Americans are eager for a fresh start, and one way we’re scratching the itch is through remodeling our living space. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, homeowners focused on upgrading outdoor spaces in 2020; but this year, the Association predicts kitchens will steal the spotlight.
We spoke to an interior designer with an eye-catching portfolio and a top real estate agent with more than a decade in the business to confirm 2021’s hottest trends in kitchen design, including the fixtures and features buyers love most.
1. Cabinets make room for dark tones
In the last decade, white has been the color of choice for kitchens across the country. But in 2021, we’re craving something bolder and even blacker.
Moody hues like matte black, navy, and forest and olive greens dominate the design space, giving homeowners the creative liberty to play with color and express their unique taste. Warm, earthy tones are especially en vogue, as evidenced by Behr’s 2021 Color Trends.
Despite this shift to the dark side, Mario Avalos, a top agent in Miami, Florida, says white isn’t gone yet. He suggests that homeowners preparing to sell opt for a lighter color palette to attract a broader base. “White countertops … or white cabinetry … makes it so much easier to sell,” says Avalos. “The developers that I work with, that’s been their cookie-cutter kitchen, and buyers love it.”
White kitchens continue to serve as a blank slate for buyers, allowing them to easily envision themselves in the space. But if you’re home for the long haul and love the darker look, consider painting your cabinets a green-gray like Royal Orchid or a dramatic shade like Broadway.
2. Invite nature in with natural woods
In recent years, design elements that draw the outdoors in are gaining ground. Oregon-based interior designer Molly Kidd of Light & Dwell shares that designers and homeowners alike are selecting natural wood finishes for cabinetry, flooring, and furniture in the kitchen.
“Wood tones are coming back,” Kidd comments. However, the natural wood we’re loving isn’t your mom’s honey oak cabinets. Instead, designers are sticking with softer hues for a minimal aesthetic. “White oak, in particular, is really popular right now,” says Kidd, who incorporated light woods throughout her recent Wolverine Drive project, from the kitchen island to the bathroom cabinets, and even the stairs.
White oak also pairs perfectly with other organic elements like rattan furniture and fiddle leaf figs. To upgrade your kitchen on a budget, sand and refinish your old oak cabinets with a light stain. For an elevated, minimalist look, ditch the upper cabinet doors in favor of open shelving.
3. Table lamps add to the ambiance
Oversized pendants have become a focal point for many modern kitchens, but in 2021 Kidd expects a different lighting form to take center stage.
“Absolutely loving lamps in the kitchen right now,” says Kidd, who uses lamps as an added layer of mood lighting in not only her designs, but in her own kitchen, as well.
“A lot of times … I’ll just have my lamp on because it’s just even more subtle. There’s a little more ambiance.”
Since lamps are affordable and easy to “install,” they’re a simple alternative to some hardwire lighting upgrades for the homeowners who want a fresh look without the hassle. Incorporate lamps in your kitchen with a table lamp on a large island or a lantern on a small stack of cookbooks. Kidd’s current favorites include this ocean-inspired Toulon Table Lamp from McGee & Co., as well as this vintage Terracotta Turkish Jar Lamp from Rejuvenation.
4. Quartz is king
Granite enjoyed a two-decade reign as the most popular kitchen countertop material, but quartz has taken the crown in recent years.
A 2020 survey reveals that 40% of homeowners favor quartz countertops for their kitchen renovation. Consider the perks, and it’s no wonder granite is losing its edge.
First of all, granite is a natural stone mined from distant countries, while quartz is an engineered alternative, made of 90% ground quartz and 10% resins. Consequently, quartz offers a more consistent color and pattern than its granite cousin — a desirable quality for homeowners seeking countertops with a uniform look. In addition, since quartz is manufactured as opposed to quarried in slabs, it’s an appealing option for eco-conscious individuals.
Finally, granite can stain if you don’t seal it properly, but quartz is nonporous, which means liquids like wine and coffee won’t seep into your counters. “Quartz is what I recommend a lot for clients that are really worried about durability or staining or anything like that,” notes Kidd.
Whether you commit to quartz or stick with granite, Avalos recommends choosing a countertop with light tones, such as whites and off-whites, to appeal to the majority of buyers.
5. Appliances blend in or go bold
With so many paints to sample and hardware to compare, it’s easy to forget that your appliances can also complement or clash with your design aesthetic.
“I definitely try to use paneled appliances, when possible,” Kidd shares. Paneled appliances, also called integrated appliances, blend in with the surrounding cabinetry to create a clean, seamless look. You can purchase custom panel-ready appliances to match from leading brands like Bosch.
When it comes to stoves, however, Kidd takes the opposite approach. French ranges featuring details like brass accents and royal blue faces are a hit among homeowners seeking a luxury, vintage look. “It’s kind of the jewelry … of your kitchen,” comments Kidd, who is partial to the Café line from GE Appliances, which allows buyers to customize their appliances’ finishes.
If you want to play it safe, Avalos says that homebuyers still love stainless steel. In a recent HomeLight survey, 75% of top agents agree that stainless steel is the most in-demand finish among buyers. “Stainless steel is … the bread and butter,” Avalos comments. “You can’t go wrong [with that] type of appliance.”
6. Brass is back in a new way
If you’re picturing 1980s Kohler faucets and ornate chandeliers, let us put your mind at ease. The brass of 2021 is a fresh take on an old trend, swapping the dated polish look for a brushed or satin finish. Current brass fixture and hardware styles are often minimal and sleek for a modern feel.
Inspired by European designs, Kidd has used brass accents for several projects, including her own kitchen, which features a gorgeous unlacquered brass faucet shipped straight from England. To incorporate brass finishes in your kitchen, steer clear of the polished finish and consider blending the brass with another metal finish, such as a matte black. Upgrading kitchen knobs and drawer pulls with a contemporary option like these simple knobs from Pottery Barn is an easy, inexpensive way to start. Or, try an elevated lighting fixture, such as this Princeton Sconce or Ormandy Rod Pendant from Light & Dwell designs.
However, if you’re preparing to sell your home, brass may be too bold for some buyers, and it may not blend well with your home’s architectural style. Take a look at local listings to see what’s common for properties in your area.
7. Large islands are the center of attention
According to HomeLight’s Q4 2020 Top Agent Insights Report, a new island is the top kitchen upgrade for 2021, with 62% of agents claiming this is buyers’ most-wanted feature.
Perhaps it’s the lingering preference for open living spaces or a longing for pre-pandemic parties that’s driving this desire. No matter the motive, a large, central island is sure to make buyers swoon. “Everybody wants that, and the bigger, the better,” says Avalos.
Step up your sophistication with a two-tier island or showcase your creative side with a colored island that stands out from the surrounding cabinets. According to Houzz’s 2020 Kitchen Trends Survey, 39% of homeowners ranked gray and blue as top choices for contrasting island cabinets. Consider Benjamin Moore’s Wythe Blue for a coastal vibe and contrast the pop of color with a neutral countertop, like this versatile Blanco Zeus quartz from Michigan Kitchen Distributors.
8. Storage: homeowners can’t get enough
Islands may be buyers’ most-wanted kitchen amenity of 2021, but walk-in pantries (62%), and “plenty of drawer and cabinet storage” (57%) are not far behind in our survey. In the wake of stay-at-home orders and quarantine constraints, homeowners are filling their cabinets with air fryers, toaster ovens, stand mixers, and more — and they’re running out of room fast.
“It’s ridiculous how much storage people want,” Avalos remarks. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), four out of every five buyers consider a “walk-in pantry” a desirable or essential feature for their future home. “The stuff you use once a year you need to store somewhere,” adds Avalos.
9. Mix up your metals
“People are … doing a different finish on their hardware and then a different finish on their faucet and then matching their hardware finish to their lighting finish,” Kidd shares. “It’s not all matchy-matchy anymore in the kitchen, which is fun.”
With brass on the rise, homeowners can mix the weathered metal with a matte black or even a brushed nickel to add some depth and drama to their kitchen design. However, to make sure you pull off the mixed metal look well, you’ll want to follow some simple parameters. Limit yourself to two or three options, using black or dark metal as a base, and ensure that your selections aren’t too similar.
Header Image Source: (Toa Heftiba / Unsplash)