Kitchens are no longer the purely utilitarian setups they were when wood-burning stoves and running water were all the rage. We've seen kitchens go through some interesting changes, from the avocado-green appliances of the 1970s to the first smooth glass cooktops that sprang up in the late 20th century.
Modern trends in kitchen design are no less dramatic, and some even have a retro-inspired taste. Whether we're talking super-modern or '50s chic, it's about blending style with utility -- no one wants a built-in refrigerator that's just 12 inches (30 centimeters) deep due to space constraints. And while sleek and spacious are in, removing your cabinets to make your kitchen feel bigger is probably not the way to go.
So which kitchen trends meet the style and utility standards? Can you achieve a trendy cooking space and still be able to actually cook? It's all about balancing your food-prep needs with your aesthetic tastes. In this article, we'll look at five of the top kitchen trends out there now. You may just find a couple you'll be dying to integrate into a current or future remodel.
Concrete countertops have been around for a couple of decades now, but they've only recently started to gain widespread popularity. You may have seen one before but didn't know it -- a concrete countertop doesn't look like what most of us think of as "concrete." What does it look like, then?
Pretty much anything you want. The biggest draw of concrete is that it's almost indefinitely malleable. The concrete starts like the stuff used in sidewalks, but that's where the similarity ends. A concrete countertop can look like stone -- polished or unpolished. Depending on the additives in the slurry, the look can be rustic, modern or extremely artistic. You can add a huge range of material to the concrete base, anything from bits of metal to brightly colored pigments to pebbles to seashells.
In fact, one of the coolest things about the material is the customization available. Because you're starting with a slurry and not a block of stone, you can really personalize it according to your needs. Some people have cutting boards, knife slots, drain boards or even a meandering stream built right into the countertop.
In most ways, the finished product acts a lot like marble or granite. The only issue you might need to deal with is stains from things like red wine. The countertop is sealed, but concrete sealers aren't totally stain-resistant.
Next up, another best-of-both-worlds trend, this one to pump up your culinary style.
Most of us have to choose between gas and electric when it comes to our kitchen range. There are pros and cons to each -- neither is a perfect cooking system.
Gas is better for stovetop cooking, because it's a far more controllable heat source. Gas burners heat up faster and cool down faster than electric ones, and temperature gradations are more precise. Electric is a less efficient source for the stove. However, it's the more efficient heat source for the oven, and it's easier to incorporate a self-cleaning oven feature in an electric range.
Dual-fuel ranges mean you don't have to choose between gas and electric. New ones come with a gas stovetop, which is the preferable cooking method when using pots and pans, and an electric range for a more efficient, self-cleaning oven. It may be kind of a pain to install either a gas line or a proper electrical outlet if you don't already have both in your range space. If you do, though, you just hook it up like any other range.
While we're on the topic, another big plus in new ranges is induction cooking. Induction burners heat up faster and are more efficient than both gas and regular electric.
Efficiency is huge right now not only because of power bills, but also due to increased concern about energy availability. Along these lines, environmentally friendly kitchen design is really taking off.
A green kitchen is one designed to achieve two basic goals: First, do less harm to the environment than the typical kitchen, and second, actively help to clean up the environment when possible.
The latter goal is harder to achieve, but it's possible, mostly by way of green building materials such as bamboo. Bamboo butcher blocks are kinder to the environment than traditional wood, since bamboo grows back quickly after it's harvested. Build that bamboo butcher block into a recycled-material countertop, and you're doing all sorts of good. A countertop called IceStone actually uses recycled glass and concrete in its mix, materials that otherwise would end up in a landfill.
In kitchen design, green doesn't just mean recycling. Doing less harm to the environment also means cutting back on the use of and exposure to potentially harmful chemicals in our lives. You can find formaldehyde-free cooking cutting surfaces now. Formaldehyde is a chemical found in most homes (in cleaners and carpet, for instance). It's used in some wood products as a bonding ingredient, and it can produce an allergic reaction in certain people if they're overexposed to it [source: ATSDR].
Cooking green is also an overall approach to kitchen (and home) design -- it's not just product-specific. You can have your kitchen set up to be more energy efficient by connecting appliances so they benefit from one another's work. For instance, you can arrange it so the heat created by the compressor in your refrigerator is diverted to your dishwasher to heat the water.
Up next, another way to streamline the setup.
Traditionally, the kitchen has never been the sleekest room in the house. Appliances can be sort of bulky, and often they can disrupt an overall design theme -- in other words, a range, sink, refrigerator and dishwasher tend to stick out like a sore thumb. So if you're redoing your kitchen (and probably spending a good chunk of cash on lovely new cabinetry), you might want to avoid the relative eyesore of a giant fridge.
One of the biggest trends in kitchens right now is the hidden appliance. You can customize your kitchen so that each appliance is hidden by cabinet doors that match your pantry doors, sort of like the doors that some people use to conceal their television when guests come over. You can hide away anything in the cabinetry -- the fridge, the trash container, the dishwasher and even the stove top. A company called Fisher and Paykel makes a cooktop that lets you push a button to retract the burners when you're not using them [source: Mucci].
Another option in hidden appliances is simple building them into a custom cabinetry design rather then enclosing them. Built-ins can be trimmed with the same molding as the rest of your kitchen so your appliances become part of the design instead of breaking up the flow.
And finally, our list of trends ends with what is possibly the least truly useful but definitely the coolest way to update your kitchen.
There was a time when a preprogrammed start time for the oven was a big deal in kitchen technology. That was a long, long time ago.
Nowadays, you can buy a refrigerator with a hi-def TV built in above the water dispenser. Here, you can check the weather to make sure it's not too warm out for the stew you're planning to make. Attach an Internet-connected display with wireless access and display your recipe while you cook. Or watch a movie. Or record a voice message telling someone to take out the turkey at 6 p.m.
But the coolest piece of kitchen tech? It makes that voice message unnecessary, because you can control your kitchen remotely. An oven called Connect Io (intelligent oven) gives you access to all controls via Internet or cell phone. So if you're running late, you can just call your oven at six and turn it off. This has to be the most truly useful feature of the high-tech kitchens toys. The next time you're on your way to work and wonder if you left the stove on, you can just check it online and know for sure. It's an obsessive-compulsive chef's dream come true.
For lots more information on kitchen-design trends and related topics, look over the links on the next page.
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More Great Links
- Concrete Countertop FAQ. Cheng Concrete.http://www.concreteexchange.com/countertops-faq-homeowners.jsp
- Do you know... Whether to buy all gas or dual fuel ranges? Select Appliance.http://www.selectappliance.com/exec/ce-tidbits/fuel
- High Tech. Kitchens.com.http://www.kitchens.com//design/lifestyles/high-tech/smart-appliances.aspx
- High-Tech Kitchen. DIY Network. http://www.diynetwork.com/diy/hi_kitchens/article/0,,diy_13925_5222507,00.html
- How to Go Green: In the Kitchen. Planet Green -- Discovery.http://planetgreen.discovery.com/go-green/kitchen/