Kitchens are king.
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The one room in a house where potential home buyers spend a lot of their time is the kitchen. Nowhere else are drawers opened, windows checked, sinks examined, splashbacks tapped and floor tiles knocked on with as much enthusiasm as in the kitchen. It follows then that one of the fastest and most lucrative ways to boost rental and resale values is to undertake a kitchen remodelling. Recognising this need, manufacturers and retailers are pushing a plethora of options to home owners looking for renovating existing kitchens, as well as builders wanting to install them in new developments. One of the newer entrants in this ever-expanding segment in the Middle East is Siematic, a German company who has partnered with the Palmon Group to bring fitted kitchens to the UAE. Their 5000-sq ft showroom within Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza), was set up at a cost of Dhs5.3 million (US $1.45 million). Siematic designed the world's first fully fitted kitchens in 1950 and their designs are currently retailed in over 55 countries. What's new about these kitchens are their scalability and flexibility. For families whose needs evolve over time -- from storing babyfood jars to large cereal boxes to fine liquors for entertaining -- these kitchens can be upgraded accordingly. The carcass of the cabinets can be fitted with various furnishing elements: bottle racks, shelving, canister drawers, hooks, storage baskets and glass holders, so the kitchen need not be ripped out to keep pace with changing needs. Siematic also has a modular kitchen option that can be added to, changed, and even moved when relocating. They also have details designed for the Middle Eastern climate, explains Stefan Albrink, managing director of Siematic. "The cabinet doors are fitted with dust seals, something that we invented 20 years ago. In hot and dusty GCC countries, this seal hinders the ingress of dust, ensuring a hygienic kitchen. The drawers have rounded edges inside, which makes them perfect for cleaning. The conventional sharp lines where horizontal meets vertical are dust and grime traps." In terms of aesthetics, the biggest trend this year is the reductionist style of kitchens, where door handles and knobs are replaced by recessed grooves. There are no ornaments or frills, just plain, clear surfaces that are easy on the eye and easy to clean. Countertops are in stone or a patented ceramic compound, while cabinetry is in fine woods like oak and elm. Stainless steel accents have edged out chrome. Door fronts and countertops can be finished in different colours and textures, per the customer's specs. One brand that delights in this reductionist aesthetic is Minotti Cucine, retailed in Dubai through Baituti. Tanya Ivin, designer at Baituti Furniture & Interior Design, says that when Minotti Cucine first started production, it manufactured kitchens following the classical American model. "When the company leadership changed in 1999, Minotti changed the design of its kitchens by being inspired by the 'Mediterranean Minimalism' and 'Essentialism.' What makes Minotti Cucine unique is its solid stone finishes. With a large variety of natural stone, consumers can custom make their own kitchen to fit the space perfectly." Each piece is unique and carefully crafted to allow the customer to feel and see the luxury of their work tops as well as the option of having the doors of the cabinets made of stone. Some of the kitchen models, such as the Atelier, also come with the option of having platinum or gold leaf finishing to give an edge. "Design-wise the biggest trend is that there is no one particular trend -- tastes differ all over the world. For instance in Belgium our farmhouse-style country kitchens are as popular as the contemporary ones. In Japan they love the horizontality of designs and the classical style kitchens as well," informs Albrink. Siematic kitchens have been installed in Sea View Club Dubai, Al Barari Luxury villas, Lime Tree Valley -- Jumeirah Golf Estates. They are working closely with several developers such as Nakheel, Jumeirah group and Dubai World. The Future of Kitchens Johnny Grey, said to be one of the world's best kitchen designers, predicts the kitchen of the 21st century will be a sociable, multi-purpose room. It will be designed with a circular open plan and provide pathways to other rooms. The new kitchen/living room will include comfortable, upholstered furniture befitting the client's individual lifestyle. This warm cooking and sociable space will be the centre of domestic activity. It will emphasise home entertaining, as well as telecommuting from a kitchen-based office. These ideas can be seen in kitchens Grey has designed for people like Sting and Howard Jones, as well as Britain's most famous food writer -- his aunt, Elizabeth David, mentor to chef Julia Child. Grey says, "The kitchen is now in essence a living room whose influence pervades every active room of the house and is changing the use of all spaces around it." Grey imagines the kitchen to be as much a living room as a food preparation centre. He typically plans the kitchen around a central island, allowing the cook's field of vision to focus in the centre of the room, away from the walls. "Perching points", like stools and sofas encourage conversation between friendly visitors and chef. Grey's concept of soft geometry -- relaxing shapes that unlock a room's natural pathways -- creates a more natural traffic flow. "Over a number of years, I've become aware of the rigidity with which people plan kitchens," say Grey. "Everything matches, everything's up against the wall. That's not how people use space. They find the most natural path -- like water flowing in a river". In addition to the idea of sociability, function and innovative style, Grey believes in the integrity of materials. "The woods and other materials we choose are beautiful in their base state; they are only enhanced by bringing out their natural intrinsic beauty with clear oils or sealers. This design and manufacture philosophy creates environmentally sound spaces, there is never a need to dispose of something that is both functional and beautiful."
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