The home renovations that will deliver the biggest bang for your buck

May 13, 2015, 2:10 PM UTC
Courtesy of Ikea

It’s springtime, and therefore home buying, selling, renovating, and improving season. But before you make a move or finalize plans for renovations to your kitchen and bath—the most commonly renovated parts of the home— here’s a look at where 2015 trends are headed.

Goodbye country oak kitchen, hello black, white and modern

The fashion cycle of home design, whether interior or exterior, lasts about fifteen years. The last cycle of dark stained wood and country kitchens was extended due to the economic downturn—no one had the resources to move on to anything new— but it’s now officially run its course. Oak is out, granite is passé and...let's just say stainless steel is the new avocado green. Here’s what we mean:

2015 Home renovations — Poggenpohl
Courtesy of Poggenpohl

Color schemes and cabinet design: White-on-white and white-and-black kitchens have been growing in popularity over the last several years and will continue to gain as the color schemes of choice, with pops of bold color for accent walls and backsplashes. Look for two cabinet looks to pull away from the pack: flush gloss doors (without panels) and shaker-flat panels. This trend spans price points, from high-end examples such as the Poggenpohl Porsche Design Studio Cabinets to Ikea’s DIY options. Some brands are showing eclectic kitchens with upper cabinets that don’t match (think black on one side of the room and white on the others). Open shelves remain popular, but unless all of your dishes match perfectly, I recommend avoiding them. They look great in magazine images, but rarely do we live such tidy and organized lives. In lower cabinets, drawers have finally replaced doors in an effort to maximize all available space.

2015 Home renovations —  Jonathan Adler Formica
Courtesy of Formica

Counters: Look who’s back! Formica has partnered with Jonathan Adler to unveil a chic new line of laminate. Gone are the heavy black seams and chunky stainless steel overmount sinks from your grandma’s kitchen; the new lines of Formica integrate with farmhouse sinks with crisp edges. In addition to the Adler designs, Formica offers patterns, such as White Ellipse and Endless Graytone, in its commercial line that are ideal for residential applications when seeking the white on white look on a budget. Solid surface options such as Quartz and Corian are still excellent choices, but granite is out (both the real stone and the faux renditions in laminate). Avoid counter designs that extend down the sides of cabinets: these are en vogue now, but will date quickly.

2015 Home renovations — Kohler Vault
Courtesy of Kohler

Kitchen sinks, faucets and hardware: Farmhouse sinks are in, both in stainless steel and white ceramic. One of the best-looking sinks on the market is the Kohler Vault, which combines the look of a farmhouse sink with stainless steel--and works in both undermounted and overmounted conditions so it’s perfect for a laminate counter. If you do go for laminate, avoid the zero edge sink seam; it has an unusual look and creates a joint that feels susceptible to leaking down the road.

In keeping with the clean lines of the cabinets, faucets and hardware are becoming streamlined as well. Chrome and nickel are mainstays, with copper gaining in popularity. Dark iron, aged, faux antiqued and polished brass finishes are out.

2015 Home renovations — Whirlpool White Ice Collection
Courtesy of Whirlpool

Appliance finishes: Stainless steel has run its course, but will remain a prime go-to option until a strong rival pulls away from the pack. My money is on white gloss and black gloss being the next big things. Ikea, partnering with Whirlpool, was ahead of its time with the NUTID and DATID series of gloss white and gloss black appliances with clean lines and straight handles, which have been discontinued. Whirlpool still offers similar white and black gloss lines in its Ice Collection. GE (GE), which also offers gloss white and gloss black, has seen sales spike in slate finishes; the company is testing retro “cupcake blue” and “pepper red” refrigerators. In the next few years, look for continued innovation in appliance finishes.                                             

2015 Home renovations — GE_EZ_Slide_Oven3_300dpi
Courtesy of GE

Appliance innovation: The Bosch Benchmark SideOpening Wall Oven, on display in this year’s New American Home, as well as the GE Café Series French door oven, both illustrate a movement to reinvent the way we engage with our appliances. Having an oven hinge at the bottom of the oven door is a carry over from a combination range and oven in single appliance. But with more people using wall-mounted ovens, there’s no need for it, and by hinging on one or even both sides instead, the customer is able to get closer to the wall and have more leverage for lifting a heavy pan. (These products are especially targeted for the growing number of aging customers.)

Another innovative development in appliance design: the Easy Load Double Oven from GE’s FirstBuild Studio. In addition to featuring two ovens in place of one, the top oven pulls out like a cabinet drawer and includes a peek feature that lets you check on dinner while it’s cooking.

Bathrooms: Luxury at all price points

Whether it’s in the finishes or a detail as simple as extraordinary water pressure, luxury is finding its way into bathrooms at all price points, and the feature homeowners seem to be seeking most in a bathroom today is the experience of a luxurious escape.

2015 Home renovations — Ikea Bathroom
Courtesy of Ikea

Color Scheme, cabinet design and finishes: As with kitchens, white is the color de jour for bathroom walls, cabinets and tile, with pops of color as accent. Cabinet designs are simple and often include drawers rather than cabinet doors to maximize usable storage. Also as with kitchens, copper, chrome and nickel are in and iron and polished brass are out. (One of the side benefits of copper: germs can’t live on its surface, making for a healthier home come during cold and flu season.)

New Kohler Shower
Courtesy of Kohler

Tubs and showers: The classic Roman tub has officially slipped into antiquity at long last. Some say free-standing tubs are making a comeback, but that will likely take hold only in homes were square footage is not an issue. For most homes, the current preference is to trade the floor space of a big tub for a generous shower (4’x 5’) with a bench and additional linen space. Why bump into walls in a 3’x3’ shower when the tub often serves only as a place to collect damp towels?

2015 Home renovations — Kohler toilet
Courtesy of Kohler

Toilets: As homes become more efficient, dual-flush toilets are becoming the norm. These have many skeptics, since it often takes several low flow flushes to achieve what a normal flush offers; and pushing a button isn’t as convenient as a lever. But regardless of flushing mechanism, when shopping for a toilet, opt for an elongated comfort height seat, which is easier to sit down on and stand up from. (A minor detail that will save a lot of household fights: a shift in toilet paper holders from a two-sided conventional attachment to a European one-sided holder.)

2015 Home renovations — Ikea vanity
Courtesy of Ikea

Sinks: Above- the-counter basins are on the way out. Look for integrated one-piece sinks and counters, which are easier to clean. If you have a solid surface counter—like marble or quartz-- undermount sinks are the leading trend. We are also seeing vanity counters raised above the typical 35”-36” height to 38”- 40’’, which makes it easier to wash your face without splashing, especially if you’re tall.

2015 Home renovations — Merola tile
Courtesy of Merola

Floors: The trend in tiles these days is to minimize the joint widths, the space between tiles. Ideal widths range from 1/16” to 3/16”. This requires a flat tile with rectified (and not beveled) edges. Other trends: 12”x12” tiles are phasing out, replaced by 12”x24” or 16”x16”. And small black and white checkers, hexagon and penny round tiles are making a comeback. Companies like Merola Tile offer several patterns at Home Depot (HD) that come on sheets for easy installation. The website offers great inspiration for tile pattern options.

Bonus tip: Color of the year? Marsala

Pantone has declared 2015 the Year of Marsala. Gone is the mild Radiant Orchid from 2014; now we have the bold, yet deep, wine-red tone. So while white and black are the trend for the fixed items in your home, look for opportunities to add pops of bold color in accent walls and backsplashes, event accessories like pillows, throws and artwork.