What's cooking in kitchens?
Simpler styling, hidden appliances and a bit of color to make life interesting, to name just a few things.
Here are the trends we found when we visited a few kitchen showrooms.
Fancy is fading.
Kitchens are moving away from ornate looks such as Tuscan and French country in favor of more transitional design, a trend Betty Nairn of Cabinet-S-Top in Granger Township, Ohio, calls "simplistic luxury."
The move toward clean lines and less ornamentation is due at least in part to homeowners thinking ahead, said Debra Shababy of Studio 76 Kitchens and Baths in Twinsburg, Ohio. Many are looking toward selling their homes as the economy improves, and they want their kitchens to appeal to a broad range of buyers, she said.
Eat-in kitchens are still in demand, but where we do that eating has changed. The bar-style counter is still popular, but it's giving way in many new kitchens to an extension of the counter that looks more like a table. What sets it apart from bar seating is that it's designed so that the diners sit around the edge and face each another.
The idea of trading a table for a counter extension makes some homeowners nervous initially, Deanna Carleton of Kitchen Design Group in Bath Township, Ohio, said. But the setup saves space, the extension can do double duty as an extra buffet surface, and the deep base provides storage.
More than ever, consumers are paying attention to the materials that go into their kitchens, Shababy said.
She said that many respond positively when she suggests cabinet finishes with low levels of volatile organic compounds, vapors that contribute to indoor air pollution. They also like cabinets that are joined with dowels instead of glues containing formaldehyde.
Safety features are popular, such as lockouts that prevent stove burners from being turned on accidentally and mechanisms that keep drawers and cabinet doors from slamming on little fingers, Shababy said.
And people are leaning toward energy-saving features such as LED lights, as well as natural products such as wood floors and stone countertops, she said.
Granite is still the top choice for countertops. But quartz -- stone chips mixed with binders and colorants -- is coming on strong, they said.
Kitchen lighting isn't just a matter of function anymore. It's also an expression of personality, Carleton said.
Hand-blown glass shades on pendant lights, contemporary drum shades and elegant chandeliers are all ways homeowners can infuse their style into a kitchen without making a big commitment.
Layers of light continue to be common in kitchen design -- for example, a ceiling fixture combined with under-counter task lighting and ambient lights behind a glass-front door.
LEDs are finding their way into the kitchen, mainly in under-counter lighting but also in recessed ceiling lights.
Nairn has also seen a big preference for natural lighting.
The depth of the typical refrigerator poses a design challenge, particularly in smaller kitchens. Manufacturers have responded with shallower appliances and drawer models.
Counter-depth refrigerators are easier to fit into a kitchen because they don't jut out into the room. But even though they're often taller, they typically have less storage space, Nairn said. So some designers are dealing with that space shortage by incorporating drawer refrigerators or freezers into cabinets.
Shababy said that that kind of arrangement makes sense only when the drawer holds foods that are used mostly in a particular part of the kitchen -- for example, a drawer for vegetables next to the sink where they're cleaned.
Bars are coming out of the great room and into the kitchen.
Barbara Dillick of Kitchen Design Group said that many of her company's clients are requesting bar areas in the kitchen. Often, they're taking out kitchen desks to free the space.
Bar cabinets that look like pantries are popular, she said. Often they're outfitted with a wine or beverage refrigerator; storage space for glassware, knives and a cutting board; and sometimes a sink.
Most homeowners still tend toward the safe and neutral in their kitchen's more permanent items -- cupboards, countertops and flooring. But that doesn't mean kitchens can't be colorful.
Walls are sporting bold hues such as persimmon or pomegranate, said Dillick. Accessories and appliances bring spots of color, such as a Wolf range with red knobs and a cobalt oven interior that "people fall in love with," she said. It's also popular to work a colorful painted cabinet or two in among white or natural-wood cabinets.
All of the kitchen designers were hesitant to talk in terms of trends, because they believe a kitchen's design should suit the individual. Kitchens are places where we spend a lot of time, so it's more important to have what you like, not what's popular, they said.