Get a grip

28 Jun, 13

Handleless kitchens are not just for the stylish city dweller. They’re now becoming a more mainstream choice says Philippa Turrell

“Nobody buys a kitchen with handles anymore”, reported an interior designer in the Metro national newspaper, recently. While this may not be entirely accurate for all kitchen sales, it shows city dwellers have accepted the trend of handleless furniture. But the trend has also begun to ripples outwards. However, it has only been as recent as the last 36 months that handleless furniture has become a popular choice. Marketing director of JJO, Richard Proctor comments: “As a design concept, they’ve been around since the 1960s, but as recently as three years ago, when we added several new handleless designs, they met with a weak reception from many of our trade customers, so much so we questioned the wisdom of our confidence in launching them!” Now these handleless furniture sales are experiencing considerable growth and in fact three handleless doors form 14% of JJO sales. And their sales have been reflected throughout the kitchen furniture market. Tony McCarthy, commercial director of Crown Imperial, has found equal success, stating: “From a standing start, they have grown substantially and will be 60% up year on year.”

At the centre of this sales explosion for handleless furniture is still the high gloss white kitchen, as it remains a safe option in terms of design choice and interior fashion longevity. Jason Grinton, UK & Ireland business manager for Pronorm, comments: “White gloss continues as the colour of choice for a handleless kitchen because it offers a very pure design aesthetic. It also offers the perfect canvas for layering with light and contrasting materials such as glass, stainless steel and stone, all of which keep it very contemporary without detracting from the simplicity of the look.” However, its dominance is being challenged by warmer neutrals such as creams, beiges, olives, browns and the latest décor of grey. Product manager at Hill’s Panel Products Mark Smith says: “White high gloss is still a very strong player in this market; however, we are seeing a steady shift towards softer, warmer colours, with consumers tending to opt for more earthy, natural tones such as creams, greys and off-whites.”

Yet, at the recent LivingKitchen exhibition in Cologne, you could be forgiven that the neutral plain gloss palette could be on the way out, as nature seemed to intervene. Timber veneers and wood effects, such as grained laminates were on display and these were joined by bold splashes of colour from orange and yellow, through to blue, green, red and even pink! However, in the UK, industry experts believe these decors will be accents to neutrals. Jason Grinton of Pronorm comments: “Colour blocking and trendy accents are coming through but I think will remain a side show on the handleless scene.”

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So if the majority of the kitchen is to remain white, with little detailing, how can kitchen designers help consumers differentiate between entry, mid and high price furniture? Bob Marsden of Nolte comments: “Regrettably, at first glance, the less discerning consumer will be hard pushed to know the difference.” But in terms of door quality, suppliers suggest designers point out the shine of the surface. Bob Marsden of Nolte continues: “Entry level products could show ‘orange peel’ effects in the surface finish as well as rippling and uneven surfaces. At the top end the surface finish and edge details should be perfect. Mid-market products are somewhere between the two.”

The handleless design also gives rise to designers being able to differentiate with their own skills, combining finishes and furniture units to create stylish and bespoke living spaces. Richard Proctor of JJO explains: An absence of handles – a design option in its own right – paved the way for the addition of a fourth dimension into kitchen planning, namely creating the need for shape which in itself contributes to the sight line. Lines can be broken by the use of varying heights of both base and wall units to add interest and practical housing.”

And the handleless look is only going to increase – as sales find their natural level and become a standard choice rather than something unusual. Certainly the ‘expiry date’ for the fashion is far is still a long way off.