Strength Returns to Remodeling Sector

Kitchen and bath market trends are changing as consumer confidence improves

By Bill Darcy

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the kitchen and bath industry—and pretty much everything else—with devastating impact. Business and most projects quickly came to a halt. Now, just six months later, we are coming out the other side. Words like “fear” and “uncertainty,” which we heard so often in April and May, are cautiously being replaced with “hope” and “optimism.” Our dealers and showrooms are open again, some 80% of projects have resumed—with enthusiasm—and consumer confidence is steadily improving. Early reports for National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA)’s Q3 Market Outlook show the kitchen and bath industry is valued near $139B, up from $130B reported in June.

While the kitchen and bath have always been popular remodeling projects, the kitchen has become the center for all of this activity — and the bathroom is where many go to escape and to find a little solace and relaxation.

The kitchen and bath market tends to be impacted early, but also recover more quickly than other indicators in times of economic challenge. Since it is intimately tied to the housing market, strong performance in this sector is often reflected in healthy remodeling growth. NKBA produces a quarterly Kitchen & Bath Market Index (KBMI) with John Burns Real Estate Consulting. It evaluates the health of the industry through a survey of NKBA members across all categories including manufacturing, design, building/construction and retail. According to the most recent KBMI (Q2), the current health of the kitchen and bath industry is rated at 5.9 (on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being poor, five being normal and 10 being excellent). This is up significantly from the 4.1 rating in Q1.

With many people homebound for the foreseeable future, one thing is certain: the home is a haven. It is also now a remote office for many, a virtual classroom and a continued care facility for aging parents now living with their adult children in a multigenerational household. While the kitchen and bath have always been popular remodeling projects, the kitchen has become the center for all of this activity — and the bathroom is where many go to escape and to find a little solace and relaxation.

People want to invest in their homes and make improvements. Many millennials are taking money from cancelled vacation plans to help fund these projects, and their kitchen and baths—which have a robust return on investment—are the first rooms they want to tackle.

Clean and Healthy Living

When it comes to making improvements to these spaces, tops on their lists are products that positively impact their health and wellbeing. Exclusive NKBA research shows that healthy living is one of the key macro trends impacting the way our homes are remodeled and designed. We anticipate this continuing as a long-term trend— nd that in a few years, it will be the standard in design.

Our members report clients are asking for air purifiers, touchless faucets and anti-microbial door handles, countertops and appliances. People want products that are durable and easy to clean—everything from their kitchen cabinets to their plumbing fixtures.

This was a trend even before the pandemic hit, and COVID-19 only punctuates that demand. In addition to this need for hygienic/sanitary products, people are cooking at home more, as well as eating healthier, plant-based diets. From a design standpoint, that translates into a need to include larger kitchen sinks, refrigerators with more space to store produce and islands with designated food prep stations.

Extended food storage has also become more of a priority. From a walk-in pantry or designated cabinetry to being intentional about organization, targeted storage that keeps everything contained makes any kitchen more functional and helps to ease unnecessary stress.

Outdoor Upgrades

Homeowners also want to increase their connection with nature. In the kitchen, that can translate to eliminating upper cabinets to adding larger windows to let in natural light. Adding in zero-entry doorways to an outdoor patio creates this sense of indoor-outdoor living. Outdoor kitchens are also getting more sophisticated — especially as people spend more time “stay-cationing” in their backyard oasis. These outdoor spaces have dedicated cabinetry, grills, smokers, pizza ovens, refrigeration and plumbing.

Bathroom Escape

Homeowners are looking for more than a refresh in their primary bathroom. They are looking for designs that minimize clutter and maintenance, provide an escape and allow them to age in place and heal the body. To minimize maintenance in the bathroom, consider large format tiles with narrow grout lines, self-cleaning toilets and storage with integrated electrical outlets to house a hairdryer while charging your toothbrush and your phone. Steam showers, heated floors and soaking tubs are also of high interest to promote wellness. As more homes become multigenerational, appropriate shower seating, grab bars and voice activated lighting are just a few of the design elements that can be integrated into the bathroom.

As we head into 2021, we remain optimistic for the future of the kitchen and bath industry Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) scheduled for Feb. 9-11, 2021.

Bill Darcy is the CEO of the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

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