The latest design trends for custom kitchens feature luxurious juice and coffee bars, backup “messy” kitchens, hidden pantries and workstations, built-in espresso makers, and a wide range of appliances from hidden and sleek to colorful commercial grade. “Whatever you can imagine they can usually get,” says Phil Kean with Phil Kean Design Group, of custom homebuilders.
Jennifer Gilmer, owner of Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, and author of The Kitchen Bible, praises the “pizzazz” of custom kitchens, and loves their functionality and originality.
Kitchens Designed for Functionality
Over-the-top luxury features, such as built-in espresso makers and smoothie bars, might get attention in show rooms, but custom kitchens are more about function and lifestyle than glamor.
The main difference between a custom kitchen and a stock plan is livability, says architect Fred Wilson, a partner in the Chicago firm, Morgante Wilson. “We always go through how you operate with your kids, where they do homework, how you entertain,” he explains, referring to the extensive amount of pre-design research and planning that goes into designing a custom home and kitchen.
Another big difference between custom and production kitchens is in details, from locations of outlets to appliances, materials, and floorplans. “Our clients want to feel like that space is theirs and nobody else’s,” explained award-winning designer Mary Jo Camp, a partner in DesignCamp, to designers and builders attending the builders show and KBIS in Las Vegas.
Design the Kitchen to Fit Your Life
Although the perception is that custom vs. production comes down to cost, the value equation becomes having a home specifically designed for how you live your life. For many custom homeowners, designing a custom kitchen is a chance to design the home of their dreams. Kean and others say if your main concern is how far your dollar can go, you can probably get a better value with a production build. But the value of a custom kitchen, in terms of function, performance, and a home tailored to the way you live, can’t be measured solely by dollars and cents.
Kean illustrates the difference with cabinets. “I would say if you are a high-end production builder, you’re probably doing a pretty nice cabinet,” he says. “Production builders have a pretty nice showroom, and you can pick anything in the showroom. But sizes are apt to be standard, and selections might be limited.”
Custom cabinets have enhanced function built in. Things like fully extending drawers, a drawer within a drawer, and dividers for a multitude of storage considerations are all must haves, explains Beverly Hills designer Christopher Grubb, who is president of Arch Interiors Design Group.
Custom cabinets can also have custom lighting. “With custom cabinets, we can order lighting already installed under and insight cabinets. Lights will come on when the doors are open,” observes Gilman.
Custom Kitchen Colors & Styles
For kitchens color palettes, white, gray and cream remain staples, according to recent surveys of consumers and designers.
In Florida, Kean expects lighter tones and white kitchens to remain popular even in custom kitchens. Elsewhere, designers are seeing growing demand for wood, particularly in lighter and mid-tones, used alone or combined with a range of hues from white to blue and black. “We’re seeing groups of cabinets forming a whole block or configuration in the kitchen, with appliances integrated into them and also an interplay of depth,” said Camp. “Coziness with clean countertops balanced by warm, inviting materials is important to a large number of consumers.”
Two islands rather than one or a single island large enough to accommodate multiple functions and serve as a social hub are expected in a custom kitchen.
“Contemporary, transitional and traditional styles are giving way to personalization,” designer and speaker Mary Jo Peterson advised attendees at KBIS. Personalization extends to materials and finishes as well as styles. Post modern and contemporary are gaining interest, and transitional looks are a bit more streamlined. Shaker doors are giving way to simpler flat p panels or doors with narrow frames. Tall doors and backsplashes that extend the full height from counter to cabinets add to a clean look. Quartz is the go-to product for counter tops.
Super pantries that can serve as a catering kitchen or a place for messy projects are in demand. The size and how these pantries varies with client interests. “Some of my clients are excellent chefs and cooks, so they have these messy kitchens” to store bulk stuff and for food prep. “They will also have secondary refrigeration, and possibly a freezer,” says Kean. “So, you know the pretty appliances are out in front; the more utilitarian appliances are in the pantry.”
In general, Wilson says, pantries are a real draw that ultimately save money on the design since a walk-in pantry adds storage without adding the expense of cabinetry and millwork. It can be as simple as creating a walk-in closet and outfitting it with shelves. “It is a good budget savings and beneficial storage solution.” It can also be done cleverly, he says, so the showpiece of the kitchen is intact. Both Gilmer and Kean include hidden work zones if possible. Gilmer has cabinet doors open to a workstation and place to hide countertop appliances. In a wall of tall cabinets, Kean might conceal an entry to a secondary kitchen or an extensive pantry.
What’s New In Custom Kitchens?
- Streamlined hardware
- Push-to-open drawers, even in appliances
- Smart appliances
- Wine storage
- Built-in espresso and coffee makers
- Built-in beverage stations
Bringing wellness into the kitchen is becoming important. In the next couple of years, wellness-enhancing features will add new capabilities to kitchens. As you design the kitchen in your new home, look to add more windows, green walls, and indoor cultivators.
Camilla McLaughlin is an award-winning writer specializing in house and home. Her work has appeared in leading online and print publications, such as Yahoo! Real Estate, Unique Homes magazine and Realtor magazine. She has also freelanced for the Associated Press.