By Tracy Hanes

With dramatic changes in the way people use their homes, Yasmine Goodwin says it’s hard to refer to the kitchen by that term anymore.

“It’s your meeting room, sharing room, the place where you prepare food and socialize with family and friends,” says Goodwin, principal designer of My Design Studio in Toronto, which works with developers and builders to manage decor sales and with renovators to finalize the scope of work and source products and finishes.

That desire to have the kitchen as the multi-purpose hub of the home continues to drive renovation trends. While it must be functional, homeowners are demanding great style as well.

“More than ever, kitchens are a big deal and are the showpiece of the home,” says Eve Claxton, designer for Timberworx, a custom home building and renovation company in Guelph operated by her husband Shawn Marsh.

“Kitchens in a way are impacting what’s happening generally in home design,” notes Goodwin, whose firm claimed the 2014 OHBA award for Most Outstanding Kitchen Renovation. “A big trend is less barriers and fewer walls, and there’s a whole thing about integrating or repurposing space.”

“Kitchens and bathrooms are still the top rooms people renovate,” says Shane Van Barneveld of Shane Renovations, a design-build company that focuses on renovations in Hamilton, Ancaster and the GTA. “Renovate the kitchen and suddenly your house is a whole lot better.”

Van Barneveld says every kitchen renovation his company carries out these days involves removing a wall or two. Brad Livock, sales manager and project manager for Slotegraaf Construction, a Cambridge-area builder and renovation company, agrees and says that in older homes, particularly, walls will inevitably have to be removed to accommodate what’s on clients’ kitchen wish lists.

At the same time walls are coming down, windows are getting larger. “I’m noticing bigger windows around the kitchen and the whole feeling of letting the outside in,” Goodwin says. “In older homes, having bigger windows can help make them more contemporary and bring in the sky and sun. To achieve that, some people are eliminating upper cabinets to allow for bigger windows and replacing them with open shelves where they can stack books and dishes.”

Island Dreams

With spaces opening up, islands are getter larger and featuring a high degree of design as they become the focal point of the kitchen.

“Everyone wants an island,” says Van Barneveld. “It has become like a piece of furniture with more colour, detail and decoration than the cabinets along the wall. The two-level island is gone and they are one level now, which is more modern and way more practical when you want to sit and have an area to eat. It makes things a lot easier and looks a lot better.”

“The island is not your typical five-foot island anymore,” Goodwin says. “Some have tables integrated into them and at least six people can sit around them. When they are in a U or L shape instead of a straight line, it’s easier for people to converse. You are only limited by your imagination.”

Currently popular are islands that feature colours other than that of the perimeter cabinetry, such as taupe wall cabinetry with a dark walnut-stained island. They may also feature different countertops, with furniture-like detailing such as corbels and legs, and may also incorporate a vegetable sink.

Although his company still does a lot of double sinks, Livock says the trend is moving towards a single, large basin. Stainless steel is back and the integrated sinks of a few years back have begun to fade in popularity.

Cabinets are extending the full height of the walls into the spaces that used to remain empty or filled by a bulkhead. They have become taller along with ceiling heights, which in newer homes tend to be nine feet or more.

“People are realizing that having open space above cupboards just collected clutter, and want their cabinets going right to ceiling,” Van Barneveld says. “It’s not really practical as they are not convenient to access, so you’d maybe put Christmas dishes there that you’ll only need once a year. It doesn’t really make sense; it’s all about how it looks.”

Cabinet styles are trending towards simple, Shaker-style panels made of maple or MDF (medium density fibreboard) in lighter wood tones or painted white, cream or linen.

“We do a lot of clean, modern lines. Our clients aren’t into busy cabinets with raised panel mouldings; they want something very sleek, and we are doing a lot of painted MDF cabinets,” says Marsh. “When you have taller cabinet doors, MDF doesn’t warp like wood does.”

The traditionally perpetual favourite of granite is losing its stronghold to manmade quartz in terms of countertop choices, suggests Van Barneveld. “Two to three years ago, everyone wanted granite, and now, almost overnight, they’ve gone to quartz. It all has to do with maintenance, as granite does wear and some upkeep is required. I’m at the point where I’m having a hard time selling granite.”

Livock also points out that quartz provides a consistency of colour that differing granite slabs cannot.

They Wood If They Could

The renovators agree that one floor material is the overwhelming favourite among homeowners, and that’s wood, whether it’s hardwood or engineered. Hand-hewn or reclaimed looks in wide planks are being used throughout main-floor spaces to seamlessly integrate the family room, kitchen and dining areas. Not only is wood warmer underfoot than tile; it also adds a softness to the hard surfaces of stone and metal in the kitchen.

“We’re seeing more hardwood in the kitchen in the past year-and-a-half than ever before,” says Livock. “With engineered hardwoods and wider planks, you have a better product than in the past when you’re working in a kitchen area that can be subjected to moisture. People aren’t afraid to carry wood flooring throughout the main floor.”

Stainless steel is still the top choice for appliances, which are being integrated into cabinetry. Livock says for almost every kitchen reno he executes, clients want the largest refrigerator they can get, and with prices more competitive, even homeowners on a budget can afford stainless steel or gas cooktops or ovens. Goodwin says steam ovens, which can cook multiple foods at once, are gaining momentum.

Range hoods have become sculptural pieces of art, and when combined with beautiful backsplashes, they bring a sense of personality to an otherwise sleek kitchen. “Most range hoods are chimney-style with no cabinets above, and for backsplashes, metallic and glass are popular,” says Livock. “Tile is still used a lot, with basic white and the odd accent tile to add warmth or colour.”

“I never follow trends when it comes to backsplashes,” Claxton says. “I prefer to extend the countertop material to the backsplash, although we’ve used glass and hand-cut tiles. Subway tiles are always popular and will likely never go out of style.”

Kitchen Convenience

Storage is also a priority with clients and a pantry is a must-have across the board, say the experts. Pantries incorporated in the kitchen, rather than walk-ins, are most desired.

Recycling centres are a common request and manufacturers have developed slide-out systems that can be incorporated into cabinetry for recycling and separating garbage.

Goodwin says with more people wanting to age in place in their homes, pull-down shelves that can be operated manually or electronically are useful in accessing taller cabinets. And drawers are replacing doors on lower cabinets for more efficient storage.

Lighting is another major consideration. “LED potlights are huge,” says Livock. “Every kitchen I do has six to 12 in a clean, smooth ceiling. You use dimmer switches to create task and mood lighting. Under-valance light is also big and there are so many options, such as string lights, that create different moods.”

“Lighting is huge and we are putting in more and more lights,” echoes Van Barneveld. “We are installing lots of pendants and potlights, and everybody is asking for LEDs.”