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Kitchens go outdoors and bathrooms go zen

Trends often influence buying decisions, and although products like clothing are more subject to trends than durable goods like ceramic tile, the way we decorate our homes is always evolving — no place more so than in the kitchen and bathroom.

Elements such as cabinetry, flooring, countertops, appliances, lighting and hardware will last for decades, or more, but because kitchens and baths are more frequently renovated than other rooms, manufacturers are always presenting new colors, materials and technologies.

To keep up with the constant flurry of new introductions, scads of TV shows, entire television networks, magazines and websites are dedicated to tracking "what's hot."

But often the concepts and products that are trotted out as trendy by the many national voices bear little resemblance to what people are actually doing locally, and generally ignore the regional differences defined by factors like the density and diversity of an area's population, its history and other influences.

By painting trends with a broad brush, these differences are often slighted. But as the editor of ChesapeakeHome, I get to peek inside a lot of houses in town and get a perspective on local trends. So instead of relying on reports that would generalize what's in style in such diverse locations as Los Angeles, Miami and New York, I can pinpoint what's popular in our region. In ChesapeakeHome's recently released annual Kitchen & Bath Guide, we identify these seven trends:

Contemporary in the bath In a region where contemporary architecture and interior decor is uncommon, the one place in the house people are most likely to go modern is in the bath. Master bathrooms, particularly, are seldom seen by guests, and offer homeowners a place to express their modern side. Separate from the rest of the house and typically accessible only through the master bedroom, the master bath doesn't necessarily need to "go with" the rest of the house, and a sleek contemporary scheme lends itself well to a clean, spa-like atmosphere.

Double-thick stone Stone counters are classic and they last forever. They are also a natural resource and can be costly, so for decades, laminate counters were the most common builder standard. Today, savvy builders throughout the region are offering more "luxurious" houses that often include stone countertops in kitchens and a baths. To differentiate the look of custom kitchens from what is becoming the new builder standard, designers are mixing and matching several different stone types, patterns, and colors — many even double up on the thicknesses of slabs, which are often finished with detailed edge profiles.

Eco-friendly options There is a global movement toward environmentally responsible manufacturing and design. Every year, green options for the kitchen and bath have increased geometrically, and now homeowners in this area are asking designers and builders what they can do to be green. With formaldehyde-free cabinetry made from sustainable resources, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, green countertops and flooring, and water-saving toilets, faucets and showerheads that still deliver high performance, being green is easier than ever and no longer requires a sacrifice to style or functionality.

Laundry hubs Because laundry rooms include plumbing, appliances, cabinetry and countertops, lumping them with kitchens and baths seems appropriate — more so today than ever before. Having some time ago relocated from the basement to tonier locales in main living spaces, laundry spaces are quickly becoming hubs of homes, with designs on par with the kitchen or bath. Often combined with a mudroom space that serves as a family entry to the home or located upstairs close to bedrooms, laundry rooms frequently include storage cubbies, phone and laptop charging stations, and counters for folding.

Natural light/skylights Kitchens and baths need good lighting. And because much of the time we spend using these rooms is during daylight hours, maximizing natural light is key. Large windows are common, but overhead light from skylights is more popular in these two rooms than in any others in the house. Bathrooms in particular benefit from skylights because it's an easy way to bring in natural light without sacrificing privacy.

Outdoor Kitchens In the past 10 years, we've seen a national trend toward "nesting" or spending leisure time at home in lieu of traveling. The down economy has multiplied this factor as more people aren't comfortable spending discretionary income on trips or even dining out. Combine that with nine months of nice outdoor weather here in Maryland (usually), and what emerges is an emphasis on creating outdoor kitchens — getaway destinations at home complete with stone countertops, multiple cooking surfaces, refrigeration, running water, accent lighting, and comfortable lounge and dining furniture surrounded by lush landscapes.

Zen Fusion Like the outdoor kitchen, a Zen-inspired, spa-like bath has emerged as a way to capture the essence of a luxury getaway. So many resorts are designed to be restful, relaxing and serene — qualities homeowners don't want to give up when the vacation is over. In bathrooms, especially, incorporating Asian decorative elements and materials is helping to create a luxury spa experience at home.

Dennis Hockman is the editor of ChesapeakeHome magazine. He can be reached at

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