Past, present and perfect: taking a positive approach to kitchen retail

The kitchen market is facing enormous turmoil, but history has taught us that such upheavals can often lead to an evolutionary leap forward in design, says Wayne Dance, md of InHouse…

Life may look bleak right now but for the kitchen industry the future is positive.

Let’s be realistic, every consumer in the UK, every business and every sector will have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It is this shared experience that could see the biggest impact on the kitchen and bathroom industry since the post-war period.

Without even realising, just by staying at home we are in the midst of conducted the single biggest test of current kitchen design models that we have ever witnessed.

The open-plan kitchen has been the setting for an unprecedented national lockdown, and overnight it became the backdrop to hear- breaking, heart-warming and hysterically funny video posts by a nation unwittingly transforming the future. We turned worktops to desktops, countertops to classrooms.

From the single person to the multi-generation family, from consumer, designer and manufacturer alike, we have all viewed our interiors in a new light.

And it’s not just those that stayed at home looking at their space differently. For key workers, pulling long hours and emotionally exhausted, home took on a new meaning.

And as a result of all of this, designs will change.

We work in an industry that is constantly looking at how trends are changing or may evolve for consumers, but the coronavirus is a shared experience. Consumers, manufacturers and retailers have all experienced new ways of living, shared financial or emotional experiences.

Working without a commute and spending less time in the office will undoubtedly raise the question of how much is too much? We will re-evaluate the stress in our lives; re-think the way in which we work – and more of us will work from home.

There is no place for fear of change right now, but an exciting opportunity for lateral thinking and a seismic shift for future living.

We have dealt with periods of financial instability on numerous occasions before but there has never been a period in our life time in which we have witnessed and shared such unprecedented social and emotional experience. Let’s be realistic, it’s going to take some time for normal to redefine itself, but history teaches us that the real strength of ingenuity often comes from difficult times.

If we go back just over 100 years to the end of WW1 and a pandemic that killed millions, that’s when 1919 became the perfect storm for the Bauhaus, a design movement so advanced, it still influences the architecture and design of today.

A housing crisis and social poverty presented the opportunity not just to re-create but to radically rethink. Timing is king for design, and it’s pretty much how we ended up with our contemporary kitchens. Not because the elite had them, but because the working class didn’t.

Design is an opportunist, it adapts to circumstance and thrives in adversity and seemingly, the bigger the better. After the Great Depression of the 1930s, American homes were transformed with a heavy dose of functionality, efficiency and pared down aesthetic. The middle classes lost wealth overnight and as a result, the influence of modernism and European design went global.

These may appear standalone events but the common thread is apparent – design loves disaster. Life and business may look bleak right now but there is real light on the horizon for the kitchen industry and it’s really important to consider how that future may look, both in the short term and with an eye to the future.

Already the market is adapting. With our movements curtailed, our experience of connectivity has been turned on its head. Online shopping has damaged the high street for so long, yet it is online capability that is now holding small businesses together.

Business models years in the making have been transformed into new working models within a matter of hours. Our local bars, cafés and restaurants are now takeaway and delivery services. Communities, increasingly socially distant, suddenly working together to help each other. Where technology has previously disconnected us, we have created new connections.

And behind it all, the home and in particular the kitchen

This is good news for the industry. Previously unstable economic periods have taught us that consumers do not stop investing in their home, but they do make far more considered purchased choices.

This is a period of time that is very different; consumers will invest in what makes them feel secure in the future. While there may have been huge queues of people looking for quick fix pick me-ups in Ikea, kitchen purchases will be given much more consideration.

A nation of consumers will have spent weeks noticing the little things, including those that irritate, and this is precisely what is needed to create the perfect kitchen designs. There is no truth in the expression ‘you don’t know what you need until you see it’ because you have to notice that need first.

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Creating the perfect kitchen isn’t about ideas, it’s all about solutions. And right now, problems are going to be up-close and personal. For retailers, this is an opportunity.

It’s likely to take a little while for designers to move boundaries but there are a few expectations that we can expect to see. As much as we will all be delighted when staying at home becomes a choice again, our experience of quality time together – or downtime alone – could be the thing that many of us are reluctant to give up.

We all respond to stress in different ways and the coronavirus will make us think differently, so here’s just a few changes I’ll think we’ll see.

Cool, contemporary looks

Some are going to be seeking out über contemporary designs that represent a clean slate, a fresh start. These kitchens, with their roots firmly in the Bauhaus ethos, take clutter free living to a new level – with beautiful clean lines and cubist designs creating calm and consistency in the home. Without visual clutter, peace descends and it is this feeling that could be the calling for many of us. The contemporary design makes a strong statement for anyone that wants to look to the future.

Contemporary classical designs

Styles and trends come and go, but there is something about heart-warming classical designs that keep us hooked. In times of uncertainty, we all want the feel-good factor that comes from past times, but what we don’t want is old fashioned functionality.

While we love the look of period design, we are not slaves to tradition and so the period look is simply a time of pure, classical design, with detailing that creates balance and harmony. The pandemic has made us all feel unsafe and the traditional style kitchen with modern technology and natty functionality will be exactly what some people will need in  order to inject that feeling of security into the family home.

Fast forward

One of the likely results of this experience is a real shift towards designs that can accommodate the needs of the multi-generational family. We will no doubt be traumatised and scarred by the vulnerability of the elderly. It’s a fair assumption that our values and attitude to family will change and, as such, we may adopt a much more multi-generational approach. It’s a shift that has adapted easily to the bathroom space and the kitchen is where we expect to see the biggest change.

Storage

With home deliveries on the increase, storage has become crucial. Organisation is the key to harmony and, even in the largest kitchen, not having enough storage creates chaos. With a bit of luck, we will all continue to support local businesses with ongoing deliveries, so the importance of having a place for everything will go higher up the want list than before.

Less open plan, more multi plan

There is only so much space sharing we can cope with, so expect a fundamental shift in the way that space is divided.

Adaptable spaces

From working to schooling, many kitchens were simply not prepared. Expect to see a rise in demand for drop downs, pull out and tuck away solutions. We need adaptability, a space for everything and potential for anything,

Larders

While we hope that we will never have to witness people fight over loo paper again, we are likely to want to be more prepared. Additionally, larders make us feel safe.

Utility rooms

There will undoubtedly be increasing demand for utility rooms and for smaller spaces and utility solutions. This can be another room or creative planning but we are all going to be crying out for more functionality.

The potential for longer term impact is huge and at this point, it’s simply impossible to predict accurately.

Right now, the very concept of normal is off the table, and this is the very best time for designers to play with new designs and novel materials. When you admire those curved fronts in contemporary design, the roots lie in the bent ply furniture designs that came from austerity and post-war material shortages. Yes, design really is ingenious.

The last 100 years has witnessed man-made, political, financial and natural disasters and history shows they often rub shoulders. We have experienced seismic social changes between sex, class and income, and seen massive change in the way we work.

The one consistent is the speed in which ingenuity can change the trajectory of disaster. The future is there because we are currently making it happen.

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