A quiet revolution is afoot, and it’s happening in our homes. There are whispers of a new age in kitchen aesthetics that are a world away from the designs we have become familiar with in recent years (designs often described as “glossy,” “minimal,” or “stark”). Ask the professionals what will next define luxury in kitchen design and you’re more likely to hear terms such as “texture” and “natural,” with materials used including timbers that are “fumed” or “rift sawn.”
True luxury has become a thing of discretion, whispered rather than shouted.
Iain O’Mahony, director for prime developments at kitchen and cabinetry specialist Smallbone of Devizes, explains: “There has been an inexorable shift towards the use of natural materials.” The luxury market, he says, “is finally moving away from high-gloss slab doors and laboratory islands, and back towards the inherent quality of the materials.”Italian design company Boffi has also noticed an increase in requests for uneven timber doors, paired with warm metal tones. A glance at the company’s website reflects this, with conceptual images showing raw timber tables, storage crates, and other rustic wood references. This fall also sees the launch of its new Salinas kitchen by Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola, based around a range of metallic finishes that can be teamed with industrial glass and textured concrete, and combined with wood-crate storage on open shelving. It’s what the interiors world eloquently defines as “rough-luxe.”
O’Mahony articulates it well: “True luxury has become a thing of discretion, whispered rather than shouted. The use of exceptional materials – fumed timbers, sumptuous veneers, hides, bronzes, and rare stones – combined with the execution of remarkable craftsmanship, results in an effortlessly restrained yet sophisticated product.”
Back to natural
It’s not all rough-luxe, however. German kitchen-cabinet specialist Poggenpohl reports an increased demand for matt lacquer as a subtle alternative to the high-gloss finish, and a leaning towards the natural, more neutral color palette of white, stone, and gray. Robert Gelling, managing director of Kitchen Architecture in London, suppliers of the Bauhaus-inspired Bulthaup range, says, “Materials and textures such as structured oak fronts, marble, limestone, or concrete tops, and metals in general, have made a huge comeback with clients often wanting to personalize their living spaces with brass, bronze, or rose gold.”
Open and social
Our kitchens are increasingly functioning as social hubs, integrating study areas, television lounges, and dining zones with traditional cooking facilities. Incorporating relaxation areas allows guests to interact with us while we cook. “The kitchen is becoming more than the heart of the home; these days it requires an informal sitting area for family members or visitors to sit and accompany the homeowner, who may be preparing a meal,” explains Mark Wilkinson OBE, founder of London-based Mark Wilkinson Furniture.
It’s a transition that US kitchen design expert St Charles of New York has also noted, as Lindsey Katalan, creative director of its kitchen styling and sourcing service Curated, explains: “People are definitely gravitating toward the open-plan kitchen – the kitchen is, quite evidently, the most important room in the home.”
So the desire to create something utterly bespoke and furnished to specific individual needs and whims has never been keener. “It’s about designing a ‘life-space’ rather than a kitchen,” explains Julian Bly, design director of bespoke design company Plain English.Whatever you want can be yours, no matter how outrageous or off-piste your thinking: for example, Curated can source artwork to facilitate “a dynamic change to the aesthetic of the kitchen without a permanent commitment,” explains Katalan. Plain English has seen a rise in the number of additional “rooms” that are integrated into the whole kitchen area, such as sculleries, boot rooms, and even safe rooms.
People are definitely gravitating toward the open-plan kitchen – the kitchen is, quite evidently, the most important room in the home.
And, of course, with these design changes comes a desire for kitchens to incorporate the most up-to-date technology. This is, after all, a time when an Aga comes with an app and Netflix commissions celebrity-chef documentaries. Clients can have a wealth of smart kitchen gadgets at their fingertips, from respected brands such as Miele, Gaggenau, Sub-Zero, and Wolf, to transform their kitchens into working spaces worthy of a top chef. Professional-style blast-chiller technology, vacuum sealers, combination steam ovens, and teppanyaki plates are just a few such high-tech appliances, not to mention fridges with precise touchscreen temperature control and antimicrobial NASA-inspired air purification systems that ensure the freshest ingredients.There are even ceramic-based materials for countertops that can withstand up to 1,000°C, full-surface induction hobs, faucets that instantly produce boiling, or carbonated, water. Visual, audio, and IT integration is becoming increasingly seamless, with control pads out of sight and kitchen furniture designed with fast-charging cordless pads for personal devices. British heritage brand Hoover has recently unveiled its Wizard range of Wi-Fi-enabled appliances that can be controlled remotely. And if you need a reminder that your champagne supplies are running low, the Samsung Wi-Fi-equipped fridge with integrated eight-inch LCD screen features eight apps that can be programed to give you a gentle virtual nudge when it’s time to restock.
Of course, the more we need integrated kitchens, the smarter they become. Or vice versa? Designer Tara Bernerd, of international interior architectural practice Tara Bernerd & Partners, explains: “The more we are integrating the kitchen into open-plan living, the more things are being developed to work in our favor. Better technology, better extractor fan systems to remove cooking odors, and more elegant lighting systems that cleverly zone individual areas mean [integration] is more achievable and hence more desirable.”
Smart designers recognize that aesthetics, however luxurious, are no longer enough to constitute a dream kitchen for their clients. Spatial design and exceptional functionality are now key ingredients for this social hub of the home – and to ensure the champagne never stops flowing.