Kitchen Vignettes: Modern Takes on the Heart of the Home

Trending: Style Reigns, Function Maintains in the Modern Kitchen

Mary Welch | February 9, 2012

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Functionality has always been the most important feature of the kitchen, but a little style doesn't hurt. These days, form meets function with sleek new kitchen appliances, gadgets and accessories.

“The kitchen, now more than ever, is the heart of the home,” said Jay Williamson, greater Atlanta area district sales manager for Costa Mesa, California-based kitchen appliance manufacturer Dacor. “Before it was about cooking and then how the kitchen looked. Now, how the kitchen looks is as important as its function -- if not more.”

Sleek Is In

The changing look of kitchens gives cabinets, sinks and appliances clean, sharp lines, with lots of drawers and compartments so that everything has a place out of sight.

“Everything will now be hidden,” said Sarah Price, a designer for Founders Kitchen & Bath Inc. in Alpharetta, Georgia.

“We are even showing countertops with the mixer in them so you pull it up out of the drawer and use it," said Price, who also works in sales for the company. "But the new look is for very little – if anything – on the countertops."

Dacor is showing appliances with LCD displays and touch controls. Handles of appliances in the Discovery series underscore an effort to achieve a clean, modern look.

Sinks are also becoming more streamlined. Brizo's "SmartTouch Faucet Technology" eliminates handles and levers for turning water on and off. A touch of the faucet starts the water running; a second touch stops it.

“Our customers adore it,” said Lenia Pilkonis, a designer and sales and marketing manager of Cowan Supply, which describes itself as greater Atlanta's premiere luxury plumbing showroom.

Also popular are faucet handles that emerge horizontally from plumbing behind the wall backing a sink, rather than vertically through openings cut in the sink.

While granite still is the countertop of choice, Silgranit countertops are appearing in more kitchens. They are made from 80 percent granite, are stain resistant and have the appearance of solid granite. They are available in a range of tones.

“These Silgranit countertops really blend into the sink for a clean, unified line,” Pilkonis said. “Blanco makes a truffle color that easily blends into a cream-colored sink. They’re not exact matches, but it doesn’t break up the line of the kitchen by having the sink be a different color.”

Everything Including the Kitchen Sink

Even the bare minimum kitchens have a stove, refrigerator and sink. Stoves and refrigerators typically get a lot of attention from designers. But the sink is starting to get its due.

“Sinks today really are a part of the kitchen, not an afterthought,” said Lenia Pilkonis, a designer and sales manager at Cowan Supply in Atlanta. “We have sinks in all sizes, colors, shapes and materials. Elkay, for instance, sells a beautiful line of copper sinks and we have several lines that use Silgranit, which is largely made of granite but comes in several colors.”

Elkay also makes sinks with a microedge so the unit can fit seamlessly into the counters -- almost like an infinity pool.

Among the accessories are mesh boards and cutting boards that fit into the sink.

“That way you can cut your vegetables in the sink and just slide the waste into the garbage disposal,” Pilkonis said.

If you don’t want the waste to go literally down the drain, there are devices available that collect the coffee grinds, egg shells and vegetable shavings and turn them into usable compost.

“You’d be surprised at all the variety of sinks there are today,” Pilkonis said. “Really surprised.”

Finisihing Touches

White is making a comeback as a paint of choice, but popular colors for cabinets include black, browns, taupes and gray-brown neutrals.

Cabinets rise to the ceiling, with top shelves that may hold decorative pieces or rarely used kitchenware.

“We are still showing French Provincial kitchens, but maybe with cleaner edges and trimming,” Price said. “Traditional kitchens never go away, but I’m seeing transitional kitchens, where the traditional kitchen is going a little more modern with cleaner lines. Shaker-style kitchens are becoming popular because it has that minimalistic look that is so popular. But it can still be traditional depending on how you finish it out -- the use of knobs on the doors, for instance. You’re just dressing traditional up a little differently.”

Price says to look for personal touches, such as hand-painted finishes on tile or slate backsplashes.

“You’ll see places where texture comes in to give the kitchen a bit of a life,” she said.

Offsetting the modern, minimalistic look are big appliances. The bigger they are, the better customers like them, said Dacor’s Williamson.

“Size matters," Williamson said. "We are selling more big ovens than ever before. We are selling a 4.9-cubic-inch wall oven, and it’s very popular. It’s re-energized the market because it has a huge window. Ranges are big as well. A range is now the focal point of the kitchen.”

Special features that can accommodate cooking trends add an extra appeal to the large ovens.

“Steam ovens are a new trend that people are buying and incorporating into the cooking process," Williamson said. "Induction cooking is another trend. Kelly Ripa sells them on TV for Electrolux -- you know, where you can boil water in 30 seconds? That’s fine, but what people don’t know is that the time for the other cooking functions -- sautéing, frying, braising -- is the same. And, you have to have magnetic pots and pans. So will this be a trend or a fad? We’ll see.”

Williamson says today’s consumer wants a “champagne kitchen on a beer budget.” With that in mind, companies like his also offer entry-level lines at a low price point. The rationale is that consumers will start there and upgrade as their pocketbooks grow.

“It’s the same concept,” he said. “For us, it’s our Distinctive Series and it’s flying off the shelves. When it comes to their kitchens, people want all the bells and whistles.”