Around Australia, a surge in new home building activity has seen a corresponding boom in the kitchen and bathroom sector.
Indeed, in its most recent report, the Housing Industry Association said it expected record numbers of no fewer than 195,900 kitchens and 384,800 bathrooms to be installed in new houses and apartments throughout the nation in 2014/15. These figures are up more than 50,000 and 100,000 on the lows of 145,300 and 276,100 respectively seen as recently as 2011/12.
Furthermore, while renovations activity is quiet, that is not likely to last. Over the next four years, the number of houses entering the vital 10 to 20 year age bracket during which around three quarters of all major kitchen and bathroom renovation jobs typically take place is expected to increase from 920,000 to 970,000.
This raises questions about some of the key design trends which are impacting how these kitchens and bathrooms look and feel and what materials go into them. On that front, there are several developments.
Start with cabinetry, where there is a move away from laminate benchtop solid surfaces such as acrylic, natural stone and engineered stone and back toward more natural products in doors such as timber and timber imitations.
Kitchen and Bathroom Designers Institute of Australia executive director Alex Milne said the move away from laminates, especially in the renovations sector, was largely evident in homes owned by middle aged to older Australians with more to spend, while acrylic surfaces also had the added benefit of being easy to clean thoroughly.
“In cabinetry, I think we are entering into an era of solid surfaces,” Milne said. “There are a number of brands and products in engineered stone in engineered stone. That’s probably where the biggest growth is.”
In terms of appliances, steam ovens are becoming more popular, as is the practice of putting extraction units outside to minimise noise and maximise efficiency, especially in commercial kitchens. Induction cooktops, too, are gaining in popularity, while a range of quality benchtop appliances are being releaed and coffee making machines are becoming more common. Smaller appliances to create a more spacious atmosphere as well as those that save on water and power are also gaining in popularity. According to The Good Guys, for example, dishwashers with half size or half load options are expected to become more popular.
In lighting, virtually all the action is around LED options, which are not only smaller, more energy efficient and increasingly less expensive but are growing in versatility. High end products are not only able to be adjusted to different colours or different strands of white (such as warm white or cool white) but are also able be used for direct, background or even effect lighting.
Gains in efficiency through LED are also spawning more innovative options. Cupboard lighting, for example, is becoming more popular as is soft lighting from the floor up.
Flooring areas are witnessing a push back to natural timbers as well as significant growth in the fast-maturing area of floating floors. In walls, a number of interesting offerings are coming out in the splashback area, as well, with glass becoming more popular and tiles less so.
Finally, on the tapware front, the switch seems to be from single lever taps toward taller tapware which provides more hand room. Milne says most of the products in this area are being imported.
More broadly, overall preferences and trends seem to revolve around neutral colours, space, functionality cleanliness and de-cluttering. Neutral colours are flexible and allow owners to add their own decoration, with white and some of the lighter sandstones promoting a ‘warm’ and ‘clean’ feeling. Ample bench and storage space, meanwhile, allows for greater ease and comfort during food preparation.
Milne said home renovation shows have raised aspirations of what can be achieved and the willingness to engage professional designers but have drawbacks as well, sometimes offering information which is misleading or simply incorrect as well as promoting unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved within given budgets and time frames.
Milne said the industry is undergoing a significant polarisation between budget end renovations and the higher end of the market.
“I think there is a very clear divide coming now in the kitchen industry,” he said. “At one end, you have the DIY of the budget kitchen sector, which is mostly dominated by imports. And then at the other end, you have got the middle to upper priced kitchens.”
“The middle ground seems to be disappearing.”