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CONTENT THAT WORKS: What do buyers want in their next home’s kitchen?

Combining light and dark elements with a variety of finishes and materials is on-trend in today’s kitchens.
Combining light and dark elements with a variety of finishes and materials is on-trend in today’s kitchens.

The answers may surprise you

Erik J. Martin 

It’s no big mystery why the kitchen remains the most popular room in the home for many, ranking as the top room most homeowners prefer to remodel, according to a 2018 Home Depot survey.

Yet some of the features many folks desire in their next remodelled or newly built kitchen are a bit surprising, say the experts.

Per the results of a recent home buyer poll by Ashton Woods, about three out of four respondents said they would prioritize luxury features in the kitchen ov

er other home spaces — hardly a shock.

But homeowners indicated they now prefer natural wood kitchen cabinets (30 per cent) versus white cabinets (17 per cent), even though the latter has been the go-to-choice for most over the last few years.

Additionally, those surveyed said they preferred light cabinets with dark countertops (29 per cent) over light cabinets with light counter tops (23 percent) — another unexpected finding. Among other poll results:

  • Dark cabinets with dark countertops was the least popular combination (as voted by 32 per cent)
  • Granite (33 per cent), marble (24 per cent) and quartz (12 per cent) are the top choices in countertops
  • Baby boomers most preferred the natural wood cabinet look (45 per cent).

Kymberlyn Lacy, principal designer with International Flair Designs Interiors in Little Rock, Arkansas, was taken aback that the lighter cabinet look is apparently slipping in popularity.

“I’m surprised that homeowners polled preferred natural wood kitchen cabinets over white, dark or a colour combination. When working with clients, I often recommend installing lighter cabinets with darker countertops or darker cabinets with lighter countertops,” she says.

Mark Cutler finds the survey results refreshing.

“It’s a relief that we are finally steering away from the all-white painted kitchen — a trend that has held such a stranglehold on kitchen design for years,” says Cutler. “Now, finally, homeowners are starting to look at other options.”

Leigh Spicher, national director of Design Studios for Roswell, Georgia-headquartered Ashton Woods, agrees.

“I think culturally we are tired of the stark white look and are seeking some authenticity in our lives. There’s a very appealing balance by using light cabinetry with darker countertops or vice versa,” says Spicher, adding that many wood species used in cabinets today are improvements over the basic golden oak we remember from the 1990s, benefiting from stained colours like cool neutral, painted pebble, navy or white. “Species like oak or hickory boast a natural grain and texture as well as durability.”

Leslie Markman-Stern, president of Leslie M. Stern Design in Chicago, can vouch for the increasing popularity of the natural wood look in cabinetry.

“It hides dirt and is easier to repair, and we’re seeing the preference for wood grain reflected in kitchen flooring choices, too,” says Markman-Stern, who recommends hardwoods like cherry, oak, birch, maple, walnut or mahogany.

Darker cabinets paired with darker countertops remain a no-no for Jacquelyn Moore-Hill, a Brooklyn, New York-based interior designer.

“I always find dark kitchens not as inviting as lighter kitchens, which appear cleaner and brighter without dark corners,” Moore-Hill notes.

Still, some see the dark-on-dark look eventually gaining traction.

“Today, it can feel a little dated, but I would predict we’ll be seeing more of this dark combination in the next few years,” predicts Cutler.

If you aim to follow the rising trend of lighter natural wood cabinets paired with darker countertops, Cutler recommends considering a combination like the following:

  • Rift sawn oak cabinets with a smoky chocolate oil finish to bring out wood grain
  • Quartz countertops in navy blue or deep smoke grey
  • Darker hardwood floors or deep-coloured porcelain tile
  • Patterned backsplash tile in a mottled design.

Whatever options you pick, “it’s important to balance the light versus dark elements and have a variety of finishes and materials for contrast and interest in your kitchen,” says Markman-Stern.

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