The German city of Cologne is rapidly becoming the place to watch when it comes to cutting-edge design. Last week I was honored to attend Cologne's 2011 Internationale Möbelmesse (IMM) design show. A highlight was a kitchen-specific section called the Living Kitchen — the largest kitchen design trade show I've ever attended. As somebody who's been to more kitchen design trade shows than I can count, that's saying something.
I was one of six U.S.-based design bloggers brought to IMM and the Living Kitchen by Blanco, a German sink and faucet manufacturer. What I saw is nothing like what I know is going on in the design scene in the U.S. As a kitchen and bath designer, I'm curious to see how quickly these trends and ideas end up in the U.S.
The photos in this ideabook are images I photographed as I walked around the show Jan. 20-21. There are also some show-provided images that help make the points my own photography can't.
As you look at the photos, resist the urge to reject the ideas outright. European kitchen designers are solving the same problems any designers are, but many of them come up with unique solutions that will end up being used by the rest of the world eventually. Can you see any of these designs working in your own home?
Kitchens that integrate into the rest of the home are big — huge — in Europe right now. Every kitchen seemed designed specifically to blend into the rooms that surround it.
Can you see this level of kitchen integration ever working and becoming popular in the US and Canada?
Without a doubt, the biggest trends I saw in Cologne last week were textured, naturally-stained wood and skinny, skinny counter tops. Count on that skinny counter top trend showing up in the US and the rest of the world very quickly.
In two solid days of walking around the show, I could have counted on one hand the number of 3-centimeter "American" counters I saw. There was very little granite but a lot of laminate and a porcelain counter material that's unavailable in North America.
These 1-centimeter skinny counters stood out because they're in such stark opposition to what we see in the U.S. and Canada these days.
What would it take to get you to embrace the 1-centimeter counter?
This sink and faucet combo by Blanco shows something we never see in North America. This is a ceramic sink undermounted in a laminate counter.
The conventional wisdom in North America is that we can't undermount a sink in a laminate counter. European designers do it all the time, and it looks terrific.
Europeans use laminates in kitchens in ways their North American counterparts never would. It makes sense though. Laminates are sustainable and long-lasting and they look terrific when they're used properly.
The current European version of the Great American White Kitchen is a white-and-wood-tone laminated kitchen. What do you think of this white-and-wood-grain combo?
Most European kitchen sinks have integrated drainboards. Drainboards are a a feature that's utterly missing from North American sinks. Why do you suppose that is?
This mirror-finish counter and integrated sink from Blanco is what's called a floating counter. In a floating counter, the 1-centimeter counter sits on a smaller deck to enhance the effect of the skinny counter.
This is the exact opposite of everything we see in the U.S. right now. I applaud this direction and I wonder how it will play in this side of the Atlantic.
Another interesting think I noticed in Germany last week is that most kitchen sinks are drop-ins as opposed to the undermounts so popular in the U.S.
In looking at this photo, I see skinny counters, laminate surfaces and a drop-in sink.
Integration is the key to European kitchen design. Large, professional-size appliances were no where to be seen. Every appliance. it seemed, could be folded away and hidden when it wasn't being used. A lot of this comes from the smaller average size of a European home, but not all of it.
A bigger presence of integrated appliances is something I know we'll be seeing more of in North America.
The right wall of this kitchen vignette show sliding doors that make the working parts of this kitchen disappear when they're not in use.
For every integrated kitchen design that included a kitchen table and a sofa, there was at least one that tried to fit against a wall and be beautiful for its own sake. A kitchen this minimal and streamlined is enough to make me want to purge all of my kitchen gear so that I could live with this small space.
This kitchen covers all the bases, from the floating, skinny counters to the integrated appliances on the back wall.
The island in the center of the room is as much a coffee table as it is a kitchen island. Could you ever use an island like this?
This kitchen from the appliance manufacturer Gorenje integrates a refrigerator, two wall ovens, a steam oven, a microwave, a dishwasher, a cooktop and a hood. That's a lot of appliances, but this room doesn't feel at all appliance heavy. What do you think about this level of sleek and minimized appliance integration?
What I found most interesting were the U.S. manufacturers who were at IMM's Living Kitchen and showing new appliances they don't sell in the U.S. This is a stack of built-in appliances from KiitchenAid, a brand made by the Whirlpool corporation. Shown here are a steam oven, a small dishwasher and a wall oven.
Can you see any of these trends ever making it on this side of the Atlantic? I'd welcome them, but then again, I'm a designer. I'm fascinated by all of this and I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of the skinny counter on these shores. What about you?