What are developers cooking up in kitchens? James Pilling, senior designer at interior specialist Connections in Design, looks at the growing importance of kitchen design and its relationship with modern lifestyle

The kitchen has grown significantly as a lifestyle space, whether as a place for entertaining or as a “hub” for the family. Developers are becoming more specific with kitchen design and we are seeing more high-tech and time-saving designer appliances. These range from an integrated electronic housing system that switches on the oven or kettle before you get home, to coffee makers, ice makers, a wide range of multi-function hobs and huge American-style fridges.

The trend is towards more individual kitchens, as can be seen with the emergence of the indoor barbeque – a reflection more on the rise in the number of houseowners who like to entertain, than on the poor British summer.

Kitchen unit design continues to evolve; pan drawers are replacing the traditional cupboard doors and up-and-over locker-style doors used for wall-mounted units instead of hinged doors. Also popular are cupboards that open by placing the hand behind the door, giving a clean, linear appearance, with no need for handles. Freestanding furniture and individual units, as opposed to fitted designs, provide a more personal and bespoke feel.

Colour schemes reflect the neutral trends of interior design, with finishes such as soft sand gloss or beige gloss proving to be the most popular. Wood grains give a natural look – developers are specifying walnut, zebrano and ash. Interestingly, work surfaces have returned to thinner formats with a typical 20 mm top, again to enhance clean lines.

Kitchens have become more of a focal point for family homes and developers are taking note. They are creating larger kitchens or combining them with a dining area with patio doors.

Fundamental to an attractive kitchen is good light and space. The linear look, clean lines with soft, neutral colours, can be seen across all new builds from four-bedroom houses to one-bedroom apartments. The custom-made look, high-tech appliances and novelty gadgets make the kitchen a real sales opportunity. The standard fitted kitchen has been transformed into one of the most individual rooms in a home.

Most homeowners with beautiful kitchens fail the Jamie Oliver test. Here’s what I mean: go to the bookshelf, pick out the Jamie Oliver cookbook and open it. Are the pages spattered with raspberry coulis and drops of extra-virgin olive oil? No. That’s because the cookbook, like the kitchen itself, is there more for style than for function.

We no longer cook in our kitchens. Great – all the easier to make them look good

We no longer slave over a hot stove, as the meal comes ready prepared and the stove can do most of the slaving for us. Miele’s 4000 Series Navitronic oven can calculate the appropriate function, temperature and cooking time for any one of 54 popular food types. Users can also programme the oven to cook their favourite dishes.

Manufacturer Poggenpohl has looked further into the future to a day when, according to the company’s managing director Elmar Duffner, the thought of filling a pasta pan with tap water, carrying it to the cooker, and then later carrying it back to the sink again to empty it will be seen as cumbersome and old-fashioned. The company asked Visionlabs, the design think-tank at Germany’s University of Wuppertal, to get its industrial design students to look at how the kitchen will develop as a living environment by 2020.

The students’ solutions included a kitchen where food can be cooked and drained without carrying it across the room, a transparent kitchen to maximise light, and a kitchen made largely of freestanding, unattached elements. Poggenpohl showcased the design ideas at the Milan furniture fair earlier this year and the results will be influencing its product design in the future. “The students were able to open our eyes to changes taking place in lifestyles,” says Duffner. “Who says that the kitchen sink will always be a multi-purpose station for washing dishes, wringing out cleaning rags, cleaning flower vases, washing vegetables and getting drinking water? Maybe some of us – or our children – may consider this unhygienic or impractical.”

Back in today’s kitchens, manufacturers might be heaving a sigh of relief on discovering that they just might not be facing another season of producing predominantly white or cream-coloured units. Commodore Kitchens’ sales manager Alan Lawrence says that the new white is, well, just about any other colour you can think of. “There are some fairly wacky designs coming up for city-centre schemes,” he says. “There are strong reds and blues. We’re also doing a lot of polished walnut,” Lawrence adds. Wood is a theme of Symphony Kitchens, which has added classic oak, walnut and birch to its range of solid timber kitchen doors. The Aspen design in oak has a grooved centre panel and corner pegged detail. The pale walnut Charleston has a classical square-framed design. Philadelphia is made from birch and has a simple Shaker style.

Housebuilder Cala Homes has already picked up on the trend for timber. Focus, its 98-apartment scheme in Camberley, Surrey, features Alno Impuls kitchens that come in such finishes as birch montana and pale beech. But hedging its bets against the demise of neutral tones, Alno also has a vanilla finish in the range …