Kitchen designers focus on functionality, costs

It's hard to look beyond the curve when stuck in traffic on a straightaway, but that's essentially what some kitchen designers tried to do at the International Builders’ Show this week in Las Vegas.

What they see around the corner are designs that take the current economic climate into account. In the kitchen, it's time to pull back, focus on function, eat better by cooking in and avoid going overboard.

"Don't get appliances that are too big for the space," advises Connie Edwards, a Winchester, Va.-based kitchen and bath designer. And consider the flow of the kitchen and how tasks are performed in the space. Think of an expanded work triangle, she says. "Think zones: baking, cleanup, storage."

Not only is dining out down, but cooking as a stress-reducing activity is gaining in popularity among her male clients, designer says. One trick to help two people work in the kitchen at the same time is to place the oven under the counter to one side of the cooktop. Edwards also is using more refrigerator options in her designs -- under-counter models, island refrigerators and column types.

Kay Green, whose Orlando design firm focuses on model homes, is including more refrigerator drawers in her kitchens. With the resurgence of home cooking, "one refrigerator is not enough," she says. And, in keeping with the growing green consciousness, she is using more countertops made from recycled materials.

A preference for quieter appliances, contemporary styling and clean, simple lines to keep the kitchen a calm environment are other trends cited by Edwards. Green is also seeing this focus on stress reduction extended to color choices, with calming greens as well as botanical greens gaining favor in the kitchen.

Cost-effective ways to update a room can include using small amounts of expensive tile on a backsplash or as an accent, splashy hardware, or mixing two types of countertops.

The scaling back on the scope of projects, a trend that started last year, is expected to continue with homeowner improvement spending declining at an annual rate of 12.1% by the third quarter, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Homeowners looking for kitchen design ideas can find tips and guidelines at the National Kitchen and Bath Assn. website,

Keep work areas versatile, Edwards says, and balance the need for countertop and storage space.

"You can always make a kitchen beautiful," she says, "but you can't always make a beautiful kitchen work."

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