27 January 2011

LivingKitchen at IMM Cologne: Top Trends

Last week in Germany, two firsts occurred: One, I attended a European trade show. Two, the popular IMM Cologne interior design expo created LivingKitchen, a show within their already popular show dedicated exclusively to my favorite room in the house!

LivingKitchen featured some of the top European brands, including Blanco, the sink and faucet company sponsoring our group, among others. I'm a member of the Blanco Design Council, which means I'm periodically asked for my input on products, advertisements and other company initiatives.

What it's important for my readers to know is that my BDC involvement doesn't mean that I'm paid to write or speak about their products; long before I became a member, I was praising their Silgranit sinks. In fact, don't be surprised if you see a Blanco product or two in my next IMM top products post, or if you see a Cafe Brown Silgranit II sink in my kitchen in the not-too-distant future either. Enough on that subject. Let's get to the good stuff -- the trends I spotted at IMM's LivingKitchen show last week.

Cool white was red hot at IMM. White appliances showed up everywhere, along with white cabinets and countertops. While I don't see white being a hot seller in the US, at least not in the near future, it did have a nice look at the show.

Sleeker ovens showed up strongly at IMM. When I toured KBIS with my architect contributor/ friend/go-to guy for luxury trends Dean Larkin, AIA in 2008, he was lamenting the chunky ovens that protruded awkwardly from their cabinets. Well, that problem appears to have been solved. So many of the ovens on display at this show were fully integrated into their boxes. If they came paneled, like dishwashers or refrigerators, you would never know they were there. This leads smoothly to my next trend...

Minimalist white appliances from Miele

"Un-kitchens" were handsomely on display last week. Don't want to see your appliances? Pull a door across them. Want an open floor plan that doesn't scream kitchen? This hide-away design strategy is for you!

One of the many handsome "Un-Kitchens" on display at LivingKitchen expo
Photo: Koelnmesse

Laminate continues to come on strong. It clads more European cabinets and countertops than any other material I spotted at the show. Their laminate, however, is much higher end than what we're used to seeing in American tract homes. (You know, the stuff we rip out in almost every remodel!) The dominant look is textured, but glossy laminates that look like glass caught my eye, too.

One of my favorites, white and textured laminate from Allmilmo

Black cladding on polished chrome was a sharp, formal yet modern look for faucets. I like this trend myself, but see it more in a powder room or master bath than a kitchen. They evoke a black-tie soiree at home!

What's black and chrome and stylish all over? A Blanco faucet!

Skinny tops ruled the show! Whereas in the US, we're used to the "bigger is better" approach in countertops, the Europeans have gone the opposite direction. Countertops were thin, (about three-eighths of an-inch), sleek and sometimes raised above the cabinets with LEDs or open space between the two.

One of the many ultra-thin countertops on display at LivingKitchen expo
Photo: Koelnmesse

Sinks rose to new heights. Since laminate tops are so popular in Europe, you don't see as many of the undermounts we associate with high-end design here. Some manufacturers, like Duravit, are showing just raised edges. Others are raising the whole countertop section around the sink, or creating "wading pool" sinks for the kitchen. While I like their style, I'm not sold yet on the sensibility of these.

I do, however, like the hideaway concept, where a clever cutting board slides across to hide the sink and add extra workspace. There were many hideaway options shown at Living Kitchen, and I can see them coming to the US market quickly, too.

Built-in drainboards are popular there, too. They work especially well with drop-in sinks, but can be extended from undermounts, too.

Blanco lets the sink drainboard Flow 0nto the countertop

Check out my second post on the show: LivingKitchen at IMM Cologne - Top Products. You'll spot what I consider to be The Next Great Countertop and other game changers. Promise!


Also check out the brilliant blogs by my LivingKitchen traveling companions: Cheryl Nagle Kees Clendenon, Paul Anater, Susan Serra and Leslie Claggett - some of the most respected design bloggers in the industry and folks I'm happy to call friends. Search "IMM" or "Living Kitchen" or "LivingKitchen" from the above links and enjoy their individual takes on the trip of a lifetime!

12 January 2011

SENSIBLE STYLE - Backsplash Bling

I recently purchased a townhome, which I plan to update over the coming months and years. So when Kitchens.com's editor extraordinaire, Kim Sweet, suggested a Sensible Style post on backsplash ideas, I thought, perfect...That's one of the items on my project list. So while I check out what's new and sensibly stylish for y'all, I'll be researching resources for Chez J, too!

Currently, my kitchen has a four-inch splash of the same material as the countertop. The 14 inches between splash top and wall cabinets is painted the same shade as the rest of the kitchen. I'm betting many of you have the same arrangement in your kitchen, if it hasn't been remodeled. Most production builders use this formula.

Practical Pointers

Here are some things to take into account before finalizing any backsplash plans or buying any material:
  • If you're planning on changing your countertops, as I am, do that before you change your backsplash. Otherwise, there's an excellent chance it will get damaged during the top removal. You're also giving yourself potential fit issues unnecessarily.
  • Consider whether you want to use the opportunity of new wall coverings to add lights under your wall cabinets first. Again, you don't want to rip out your new splash to accommodate wiring later.
  • Overall kitchen electrical placement needs to be factored into your backsplash design, too, so that a focal point isn't marred by an unfortunate disposal switch or GFCI label!
  • Consider the grout color your selected backsplash colors dictate. My experience in Florida convinced me that I don't ever, ever, ever want to have white grout in my kitchen again -- not on the floors, not on the walls, not in this lifetime, never at all! I found it incredibly hard to keep white, even with a talented housekeeper. (If you have a cleaning solution that unfailingly works, dear readers, please share it with the group.)
  • Consider the maintenance issues required for your selected backsplash material. Will it need to be sealed periodically, like marble or granite? If so, how often, and who will handle this added chore?
  • If you are planning a focal point for your backsplash, be sure you've got the right scale and space for it. You're going to need enough room not just for the design element, but for field tile above and below to frame it. Usually, a range hood will accommodate this scale. An over-the-range microwave won't give you space for a major statement.
  • Consider the durability of the material. How will it stand up to a pot handle being banged against it?
  • Consider the "trendiness" of the material. Will it date your kitchen in five years? Will you still love it after the fad expires, as they always do?
  • Determine whether you want a backsplash organizing system. If so, factor its visual clutter and hardware requirements into your backsplash design plan.

Tile Style

Tile is one of the most popular choices for kitchen backsplashes, and it offers tremendous versatility. Tile itself is a very durable material. You can find tile floors in Rome, Greece, Morocco and Spain that are centuries - even millennia - old and still beautiful. It's the grout component that can be challenging. As I so strenuously noted above, I try to avoid white grout in kitchens as much as possible. Here are some tile backsplash options that can look great with less work.

Have fun with ModDots by Modwalls

Update a classic: Debris Series recycled subway tile by Fireclay

Add drama with Modern Mythology by Crossville

Other Ideas

While most of the kitchens you'll see published have tile backsplashes, they aren't your only option. Here are some viable alternatives:

  • Tin tiles can install on a backsplash instead of on the ceiling. They're usually perfectly sized for this space, too, with the standard being six by six inches and a full-height backsplash being 18. There are so many color and pattern options to choose from now; you're no longer limited to vintage-look silver! Tin tiles are also typically pretty easy to maintain, which certainly fits many of our lifestyles.

Be a tin man (or woman) with ceiling tiles by The American Tin Ceiling Co.

  • Paint can be your backsplash's (and budget's) best friend. One of my neighbors in Florida had a very handy husband. He painted a harlequin backsplash for her that looked just like tile - without the work or cost. Because he used kitchen-friendly paint, cooking splashes just rubbed right off! It was also an incredibly economic solution.

Chez J's Splash of Choice!

Here's the option I'm seriously considering. I love pattern, and I love easy maintenance. Caesarstone's Motivo offers both, along with great durability and style. I believe this floral relief will suit the transitional style of my townhome's kitchen (and fireplace surround), and work beautifully with the creamy white I've picked for the cabinets and solid black quartz countertops.

I'll be sure to post pictures when it's eventually installed done!

Add-on Opps

I often suggest to clients, and will implement this idea Chez J, that they carry the backsplash material into other areas of their public space. Natural opportunities for style extension include fireplace surrounds and powder room wainscoting. These also tend to be small areas that can be enhanced inexpensively because of the minimal material needed.

Depending on the material selected - e.g., porcelain stone - your backsplash material could become the powder room floor, rather than wainscot, or, if there's a medallion available in the tile series you selected for a backsplash, you could create a great companion focal point in the entry way.

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