A year ago, being up-to-speed on the latest kitchen and bath design trends was not the No. 1 priority at the annual Kitchen & Bath Industry Show. Remodelers, kitchen and bath designers and most other professionals attending the show were primarily concerned about their futures, specifically what that future might hold given an unprecedented fall-off in consumer confidence.

Instead of the usual talk of the latest new products or creative exchanges of business ideas, the halls of K/BIS 2009 were filled with stiff upper lips. Many had seen backlogs of business evaporate overnight. One minute there was enough design and remodeling work to keep a firm busy for a few months, the next it was all gone. Clients, whose projects had yet to commence demolition, quickly hit the “pause” button. Not just one client did this. They all seemed to be doing it — at the same time. This backdrop made it kind of tough to think about glazes, colors and lifestyle trends.

That is why it was so great last month for me to spend some time with four top kitchen and bath designers and have a conversation that was mostly about the latest lifestyle and design trends. When the record of the 2008-2009 recession is written, the record will likely show that the economy turned the corner last fall. Many of the clients who had “paused” their projects are going back to the drawing board. After a period of financial evaluation, consumers are making decisions based on value, based on the things that are most important to them in life. No surprise at all that people value home and family. People are willing to continue to invest in their homes, specifically, the one room in the home where everyone seems to hang out — the kitchen.

“Whether you use a kitchen for cooking or not, you always hear from people that everyone always hangs out in the kitchen. And they want their friends and extended family to hang out in the kitchen, too. So the question is how can a kitchen best be designed to have people hang out in that space?” says Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Designs in Chicago. “What that translates to for me is to look at the ideas for living in the space, because the kitchen is a family room, because the kitchen is a living room.”

There are some very reassuring signs to be seen in what is shaping up to be the long-term impact of last year’s financial crisis and recession. The economy is not out of the woods yet, but the end result will be a greater appreciation for home, a greater appreciation for the things that are most important in life. Doctors, lawyers and a host of other professionals can lay claim to offering services that are of vital importance to people, but an argument can be made that taking charge of a person’s investable remodeling funds and matching them with the best possible kitchen design is pretty important, too.

I encourage you to relish the opportunity to walk the aisles of this year’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and to gather ideas knowing that lifestyle and stylistic design changes are in the offing. Last year was last year. The future of kitchen and bath design and remodeling is vibrant, strong and valued.

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