a sense of warmth and security.

There’s no uncertainty in the past we’ve seen how
it all turns out, and if it’s not perfect, at least it’s familiar
and safe. So, it stands to reason that if we can replicate those
designs, that feeling, that world, we, too, can feel safe and
sound, no unpleasant surprises, no global uncertainties to plague

But, the thing is, you really can’t go back.

Think about it: We design for families, but the
family of the new millennium bears only passing resemblance to the
Father-Knows-Best family of yesteryear.

Our customers want distressed cabinetry that
simulates the well-worn patina of age, yet they’d be lost without
convection cooking, smart appliances and microwaves of the 21st

Women want kitchens that bring back fond memories
of grandma’s house, then they race off to jobs grandma never would
have dreamed of, and buy their apple pies from the take-out

People say they want quality and personalized
service they used to get from Mom and Pop stores, then they swarm
to home centers where they need cell phones to find their spouses,
forget finding actual help.

We don’t need the President to tell us that life
goes forward. Nothing stands still not family mores, not
technology, not business. And neither, most assuredly, can we.

So, how do kitchen and bath professionals stay
cutting edge while still staying attuned to the sudden wash of
nostalgia that’s taking the nation by storm?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is
that recreating the warm and familiar feeling of times gone by is
far more complicated than just recycling tired old designs and
trendy colors. People may want their kitchens and baths to evoke a
feeling of history, but they still want a modern interpretation
that includes all of the latest in technology, durability and
function. They don’t want the products their parents bought; they
want newer, better products that look, wear and function at a
superior level yet somehow still remind them of the “good old

Even more importantly, they want to buy them from
someone who inspires trust: someone knowledgeable, dependable and

In short, they want to take the best of the past,
without sacrificing the convenience of the present and the
innovations of the future.

Take a good hard look at yourself. Do your
customers feel safe with you, do they feel like you’re a partner in
helping them build their dream havens? Are you as solid and
reliable as that antique table they can’t bear to part with, yet as
up-to-date as the computer they’ll surely consult to research their

Events like this month’s K/BIS provide
opportunities to brush up on everything from product innovations
and sales skills to gender perspective marketing and Internet

No matter how appealing the past is, we need to
remember that the future is in front of us. And, there’s no better
time than now to start planning for

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