Kitchens and baths go big, modern and European

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Kitchen and bath makeover fans will have plenty of stylistic directions and pretty products to choose from if the recent Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas is any indication.

Thoroughly modern kitchens have entertaining pizzazz plus everyday functionality that looks cool. Electronics continue to take baby steps toward a pivotal role in kitchen management.

Baths are seen as a place to unwind, and the bath amenities at this show didn't disappoint. If you warm to contemporary tubs, sinks and fixtures, you're in luck. And of course, there was abundant European design influence.

The overriding theme in kitchens: the re-emergence of color in appliances along with improved storage and continued inching toward entertainment accessories and Internet-based kitchen management. Contemporary design and styling predominated.

Colors have loosened -- but not eliminated -- the stainless steel stranglehold on appliances. A Maytag spokesman says consumers have shown signs of "stainless steel fatigue" although the shiny or brushed steel still rules the roost. Don't expect to see a wide range of colors, but black, red and blue were among the tones on display.

Colors sandwiched between easy-to-clean layers of tempered glass have entered the high-end appliance derby. Larry Lamkins of Dacor, makers of gas stoves and appliances, says consumers want low-maintenance non-metal surfaces and glass fills that bill. Still other appliances are raised off the floor to minimize bending and stooping.

Prepare to see an influx of down-sized appliances aimed at empty-nesters and town home or condo dwellers. Kitchenaid featured a mini-dishwasher fitted neatly into kitchen sinks.

Professional grade gas ranges aimed at culinary artists remain hot although cool-to-the-touch induction heat tops are gaining ground. Some stove tops, such as gas and induction models from Gaggenau, are barely a foot wide and intended for Asian-style cooking.

With kitchens assuming "heart of the home" status, manufacturers are introducing all manner of electronic gadgetry. LG, for instance, showcased refrigerators with TVs mounted in the doors. Dacor unveiled a prototype "home entertainment center" consisting of TV/Internet monitor plus sound system mounted beneath cabinets. The system accommodates security cameras, too. Several manufacturers say within a few years, "smart" technology will control products via remote computer or hand-held devices.

For efficient entertaining, stand-alone or built-in beverage coolers and wine storage will take on a coordinated look with other kitchen appliances or cabinetry.

Kitchen ceilings are in for an upgrade. Patterns in stamped metal and vinyl are stylist options to bland coatings sprayed on drywall. Rustic wood slats treatments were also shown.

Storage-challenged homeowners will like the way cabinet-makers have tackled clutter. Specialty pull-out drawers for plates and tableware and shelving for hard-to-store pots and pans are well considered. Cabinetry has also moved away from the monotony of same-size doors to niche-shaped compartments and flipper-style doors. Lights are a pleasant touch behind glass or mesh-fronted doors and below the cabinets. Surface textures and colors options, including glazes, have never been more abundant. So are decorative door pulls.

But bathrooms are where this trade show really shined. Taking a cue from kitchens, contemporary design with a large amount of European influence is in vogue.

Tubs are in transition from ho-hum to something big and bubbly. Many tubs are enormous and nearly all feature jetted water or heated forced air to soothe harried homeowners. Taking a cue from kitchens, top-end models feature sound systems.

Single head showers are passe; two to six heads are de rigueur. Kohler displayed square shape wall mount sprays that pivot to deliver water where it's wanted. Overhead pan or "sunflower" shower heads up to 12 inches across cascade water down on bathers. Manufacturers say the multi-head showers can be water-misers.

(Note: Accommodating new shower and tub configurations will likely require an overhaul of piping and preparation, if not professional plumbing help.)

Sinks are on the rise, especially stand-alone basins perched above counters. Round, square and oval shapes made of stone, inlaid mosaic tile or even African hardwoods are now on the market.

Indeed, many basins and flush mounted sinks are literally pieces of furniture. Several manufacturers installed the devices atop wood and marble hutches and tables, offering a whole new look in bathroom sophistication.

The emphasis with fixtures and faucets seems to be on heavyweight handles and spouts. Brushed nickel, chrome and richly textured finishes from a wax casting process are all handsome.

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