Integrating Tech Into Kitchen Design

Dianne M. Pogoda

Rapid advances in home technology are changing the way designers think about kitchen design and the expectations of their client base. This is especially the case concerning Millennials — the ones driving the integration of technology and design. With this emerging customer base in mind, NKBA’s latest study sought to provide designers with a path to successfully understand their motivations and needs, communicate with them to build confidence, and select the most appropriate technology products.

There is an increasing percentage of the remodeling and home-buying client base compared to Gen X and Boomers. While they may have less-expensive projects now, they are gaining economic strength and rising in their careers, so their disposable income is growing. Further, this is the first generation of “digital natives” who understand how to use technology to make their lives easier, more convenient, and efficient. And — another big plus that differentiates them from some of their elders — they have no fear of technology. They firmly believe that tech is essential in kitchen design.

NKBA conducted one-hour interviews with Millennial tech and design experts to identify best practices from start to finish. Four designers, three cabinetry specialists, a tech integrator, and an industry consultant participated. Several trends and patterns emerged — some obvious, others a bit surprising. 

What is somewhat surprising is that only about 30% of kitchen projects integrate technology, and what’s more, fewer than 10% regularly use a tech integrator. Yet, 66% say they are somewhat or completely satisfied with the experience among those who have collaborated.

Technology is no longer an out-of-reach expense. It has become part of the mainstream, and once people see it in action, they realize that they want or need it. For example, lighted interior cabinets, push-to-open drawers, refrigerators, charging stations, or even counters with high-tech surfaces or heating elements are becoming highly desirable features. Additionally, remote appliance diagnosis and repair saves time and the cost of technician visits.

The study found that kitchen designers must level up on design-plus-technology to remain relevant with this consumer base. Millennial clients expect virtual meetings. Designers who can provide virtual design support can expand the footprint of their businesses. The design process must start smart, bringing in a tech integrator at a very early stage to help plan for adequate infrastructure, electrical work, and network security.

Understanding, influencing, and encouraging design-plus-technology amplifies the value of using a designer with the Millennial demographic. Remember that Millennials do a lot of research. They know enough to be dangerous, and designers can offer the credibility and experience that their Millennial clients lack. Designers can discern the difference between novelty and performance and know the brands that stand behind their promises and performance. As with all design decisions, lifestyle needs should lead with all technology recommendations.

The study recommends five key ways to build a path for success:

  • Build your team. Use expertise for each component: design, building, and integration.
  • Equip yourself. Learn, be curious, use and install technology in your own home and work, build awareness and become fluent in the language and discipline of technology.
  • Bring tech in at the start of the process. Understand client needs from the beginning, and see where tech can make the process smoother.
  • Execute with excellence. Think security first, then integrate tech best practices into the process.
  • Build in shelf life. Consider longevity in each aspect of design, and think about the ability to update easily.
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