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2021 Kitchen Trends: A Complete Guide To Learning To Love Your Kitchen Again

Whether you’re typically a social butterfly or a bit of a homebody, chances are you spent a whole lot more of 2020 at home than you ever have before. And chances are, you came to the same realization that many homeowners did last year: most homes just aren’t designed for 24/7 full-family togetherness. Worse, those big, beautiful, open kitchens that used to be so good for entertaining and snagging a little family time? Suddenly had to also serve as workplaces, classrooms, hobby tables, and more. 2021 is seeing a big surge of families trying to bridge this gap and make their kitchens usable again. But you don’t need a Super Kitchen for the space you have to wear a lot of hats. In fact, some of the most in-demand 2021 kitchen trends are simple upgrades to privacy and functionality.

Improve Storage To Keep Clutter Out Of Sight

A photo of a full-extension drawer beneath a cooktop, which contains a variety of common cooking ingredients
Make your cabinets work smarter, not harder – choose organizers sized to store what you need near where you’ll use it, with full-extension gliders that let you make full use of the space you have (by Dura Supreme Cabinetry)

For years now, homeowners have wanted kitchens with open layouts, open shelves, open everything. But now that those kitchens are getting more use, all the clutter that comes with higher traffic is also out in the open. Everything from dirty dishes to piles of homework are on display and impossible to hide away or escape – no matter where you are in the public areas of the house. It’s no surprise, then, that homeowners are scrambling to find ways to either put or hide away as much clutter as possible. The biggest way this is showing up is in a huge demand for improved cabinet storage and organization.

A photo of a delicate cream-colored kitchen with a plate rack displaying pale blue and yellow dishware
Using exclusively open storage is a good way to make any kitchen look cluttered, but a few exposed shelves or racks can transform your most-used items into a homey display, while keeping them close at hand (by Element Studios)

For some, that’s meant foregoing open shelves or no-upper layouts in favor of full-height cabinets. But if you recently ditched your upper cabinets and prefer it that way, don’t fear. Using smarter cabinets elsewhere (from dishware drawers to pull-out pantries) and re-thinking your open shelves can help close the gap. Reserve high shelves for infrequently-used decorative items, and keep your most high-traffic dinnerware and glassware on display. Plate racks can add efficiency and a little extra homey touch. As long as you’re selective and matchy about what you keep on display, supplementing your storage elsewhere can keep your kitchen from feeling cluttered.

Break Up With Your Open Floorplan

A photo of a modern white and walnut kitchen, with a slatted ceiling-height divider between the kitchen and living room
Reintroducing privacy into an open floorplan isn’t simple or straightforward, but adding visual dividers or sound barriers can help make your space more usable without closing it off completely (by Collaroy Kitchen Centre)

In the same vein, many homeowners are also looking to add privacy to their kitchens. For the first time in about a decade, people actually want kitchens to be less open. This idea of a “broken” floorplan was catching on before we were all crammed in our kitchens for a year. Now, it’s looking to be one of the most in-demand 2021 kitchen trends. So how do you turn an open-plan into a broken-plan? Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer; it’s a little harder to put walls back up than it is to knock them out. I take a more in-depth look at some of the options over here. In general, you want to look for anything that can block sightlines and dampen sound.

An image of a long, galley style kitchen with ceiling-mounted screens at the farm end that can close the space off from the dining area beyond
Semi-transparent screens are a popular barrier option, particularly ones on gliders that can be moved in or out of place with a touch (by GMS Bespoke Joinery Ltd)

Architectural screens, greenhouse-style glass barriers, half walls, and even creatively placing your house plants or re-orienting your furniture can help break up an open greatroom. The better the barrier, the more you can use different areas simultaneously without your family getting on each other’s nerves. Bonus: if most of your seating faces away from the kitchen, it’s easier to ignore any accumulated clutter.

Put In A Pantry, Appliance Garage, or Even A Kitchen-Within-A-Kitchen

An image of a butler's pantry seen from the outside, beyond the closed French-doors. The space is lit cozily, with hints of baking supplies visible but indistinct
Walk-in butler’s pantries or “dirty kitchens” can add much-needed privacy to an open kitchen, both for keeping messes out of sight and affording the cook a little quiet time (by Lorin Hill, Architect)

There’s one popular solution that’s worth highlighting. Many homeowners are closing off part of the kitchen to use as anything from a larder to a butler’s pantry. These spaces are inspired by compartmentalized Victorian floorplans, and hearken back to the days when cooking happened well out of view of the public areas of the home. Open kitchens have allowed families to be more involved in mealtime; adding an enclosed area with storage and worksurfaces makes it easier to keep everyday cooking clutter out of sight. I’ve seen a few people refer to these as “second kitchens” or “dirty kitchens,” and emphasize using them for counter-cluttering but oft-used appliances (like your toaster, blender, and coffee machine) as well as typical pantry storage.

A photo of an open kitchen cabinet. Inside is a coffee pot and fixings, coffee mugs, and a built-in pot filler to supply the water
No room for a walk-in pantry? Try an appliance garage instead – or a coffee cabinet, complete with built-in pot filler (by In Detail Interiors)

The size and layout of your kitchen will limit how much space you can convert into enclosed storage. But even something as small as an appliance garage for your coffee machine and toaster will make a big difference. By allowing you to hide away workhorse appliances, these cabinets will keep your counters clear of cords, clutter, and all kinds of accumulated messes. Larger and more private spaces will provide the opportunity for a little peace and quiet while doing meal prep. If they’re enclosed, they’re also perfect for expressing a little more homey personality. That wallpaper you loved, but not for a full-sized kitchen? Perfect in a walk-in pantry.

Don’t Just Upgrade Your Island, Customize It

A photo of a modern wood and white quartz kitchen, which has outlets built into the surface of the kitchen island
Cookie cutter kitchen islands are a waste of money, period. If you’re going to pay to have one custom built, include features you know you’ll need – whether it’s pop-up outlets, a built-in range, or a drawer-style spare freezer (by Kerr Construction and Design)

Upgrading or re-imagining your kitchen island is another option. Replacing an island is no small undertaking. But a new island can improve the usability of your space in a variety of ways. On the simple end, you can custom build an island to have the exact storage you need. Whether that’s hidden drawer-style appliances or a more usable caddy for your pots and pans, it’s important to put some thought into the storage configuration of your island. At minimum, I would consider looking at tech upgrades. Built-in outlets and USB chargers in particular can help make an island a usable work space.

A photo of a black and white kitchen with two islands, one in a conventional spot near the range, the other featuring taller bar seating in an L-shape around the kitchen sink area
Adding a second island can be a smart solution for a large kitchen that sees a lot of use – just make sure the one you choose works well with the layout of your space (by Amazing Spaces)

Two-level islands are another popular option. These have one higher side that’s good for kitchen prep and a lower side that’s perfect for more casual seating. Many people are even doubling down and opting for two islands – one to manage kitchen work, the other to manage table-type traffic like work laptops and school papers. This is probably overkill for most spaces. That said, it can be a good option if you have a large space and a big family. If you go this route, consider how you’ll be moving through the kitchen. Neither island should block movement, and should facilitate and not hinder your work triangle.

Substance Over Style: Choose Comfortable Kitchen Seating

An image of a petite gray kitchen with high-backed industrial-style bar chairs
Want to learn to love your kitchen again? Buy bar chairs with back support (by Cardea Building Co.)

If all the extra time you’ve been spending in your kitchen has left you a little sore in the rear, you aren’t alone. One of the small projects topping the list of 2021 kitchen trends is splurging on new, comfortable seating options. Whatever the current seating configuration in your kitchen, if you’re sick to death of sitting on stylish-but-uncomfortable chairs, it’s probably time to upgrade. That can mean anything from switching to bar stools with cushioned seats and back support to installing a breakfast bar or banquette with booth-style seating or cushioned dining chairs.

Livability And Ease Of Cleaning Matter More Than Aesthetics

A photo of a cool gray kitchen cheered up with bright blue chairs, gold hardware, and a simple runner to soften the hard floors
Balance style, comfort, and convenience with materials that are durable and easy to clean – you shouldn’t be so worried about getting your kitchen dirty that you’re afraid to use it (by Winsome Interior Design)

Similarly, many homeowners have been looking for ways to make their kitchens more livable. A magazine-ready look might work when you’re only cooking once a week. But a kitchen that sees heavy use absolutely has to be easy to clean. Practically any designer will say marble is a must-have for 2021, but guess what? Marble stains. If you’re cooking pasta sauce, your partner is drinking wine, or your kids have a marker in hand? Opt for a quartz countertop instead. Ditto for fabric; at the very least, you should be able to spot clean any cloth that lives in the kitchen. Preferably, you should be able to toss it straight in the wash; seat covers, area rugs, cloth napkins, and place mats should all be removable and/or machine washable. Scrubbable kitchen wallpaper, easy-to-clean wood-look porcelain flooring, and a color scheme that hides small messes will also serve you well.

No-Surprise-Here 2021 Kitchen Trends: Upgrading Your Indoor Air Quality

An image of a warm wood kitchen with mixed metallic hardware and a high-powered range hood
Improved ventilation is one of the more unusual 2021 kitchen trends, but it certainly isn’t a surprising one (by Hamptons Cottages and Gardens)

Kitchens have been getting both more high-tech and more eco-friendly over the last few years. But while many people are still divided on how “smart” vs “green” they want their appliances to be, there’s one issue on almost everyone’s mind this year: ventilation. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many homeowners are hoping to keep the air in their homes cleaner and better filtered. The good news is, there are lots of ways to do it. More powerful range hoods, down-draft ventilation built right into your stove, or even fully-upgraded HVAC systems with improved filters or UV lights are on a lot of must-have lists for 2021 kitchen trends.

An image of a sleek modern kitchen, with a wide window and sliding door that open entirely on the deck beyond
Connecting your kitchen with your deck or patio facilitates outdoor cooking and entertaining, but also improves airflow and indoor air quality (by building Lab, inc.)

But there’s more to this trend than just worries about airborne viruses. There’s also been an unexpected side effect of the growing prevalence of energy-efficient, double-paned windows. Well-made windows slash heating and cooling costs by blocking drafts, keeping homes a stable, comfortable temperature year round. But they also halt air circulation in and out of your home. That can be bad for your long-term indoor air quality. Choosing low VOC furniture and construction helps, as will any of the options above. But many homeowners are going a step further and designing kitchens that are easier to open up to the outside to let in fresh air when weather permits.

Expand Your Kitchen Outside For More Creative Cooking Options

An image of an outdoor grill and dining area looking into a brightly-lit kitchen through a wide opening where the glass wall has been folded out of the way
There are some kinds of cooking you can only do outside, and many homeowners are merging indoor and outdoor kitchens to make outdoor cookware more accessible (by Kim Duffin)

An added bonus here is that kitchens are ending up… more connected to the outside. Installing an outdoor kitchen is hardly a new idea. But merging indoor and outdoor spaces has taken on a new importance in the last year. Having supplemental cooking areas outdoors – like grills or brick ovens – can help add variety to a monotonous cooking-and-dining experience. Having more ways to cook can also encourage experimenting in the kitchen (I see you, quarantine bakers!). It’s also a good excuse to get the family out of the house, if not very far from the house. Adding an accordion-style window or glass wall that opens outdoors can make your deck a usable extension of your kitchen. And if you’re hoping to do some entertaining in 2021, open-air outdoor dining is the safest way to do it.

For better or worse, many of us got to know our kitchens very, very well in 2020. So it makes sense that the biggest 2021 kitchen trends are direct reactions to that experience. Whether you’ve discovered how much you love cooking or how much you miss having a quiet cup of coffee in the morning, now’s the perfect time to break free of the cookie-cutter idea of the “perfect” kitchen and build a space that really works for you and your family – through the good times and the bad.