‘Digital Natives’ Seen Impacting Market

HACKETTSTOWN, NJ — Advances in home technology are “changing the way designers think” about kitchen and bathroom design and the expectations of their client base, with a new generation of “digital natives” leading a growing charge toward expanded technology usage.

That’s the key conclusion of a major new market analysis by the National Kitchen & Bath Association, whose “Kitchen Tech & Millennials Report” found that millennials – the cohort of homeowners ranging from 26 to 41 years of age – represent an increasing percentage of the remodeling and homebuying client base “who understand how to use technology to make their lives easier, more convenient and efficient” (see related Editorial).

“Millennials may have less-expensive projects now, but they’re gaining economic strength and rising in their careers, so their disposable income is growing,” said Tricia Zach, head of research for the Hackettstown, NJ-based NKBA. “Another big plus that differentiates them is that they have no fear of technology. They firmly believe that technology is essential, not optional, in kitchen design.”

Technology, the NKBA asserts, “is no longer an expense that’s optional or out of reach. In contrast, it has become mainstream, a feature that’s not simply here to stay but one that clients expect.”

Today’s steady stream of product innovation encompasses smart appliances, countertop surfaces, networks, remote monitoring and control, and even infrastructure (for example, sensory water flow monitoring and alarm systems), the NKBA noted, adding that the design process must “start smart” by planning for adequate infrastructure, electrical and network security.

Kitchen spaces require “more complex technology that’s made simpler” (for example, charging stations, lighted cabinet interiors, push-to-open drawers, built-in heating elements, touchless voice-controlled faucets, remote appliance diagnosis and the like, association researchers added.

According to the NKBA, its market study found that kitchen designers “must level up on design-plus-technology to remain relevant with the Millennial consumer base.

“What’s somewhat surprising is that designers still seem to be in the early phase of introducing technology into their clients’ designs,” the NKBA said, adding that only 30% of surveyed designers said that they are actively integrating technology into kitchen projects, while fewer than 10% said they regularly employ the services of a technology integrator.

“All the experts agreed, however, that the design process must start smart and bring a tech integrator into the early stages of the project to plan for adequate infrastructure, electrical work and network security,” the NKBA noted.

While baby boomers continue to be a large part of designers’ customer base, the demographics are shifting toward a younger audience that is increasingly driving future trends, according to the trade association. While Gen

“This has resulted in a shift in how designers do business,” the NKBA said, adding that millennial clients expect virtual meetings and are almost 10% more likely to want to do the entire project virtually.