“Will this look dated in 5 years?” That’s a question I hear a lot – particularly related to kitchen design. It’s, of course, a valid concern, since nobody wants their major investment to become a liability 5 or 10 years later.  

My response to that question is “layered.” There are many factors that contribute to the advice I provide. Let’s “peel that onion” – 

The place I always start is with the client’s goals and intentions. The number-one question relates to short and long-term expectations:  

  • Are you planning your “dream kitchen” in a house you see yourself in for the foreseeable future?  
  • Are you undertaking a needed renovation with the underlying hope of increasing your home’s marketability down the road? I.e., do you feel sure you’ll be moving on at some point? 
  • Are you renovating to sell?  

The reality I often encounter is a bit of a hybrid. This would be clients who are renovating to achieve the kitchen or bath they truly want, but who don’t consider themselves “permanently” committed. I know that feeling well; I bought my house thinking I’d be in it for about 5 years and it’s now 20 years later. That “semi-permanent” outlook has inevitably influenced how much and where I have invested money. That said – I’m happy with the balance I’ve achieved.  

Most people who contact an architect are very invested in the outcome and intend to enjoy it for at least the “short-term” (which is a relative description). This is the cohort I’d like to focus on. When these clients express concern about “trendiness” I feel an important distinction needs to be made. That would be the difference between “trends” and “trendy”.  

Overcoming Design “Paralysis”

Given all the variables and the inability to predict the future, homeowners frequently become stuck when it comes to making the many decisions related to a major renovation. Part of my job is helping clients choose the design direction that will serve them best from a number of perspectives, and for years down the road. Many factors need to be weighed and balanced, including the value of the property and its most prevalent design features as well as the client’s personality and overall budget. 

This is where the trend/trendy analysis can help. Trends are a welcome fact of life when it comes to design. Styles and preferences evolve and change – it would be boring if they didn’t. It’s why there are endless publications devoted to highlighting current and emerging trends.  It’s next to impossible to achieve a kitchen or bath design that is “trend-proof” and I urge clients to not make that their primary goal, because they will deny themselves the satisfaction they might otherwise achieve. 

Mistake #1: Making design decisions based on what might appeal to hypothetical future buyers

This is a mindset that should only apply if you’re renovating to sell. Maybe you’ve dreamed about a contemporary kitchen with minimalist detailing. I would urge you to not instead choose Shaker cabinetry because of its broader appeal.  

 Mistake #2: Over-personalizing major design elements. 

The other end of the spectrum would be creating a space that could only be described as “quirky”. Perhaps you love strong, bright colors. I’d advise using them on painted walls rather than on countertops or cabinetry. However, with (almost) everything design related, there are no hard-and-fast rules.  

Kitchen Design That’s Here To Stay

In terms of kitchen design, the most “trend-proof” approach is warm-white cabinetry (painted wood) with white/grey/black countertops. It’s as timeless as it gets, and easy to live with. A prevalent trend has been to mix in some color, most typically on the kitchen island. We’re now seeing that trend evolve to mixing in natural wood, perhaps by contrasting upper and lower cabinets.  

Kitchen Design That’s Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

We’re entering very subjective territory, but when does design become “trendy”? Can we only identify it in hindsight? To a certain degree that answer is yes, but not entirely. Here’s an example – A current design trend (mentioned above) is more “warmth” and “expressive” materials in kitchens and baths. There are many ways to achieve that, some with more staying power than others. I would argue that the highly patterned tiles that are now prolific (in bathroom design particularly) have become almost instantly trendy. A big tell — they show up in the bathrooms of almost every “house flip” on the market. That doesn’t fully negate their appeal, but I’d urge clients to use them sparingly – maybe a laundry room backsplash or a powder room floor. Likewise, black fittings are having their moment but might not have the longevity of more mainstream metal finishes. 

Finding Design Balance 

A good example of finding balance is the “Row House Renovation” project (renovation & addition) at gormanarchitecture.com The new space is open to adjacent rooms in a traditional rowhouse, so that connection needed to feel natural and not jarring. The primary cabinetry is a shade of white, but strong color was used on the island as well as other built-ins. The client has a strong design sense and wasn’t afraid to make bold finish selections. She also chose a fairly dramatic range hood, and the end effect is a highly personal space with “good bones”. Meaning that it could be updated at some future point, but the primary components have “staying power”.  

Gorman Architecture + Design is here to provide design services that meet clients where they are at, while leading them to an outcome that exceeds their expectations. Good design is about solving problems, being responsible, and inspiring joy.