Consumers crave kitchen, bath 'new luxury'

NORTH OLMSTED, OHIO It's paying $2,000 for a granite kitchen countertop instead of $600 for a laminate version, or spending $3,500 for a custom-designed refrigerator rather than $300 for a basic model. What are we talking about? It's called "new luxury," one of the most rapidly growing trends in the home, a phenomenon of consumers paying significantly higher premiumson items and services. According

NORTH OLMSTED, OHIO — It's paying $2,000 for a granite kitchen countertop instead of $600 for a laminate version, or spending $3,500 for a custom-designed refrigerator rather than $300 for a basic model. What are we talking about? It's called "new luxury," one of the most rapidly growing trends in the home, a phenomenon of consumers paying significantly higher premiumson items and services.

According to estimates by businesses gurus Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske, there are close to 122 million Americans who have the capability and desire to spend more for new luxury. Silverstein and Fisk identified the "new luxury" trend and call this phenomenon of paying more than average for goods "trading up," and detail its growth in their book, "Trading Up: The New American Luxury."

What's the appeal of new luxury? While many items in this category have a quality advantage over their competitors, it isn't value-added that's drawing so many homeowners to them. New luxury products are so popular because they involve an emotional sentiment in their possession.

Brand Manager Margie Rowe at Moen Inc. explained how consumers can develop such sentimental feelings over an appliance or household item.

"Many of us are a part of this trend because these new luxury items have become a symbol of quality, good taste and, ultimately, personal happiness," Rowe said. "We feel these new, unique product offerings are a vehicle for self expression."

New luxury spans across a number of markets, but, according to Silverstein and Fiske, it's hit the home front hardest. Fifty years ago, the average home measured 983-sq.ft. Today, it's more than 2,200-sq.ft. And in new construction and remodeling projects, consumers expect new luxury amenities as the standard fare in their everexpanding homes.

At the heart of the new luxury home is the kitchen. In the 1950s, the average kitchen remodel cost approximately $9,000 in today's dollars. Now it's more than $57,000. Homeowners want to feel as though the design of their kitchen is a reflection of their successful life. In Silverstein and Fiske's research, they spoke with one homeowner who said, "The quality of our appliances represents us."

With homeowners' increasing desire to trade up, manufacturers are responding. Moen entered the category of new luxury in 2004 with its new ShowHouse by Moen brand that features unique product designs with cutting-edge styles more likely to appeal to fashion-conscious homeowners.

Another is Delta Faucets' Michael Graves Collection, created by the wellknown designer and its Brizo line, introduced this past April to replace the Delta Select line.

Even Elkay, well-known for its stainless steel sinks, jumped in with a new line of Italian-designed and manufactured faucets.

The introductions at this past year's Kitchen & Bath Industry Show are in response to offerings from high-end domestic and European manufacturers such as Kohler, Grohe and Hansgrohe that have long-used designers such as Antonio Citterio and Philippe Starck.

With kitchens and baths remaining the focal points of homes, combined with the trading-up phenomenon, the manufacturers and product offerings in this new luxury category will continue to grow. Items that were once considered elite will become prevalent. Items like professional-grade cooking equipment and wide spread designer powder room faucets will become luxuries that more Americans own.