The Kitchen Goes Natural:
More homeowners than ever are choosing to use natural materials in their kitchens. Rich wood, textured stone, and the soft hues of nature help blur the line between outdoors and inside, transforming kitchens into inviting spaces for nurturing the family and reconnecting with friends.
The trend toward natural materials in the kitchen goes well beyond design, however. Kitchen design professionals say that the natural kitchen also signals the convergence of several broader trends in society:
Consumers are getting older
Baby boomers are aging, but they are doing so gracefully by staying healthy and active. As their taste in products gains sophistication, they are embracing the beauty, as well as the little imperfections, that come with aging. They want authentic and durable products that will last—if not forever, for a good, long time.
The green house
As more people become ecologically aware, the movement to reuse, recycle and refashion existing products whenever possible continues to grow. Since natural materials tend to last longer than synthetic ones, they’re a logical choice for the conservation-minded. And designers across the country agree that increasing numbers of their customers are opting for chemical-free homes.
Products of all kinds now come in a greater variety and are accessible to more consumers than ever before. For example, Kohler offers faucets and fixtures in a wide array of styles and colors made specifically to enhance natural materials.
How do these factors affect kitchen design? The answer can be found by taking a closer look at features that comprise a natural kitchen:
The wide variety of sink and faucet styles and finishes available these days give consumers lots of options for enhancing natural materials.
Sinks and faucets. Designers say the apron-front sink is a popular choice for natural kitchens. The sink gives the kitchen a historical reference point, and is beautiful, durable and multi-functional. Stainless steel is a popular material for apron-front sinks because it contrasts well with textured stone countertops.
“Plumbing fixtures have become the little jewels of the space,” says Brian Gluckstein of Gluckstein Design Planning in Toronto. Soft faucet finishes, from antique brass to brushed nickel, are all the rage. And the same holds true for lighting fixtures, which are often available in finishes to match.
Countertops. Granite countertops remain a popular choice for their beauty and durability, but consumers are also showing interest in other natural materials. For example, wood and butcher-block counter tops are making a comeback. Designers say that a growing segment of consumers relish the patina of mellow wood, as well as the cuts, scratches and indentations that develop over time and give it character. Other natural countertop materials include marble, glass, copper, limestone and soapstone. Pewter is another durable, and pricey, option.
Man-made yet natural-looking materials such as concrete and quartz composite continue to draw plenty of attention. While some designers question the suitability of concrete for countertops because of its tendency toward surface cracking and staining if left unsealed, others credit the material for its patina and textured look. Concrete can also be stained or colored, or molded into shape.
Newer to the market are countertops comprised primarily of recycled materials, such as ground-up glass or metal shavings, signaling a trend toward lighter weight and increased environmental friendliness. Also popular for countertops and backsplashes are reclaimed marble slabs and antique tile plucked from buildings slated for demolition.
Floors and cabinets. Hardwood floors are a mainstay, particularly with the prevalence of open floor plans, and consumers are opting for more exotic woods, including walnut, mahogany, hemlock, cork and bamboo.
There’s no denying that natural materials require maintenance. Marble and glass scratch, wood gets wet or needs refinishing, and stone and concrete need resealing. But is maintenance necessarily a negative? Gluckstein contends that it isn’t. He says consumers understand that upkeep is a small price to pay for the experience of enjoying the natural beauty of organic materials, and adds that older consumers especially are quite forgiving of aged materials. A few nicks and scratches can provide a bit of personality and warmth—humanity, if you will—to a kitchen.
What’s next for the natural kitchen? Duval B. Acker of Kitchens by Design in Mount Pleasant, SC, says we’re just at the beginning of a trend toward “reinventing the natural” with state-of-the-art recycled materials made from crushed glass or scrap metal. After that, she says, the focus will be on sustaining materials for the next generation.
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