Today's kitchens are less kitcheny than ever.
People live in their kitchens. They cook, watch TV, read, use the computer, eat and entertain family and friends. It's the hub of the home -- the family hangout.
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Today the kitchen and family room are the most important spaces for everyday living and entertaining, said Maria Wilhelm, vice president of sales for Pulte Homes. "With the two rooms combined, we call it the 'gathering space' -- no longer the family room."
As part of this larger "gathering space," kitchens are seamlessly integrated into the rest of the home.
You can see this concept at Savoy Club by Pulte Homes in Burr Ridge where the kitchen quietly blends into the home's interior. "This kitchen is fantastic -- it's jaw-dropping," Wilhelm said. "It's spacious and open to the two-story family room with a corner fireplace and lots of natural light.
"The space feels larger when you don't have those defined breaks, and it allows for more flexibility with furniture placement."
With these open home designs, builders keep the floors in the kitchen, gathering space and breakfast nook the same so it looks consistent and has the feeling of being connected, Wilhelm said.
"At Savoy Club we show hardwood flooring with the wider plank and a little distressed look, which is really popular," she said.
Both hardwood and ceramic tile floors are popular selections for flooring today, said Roger Gerstad, president and CEO of Gerstad Builders.
When it comes to appliances, dishwashers, refrigerators and ovens are being built into cabinetry and concealed behind cabinet paneled doors or made to match the cabinetry so that you can barely spot them at first glance in the kitchen.
Stainless steel appliances still shine at many new home communities, including those by Pulte Homes and Gerstad Builders. It has universal appeal and is associated with luxury while black appliances come in a second most popular choice.
Other appliance trends includes microwave and dishwasher drawers for small loads without wasting energy and water.
You'll see beautiful backsplashes stepping into the spotlight now with new glass tiles with a metallic shimmer. It's a place to be creative with different colors and textures to make it stand out.
Most of Gerstad's clients want a backsplash unless they're doing a Euro look; then they might not want it, he said.
In the past it was an option to even have a backsplash, Wilhelm said. "But now people are falling in love with the subway tile backsplashes. We've sold more of those looks than ever."
For cabinetry, dark, rich cabinet finishes and a pop of color are hot trends this year. "Dark woods are still popular," Gerstad said. "Birch, maple and cherry cabinets are in and oak is out."
Fancy is fading, and kitchens are moving away from ornate looks such as Tuscan and French country in favor of more transitional designs with simple cabinetry.
A few years ago, it was fashionable to mix stain colors -- with the base one stain and the upper a different one, said Mark Seigle, president of Seigle's Cabinet Center in Elgin. "Today we're mixing stains with paints. Painted woods have come back with a vengeance with off-white a popular choice."
Beautiful cabinets make an impression at Savoy Club where cabinets are white chiffon -- really, really in right now, Wilhelm said. "This mixed with Kona cabinets has been a very popular look and very trendy for first-time buyers. But we're starting to see it across all different consumer groups."
In your premium line of products, cabinet glaze finish is very popular and they're coming out with more of the two-step processes that give wood a distressed look, Gerstad said.
Also, open shelving mixed with traditional kitchen cabinets allows owners to display pretty dishes and glassware. It's more interesting than a solid wall of wood cabinets.
Cabinetry sings to the tune of the furniture industry, Seigle said. "We keep a close eye on what happening there. With everything so dark, we thought it would never happen in the kitchen."
A big trend today is the efficient use of space. Creative storage cabinets have such conveniences as pullout spice racks, popup mixers and various turntables, making them popular features, Seigle said. "You can get a gallon into a quart jar because cabinets are so efficient today."
Some builders have pull out drawers designed for specific items such as pots and pans or baking sheets. For holiday baking, who wouldn't like to have a place to neatly store 10 baking sheets.
These are luxury items, Gerstad said. People are requesting these types of cabinets. Sometimes it works. With a rollout, you lose 2 inches every time you put a tray behind a door; so for a 12-inch cabinet you end up with a 10-inch drawer. You need to be careful where you put the rollouts, he said.
Today, busy granite sometimes steps aside for a clean, simple and easy-to-care-for quartz. Granite supposedly is phasing itself out with Zodiac solid surface quartz or Silestone quartz counters moving in, Gerstad said.
Natural stone is the mainstay of almost all cabinet countertops today, Seigle said. "But a word of caution: granite is natural stone and will absorb water, and the polished finish needs to be maintained. Other options include quartz that is impervious to moisture and requires no maintenance, although it is slightly more expensive than granite."
Kitchen islands are still big for casual eating, and with legs and feet, it has a nice furniture look. It's a nice feature, but if the kitchen gets cramped because of it, it's not such a nice feature. It depends on whether you have the space, Gerstad said.
A walk-in pantry is a must for convenient storage, Wilhelm said. "We offer an extension of an oversized pantry called the Costco pantry because people are value-conscious and buying in bulk."
With more choices in kitchen products than ever before, homeowners are well equipped to create the kitchen that meets their needs and desires while staying within budget.