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Trends to watch at K/BIS

K/BIS TRENDS Variety is key at the Home Depot Design...
Light brass or warm, brushed nickel finishes will be showcased...
BOWLED OVER Vessel sinks are still popular, particularly in the...
KEEPING IT GREEN Trends like the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense...

At the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (K/BIS), one can always see trends from all over the map—classic designs for traditional renovations and ultra-trendy new products that seem to be imported from the future.

Kitchen and bath trends tend to diverge in many different directions, particularly because those two rooms are the most often renovated in the home. But overall, organizers of the K/BIS show point to data that recognizes new pockets of strength in the kitchen and bath market.

“Although the slowdown has affected many of the manufacturers who are deriving much of their sales from new housing, we have found that the remodeling sector has a more promising outlook,” explained show director Cory Smith, vp-kitchen and bath for Nielsen Business Media.

Smith pointed to a market research study conducted for K/BIS that highlights the do-it-for-me category as a source of new strength. While bathroom remodeling projects are projected to fall by 14 percent in 2008, bathroom do-it-for-me projects are expected to grow by 22 percent, according to the data. In all, kitchen and bath do-it-for-me projects are expected to rise by 12 percent in the next year.

The show is slated for April 11 to 13 at McCormick Place in Chicago, with a conference starting one day earlier on April 10. The show has seen an upswing in certain exhibitors, including cabinet-makers, stone surface manufacturers and tile manufacturers, Smith said, because of new exhibits planned in those areas.

“We have introduced a cabinetry pavilion at this year’s show and have seen an increase in the number of manufacturers exhibiting as a result,” he said, adding the show also has introduced a new “Natural Stone and Tile Pavilion.”

Major retailers are honing in on kitchen and bath categories for the new year, particularly with the new interest in do-it-for me projects. Craig Menear, executive vp-merchandising for Home Depot, told company investors Feb. 26 that the company would be focusing on kitchens and bath fixtures as two categories targeted for market share growth in 2008.

At the new Home Depot Design Center in Charlotte, N.C., store manager Melinda Carter said a wide variety of kitchen vignettes and a wall of multicolored Viking range options have catered to the ever-present trend of consumers wanting choice.

“That’s been a long-term thing, that we’ve seen at Expo as well, people wanting more and more choice, especially in color,” Carter said.

At Lowe’s, the past year saw some strength in the kitchen and bath categories. President and COO Larry Stone said in the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call that “In rough plumbing we had success with our clean air and water filtration programs.”

Additionally, Bob Hull, executive vp and CFO at Lowe’s said the company saw strength in fashion plumbing and appliances—two categories that perform ed above average in 2007.

For smaller retailers, the luxury market has proven to be a strong demographic.

Margaret Dean, a senior designer and showroom manager at Design Studio West in La Jolla, Calif., caters to an upscale clientele. She’s noted an upswing in young professionals upgrading their IKEA kitchens in favor of something higherend.

“This concept of the kitchen as the center of the home has been around for a while,” she said. “But we’re seeing it come up with young professionals, entrepreneurs. The medium to high-end market has been pretty steady.”

Another trend she has seen has been in single-basin sinks for kitchens. “Most people use the dishwasher to soak dishes now, so getting rid of the two pieces is just another way to conserve space.”

On the other end of the demographic spectrum, research from data firm Synovate indicates many bath trends have grown “older,” and there have been some notable DIY additions.

George Griffin, vp-multi client group for Synovate, noted some other trends that have been moving up in popularity, according to the firm’s research:

“Walk-in tubs are popping up,” particularly for older consumers—the high-end walk-in bathtubs are primarily geared toward an affluent, 65-and-over demographic.

Showerheads are rising in cost and complexity, Griffin said. The replacement market for showerheads, both from the low and high ends, is trending up.

One-piece toilets have seen an upswing in popularity. The products are marketed as relatively hassle-free DIY bathroom products for the true do-it-yourselfer, he said.

Some familiar trends likely will make their way back to the show floor this year, if the International Builders’ Show is any indication. There, vessel sinks, energy-efficient new appliances and water-saving toilets certified under the Environmental Protection Agency’s new WaterSense program were prominent.

Additionally, while brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze finishes have been popular in the last few years, look for a warmer nickel finish—or, if you prefer, a cooler brass finish—in offerings from Kohler, Moen, Delta, Design House and more.

In deed the kitchen and bath market will bring a whole host of varied trends to the table—after April, we’ll see for certain which of those trends catches the imagination of consumers.