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From touchless tech to cottagecore: How the pandemic is changing kitchen design

After a year in lockdown, the latest kitchen designs look to the past and the future.
Coming out of the pandemic now, we’re seeing bold statements and embrace of optimism in kitchen design, TK Wismer, a kitchen designer explained.
Coming out of the pandemic now, we’re seeing bold statements and embrace of optimism in kitchen design, TK Wismer, a kitchen designer explained. GE

A full year into life during a pandemic we know that things will never look the same. It’s touched every aspect of our lives, all the way down to what our kitchens will look like moving forward, and how we’ll cook in them.

At this year’s Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, held virtually, of course, we saw a glimpse of the kinds of impact pandemic life is having on design. GE Appliances showcased several kitchen designs that tell the story of where we are, how we feel and how we’re cooking our way through this. Since I live in Louisville, home to GE’s 1,000 acre Appliance Park, I had the chance to take a behind the scenes and in real life look at the kitchen designs with the interior designer responsible for them, TK Wismer. Later I chatted all things kitchen design with Wismer, along with Allen Whitehouse and Michelle Day, who work on the consumer insights team at GE.

Here’s what they shared.

Crisis begets expressive design

Look at how Dior changed fashion with their New Look after World War II, Wismer said. People had been so down during the war that they were ready to hit the scene again and express themselves. Dior’s opulent look, bold colors and big volume in the fabrics was the ticket.

Color, waves, curves, textures and materiality come together in the design GE dubbed Endless Optimist. GE

Coming out of the pandemic now, we’re seeing bold statements and embrace of optimism in kitchen design, said Wismer. Color, waves, curves, textures and materiality come together in the design they dubbed Endless Optimist. Even in a version that’s essentially a stage set, you can’t help but feel happy in such a fun, vibrant space.

With the world zoomed in to just our homes over the last year, we looked for ways to make even the most mundane things special. Why not, then, break out the fancy china and pretty table-scaping to make an occasion out of a weeknight dinner? Lunch and breakfast began to look like real meals, rather than the grab-and-go of life before. And people started buying more small appliances and gadgets like coffee makers and fancy ice machines, Day said, both to branch out in our culinary explorations, and to level up our morning coffee and evening (or, let’s be honest, afternoon) cocktail hour.

We’re focusing on safety

Of course a pressing concern for people in the last year is ‘how do I keep my family safe,” said Whitehouse. A lot of that is around cleanliness and hygiene, he said. That can translate to people adding sinks, said Wismer, like a handwashing station in a mudroom. GE saw a dramatic increase in the use of sanitize cycles in their appliances during the pandemic. We’re also going to see an uptick in antimicrobial surfaces and coatings and materials that can easily be wiped down or are antibacterial in nature, like copper or stainless steel, the team noted.

It should come as no surprise given our pandemic dread of touching things that touchless technology is also a rising trend. Imagine: opening your oven with your elbow or even your voice. That’s not the Jetsons; it’s a product available now.

It’s the return of the room

Open concept has not lent itself to our new lives as we all huddle under one roof for work, school and life in general. “They’re calling it the return of the room,” Wismer said. We’re searching for calm and balance in tumultuous times, so dedicated quiet retreats off kitchens are on the rise, as are separate prep kitchens, shifting the work to a space that’s not where families eat and gather.

We can also find calm in soothing colors and rounded edges, so we can expect to see more spaces like GE’s CAFÉ Mindful Escapism kitchen with its dreamy lavender and shimmering pastels.

Cottagecore comes to the kitchen

During the pandemic, we collectively evaluated what’s essential to us, the GE team noted; what do we have, what do we need and how do we get it with supply chain interruptions? The corresponding rise in self-sufficiency, back to basics and slower pace came to life with the explosion of cottagecore.

“It was ... especially for city dwellers just dreaming of the idea of having like a little piece of paradise out in the middle of nowhere,” Wismer said.

“I started early on in the pandemic reading into this cottagecore aesthetic that was really taking over on social.” She designed the Peachy Keen as a space that embraced that nostalgic look and feel, a trend especially popular among millennials, she said, who are “known as the most nostalgic generation right now.” No sacrifices though — they also, she said, want everything to be high tech as well.

Kitchens are getting smarter

Even while we’re looking back with rose-tinted glasses, smart tech is bringing the future to our kitchens. You may already have a smart device on your counter — I can hardly recall life in the kitchen without my Google Nest Hub — but how about a large screen built into the front of your microwave over the range? GE’s Kitchen Hub centralizes smart home tools and offers a guided cooking app and Google assistant besides streaming TV and web browser. The camera system just made video cookalongs even more fun (and yay for no more propping up a laptop on a stack of books on the counter to Zoom!).

GE’s Kitchen Hub centralizes smart home tools and offers a guided cooking app and Google assistant besides streaming TV and web browser.GE

It’s not just about helping us stay connected; stoves are getting smarter, too, with guided cooking, temperatures controlled by app, and an in-oven camera that means you can keep an eye on dinner while you’re out of the room. Let’s be real though, some things will never change — that camera also means we can share what we’re cooking on our social feeds.