Designer    Feature 19 Apr 2017

Contract kitchens can be highly demanding, but their prospects are looking positive

Good value will always be important for developers when specifying produced for their projects. But this should not be confused with a desire for a ‘low price at all costs’ approach, particularly at the mid/high end of the developer market, where quality finishes and strong design are top of the priority list.

So what are the key trends in the contract kitchen sector right now? Simon Bodsworth, Managing Director at Daval, said: “In terms of the contract furniture market, trends are ultimately being dictated by three fundamental factors: design, quality and price. Property developers and housebuilders want to know they are investing in a quality product to allow them to take a ‘fit and forget’ approach and engage with untapped consumers at the higher-end of the market. Multipurpose furniture is therefore dominating the contract kitchen arena and demonstrating its worth by maximising storage capacity, capitalising on budgets and amplifying the wants of the end user to deliver a more bespoke design brief.

In terms of design, flexible spaces are key. “Hidden interior design has continued to go from strength to strength, using furniture to conceal utilities and maximise storage in more commercially-led properties,” said Bodsworth. “I believe this is a direct result of the new design and processes being seen across handleless kitchen concepts where streamline cabinetry, flush fitting worktops and drawers are now almost expected. Consequently, furniture that is luxurious and non- specific to a certain room has been evident across contract kitchen specification and I believe its ability to blur room boundaries and deliver bespoke requirements so customary these days, is the reason.”

Research from The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors shows that homes today have shrunk ‘dramatically’ over the last 90 years, from 1,647 sq ft to 925 sq ft. Bodsworth added: “I find that statistic a true representation of the contract kitchen market, where maximising space and providing ample storage solutions have become as equally important as overall design and aesthetics.”

Although a slowdown in housebuilding did have a knock-on effect for the contract kitchen sector, some levels of the business saw a less dramatic impact than others. Dieter Berends, Senior Designer at kitchen design studio Urban Interior, said: “We supply high-end kitchens to the contract market and it’s noticeable that, despite the economic instability over the last eight years or so, the upper segment of the market has been less affected than the ’more affordable’ end.

“I think that there are other growth factors to consider too; including economic, as those with money are usually less affected by financial pressures; emotional, where customers have an allegiance to a brand; lifestyle, where there is a desire to stay in fashion (the rise in popularity of open plan for instance); but perhaps most importantly, is the improved marketing by housing developers who have greatly improved the desirability of their dwellings in the press and with direct mail. They now recognise that consumers want branded products and branded kitchens sell houses.”

This greater understanding of the benefits that an enhanced specification can bring demands a similarly re-tuned approach to the developer-supplier relationship. Chris Hellaby, Senior Design Consultant at ALNO Contracts, said: “Developers are bringing us into the process a lot earlier, before a main contractor is appointed. This allows us to become more involved in the design process, contributing and sharing with developers our expert design solutions and best practices from our first-hand experience of the contract kitchen industry.

“Interior designers and architects are now openly discussing their ideas with us, allowing us to form a partnership. We are being brought far more overall concepts for buildings where every room, and every piece of furniture, is related to the next. Gone are the days of blanket installations of endless white kitchens – now it’s much more about a creating an overall vision for the property and selling a complete design experience.”

For kitchen specialists working on contract business, the kitchen has to viewed from the developers perspective of course, and their focus is not solely on one room. Jason Grinton, UK & Ireland Business Manager at Pronorm, said: “Designing kitchens for the contract market requires a ‘whole dwelling’ approach, working out what will appeal to a broad church of purchasers, because there is no hard and fast rule of who buys what these days.

“The top end kitchen trend at the moment is for deep colours and dark woodgrains and this certainly gives high end developers something to differentiate their product with. However, mid brown/grey colours and woodgrains combine fashion and longevity and will appeal to a more diverse range of customers.”

Graeme Smith, Senior Designer at PWS, added: “A key trend in the contract market, with regard to kitchen furniture, continues to be the rise and rise of linear design, with a strong leaning towards heritage and honesty in terms of the style of the door and the materials used. The fusion between contemporary and classic is becoming more evident, with a move to mix different styles and materials to achieve a customized look. Colours vary from neutral greys, both warm and cool, through to richer, deeper tones with vibrant accent colours often used in either the soft furnishings, worktops or accessorisation.”

Open-plan remains the most popular design direction for developers, said Ollie Pearce, Sales Manager at Ashwell Contracts in Hertfordshire: “The market remains reasonably buoyant with a good degree of confidence and increasingly projects favour an open- plan layout including kitchen, dining area and very often a snug. There’s a growing demand for future-proofing and longevity and we are seeing a greater need for timeless designs and colour schemes, such as the PWS 1909 collection, coupled with an increase in accessible storage.

“In projects where the footprint is more compact, mid-height storage is popular. This is not only more space efficient in a smaller space, but ergonomically this position is more accessible than having to reach to a full-height larder and in a compact kitchen, midway storage can still offer a generous amount of space.”

Matt Phillips, Head of UK Operations at Rotpunkt UK, believes that to be successful in the contract market, kitchen manufacturers have to get many elements right including reliable supply and a competitive pricing structure, adding that without a user- friendly, tailored service they will not be able to meet developer specific needs.

“For that reason, it is all about creating a concept that is individual in design, practical in terms of layout and technology and most of all, long-lasting,” he explained. “With the emphasis being on quality of material, design and manufacture, the latest contract kitchen trends are lending themselves to an eclectic mix of materials, finishes and textures.”

To answer the demand for mixed material kitchens, Rotpunkt has introduced several new finishes for 2017 including the laminate Zerox Sherwood-Bronx, Jewel Pearl Copper and Jewel Pearl Chrome. Each of these new finishes presents a raw blend of wood, metal and matt/polished lacquers to come together and create one balanced scheme.

Phillips added: “In such a competitive market, it is the expectation that premium manufacturers can guarantee a high degree of individualism for property developers. State-of-the-art techniques, traditional brand values and investment in continued R&D are at an all-time high, seeing new processes and technologies come to the fore and completely revolutionising how the contract kitchen market is approaching kitchen design.”

So although challenging, the contract market is well worth the effort for manufacturers and kitchen suppliers alike. Steve Holgate, Director at Xey UK, says that it is incredibly important to the Spanish brand. “Our experience supplying kitchens to the UK developer market allows us to form a tailored service that can meet specific needs. The service that kitchen manufacturers provide is equally as important to the housebuilder as the kitchen itself which is why we are proud to offer such a complete service. That said, the product has to be right too, able to appeal to large developers or those who build smaller but with higher specification.

“With recent announcements from the government of ambitious targets for new builds over the next few years combined with the steady growth in the contract market, I feel very optimistic about the future of this area of kitchen design.”

And yet with that optimism comes a realistic understanding of the complexities of this part of the industry, a factor that demands a close working relationship and flexible approach in order to ensure a positive outcome. Daval’s Bodsworth added: “A transparent partnership between the developer, architect, supplier and manufacturer is paramount if all parties involved want to result in a pro table, risk-free and true outcome. Open-dialogue is key and should be implemented from conception: allowing the customer full disclosure on design, price, logistics and install.”

Pronorm |
Published in Designer Kitchen & Bathroom Magazine