Ingredients for a Modern Kitchen

Woo buyers with the latest kitchen trends: less cabinet ornamentation, durable materials, energy-efficient and green appliances and lighting, and stylish glass backsplashes.

October 1, 2010

The kitchen remains one of the most popular rooms in the house. If it's well laid out and equipped, it becomes a magnet for family members. “It’s the place where they begin and end their days and also interact with friends,” says designer Cheryl Kees Clendenon, founder of In Detail, Kitchens, Baths, Interiors, a design firm in Pensacola, Fla.

But it can do more. “A home that’s in move-in condition (or better) is often at the top of today’s buyers’ wish list, and having a finely finished, open kitchen is among their highest priorities,” says Jennifer D. Ames with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago. “What’s in style in kitchen design changes more often than hemlines, and buyers have minimal interest in buying a home with outdating rooms, whether they cook or not. A well-done kitchen absolutely can sway a buyer’s decision.”

Conversely, a poor design, dated appliances, high-maintenance materials, and an overly personalized palette can send buyers running, particularly since savvy shoppers know the cost to redo a kitchen keeps escalating. A major upscale remodeling now hovers near $112,000, according to Remodeling magazine’s latest Cost vs. Value Report.

But many kitchens don’t have to be gutted to work and look better. A few tweaks often can make it more enticing, such as:

  • An attractive manmade stone countertop in a new white-white
  • A luminescent glass-tiled focal wall
  • A floor tiled with 24-by-24-inch porcelain squares
  • Energy-efficient LED lamps in swank fixtures
  • One unique, valuable piece of equipment — for instance, a steam oven for speedier cooking and healthier eating

Your job is to help educate your buyers about the latest trends that make sense for their lifestyle and then for resale and to help sellers know which changes attract the widest group of buyers. Here are trends worth sharing:

Scaling Back

The turbulent economy is making more rethink ways of cutting back without sacrificing quality and style. Andrew Shore, president of Sea Pointe Construction in Irvine, Calif., suggests eliminating lights inside cabinets or using semicustom instead of fully custom cabinets. Mark L. Karas, president of the National Association of Kitchen and Bath Products and general manager of Adams Kitchens in Stoneham, Mass., says another way is to purchase a refrigerator that costs $2,000 instead of $6,000.

Low-Maintenance, Green Paints and Finishes

Whether it’s indoors on kitchen walls or outdoors on decks, finishes are going green as more manufacturers offer low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) lines in a full spectrum of hues and sometimes faux finishes. Many also make them more durable and washable. Because the outdoor kitchen has become more sophisticated, companies like The Sherwin-Williams Co. are manufacturing decorative stains to embellish hardworking concrete patios, says Steve Revnew, vice president of product development.

Sustainable Products

With more communities mandating recycling and composting, it’s no surprise that the home trash compactor is morphing into a home compost system that gets taken out to a bin when full to be composed. Blanco’s “Salon” model gets integrated into the countertop to take up less space.

Contemporary Styling

While traditional style still reigns supreme overall, modern design is making inroads in the kitchen, says New York–based designer Florence Perchuk, who likes to mix the two. In cabinet design, simpler door styles such as Shaker appeal since they eschew ornate carvings, brackets, and rows of molding, says Jason Landau, owner of Amazing Spaces in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. To fit the cleaner look, hardware is slimmed down, says Chris Berry, of brooksBerry & Associates in St. Louis.

Almost Hands-Free

Almost hands-free for ease is another trend, thanks to motion-activated faucets ( that simply require a light touch. There’s also lighting that comes on when you enter the room, says Berry.

Beyond Granite

Granite, which has become ubiquitous, is not as in demand as it once was. But interest in manmade, durable quartz counters has gone up. Among the most popular designs are white-whites with a thicker, two-and-one-half-inch built-up edge rather than the one-and-one-quarter-inch edge, says James Howard with Glen Alspaugh in St. Louis. While granite isn’t disappearing entirely, splashier hues and patterns are fading, says designer Leslie Hart-Davidson of Hart-Davidson Designs in Okemus, Mich. Replacements are honed and brushed granites, says Nancy Stanley of Kitchens by Design in Indianapolis.

White or Natural Cabinets

Painted woods, particularly white-painted maple, remain popular, but the shades veer toward a softer eggshell, ecru, butter cream, and vanilla. Some designers say glazing white cabinets will fade. Equally popular are cherry and maple cabinets stained medium to dark brown, says Barbara Umbenhauer, marketing manager at Rich Maid Kabinetry in Myerstown, Pa.

More Refrigeration

As an alternative to larger refrigerators, some companies offer models, often smaller and in drawers, to chill beverages away from the main unit in order to pare congestion, Shore says. Wine coolers, more popular than ever, can be recessed into walls for an integrated look. Vinotemp’s “Portofino” uses thermoelectric technology to add another plus — greater energy efficiency.

Improved Cooking

Though they haven’t caught on with everyone, induction cooktops offer energy efficiency and the ability to heat contents but not cookware, Karas says. Thermador models come with a sensor that maintains a precise temperature and automatically shut off when done.

Zoned for Action

Besides separate cooking, prepping, cleaning, and eating stations, kid areas are flourishing, so children can grab drinks and snacks at pint-height cabinets, says Hart-Davidson. But adding certain stations doesn’t make sense, such as a desk zone that Berry says had become a “messy” center. She prefers a small smart-message center—with technology hidden behind cabinets — where home owners can watch TV or DVDs, look at digital photos, play music, retrieve recipes, and pay bills.

Better Clean-up

While sinks have never been among a kitchen’s most appealing components, a new generation is making home owners take note. Blanco’s MicroEdge is so thin that it’s flush with the countertop to make cleanup easier. If home owners want a second sink, it’s likely to be larger today for doing more cleanup and prep.

Mismatched Colors, Materials, Styles

The unmatched look of cabinets and countertops in different colors, materials, and styles continues, particularly in large kitchens where one choice can look monotonous. For high drama, Hart-Davidson suggests pairing colors from opposite sides of the color wheel such as red and green and combining styles as diverse as Scandinavian modern and Victorian.

Universal Design

Because of its potential to put everything within everyone’s reach, universal design is embraced more. Ovens can be set side-by-side rather than vertically, and microwave units can go under a cabinet rather than up high, Umbenhauer of RichMaid Kabinetry says.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).


Residential Styles & Structural Elements


Paired windows are two windows next to each other, oftentimes under an arch. The support between the windows is called a mullion.