Tastes change over time and what we liked in our home a decade ago may not be what we like now. Our lifestyles change as the things we use and need on a regular basis change. Consider, for example, that 10 years ago, the first iPad had just been released, Instagram was still a newborn social media platform, and the Roomba was brand new on the market. As our world evolves with the new, so too do our lifestyles and environments. Our kitchens are no exception. We spoke with Neal’s Designer Cyndi Kohler, who has been designing Cincinnati area kitchens for more than two decades, to discover the big and little design choices that make a kitchen feel new now. Here are 12 features she highlighted to achieve a current design in your kitchen in 2023.
1. Include natural wood accents in all-white kitchen designs
White kitchens have been a popular option for close to the last 10 years and there’s no indication that won’t be true for more years ahead, especially in the Midwest. Kohler notes, however, that a more current take is to include some natural or stained wood accents, cabinetry, or shelving to contrast against the white to add dimension to the space. This is a simple way to meet a growing desire to include more natural materials in our homes.
2. Use versatile colors you enjoy to customize your kitchen
If an all-white kitchen isn’t on your wish list, Kohler notes that many other modern-feeling kitchens use a variety of neutral or organic colors as well. These days, there’s no “one color to rule them all”. Shades of light or dark gray, greens, blues, tans, and taupes are all fair game in current kitchen designs when used in moderation and with intention.
3. Walk-in pantries are cool again
Kohler recalls that ten years ago, she was typically removing walk-in pantries from kitchen designs, but in the past few years, they’ve made a dramatic comeback. Though pantry cabinets, (tall cabinets with shelves or pull-out drawers) will always have a place in many kitchen layouts, when there’s room, Kohler is more likely to recommend the walk-in variety now. Modern walk-in pantries are more than just wire shelves in a corner closet, though. Pantries that feel new in 2023 have well-designed shelving and may even function as supplemental kitchens where small appliances are used. Kohler also suggests looking out for hidden pantry rooms- a trendy option that feels very 21st century.
4. Appliances are considered design accessories
Stainless steel appliances are the go-to option for any kitchen designed in the last decade but beyond that, they were rarely considered an integral part of the kitchen’s style. In recent years, though, manufacturers have done such a great job of keeping up with current style trends and consumer needs that ranges, fridges, ovens, and dishwashers are able to bring a huge boost of style to the mix. The appliances of today have optional color finishes, glass-fronted doors, and beautifully-designed displays or controls. Opting for one of these newer models will definitely make your kitchen look and feel like a part of the times.
5. Backsplash design leans toward a minimalist look
As our shared preferences for trends and styles shift, Kohler has seen a movement away from installing backsplashes with complex tile schemes. Instead, new kitchens will more often use a single tile shape or color, a mosaic tile mix with a monochromatic palette, printed or textured tiles that create uniform patterns, or even using stone slabs instead of tiles. All these point to the backsplash now being considered the glue that holds a kitchen design together rather than a focal point meant to stand out on its own.
6. Bigger islands work better for all the kitchen’s functions
Kitchens of the past several decades have tended to be the hub of the home where daily life happens. Ten years ago, Kohler may have addressed this by using a layered counter on the island for seating or making sure to leave room for a kitchen table, but that’s changed now. Kitchens now favor large, single-level, rectangular islands with plenty of space for seating and for working. Even if a large island may create a slightly longer path to a fridge or sink, that’s less important than having an incredibly functional and versatile center point for the family to use however they need- a design change that truly reflects our attitudes about how we live together with others now.
7. Cabinetry design actually accounts for your small appliances
The idea of the small, countertop appliance isn’t new, but for the longest time, kitchen designers would provide one of two basic options – leave it on the counter, or put it into a lower cabinet with all the others. Kohler says that isn’t tenable anymore. Modern cooking uses a wide variety of small gadgets and appliances that make our lives easier. It only makes sense that the modern kitchen would adjust to make using and storing them easier too. Kohler highlights large-scale appliance garages arranged at waist to eye level as a fresh solution in new kitchens. These cabinets offer wide and deep shelving to hold appliances in neat rows that you don’t have to lean down and sort through.
8. Microwave drawers rule kitchen convenience
Initially used in universal design as an ergonomic alternative to the standard appliance, microwave drawers have overtaken the market as the best option for most kitchens. Not only are the features of this new type of appliance easier to use and keep clean, but designers also enjoy the ability to install it in a base cabinet where it impacts the eye-level look of the kitchen far less. If you only consider one modern appliance upgrade in your remodel for a new-feeling kitchen, this should probably be it.
9. Kitchen designs are less ornate overall
Even in the most traditional homes, Kohler states that overall design ideals for kitchens have steered toward more simplicity. Globally, modern design (as in contemporary style) is taking over, and though here in Cincinnati we’re not seeing that trend as much, our mindset when it comes to design has made highly ornate detailing, trim, and hardware less common in the kitchen. Kohler points at cabinetry with narrow frames, fewer curves, cleaner lines, and a pervasive influence of mid-century modern design as being hallmarks of current kitchen style in general.
10. Interior cabinet accessories win the organization game
There are whole industries surrounding home organization, and there are a lot of products made specifically for kitchens. These extras are often needed to make sense of cabinet interiors that otherwise feel like a trip to the wild west—so much open space with no laws to keep it under control. Kitchen designers in the past few years have come to realize, though, that homeowners can be saved this hassle by having organizational systems literally built into their kitchen design. Up-to-date kitchens will now utilize dividers, peg systems, interior drawers, and special holders to create extremely functional and useful cabinet interior designs from the start, so you don’t have to figure all that out on your own later.
11. New cabinet lighting is easier and more cost-effective
At a certain point in the last few years, designers realized that though cabinets could be outfitted with wiring and fittings for mounted puck lights inside or under cabinets, there was a much simpler and more cost-saving option—LED rope or tape lighting. This type of lighting does a much better job of creating a wash of light in an area that is soft and not too bright, perfect for under cabinets or inside display cupboards. It’s also much better on energy usage and produces less heat while on, which are modern-minded considerations.
12. Drink bars are given more importance in the space
Not that Kohler wants to suggest that drinking at home has been given more importance, but she has noted that current kitchen designs that include a bar area are now likely to make that a focal point more than a side bonus. With our changed attitudes toward socializing just in these past few years, it’s no surprise that we’re more likely to opt for bar designs that make entertaining at home a bit nicer. Kohler points out that homeowners are proud to feature their curated bourbon or wine collections as displays, and the modern kitchen bar has risen to the occasion.