For the Long HaulWith families hunkering down in their current homes, the kitchen is the place to customize and create the perfect living space for their individual needs.
The kitchen is finally earning its moniker, the "heart of the home."
Until recently, homeowners poured money and time into remodeling their kitchens, aiming to make them attractive and increase the home value, rather than following their own desires.
"For years, we've heard that if you want to sell your home, start by remodeling your kitchen because it has the highest return on investment," says Jack Suvak, senior director of research and insights for Moen, the North Olmsted, Ohio-based sink and faucet supplier.
In an era of weak prices for real estate, however, fewer owners are thinking of moving. Instead, they are remodeling to suit their own tastes and needs - now and for the long haul, reports Suvak, who recently completed a study of consumers' attitudes towards kitchens.
You and your family are the ultimate authority on your kitchen. A designer can't just swoop in and provide solutions.
"I start with a conversation," says Mick De Giulio, a Chicago kitchen designer and author. After an initial discussion about how a family cooks, lives and entertains, De Giulio leaves owners with the assignment of observing exactly what's happening in their kitchen.
Are groceries brought in from an entry that's far from the kitchen? Can kids get drinking water for themselves? Does a profusion of piping make it hard to store things under the sink?
No matter what you'd like to improve upon, there's probably a product designed just with that fix in mind.
(In fact, De Giulio just tackled the problem of under-sink piping. The Multiere sink he designed for Kallista has a drain in the corner, thereby relegating pipes to one small area on the side.)
Sometimes, the fix involves a large-scale remodel. But often, Suvak says, owners will perform "room lifts," his term for small-scale projects.
Room lifts ensure that a kitchen can evolve with the owners' needs, Suvak adds.
It's common for today's parents to invite kids to help in the kitchen. Suvak says his research shows safety and practicality are priorities for parents when kids cook.
Appliance makers have that idea in mind, too. Bosch, for instance, has an "AutoChef" sensor available on both induction and electric cook tops. The sensor measures the temperature from the bottom of the pan and maintains that temperature to deliver precise cooking results. "The pre-programmed features make this product perfect for those who are just learning how to cook," says Malte Peters, product manager for Bosch.
Aiming to help kids measure water for pasta or other dishes, GE offers Precise Fill technology on side-by-side refrigerators. Kids can select the amount of water they need in cups or ounces and it's delivered from the refrigerator without messy pouring from the sink.
Families often have unique habits that can be accommodated with dedicated areas of the kitchen. "I had a client who loved smoothies," De Giulio says, "so we made a special station for their blenders."
The National Kitchen and Bath Association identified stations for coffee makers and espresso machines as a trend in a recent style report. Atlanta kitchen designer Jackie Naylor confirms that her clients like these stations in which coffee makers are recessed into the wall, and may or may not require a plumbing connection.
Since the coffee makers are recessed, they allow more uncluttered counter space, another priority for homeowners, says Beatriz Sandoval, senior marketing manager of Thermador.
Thermador's Savor Built-In Coffee Machine uses a refillable water tank, so it does not need to be connected to plumbing lines, making installation easier, says Sandoval.
As the hub of the home, kitchens usually involve a tangle of communication devices, such as cell phones and laptops.
A "tech station" with plug-ins for devices and an organized central drop point is one of the most popular requirements for today's families, says Naylor. Instead of carving out valuable counter space, "I have found that installing [outlets] in a pantry and using shelf space there for a tech station is perfect," she says.
If a family doesn't have any specific ideas for improvements to the kitchen, browsing new products should spur ideas for making this room more functional.
For instance, Rev-A-Shelf, a Jeffersontown, Ky. maker of trash storage units, has partnered with Blum, a maker of cabinet drawers, to offer an "electric assist" waste container. For busy cooks whose hands are always full, this waste container opens automatically with a touch of the cabinet.
De Giulio's Multiere sink also incorporates a small hanger under a built-in cutting board, solving the tricky issue of where to hang a dish rag.
Re-shaping the traditional faucet shape to a gooseneck design yields a lot more control. "You can pull the faucet down and aim precisely where you want to," explains Suvak. Moen offers the Brantford and Anabelle faucets with this feature.
Flexibility is the key when designing for the long haul, so that elements can be moved in and out to accommodate future needs, De Giulio explains.
When his own four kids were young, he shares, "We had a big round table in the bay" where the family ate. "When they were grown, my wife and I would sit at that big table and it felt empty. So we've replaced it with comfy chairs and a low table. Now, at the end of the day, we hang out there."
Concludes De Giulio, "There are so many different ways we can think out a kitchen."
And, the best expert on what works is you.
By MARILYN KENNEDY MELIA
(c) CTW Features
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