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What's new in kitchens

Kitchens are "the rooms that can make or break a new home sale," says Joan McCloskey, senior building editor for Better Homes & Gardens magazine. "The kitchen has also become the "measure of our income' room. We used to show off our luxurious master bath to our friends. Today we show off our kitchens."

There is no one preferred style in kitchens, McCloskey said: Some want a woody look, some prefer a crisp, contemporary style. Some want a kitchen straight out of Tuscany, some want a bistro look. "Some want an express-cook kitchen, meant only for warming up deli take-home; others want a kitchen outfitted with every appliance, large and small, made today."

Buyers want function as well as beauty in their kitchens, McCloskey said: drawers and cabinets outfitted with lazy susans, utensil trays and spice organizers, a capacious pantry.

Now that granite and stainless steel have trickled down to lower price ranges, the wealthy will be looking for something new. That might be engineered quartz counters such as Silestone or the Zodiaq product from Corian, McCloskey predicted. In appliance finishes, "In two or three years we'll be showing kitchens with a new metallic finish, such as bronze, that will melt into the mellow wood look of many kitchens tomorrow."

Other kitchen predictions offered by McCloskey at the National Association of Home Builders convention last month in Atlanta:

+ Unusual woods for cabinets: ash, beech and alder.

+ Flooring and cabinet doors with inlays.

+ Hand-painted murals and tiles on backsplashes.

+ An end to hardwood floors in kitchens: "Watch for a shift to limestone topped with area rugs to be the latest craze."

+ Islands topped with a different material from other counters.

+ Fireplaces at eye level.