4 Designers Envision the Post-Pandemic Kitchen of the Future
If there's one room in the house that's always been open to change, it's the kitchen. Technological advances routinely update and introduce appliances, trends consistently refresh palettes, and even family additions shift layouts. So it's no surprise that in the midst of a great upheaval like a global pandemic, kitchens would be poised to reflect the priorities of the moment. At first they adapted by storing items like beans and sourdough starters, while also acting as dedicated cleaning stations. Then they balanced between all-day restaurants and school cafeterias, as well as assuming the roles of casual Zoom backgrounds and jungle gyms. But as signs of a post-pandemic world begin to emerge, how will the last year be incorporated into kitchens of the future?
"Home has become a sanctuary for many during the pandemic, and the kitchen is moving away from clean and modern, or what people typically think of when considering the future," designer Tiffany Leigh Piotrowski says. "Kitchens seem to be moving toward a more livable, cozy, and approachable environment."
After months of profound uncertainty and vital flexibility, the post-pandemic kitchen will reflect a collective need for calm. But in the midst of relaxing and mood-boosting enhancements, these spaces will heed the lessons learned from this period, too. Real Simple spoke to four design experts about what they think the main features of future kitchens will be, considering everything from quarantine and disinfecting to fresh air and friendship. These are the nine components of future kitchens, according to their predictions, and some of them are already making an appearance.
It Will Be Cozier and More Livable
Piotrowski has long designed kitchens to maximize views while championing form and function. This will still be important, but she imagines that "a pristine aesthetic and utilitarian goals" won't be highest on the priority list. Instead, future kitchens will lean more into living spaces that have thoughtfully curated items made by local artisans. In fact, as people have taken to organizing their spaces and cooking constantly, Piotrowski imagines future kitchens taking on an Old World craftsmanship mentality of "less is more."
"For instance, installing historic beams would ground the room, and real marble countertops patina over time. In the past, a wine stain would have been a major problem, but I hope it'll now be embraced as a reminder of evenings well spent with friends and family, which is something that we took for granted before the pandemic," Piotrowski says. "For so long the kitchen has been about perfection, and I hope design will move toward making memories instead-less stress and more laughter. The future doesn't always mean modern, minimal, and super techy. I think the pandemic has made us more nostalgic for real connection and warmth."
Easy-to-Clean Materials Will Exist in a Relaxing Palette
After a year of being incredibly aware of germs, designer Sara Malek Barney thinks that this habit will translate into the types of materials people will want to select for this space. She predicts that non-porous surfaces like glass and metal will be seen in every kitchen. "Not to mention easy-to-clean appliances, which will also be a big selling point. Say goodbye to gas stovetops, and hello to electric stovetops that you can easily wipe right off."
Besides ensuring that these appliances can sparkle with ease, Barney also notes that they'll most likely complement soothing shades on the walls and cabinets. "All-white kitchens are a thing of the past, but people aren't trying to go too bold with their color palettes, either," she notes. "We will be seeing a lot of natural colors, such as tans, grays, and beige, as well as soft colors like light blues and greens."
The Outdoors Will Be Let In
It's always been the case that the best renovations stick within the budget and style of a home, as Helen Parker, creative director of deVOL Kitchens, knows. But while past updates may have placed natural light and greenery somewhere on the preference list, now she thinks they'll be as essential as appliances.
"A little sunshine on our faces and a hug from a loved one will never be taken for granted again," she says. "If one thing is clear, it's that having a large window or a doorway into a greener space is a must. This could be a window with a box full of herbs, a pair of French doors leading onto a small vegetable patch, or just a balcony with a chair so you can enjoy fresh air."
Parker isn't counting out major renovations to make indoor-outdoor living happen, since homeowners may be very familiar with the pitfalls of their current layout. "It is possible that they knock walls down to create bigger spaces," she adds. "They could decide to dedicate some money toward having more glass and doors that lead directly to an outside space. In other instances, people may actually decide to move in order to get the lifestyle they now know is so important."
Tech Will Aid in Food Prep
Architect and designer Michele Alfano has made a career out of crafting kitchens that make the most of square footage, allowing owners to equally live their lives to the fullest. Post-pandemic, she sees smart technology as being a large part of this goal. "To improve the cooking experience, I see gesture and voice recognition becoming even more prevalent," she says. "Your technology will recognize you and allow you to control your appliances to your liking." For instance, Alfano notes that American Standard's Saybrook Filtered Kitchen Faucet provides filtered and tap water with the push of a button, while other smart appliances (including screens on a backsplash) can recommend recipes, bring up the day's calendar, and help cook an ingredient efficiently. These technological components will provide peace of mind, allowing people to hone their cooking skills and stay on top of other important to-dos.
Sustainability Will Be Part of the Process
Alfano also sees sustainable practices becoming more of a cornerstone of kitchen design, from creating a designated place for herbs to grow beside a sink (maybe even under the kitchen island) to having somewhere distinct for composting.
But besides making these eco-friendly factors as familiar as a dishwasher and oven, Alfano thinks owners will also keep sustainability in mind when sourcing materials in the first place. "Ash timber for cabinetry has low-VOC emissions, which promotes better air quality in the space and is also a more cost-effective material. There's also Compac stone, which has low-VOC levels as a countertop option, and the company collects and stores rainwater during the production of the stone," she says. "Post-pandemic kitchen design will marry technology and nature."
Everything Will Be High Tech, Low Touch
The Internet of Things (IoT) is how all of your home devices with a WiFi connection communicate with one another, explains Glenn Rush, a designer manager at Build With Ferguson. In the kitchen, an oven, refrigerator, faucet, or another device with WiFi-enabled sensors improves efficiency, hygiene, and safety. IoT tech can even detect hazards and alert you of potential risks in real-time by sending an alert to your phone. Some don't even require human intervention. For example, a faucet may shut off once a certain amount of water has been running to prevent flooding.
Hands-free fixtures and voice-activated solutions will no longer be a luxury item in the kitchen of the (near) future. This includes everything from smart lighting, to touchless faucets, to knock-front drawers and cabinets.
Storage Will Be at the Center
"The kitchens of the future should provide more convenience and can never have enough storage," says Mika Kleinschmidt, realtor and star of HGTV's 100 Day Dream Home.
In many homes, the kitchen has evolved to not only be a place to cook and eat, but also entertain, do homework, or take Zoom calls. Built-in cabinets will be designed to answer all of these varied storage needs-think, a beverage cooler and a spot to stash homework and laptops.
In this rendering created by Rush, the kitchen blends into this entryway area, which is equipped with a sink for washing your hands and floor-to-ceiling cabinets for storing coats and shoes as you walk in the door. Since the entryway has also taken on new importance during the pandemic, kitchen designs that flow into the entryway will include extra storage and more sanitary design considerations throughout.
Creating Universal Kitchens Will Be the Norm
"For many years, designers have discussed universal design, which evolved from accessible design, a method of design that aims to increase the quality of life (mentally and physically) for a wide range of individuals and abilities," explains Rush. The kitchen of the future will balance function, safety, and aesthetics to create a space that works for everyone, including those with disabilities, the elderly, children in strollers, and anyone else who may be using the kitchen. "This approach not only creates an accessible multi-functional kitchen with convenient features for a diverse group, but it reduces the need for modifications that may be needed in the future."
Sinks Will Be Hygienic (and Tidy!)
"Touchless and hands-free technology is on the rise and a trend that will likely stay for good-like the touchless faucets and hands-free water dispensers for the home," says James Slattery, senior product manager at Elkay. "We also plan to see more hygienic materials being utilized, especially when it comes to sinks." In addition to materials like non-porous quartz that helps prevent the spread of bacteria, Slattery says that the sink designs themselves will become more hygienic. Case in point: Elkay created an edgeless Perfect Drain, eliminating the gap around the drain so food and grime (and bacteria) can't get trapped.
The messy under-sink cabinet that's long overdue for a makeover will also get an upgrade. Elkay's upcoming Water Center (pictured, launching in 2022) combines a deep sink basin with pull-out storage drawers below so you won't have to hunt for items in the far reaches of the cabinet. There's even a flip-down compartment with ventilation for stashing sponges and dish brushes out of sight.