If you’ve recently visited a friend’s house and thought, “I love this kitchen so much, it makes me hate you,” it’s time for an upgrade. Though, considering what an investment this is, you don’t want to update the space…and have it feel totally dated a year from now. Never fear: Thanks to minimalist-driven aesthetics like japandi and organic modernism, you can create a sleek kitchen that feels current—yet is pared back enough to stand the test of time. Here, four ways to upgrade your space in 2021, plus two trends that have been totally overdone.

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Design: Pulp Design Studios’; Photo: Stephen Karlisch

TRY: Integrated Cabinetry

Years from now, we expect historians to look back and declare 2020 as one of the biggest sh*t shows in modern civilization. So, it’s no wonder that Zen, Marie Kondo–inspired kitchens are trending. That said, there is one core principle that all minimalists adhere to: Keep the counters clutter-free. “Designers want the kitchen to flow and not feel so utilitarian,” says Kim Armstrong of Kim Armstrong Interior Design. As a result, “many items are getting integrated into the cabinetry, and cabinets are feeling less standardized, and not as ‘off the shelf’ as before.” Essentially, integrated cabinetry covers up appliances, giving everything a more streamlined, uniform look.

And when it comes to freeing up counter space, incorporating bulky appliances into your cabinetry is a must (check out these brilliant kitchen organizing tips from Marie Kondo). “Just like the appliance garage, the [kitchen] trend to hide your big, bulky appliances is taking hold,” Armstrong explains.

Courtesy of Breegan Jane

TRY: Fluted Details

You know those elegant, luxurious kitchens you see on Instagram? Apparently, achieving that “just-photographed-for-Architectural-Digest” look is easier than it seems. Enter: fluted accents. “'Fluting is a fantastic way to add texture and depth to an interior, without adding an obvious pattern or ornamentation, which could date quickly,” says Victoria Spencer-Eves of VEVES interior design.

Fluting in your cabinetry, backsplash or furniture is a great way to add some dimension without forsaking that timeless, sophisticated look. That subtle texture and depth are just enough to liven up a minimalist kitchen, so it doesn’t look sterile or snoozy. If you’re thinking of this upgrade, Spencer-Eves has a crucial tip: “When creating something bespoke, it's important to calculate the spacing between the flutes, so you don't end up on a half flute between doors."

Courtesy of Kim Armstrong Interior Design

TRY: Moody Marble Slabs

Calling all cottagecore-lovers: Adding dyed-marble or colored quartzite slabs to your kitchen will give you heart eyes every time you walk into the room (we promise). Back in 2020, PureWow editor Candace Davison reported an emerging countertop trend: “colored quartzite, a sturdier alternative to marble that almost looks like your table’s covered in agate crystal. It’s bold, luxe and…definitely not for the faint of heart,” (and boy did she get this one right). However, in 2021, we’re seeing this trend go way further than your countertops.

“I love that the countertop material is being re-invented in such a showcasing way. The beautiful flowing veins of natural stone, and variance of colors, and the coolness of the touch is such a thing of natural beauty,” raves Armstrong. She recommends “using these materials as thick profile edge countertops, waterfall islands or even wrapping hoods in all stone.”

Courtesy of Breegan Jane

TRY: Tuxedo Palettes

Another trend that seems to be having a renaissance in minimalist home decor is tuxedo kitchens, which typically feature dark lower cabinets and white upper cabinets. “Tuxedo kitchens are really having a moment right now,” says designer and lifestyle expert Breegan Jane. “When you commit to a neutral color palette, you don’t actually commit at all because you can add in interesting pops of color effortlessly,” Jane says—and we’re right there with her. One of the biggest draws of a classic tuxedo kitchen is that you can play around with seasonal trends without the long-term commitment (and without spending a fortune).

“When it comes to designing a tuxedo kitchen, I suggest avoiding true black for the lower surfaces, because it can read too harshly,” Breegan says. “Instead, aim for a hue closer to a smokey gray or something with navy undertones. You’ll still get the deep richness you’re seeking but without the severity. Select white hues that lean cooler, rather than beige or yellow. The cool-toned white will be a perfect contrast with the darker colors in the kitchen.”

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SKIP: Cluttered Counters

“A cluttered kitchen is a cheugy kitchen,” according to interior designer Tiffany Smith of JL Design. Not only do cluttered countertops look overdone, but it makes meal prep a lot more complicated. “If you have an older kitchen, the first step I suggest taking is removing every single item from the space,” Smith suggests. “From there add what's necessary and no more.”

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SKIP: Stainless Steel Appliances

Stainless steel appliances are on the way out (and we can’t say that we’ll miss obsessively cleaning fingerprints off of our refrigerators). “If you have sleek white cabinets, then a sleek white appliance is the way to go,” says Smith. On that note, we recommend sticking with two trending “M’s” of 2021: monochromatic and minimal. “Sometimes, stainless makes sense, but the thought that ‘stainless appliances’ means updated and high-end is most definitely an outdated idea.”

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