Growing consumer confidence may give a boost to Canada's renovation industry this spring, but that doesn't mean we're spending like it's 1999. If the latest kitchen trends are any indication, today's homeowners will be seeking more bang for their bucks when and if they overhaul their household hubs.
"Kitchens are still a large part of the number of renovations going on," says Jane Charron, an interior designer in Montreal. "But they've been simplified. They are no longer excessive in style and size."
Where consumers might be willing to spend - and where they have a lot of options this season - is in the area of cutting-edge hardware and appliances, says Charron.
"People are making their style statements with amazing faucets and high-tech appliances that are super-functional but also energy-saving. Looking out for the environment is key in kitchens right now."
To that end, renovators are also using more recycled materials than ever before, ransacking second-hand sources like flea markets, salvage shops and junkyards to personalize their kitchens.
Michelle Mawby, principal designer at Toronto's Lucid Interior Design Inc., recently did a kitchen where she incorporated the grill from an old Chrysler New Yorker into the centre island. The design was featured on the TV show Junk Raiders.
"You can achieve high-end design from other people's throwaways," Mawby says. "There is no end to the creative reuse of materials."
When consumers do buy new, their purchases include appliances that promise to do things their forebears in the kitchen could only dream of.
"There are combination microwave and convection ovens that serve dual purposes with one appliance," says Toronto interior designer Connie Braemar. "There are [self-contained]dishwasher drawers that are great for small loads."
Not to mention the Brizo SmartTouch faucet that dispenses water with a tap of the hand on the faucet or spout (great for when your hands are covered in flour) and the KitchenAid refrigerator featuring a full-colour LCD screen that suggests ingredient substitutions and provides measurement conversions for recipes.
And while eco-friendly elements such as recycled glass, wood and other materials are big for counters, cabinets and floors this year, they too have a high-tech twist. The countertops by Quebec-based ThinkGlass, for instance, are LED-illuminated, while exotic coconut bark is the building material du jour at Umbrella Cabinetry in Mississauga, Ont.
Nelson Costa, a spokesman with AyA Kitchens and Baths, also in Mississauga, says that the now-entrenched eco-trend is part of "being conscientious, going slower and making more informed decisions about how we live."
The growing pervasiveness of so-called green kitchens, he adds, is a result of the significant drop in the prices of green materials and appliances from what they were a few years ago.
"Before, green cabinetry was expensive, a luxury item," says Costa, whose firm has stressed the use of sustainable materials in its kitchen designs since its founding in 2000. "But today, the materials are less costly and the trend is therefore a lot more accessible."
AyA's own EVO line of sustainable cabinetry, for instance, is made from recycled particle board, a low-end material that belies the high quality of the finished product.
"It's what consumers want right now," Costa says. "Enhanced lifestyles at an affordable cost."
Here are five more of the season's top kitchen trends:
A TOUCH OF GLASS
It would be a stretch to think that the growing fondness for glass over opaque materials such as marble, granite and concrete in the kitchen is reflective of our desire for greater transparency - we're looking at you, Ottawa - but businesses and consumers from coast to coast are suddenly into clarity.
In Quebec's Eastern Townships, Stéphane Flament produces a flooring product called EcoSurfaces, which is 93 per cent glass foraged from old wine bottles and windshields. Despite its humble origins, it is available in a variety of colours and makes kitchens sparkle "like jewels," says Flament, who can be contacted through www.ecosurfaces.ca.
The cast-glass countertops made by ThinkGlass, on the other hand, actually do glow, as they're fitted with LED lighting that can be programmed to create different ambient settings via remote control. Also manufactured in Quebec, the product can be used to create walls, floors and stairs as well. Visit www.thinkglass.com for dealers.
Glass sinks, finally, are also big this season. One of the newest is Blanco Canada's Crystalline model, which is made in Germany of glass and stainless steel and features a glass cover that slides over the sink to create additional counter space as needed. The sink is available in two versions - Crystalline White and Crystalline Black - and can be ordered through www.blancocanada.com.
That coconut you use to sprinkle over your morning cereal has morphed into one of the season's hottest kitchen materials, especially when it comes to cabinetry. CocoBeat, created by James Loppie of Umbrella Cabinetry in Ontario, is one example: Ideal for wall coverings, room dividers, kitchen interiors and more, it's made from quick-renewing coconut bark, an eco-material that is naturally resistant to heat, dampness and mould and also stands up to fungus and micro-organism penetration.
The company also uses increasingly popular bamboo as its hardwood of choice. New is a material called Plyboo, a formaldehyde-free flat-grain product made from the fast-growing grass. Visit www.umbrellacabinetry.com for details.
Since life is complicated enough, appliance makers are aiming to lighten our kitchen-related loads to unparalleled degrees this season with an array of ultra sophisticated offerings.
Chief among them is KitchenAid's new KFIS27 refrigerator, which includes a built-in 4.3-inch LCD screen and a USB port for uploading photos. The interface allows you to seek out alternative recipe suggestions if you're short of something and converts measurement for you. The only thing it doesn't do is walk over from FutureShop ( www.futureshop.ca) for you.
Also at FutureShop are Samsung's new Hybrid Induction Range (which boils water faster than gas and twice as fast as a radiant electric cook top) and LG's new French Door Fridge featuring an 11.8-inch ice and water dispenser (touted as the largest in the industry for filling coffee pots and other oversized pitchers).
Frank Lee, the spokesman for LG Electronics Canada, says such appliances are responses to the growing tendency toward home entertaining. "In many ways, the refrigerator is the armoire of the kitchen," Lee says, noting that most new fridges feature increased storage space for large buffet platters and other party fixings. "Organizing it is about as challenging as organizing your closet."
Not to be outdone, faucets have also gone high-tech, incorporating technology that allows water to flow via a mere touch anywhere on the spout or handle. Already a big fan, Michael Olson, a chef and teacher at the Niagara Culinary Institute in Ontario, swears by the touch-operated pull-down tap from Delta's Pilar Collection, which he says gives him "an extra pair of hands in the kitchen."
Exotic materials and high-tech appliances aside, refreshing a dull kitchen need not cost a fortune, says Montreal designer Jane Charron, who cites vibrant accenting as an easy way to add punch.
"Consider making a statement with your backsplash," she says. "Mix [the]shape and colour [of the tiles]"
While red is the spiciest tone for this purpose, cooler blues and especially turquoise are also popular this season. The soothing tropical hue is showing up in everything from new paint colours - see Barbizon Blue (P1603-3) by Para Paints ( www.para.com) - to tea kettles by Le Creuset ( www.csnstores.com).
As all of these diverse kitchen trends suggest, layering looks and materials against and among each other is the big message of the season, say designers. That could mean a chunky salvaged-wood cutting board atop a milky white-marble counter atop an ebony island. Lighting should also be layered in the kitchen, which can incorporate a variety of light sources, from ceiling fixtures to under-cabinet halogens to even a lamp or two.
"It's about being creative within your budget," says Rosalyn Lazaruk, owner of Wicket Blue Interiors in Edmonton.
And whether that budget encompasses junkyard finds or top-drawer appliances, the sky this spring is the limit.