Contemporary kitchens have caught up with traditional in the popularity stakes, but just how do you create a sleek, chic room that serves such a practical purpose too? Natasha Brinsmead answers the most common contemporary kitchen questions. Includes advice on kitchen units, worktops, flooring, lighting and more.
There are several big trends prevailing in contemporary kitchens, some of them contradicting each other. At one end you have high-gloss units, whilst at the other the more subtle matt-finish units are big news. The same goes for colour. Whilst some showrooms are full of the latest bright shades – with lime green, tangerine orange and rich purples being particular favourites – others are encouraging buyers to keep it neutral with whites, soft beiges and greys. This all comes down to personal preference, but what all contemporary units do have in common is that they are free of any fuss. This means unit doors should be flush and the opening mechanisms hidden, with doors opening either through a ‘push click’ system or with handles moulded into the doors or concealed. Likewise, combining materials in the kitchen is hot news. Where it was once preferable to have runs of matching units, the current trend is to mix and match natural materials with man-made.
But I’m on a Tight Budget…
Some of the coolest contemporary homes are kitted out with (shhh, say it quietly) off-the- shelf kitchens. The key when buying a standard kitchen is to customise. Many people have already cottoned onto buying less-expensive unit carcasses and trendying them up with stylish doors. However, more people are now buying cost-effective kitchens and putting their own mark on them in other ways, such as having doors spray-painted at a local workshop, removing standard handles or knobs and replacing them with something designer, or topping units with the very latest in work surfaces. With a little creativity, an off-the-shelf kitchen can be your little secret.
What Flooring Works?
Huge-format stone tiles, including limestone and honed slate, are a great choice. Timber flooring can be used in the kitchen but choose one with a high water resistance, such as cherry or teak, to avoid it being affected by a steamy atmosphere. Linos and resin-based floorings, such as Amtico, have made a comeback lately and are available in some interesting colours and finishes. Polished concrete is the height of minimalist chic.
What about worktops?
Exotic timbers such as wenge and zebrano, composites such as Corian, or natural stones not often used for worktops, such as limestone and sandstone, are all fashionable at the moment. Have them fitted in long, unbroken runs, with essentials such as the sink either moulded into the worktop, in the case of composites, or under-mounted. Draining boards can also be carved into the worktop. Practically this means there are fewer seams for dirt to get lodged in, and aesthetically it ties in with the neat, sleek theme. In the case of limestone and sandstone, make sure you get the supplier’s advice on sealing them as they are porous. Some of the newest laminates come convincingly close to composites but at a fraction of the cost.
And the Lighting?
Lighting in the kitchen must be practical, so install plenty of well-placed task lighting over work areas, located so that you won’t block it out when standing over the worktop. But the lighting also needs to be ambient, especially in kitchen/diners where you will want to create a relaxed feel to the room once the hard work is done. Recessed spotlights are the ideal way to provide a background light and can also work as task lighting. Also, set them on a dimmer. For something a little more interesting, huge pendants in metals such as copper, hung low over breakfast bars, are a fantastic trend. Use low-voltage halogen lighting or LEDs under the front edge of wall units or base units. This throws out an interesting glow over your floor or worktop, showing them off in all their glory. Those with high-gloss units or stainless steel worktops should watch out for glare, so would be advised to use bulbs with a frosted or opaque finish.
What’s Hot in Appliances?
Large, American-style refrigerators continue to be popular, with those featuring hi-tech gadgets such as integrated internet screens and televisions being particular favourites. Another big trend is for striking, central extractor hoods (try Elica: elica.com; 01252 351111) that look more like sculptural works of art than practical kitchen appliances. Induction hobs are another must-have in contemporary kitchens, which are on average twice as efficient as natural gas or electric hobs. Expect microwave drawers that mean your microwave stops being something you need to find a space for and turn it into part of your kitchen to become big news (they are currently only available in the US: try sharpusa.com), as are dishwasher drawers (smeguk.com). All-in-one island units are hot, too – take a look at Bulthaup’s b2 kitchen (bulthaup.co.uk) – containing all your appliances as well as your sink in one handy central unit. Waste disposal systems and built-in coffee machines are also must-haves these days.
I Love Gadgets – What’s New?
If there is one kitchen essential that has seen the transformation from practical and dull, back to practical and exciting in recent years, it has to be the kitchen tap. Not only are they now available in just about every style imaginable, but they also come with pull-out rinsing sprays and filter settings. In addition, according to some experts, no contemporary kitchen is complete without a boiling water tap (SEE ABOVE), delivering instant boiling water without having to wait for the kettle to boil. In addition, kitchen taps with built-in lighting that appears to make the water coloured or the tap glow are on offer and, finally, a favourite in the H&R office, the touch-sensor kitchen tap (try deltafaucet.com) that allows you to turn it on or off with an elbow, chin or just about anything else not covered in food. Infrared taps are also now making their way into the home: try autotap.net.
But Where Will My Clutter Go?
Tall, narrow pull-out units that take up very little floor space but which provide lots of space for all your kitchen necessities are the perfect way to make the most of any awkward or unused spots in the kitchen, as are carousel units and angled pull-out storage units. Stackable drawers are also a fantastic idea, turning one drawer into two, with two levels incorporated into more or less the same space as one. Waste bins, knife blocks, switches and sockets, and kitchen scales are now all available integrated into your worktop, ready to pop out when required, rather than gathering dust.
One of the new trends that the judges of this year’s The Daily Telegraph Homebuilding & Renovating Awards were greeted with in several of the houses they viewed is double kitchens — that is to say two kitchens rather than one. This is a trend for the seriously house proud out there who would prefer that the kitchen seen by house guests remains an oasis of calm, with plates of canapés and neat piles of limes the only clutter being organised. The second kitchen is where the work takes place and is home to the usual clutter and chaos. An indulgence perhaps, but one that we might secretly covet.