By Ilene Denton

What new homeowners want in the most important room in the house.

It’s never been truer:

Today’s open kitchen is the heart of the home. Flowing seamlessly into the living and dining areas for optimal entertaining and family gathering opportunities, these hugely popular kitchens offer the fine-furniture finishes, on-trend materials and conveniences that new home buyers now demand. And area home builders are happy to oblige. A recent national survey by the Pulte Group, parent company of DiVosta Homes, which is developing Island Walk at the West Villages in Venice, revealed that 29 percent of Americans say the kitchen is the most important area when choosing a new home. The most preferred kitchen feature, according to 23 percent of survey respondents, is a large eat-in area, followed closely by a kitchen island.

“Consumers today aren’t just looking for the biggest house on the block. They’re looking for more efficient use of space and a greater area allocated to workhorse spaces, like the kitchen,” says Ryan Marshall, executive vice president of homebuilding operations, marketing and sales for PulteGroup, Inc. In D.R. Horton’s gated, master-planned community of Talon Bay in North Port, for example, where an eventual 233 single-family homes and villas will be built around lakes and nature preserves, division president Jonathon M. Pentecost agrees that buyers want “functional and open kitchens that are a chef’s delight for entertaining.” He points to the Edison model, now open for touring, with an open floor plan that provides the perfect work flow for both chef and guests. D.R. Horton offers many customizable options like soft-close cabinetry, decorative glass cabinet inserts, French-door refrigerators and granite countertops.

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Top, today’s popular neutral tones in the Edison model in D.R. Horton’s Talon Bay, and below, in its Winchester model.

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“Kitchens are more important than ever,” says interior designer Lori Fountain, who decorated the models at Venice’s Grand Oaks, a new community of 55 single-family homes that boasts kitchens with made-to-order custom cabinetry in a variety of finishes, despite the homes’ moderate price tags, which range from the high $200,000s to low $300,000s.

What do buyers want? Gray is popular in the kitchen, Fountain says—think driftwood colors in wood tones—and  black is coming back as a cabinet color, too, both in lacquered, high-gloss cabinets and also in wood grains. That holds true no matter what cabinet style each home buyer chooses.

And islands are sizzling hot. “It’s not unusual for us to do eight- to 10-foot islands,” for clients, Fountain says. Not last decade’s stepped islands, though, she says; one-level islands make for a more social experience. Often the home buyer chooses an island in a contrasting color to the rest of the cabinetry. “The island becomes a furniture-looking piece, but with not as many fussy details [as the last decade], even in transitional kitchens,” Fountain says.

Granite is still tried and true, especially quiet patterns in grays and taupes—“not the big, giant swirly stuff” that flooded the market a decade ago, she says. Many buyers now opt for quartz countertops instead. “They offer a less busy look,” Fountain says. “It’s nice to have a cleaner look since people are using the kitchen as an integrated living space.”

And absolutely everybody wants large pull-out drawers for pots and pans, she adds.

Interior designer Charlene Neal keeps her finger on the pulse of the latest home trends; after all, in her long career she’s designed more than 80 model homes for the family business, Neal Communities. (In Venice, Neal Communities is currently developing the new master-planned community of Grand Palm, and is offering new homes in the venerable gated Boca Royale Golf & Country Club.)

“What’s old is new,” the designer says. “Surprisingly, the white kitchen with black counters or rich granite colors continues to be popular with all age demographics.” For a clean transitional

to modern look, the white kitchen is often paired with linear tile backsplashes in gray and sometimes metallic elements. For this look, cabinet profiles become flat or flat recessed panels. Subway tile is also still popular; this 3-inch by 6-inch tile is often laid in a subway or offset pattern but can be laid vertically for a more modern appearance.

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Different spins on the modern kitchen from Neal Communities: the Tidewater in Grand Palm (top) and the Windsong in Boca Royale Golf & Country Club (below)

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Taupe to dove-gray painted finishes are also an excellent choice for any kitchen you choose, from traditional to modern, says Neal. “This looks great with everything from white marble counters

to rich navy or black pearl countertops,” she suggests.

As kitchens become more open to the rest of the living space, the interior designer says pendant lighting is playing a more important role. “What’s popular is everything from black iron lanterns to dome fixtures that look like they came right out of an old schoolhouse,” she says. “These fixtures become part

of the architecture of the room, often

at a fraction of the price of built-ins or trim work.”

Finally, the choice of appliances seems to be personal and generally based on one’s budget, but “just shopping the world of what’s out there is exciting,” says Neal, “everything from built-in cappuccino makers to the wonderful GE Advantium microwave, which is also a convection and conventional oven, is now available. One of the most useful things I have recently discovered is the drawer microwave that fits nicely under the kitchen island, opens and closes automatically and is accessed from the top. This is a great way to hide the micro and at the same, time it allows access to younger children to be do-it-yourselfers.”||||

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Striking pendant lights in DiVosta’s Martin Ray model at Island Walk at the West Villages.

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