Perhaps more than any other home products industry, housewares is plugged in to what consumers are doing, what they want and what they buy. When the annual International Housewares Show rolls into Chicago in the spring, as much of a draw as the products on display are dozens of informative panels. One uber-popular feature is a look at color directions for the next couple of years by Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.
This past March, for the first time, there was a focus group made up of that coveted millennial group, which represents 92 million Americans, the youngest starting college and the oldest in their mid-30s. Editors Warren Shoulberg and Maureen Azzato from Home Furnishings News, a trade publication, led a lively discussion that delved into cooking, dining and shopping habits, including meal-kit delivery options like Blue Apron.
Why is this important? Housewares is big business. In 2015, the U.S. retail market totaled $82.2 billion (up 9.5 percent from 2014). Globally, the market is $346.9 billion. So understanding that market is key.
“In the past, millennials had more of an emotional effect on the economy, but now they’re actually spending more,” says Tom Mirabile, senior vice president of global trend and design at Lifetime Brands and a trend forecaster for the International Housewares Association. In fact, millennials account for 31 percent of all household spending, catching up to baby boomers’ 36 percent.
With the influence of social media, particularly Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat, color and pattern are destined to be front and center on the consumer radar. Panelists said they get tips on cookware and devices (like spiralizers) from food shots and recipes, and sometimes on YouTube.
They want sleek, sexy, small appliances that are less bulky; multifunctional cookware, such as pressure and rice cookers; cookware that stores easily — nesting, or with interlocking handles. Saving time is a universal need.
Of course, the new and shiny is appealing, especially at the right price. And particularly in the right color.
Color burst onto the housewares scene as far back as the 1990s. But the influx of silicone — in utensils, baking goods and containers — has boosted options. These days, though, the use of color in housewares is more fashion-based, rooted in global trends that may embrace ethnic and retro styles.
One color grouping — a riff on avocado (though less muddy, and a prettier yellow green), egg yolk (not quite orange, but close) and off-white — definitely nods to the ’70s. So does a return to brown, which we’re starting to see in home decor. It’s not dark, but almost espresso brown, almost cappuccino, taupey — and sometimes with a yellow cast, perhaps a red cast or carmelized.
The range of wooden cutting, cheese and serving boards with beautiful grains (sometimes teamed with white marble), as well as cookware in those chocolatey shades, is offering an alternative to black and stainless, and presents a ubiquitous range of colors like turquoise, aqua, plum, red, blue, orange and yellow.
Pastels have strengthened, very much globally influenced, especially with the pinks, rosy terra cottas, blue-greens and icy blues, which are amazing in utensils, storage containers and ironing board covers.
One company, Whitford, curiously touts iPhone colors like rose and champagne gold on its herringbone-patterned baking trays.
“The retro and vintage look is becoming increasingly popular as more homeowners seek to add nostalgic design elements from past decades to their homes,” says Ryan Boyle, managing director at Kitchen Innovations.
At the same time, chic, elegant matte black, which is a trend percolating in kitchen and bath appliances, faucets, dinnerware, flatware and paint, also is making its way into housewares. Staub’s braiser, a perfect pot for one-dish suppers, is especially handsome with majolica enameling in matte black and a gold knob.
Metals, especially in warm tones, are striking in serveware, as in the shiny gold trays with laser-cut, lacy corners at the Italian brand Elleffe Design, as well as utilitarian pieces, like a sleek garbage can in matte gold from Brabantia.
Patterns are expected in categories like melamine, which tend to be more playful in scale and boldness. Retro patterns, such as Nordic cool canisters from Studio California designer Laurie Gates for Gibson, have a mid-century feel. A pretty mosaic place mat in jacquard weave from Chilewich is subtle in shades of soft blue and cream, and is part of a collection called Nordic Design. Principal Sandy Chilewich describes that design sensibility as one that feels “both warm and cool at the same time,” with specific yarns woven in a unique way in which “the colors seems to appear and disappear, breaking up the distinct diamond pattern and the undulating line of wave.”
But there are brights, as well, with ethnic influences from fiery Cuba hues to Marrakesh, a bright floral dinnerware collection from Gates for Gibson.
As the maker movement and appreciation for the handcrafted continues to engage consumers, so do artisanal pieces. A familiar brand, the glassware company Pyrex, introduced a dazzling Blue Lagoon watercolor collection, which looks like cobalt blue ink suspended in water. The swirling patterns are unique in each piece.
Distinctive form always catches the eye, as do unconventional shapes, which is why square dinner plates were so intriguing when they first came on the scene. One of the most striking utilitarian pieces is a black and stainless steel cheese grater designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid at Alessi.
The health category continues to draw those who want to assure that there are no harmful components — such as BPAs, PVs or phthalates — in the products they use. New products based on health trends like fermentation also are emerging. One from Kraut Source features a stainless steel device that fits on any wide-mouth mason jar to ferment small batches. Some rice cookers now have different settings for specific grains, such as oatmeal and quinoa.
Health certainly has affected styles of cooking, which is why there’s an influx of air fryers like NuWave and Frieling that don’t require oils and fats, have more streamlined countertop designs and LED displays. The closed systems eliminate odor and spattering. Steaming options continue to be popular, as does one-pot cooking (crock). And juicers have a large fan base, now nuanced as to the merits of cold press — more juice volume, higher nutrient volume and longer shelf life.
Even styles of eating have morphed. As The Wall Street Journal reported last year in a story titled “Bowls are the new plates,” retail sales of bowls were rising. Manufacturers like Gibson and Villeroy & Boch are responding to a growing desire for bowls in a variety of shapes to accommodate entire meals.
One thing is clear: the idea of curated display. As exposure to good design expands through magazines, TV and social media, consumers want function that’s also decorative or striking in its minimalism — on the counter or the bookshelf or in the drawer.