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    Kitchens & Baths

    If you designed your kitchen around the latest diet craze, you wouldn’t need a stove, microwave or convection oven for a raw diet, and there wouldn’t be a pizza oven, bread machine or pasta maker for a low-carb diet. Instead, you might want a large refrigerator and separate freezer. If you’re on a high-protein liquid diet, think about all that pantry space you might require for smoothie boosters. One of these diets might truly be more of a lifestyle change then a fad for you, but a kitchen still needs the essentials. And a little extra never hurts.

    “I once had a client who didn’t want me to put an oven in his kitchen, and his wife was in agreement. She said they never cooked, and she could use the space for storage,” said Curtis Jerkins, Vice President of Construction for Allora, LLC. “However, the resale factor set in. Now they have an oven they use to ‘keep things warm.’”

    Often the upgrades, or gourmet aspects and amenities, of a kitchen contribute to the overall experience of a room and enjoyment of a home, and the same is true of baths and their amenities. But where a kitchen is the social hotspot of the home, baths are the private havens. In a bath, each person desires to create his or her own individual experience.

    Of all the elements in both rooms, the most important is functionality. Functionality incorporates the essentials, along with plenty of room to move around. Anything above that is low-fat icing on the 5-carb-grams cake.

    Now that we’re becoming more product knowledgeable as a society, we realize we don’t have to choose between functionality and beauty, and companies are responding, especially in the kitchen and bath arenas. “In the kitchen, we need both beauty and brains from the same product,” said Keith Kometer, Faucets Marketing Manager of the Kohler Company. According to Bob Giese, Staff Human Factors Specialist of the Kohler Company, baths create an emotional sanctuary and again, display the balance of beauty and brains.


    Beauty is obvious, but what makes a product smart? If it multitasks or reduces tasks; if it’s quiet; if it enhances your lifestyle in some way, then chances are, the product has brains, and it doesn’t necessarily mean the product incorporates smart-wire technology.


    Durability is a part of “smart” or functionality, and low-maintenance countertops such as butcher-block, granite, tile and stainless steel are being joined by marble, soapstone, concrete and limestone. According to Brian Gluckstein, ARIDO, ASID, IDC, Principal of Gluckstein Design Planning, the current countertop trend is a softer look. “We’ve seen several trends in countertops over the years: in the ’70s, it was laminates; in the ’80s, it was fabricated solids; then kitchens went almost exclusively granite. Now we’re seeing more marble. Marble requires a little more care, but people still want it. It offers a softer look. And marbles develop a patina that works better in a traditional kitchen than shiny granite. We’re also seeing the use of soapstone counters, which feature a green-blue matte. Limestones are popular too. All these materials have a softer look — that’s the current countertop trend.”


    Along with cookbook libraries and furniture-quality cabinetry, wood and glazes are the rage, and experts predict a continued rise in neutrals and browns. However, wall hoods are being transformed from functional elements to luxurious focal points. “Consumers are looking to individualize their kitchen and define a focal point. Wall hoods create a point of interest that can make a dramatic statement in the kitchen. Our designs, which are easy to work with when planning a kitchen, allow consumers to express their confidence and design savvy, particularly with the artisan style hood. This hood’s unfinished upper surfaces allow homeowners to customize their hood designs through the field application of decorative materials such as faux finishes, stainless steel or tile to match a backsplash, making a standard wall hood design custom,” said Sarah Reep, CKD, ASID, CMG; Director of Design at Kraftmaid Cabinetry. “Home-owners can create a one-of-a-kind wall hood and achieve an affordable, very high-end look.”


    Continuing with the affordable, high-end theme, choices don’t come for “everything but the kitchen sink” anymore, and choices include more than a single, double or triple basin. In fact, today’s options feature a plethora of styles, materials and colors from cast-iron, stainless steel and copper to brass, hand-painted finishes and distressed looks. You still have the self-rimming, drop-in sinks, along with the farmhouse — also called apron-front — sinks, but now undercounter-mounted sinks are growing in popularity for allowing cooks to wipe spills and debris from the counter directly into a basin. “The use of undercounter sinks — both cast iron and stainless steel — has been steadily rising over the last five years,” said Laura Roenitz, Senior Market Analyst of Kitchen and Artist Editions for the Kohler Company. “The under mount sink is functional, beautiful and very easy to install.”


    Joining sinks in their newfound functionality are faucets. Faucets once had the sole purpose of making water accessible to the kitchen — not a very glamorous task until companies decided to create more attractive faucets. But with the resurgence of serious cooking as a family or social activity, faucets have taken a more active role in the kitchen. “In the last 10 years, Kohler has really gone back to the drawing board and rethought the kitchen faucet. We looked carefully at the activity that occurs in the kitchen sink area — and we talked with Kohler showrooms and consumers to survey what they expect from a kitchen faucet,” said Kometer. “First, Kohler’s designers and human factors specialists came up with pull-out faucets, and now we’re introducing two stunningly beautiful faucets built around the idea of a pull-down spray.”


    There’s been a rethinking in the area of kitchen design and amenities too — where companies are finding new jobs for traditional conveniences, and people are personalizing their space around their wishes, making their kitchen more functional for them. What once was an underutilized drawer might make the perfect place for a warming drawer, or the addition of a bar sink can turn a serving counter into a wet bar. For those with a passion for coffee, permanent espresso/cappuccino machines are replacing movable coffeemakers, and for wine aficionados, wine cooling systems line-up alongside refrigerators.

    “We’re doing more wine units. They are highly popular as more wine lovers become interested in retaining the correct temperature and humidity,” said David Glover, Owner of Downsview Kitchens of the Carolinas, Inc. “Another widely popular appliance is a dedicated icemaker, and warming drawers are making a strong comeback, going a step further than maintaining food temperature to warming cups, bowls and plates.”


    Although the kitchen is personalized around social activities and family preferences, functionality takes a different form in the bath, creating a private retreat for relaxation. The spa-experience is commonly achieved through a tub, whether it’s a whirlpool or soaking tub. However, since most households have two or more bathers, there might be a need for different hydro-therapy experiences, which might include multi-sensory involvement with effervescence, jet options, intensity levels and light therapy.

    “Chromatherapy is light therapy,” said Giese. “According to research in the practice of chromatherapy, color has a tangible effect on one’s feeling of well being — your emotional state. Warm colors are stimulating; cool colors are calming. In our test, many bathers tell us they feel better in a certain color. They connect with it. So a touch of a button on the lighted keypad control will stop progression on that color.”


    With tubs being revolutionized, we know the shower isn’t far behind. Aside from material choices — tile, stone, glass and whole fiberglass or acrylic units — the showerhead has been revamped to promote an invigorating or stress-reducing experience with multiple jets and a few extras. “Showers are also trending bigger and our shower tower is the most versatile, flexible, adjustable and ergonomically sound shower on the market. You can experience a tropical downpour, a cascading massage or a gentle spring rain — so the shower can adjust to your spirit,” said Carter Thomas, Lead Industrial Designer, Bathing and Showering, for the Kohler Company. “Plus Kohler is adding steam and aromatherapy. Why go to the day spa when you can have your own version of these treatments and therapies right in your own home?”


    Corresponding with the spa-experience, lavatories — which were once only about function — are becoming beautiful centerpieces of modern-day baths. From round, square and oval to bowl, oblong and organic basin shapes, lavatories have evolved to include new pedestals, exposed plumbing and furniture-quality vanities and bases. Stone, glass and metal lavatories are bringing back a natural element to the baths, creating tactile textures that evoke a mood. “Consumers connect with products that compel them to touch and run their fingers across the material,” said Mary Reid, Director of Advance Concept Development at the Kohler Company.


    These beautiful lavatories are being completed by a number of new options in bath fixtures. Stainless steel and brass are making room for nickel and bronze. Companies are experimenting with faucet and handle shapes, and Kohler has even introduced a neck-less faucet that flows from a mirror.


    Water closets haven’t been neglected either in this brains- and-beauty movement. Master baths are seeing more bidets and urinals, while heated seats and heated towel-racks are being integrated for comfort and convenience. High-tank privies and one-piece units are still popular, and product designers are testing different materials and shapes for the next generation toilet. Accompanying his-and-her baths in the master suite, separate water closets are on the rise, and currently, heated floors rank as one of the most desired luxury items.

    Beauty and brains... both are essential to a luxury kitchen and bath — with function winning over form. The goal of product manufacturers is to develop new products that merge form and function. When a company does that and takes the lead in creating products that make everyday life easier, we all take notice.

    So as you consider a home plan, think of what will go inside your kitchen and bath. Try to choose products that balance beauty with brains and tailor to your preferences. Cover the basics and go for the extras when possible. Don’t choose an item because it’s trendy...choose it because it works for you. That way you don’t have an unused freezer if you decide low-carb isn’t for you after all.

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