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More homeowners than ever are choosing to use natural materials in their kitchens. Rich wood, textured stone and the soft hues of nature are gaining popularity, in part for their ability to blur the line between outdoors and inside.

Kitchen design professionals say that the natural kitchen signals the convergence of a number of broader trends in society:

Consumers are getting older

Today’s aging population is staying healthy and active. As their taste in products gains sophistication, they are embracing the beauty, as well as the little imperfections, that come with aging. They want authentic and durable products that will last.

The green house

As more people become ecologically aware, the movement to re-use, recycle and refashion existing products continues to grow. Since natural materials tend to last longer than synthetic ones, they’re a logical choice for the conservation-minded. And designers across the country agree that more and more clients are opting for chemical-free homes.

Product availability

Products of all kinds now come in a greater variety and are accessible to more consumers. Kohler offers faucets and fixtures in a wide array of styles and colors specifically made to enhance natural materials.

Since natural materials tend to last longer than synthetic ones, they're a logical choice for the conservation-minded.

Sinks and faucets

The wide variety of sink and faucet styles and finishes available these days give consumers lots of options for using natural materials.

“Plumbing fixtures have become the little jewels of the space,” says Brian Gluckstein of Gluckstein Design Planning in Toronto, ON. Soft faucet finishes, from antique brass to brushed nickel, are very popular and the same holds true for lighting fixtures, which are often available in finishes to match.

The apron-front sink can give the kitchen a historical reference point, and its beauty and durability make it a popular choice. Stainless steel apron-front sinks also work well because they contrast nicely with textured stone countertops.

Countertops

Granite countertops remain a popular choice for their beauty and durability, but there is a growing interest in other natural materials. Wood and butcher-block countertops are making a comeback – the patina of mellow wood, as well as the cuts, scratches and indentations that develop over time, give them character. Marble, glass, copper, limestone and soapstone are other popular natural countertop materials. And pewter is another durable, albeit pricey, option.

Man-made yet natural-looking materials such as a concrete and quartz composite continue to be in demand. And while concrete countertops can crack and stain if left unsealed, their patina and textured look can add unique character to a kitchen. Concrete is also versatile in that it can be stained or colored, or molded into shape.

Countertops can now be comprised primarily of recycled materials, such as ground-up glass or metal shavings, making them lighter weight and more environmentally friendly. Reclaimed marble slabs and antique tile plucked from buildings slated for demolition are also popular for countertops and backsplashes.

Floors and cabinets

Hardwood floors work well with open floor plans. Exotic woods, such as walnut, mahogany, hemlock, cork and bamboo, are a popular way to add a more natural feel.

Wood grown in plantations according to environmentally sustainable methods is also becoming popular. Reclaimed wood planks, as well as antique cabinet and sink fixtures, are perfect for the natural kitchen. Glazed wood cabinets can lend kitchens a faux-aged appearance, but stained woods are on the wane.

It is important to remember that natural materials require maintenance. Marble and glass scratch, wood gets wet or needs refinishing, and stone and concrete need resealing. Gluckstein sees this as a small price to pay. He notes that upkeep is a prerequisite to enjoying the natural beauty of organic materials. And a few nicks and scratches can provide a bit of personality and warmth to a kitchen.

So what’s next for the natural kitchen? Duval Acker of Kitchens by Design in Mount Pleasant, SC, says we’re at the beginning of a trend toward “reinventing the natural” with state-of-the-art recycled materials made from crushed glass or scrap metal. After that, she says, the focus will be on sustaining materials for the next generation.

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