Eye Candy Meets Practicality

Since its earliest days, the Kitchen & Bath Show has been drawing multifamily specialists who know how to connect the dots between residential housing trends and the apartment market. Here are some of the highlights, including a mix of practical and sexy products in a range of applications.

Cosentino featured Dekton and a new bathroom cabinet designed by Daniel Germani. Photo by Diana Mosher.
Cosentino featured Dekton and a new bathroom cabinet designed by Daniel Germani. Photo by Diana Mosher.

Unless you’re operating in a market with limited multifamily housing stock, plain vanilla apartment communities just don’t cut it. It’s the “memorable moment” either in person or on Instagram that ultimately converts prospects to residents.

It might be a bold accent wall in the lobby, a Kohler “chromatherapy” bathtub in the clubhouse spa area or an unusual backsplash in the kitchen of the model unit. Frequently, these admired elements are subtly branded and part of a larger marketing strategy that melds interior and graphic design.

Since its earliest days the Kitchen & Bath Show (KBIS) has been drawing multifamily specialists who know how to connect the dots between residential housing trends and the apartment market. Last week in Orlando, they could see the eye candy at KBIS while also attending NAHB’s International Builders Show (IBS).

Now together under one roof, IBS and KBIS comprise Design and Construction Week with a mix of practical and sexy products in a range of applications from building greener apartment buildings to Toto’s self-cleaning toilets and the newest collections by Artistic Tile and Ann Sacks.

Unusual finishes can create visual impact, which is especially important when marketing smaller units. “Populations keep growing, so we’ll continue designing small with a focus on space management,” said Karl Champley, a DIY television network personality and Australian master builder at a panel discussion “New & Next in Kitchen & Bath” moderated by Jaime Derringer, founder of Design Milk blog who hosted three days of programming with Modenus founder Veronika Miller at the Design Milk X Modenus Talks Lounge presented by German appliance manufacturer Liebherr.

Small spaces

“You have to be clever in small spaces,” added Champley. Swinging doors take up more space than sliding doors or pocket doors. If you install a chalk board surface on a door, the surface becomes more valuable in a cramped apartment. “Barn doors will be popular for the next 20 years,” he predicted. “In Australia, toe-kick cabinets and drawers free up [wasted space] near the floor, and we also bring cabinets up to the ceiling.”

Apartment-size appliances generally cost more than their 30-inch counterparts, and the options have been limited. But that’s changing. “In California and especially San Francisco, there is a boom in the smaller-sized appliances for high rises,” said Josh Rettich, senior account manager, LG Signature Kitchen Suite. “We’re launching 24-inch products that will fit that niche. LG already has those smaller-size products for the European market.” They’re currently being restyled for the U.S. market.

Miele’s 18-inch dishwasher is currently the go-to for many U.S. apartment developers. An alternative to stainless steel, its new graphic gray is one of the most popular colors in the collection. Pair it with budget-friendly white subway tile and a concrete backsplash for an urban loft look. In urban environments, apartment residents crave greenery in the kitchen, so herb gardens (or succulents) are a brilliant finishing touch in model apartments. Versatile subway tile can also be paired with gold or the newest “rose gold” fixtures and tiny black pendant lighting for a luxe industrial aesthetic.

Lighten up

In luxury apartment homes, kitchens are becoming much more streamlined with appliances hidden behind cabinetry or incorporated into furniture. This desire for minimalism is also extending to lighting. With their thin profile, LED strips are replacing bulky fixtures and revolutionizing lighting design. Expect to see more lighting incorporated into walls and ceilings via coves and cut-out slots rather than bulky fixtures.

In the bathroom, LEDs are now incorporated into vanity mirrors making sconces optional. Steam showers introduce a high sensory, spa feeling. Like kitchens (where steam cooking is taking off), bathrooms are relying more on technology to reduce water consumption. Hands-free faucets and foot-operated functions comply with universal design tenets making the smart home accessible for all with accommodations that support aging in place.

Get smart

Another product making waves is Kohler’s Verdera Voice Lighted Bathroom Mirror with Amazon Alexa built-in. A centerpiece of the smart bathroom of the future, it can pair with other Kohler products that utilize KOHLER Konnect.

The smart home was also a focus at IBS where Allegion introduced Schlage Custom Door Hardware—a keyless, design-focused line that helps multifamily developers and property managers differentiate themselves visually while also navigating security and operations challenges by transitioning to keyless locks.

According to Allegion, Schlage’s recent study on Millennial renters revealed that, on average, they would pay about a fifth more in rent for smart home features, 45 percent of renters feel that physical door keys will be obsolete in the next 10 years, and 44 percent of Millennials would give up a parking space to live in a smart apartment.

Likewise, Schlage has research into Baby Boomer trends including insights like: 32 percent of Baby Boomers currently use smart devices, and 49 percent are interested in using smart devices in the future. And while only 7 percent of Baby Boomer respondents using smart devices currently use smart locks, 17 percent of total respondents said they are interested in using smart locks in the future.