Mariwyn Evans is a former REALTOR® Magazine writer and editor, covering both residential brokerage and commercial real estate topics.
Kitchens and Bath Design Trends
In the most important rooms of the house, designs that incorporate the latest trends will surely grab buyers' attention.
February 1, 2009
The two rooms that consistently make the biggest impression on buyers are—without a doubt—kitchens and bathrooms. Even in today's uncertain economic times, home owners and buyers are willing to spend on upgrades to these two essential rooms. Their goal: Create that polished high-end look they've seen in magazines and on TV.
"We're seeing more of a 'save and splurge' mentality in kitchen and bath remodels," says Linda Eggerss, editor of Kitchen and Bath Ideas magazine. "Home owners may give up the granite countertops to get the island, or vice versa, but they still want a certain look."
The growing importance of the kitchen as a living space, not just as a cooking and eating space, has added to a desire for quality, she adds.
We spoke with Eggerss and a host of other industry experts, designers, manufacturers, and stagers to give you a preview of what's hot today and what will be hot tomorrow.
With this knowledge, you can help sellers spruce up their kitchens and bathrooms to increase the likelihood of a sale. On the buy side, knowing the new styles and how to incorporate them into a dated room will open buyers' eyes to the possibilities.
Light and Bright
In good housing markets and bad, a cheerful kitchen will get buyers past a multitude of other issues, which may explain why white is still the kitchen color of choice for many, according to Eggerss. "It's a classic and always looks good," she says.
4 Rehab Must-Dos
- Universal bath design. Roll-in showers and decorative grab bars that match other bath fixtures.
- A kitchen island. Ideally one that's not a boring square and that incorporates lots of storage.
- A sealed shower. Multiple shower heads and outside vent to cut down on mold build up on grout and behind walls.
- Stainless steel appliances. Essential today at almost every home price point.
In California's wine country, designer Jan Kepler, principal of Kepler Design Group in San Luis Obispo, Calif., also favors white. "Beach houses along the central coasts are often done in fresh white Shaker style cabinets and white soapstone or marble countertops. On the other side of the foothills, in wine country, home owners tend to prefer a more rustic look with soft glazed creamy whites, cherry and recycled copper accents, and antiqued granite countertops," she says.
For accents, many designers prefer strong saturated colors as well as warm grays. A little bit of shimmer also is a good thing. Coppery metallics and glass tiles in a rainbow of hues are a perfect way to add "that pop of color" in a kitchen, says Kathleen Garvey of Enhanced Interiors & Home Staging in Fort Myers, Fla.
Interestingly, one place that bright colors are popular is the laundry room, say Marc Hottenroth, industrial design leader for GE Appliances in Louisville, Ky. "Maybe it's because the laundry is a work area where people need a lift, or maybe it's because you can shut the door and not see the color all the time," he says.
Lighting—natural and manmade—"is huge" in kitchens and even more essential in bathrooms, says Christina Trauthwein, editor in chief of K+BB Magazine. Baths, she says, are notorious for bad lighting. Ideally, bathroom lighting should come from both above and the side to prevent shadows.
In kitchens and baths, manufacturers and designers are incorporating energy-efficient LED lighting under countertops, around glass doors, and in cabinet shelving for illumination and ambiance, especially at night, says Duval Acker of Kitchen by Design in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. Another easy and dramatic way to add extra illumination: Place inexpensive fixtures above cabinets that don't reach all the way to the ceiling, suggests Barry Tuttle, manager of Absolute Kitchen and Bath in Surry, Maine.
In showers and baths, chromotherapy lighting lets bathers use different colors of light to set the mood or enhance their energy, says Trauthwein.
Easy Lighting Upgrade: Add dimmers to all lighting so that you can adjust the light to the job and the mood.
Let's face it, no matter how big the kitchen and bath get, there's always a need for more storage space.
In the kitchen, a walk-in pantry is the amenity buyers drool over. If a home owner can steal a little space from a neighboring laundry room or eating area, a big pantry is a sure way to wow buyers, says Julie Loehner, president of Kitchens by Julie in Cary, Ill.
Kitchen islands are also turning into storage centers as they grow in size and take on more irregular shapes. Built-in wine racks, undercounter refrigerator drawers, and appliance storage all add to the island's versatility, says Loehner.
5 Retrofits Buyers Love
- Tile a backsplash. Use a bright color or a bronzelike metallic.
- Add undercounter lighting. Improve safety and ambience.
- Paint the upper kitchen cabinets. Choose a different color for a custom look.
- Add doors with glass panels to some cabinets. or create open shelves to display a few lovely dishes.
- Change the hardware. For a fresh look, install new knobs and pulls, or reface the cabinet doors.
In bathrooms, it's all about built-ins and decluttering, a technique any good home stager will tell you increases buyer appeal. Electrical outlets inside drawers keep electric shavers out of sight, and wall-mounted faucets with single-lever controls take up less visual space, says Lynn Schrage, marketing manager of the Kohler Store in Chicago.
And if you thought refrigerators were just for the kitchen, think again. Refrigerated drawers and cabinets in the bathroom can store cosmetics, medicines, and even some orange juice for a quick morning treat. Warming drawers are equally as popular, keeping towels toasty without the bulk of a heated towel rack, says Trauthwein.
Just as kitchens are becoming more of a living space, bathrooms are expanding their role. Some bathrooms are now accommodating exercise equipment, reading nooks, ventless fireplaces, and multiple TVs, says Lenora Campos, manager of public relations for fixture manufacturer Toto USA.
Easy Storage Upgrade: Add roll-out shelves in kitchen cabinets and drawers in bath vanities for easy access and better organization.
Perhaps the hottest trend in kitchens and baths is the move toward sustainable products. But while more people are asking designers about going green, they're "willing to stick their necks, and their pocketbooks, out only so far," says Garvey, the 2008 grand prize winner of the Real Estate Staging Association's national competition.
As prices drop on green products, it's certain that green elements will become more widespread, says Trauthwein. This is especially true of sustainable woods used for flooring and countertops. Fast-growing bamboo is the eco-material of choice for cabinets and floors, but those who favor a more traditional look have started to explore eucalyptus.
"Eucalyptus trees can be harvested in 10 years," says Tuttle. "The wood is very dense—like teak—and will take a darker stain." He's used "lyptus" wood for kitchen islands and custom hutches in baths.
"Most of my clients aren't green purists, but they're excited about adding green features like sustainable woods and recycled copper to their kitchens," says Kepler.
Water-saving features are a prime way that kitchens and baths are going greener, says Acker, who believes that many more home owners today will opt for green products as long as they're well-designed. Campos notes that plumbing fixture manufacturers are now exploring options that let consumers preset and easily alter the water volume and temperature in a shower to suit the task at hand—more water for washing hair, for example.
Another environmentally friendly option that saves trees and aids aging in place is a toilet seat that uses water and air jets for hands-free personal clean up. Deluxe models of products such as the Toto Washlet also feature heated seats, sensor-activated lids, and massage options.
Easy Eco-Upgrade: Change out a faucet to one with a built-in sensor; it saves water, and little ones never have to remember to turn it off.
Custom is King
"People still want to invest in their homes, and we're seeing anything standard and common—from oak cabinets to side-by-side vanity bowls—start to recede in popularity," says Phyllis Markussen, chair of the Department of Family Studies and Interior Design at the University of Nebraska in Kearney. Even for mid-range homes, adding a few luxury touches to a kitchen or bath is common, says Tuttle.
Islands, in particular, are getting the feel of fine furniture with columns, toe boards, and moldings. Using different surfaces and finishes on counters or in the wall cabinets and the island are other affordable ways to create a custom feel in the kitchen. "As kitchens become larger and more integrated into the living space, people don't want a monolithic feel," says Trauthwein.
5 Kitchen and Bath Features Buyers Want Most
- 36% Separate shower enclosure in master bath
- 31% Eat-in kitchen
- 24% High-end appliances
- 23% Granite countertops
- 21% Kitchen island
Some of the same high-quality furniture elements—often in the form of custom hutches—can add a custom feel to a bath. "People often chose these additions as a way to personalize a room, but having one special item in a kitchen or bath also attracts new buyers," says Tuttle.
Panels that blend refrigerators and dishwashers into cabinetry are another way to create a sense of quality. You can also get the look and feel of customization by building out the cabinetry around the refrigerators so that it doesn't stick out into the room, suggests Eggerss.
Easy Customizing Upgrade: Add stylish pendant or chandelier lighting over an island or eat-in kitchen area.
Trends with Staying Power
Although it's helpful to know the latest trends, remember that design choices in kitchens and baths depend on both personal taste and how long home owners intend to stay in a home, says Garvey. Those who plan to sell in five years or less, should focus on personalized touches using paint, backsplashes, and accessories, she advises.
Still, many of today's trends will almost certainly persist among the next generation of home buyers, says Yaprak Savut, an assistant professor of interior design program at East Carolina University, in Greenville, N.C.
The university conducted a survey of working adults between 18 and 31 years old and found that most are willing to pay as much as 20 percent more for appliances that can be customized with features like removable fronts and trivection ovens that simultaneously use thermal heat, convection, and microwave cooking.
Most young adults also said they wanted natural woods and stone in their kitchens, and 76 percent said they're at least somewhat interested in having a greener kitchen. And since they prefer to cook for themselves and entertain at home, they want kitchens to be even bigger. For your sellers, it may be time to knock out that wall.
Source: NAR 2007 Profile of Buyers' Home Feature Preferences