With luxury kitchens becoming increasingly affordable, more customers are demanding the latest appliances, finishes and styles. Chloe Stothart finds out what’s cooking in the kitchens

The kitchen used to be the heart of the home, and a fire, stove, big table and a teapot were all it took to make one desirable. But now the rise of Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and their ilk has meant luxury designs and appliances are commonplace in the ordinary kitchen.

According to AMA Research, which publishes data on the sector, the amount that the UK spends on kitchens went from £972m in 1999 to £1.1bn in 2004. That sum has risen since then, and is likely to continue to grow, albeit more slowly, as concerns about an economic slowdown hit home.

Most of the growth in recent times has been fuelled by extra spending on luxury design while the total number of kitchens sold has dropped because of a decrease at the bottom end of the market.

As manufacturers compete, three main trends are predicted to dominate the sector in coming years: kitchens that cater for older people, kitchen pods made off-site and luxury finishes and materials.

Kitchen makers are bracing themselves for tougher times, as an already competitive market could tighten further and make consumers less willing to spend. And with a bumpy ride ahead, manufacturers will have to hope that the celebrity chefs continue to work their magic whisks and prolong the nation’s love affair with kitchens.

Accessible kitchen gadgets

As Britain’s population ages, kitchen designs are going to have to start accommodating reduced mobility, poorer eye sight and arthritic hands. AMA expects that this area will grow, partly driven by demand from public sector housing, in which kitchens are being adapted to cater for the disabilities of their owners. Technology that could become more common includes kitchens units which can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button, wheelchair-friendly side-opening ovens and taps with retractable hoses so heavy pans do not have to be moved to be cleaned.

These gadgets were once the preserve of the top-end kitchen makers but now are starting to filter into the mainstream, for example, DIY chain B&Q recently launched a range of accessible kitchen furniture including worktops with adjustable heights. However, the growth in the availability of accessible kitchen products is not necessarily because manufacturers are courting the grey pound or have been struck by the needs of disabled people, says Alison Wright, managing director of Easy Living Home, which specialises in interior design for the over-50s. She says: “Kitchen makers are not interested in the needs of older and disabled people. They are simply hunting for new gadgets and bits of technology to steal a march on their competitors. Some accessible kitchen gadgetry was once restricted to luxury kitchens but, like granite worktops, it has started to move into the mainstream.”

Kitchen pods

The second sector that AMA predicts will grow in popularity is the kitchen made off site, for example kitchen pods that are built and fitted out in a factory then transported to the site. The kitchen and bathroom pods market was worth £122m in 2005 and is predicted to grow to £210m in 2010. The major buyers of pods are Ministry of Defence accommodation projects, hotels, student accommodation and healthcare facilities.

Pods are less common in the residential sector but the government’s push for more homes to be built off-site has increased demand for them. Social and luxury housing are currently the main housing markets for kitchen pods and AMA says there is room for growth in this area.

Accent Kitchens, which installed its products in flats made off-site by Yorkon for developer Urban Splash, agrees that the relatively small market in off-site manufactured kitchens is likely to grow. “It is getting more popular but has not really taken off yet,” says Andrew Robinson, the firm’s national sales manager. “The challenge is to fit everything into the space. We can move away from standard size units and build something to fit.”

Rollalong, which makes buildings off-site, has seen an increase in demand for its products. “There has been a steady rise in urban apartments for social housing,” it says. “We are predicting an increase in residential work over the coming year.”

High specification finishes and materials

Materials and finishes are always at the heart of kitchen trends and AMA found that high-gloss finishes, stainless steel, frosted glass, wood and metallic finishes were rising in popularity. Solid surfaces and granite were also selling well, as were island units. The range of door handle styles has also grown, and at the top end of the market, concealed handles have become more popular.

Although affordable laminate materials are likely to continue to dominate, finishes and materials that were once limited to the top-end of the market have started to become mainstream, particularly in flats and modern developments, says Paul Harrington, director of Accent Kitchens. “Products are becoming more affordable because of the competitive nature of the market,” he says.

Some ultra-modern apartments, such as Urban Splash’s Chimney Pot Park development in Salford, are using the sorts of laminations and finishes that would previously have been used in laboratories. “It gives it a pleasant, different appearance and it is very durable,” says Harrington. He thinks this “clean” look is likely to stay in fashion, especially in the apartment market, although it probably will not take off in houses.

Colour is also starting to make inroads into the kitchen. While pale finishes are still favourites, black gloss has become popular, says Accent. It even used red, yellow and orange interiors for grey kitchen cupboards on Urban Splash’s 3 Towers development. New materials coming onto the market include 12mm laminates for very thick worktops.

“Gadgets that were once the preserve of the top-end kitchen makers are starting to filter into the mainstream”