A recent Kitchen Cabinet King survey shows stainless steel cabinets, engineered stone countertops and green design are among the top remodeling ideas for 2011. But kitchen designers in the metro area say the real trend here is to avoid being trendy. "Washington has always been very traditional because of the federal government and military," said Jennifer Gilmer of Chevy Chase-based Jennifer Gilmer Kitchens and Baths. "People tend to be a little more conservative when it comes to design."

»?Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath Ltd. jennifergilmerkitchens.com
»?Mary Kurtz Kitchens LLC marykurtzkitchens.com
»?Davida Rodriguez davidaskitchenandtiles.com

Washingtonians prefer classic styling in kitchen cabinets. "They like the simplicity," said Gilmer. "Life is so complicated because of all the things going on out there. In the last five years I've seen more people asking for more clean-line kitchens."

"I'm seeing a lot of wenge," said Davida Rodriguez of Davida's Kitchen & Tiles in Gaithersburg. Wenge, a dark tropical hardwood, is one of several exotic woods showing up in area kitchens.

Wenge, bamboo and ribbon-cut mahogany offer horizontal grain patterns that produce a modern Zen-like look.

Modern is in, at least what Washingtonians consider modern.

"What's modern to many in this area is a Shaker-style door; flat panel, straight lines," said Mary Kurtz of Kurtz Kitchens. "Shaker is still traditional."

Kurtz said her clients seek personal touches, including incorporating an art collection into the kitchen design or global themes reflecting travel experiences.

"I don't think anyone does a total design all in one genre anymore," Kurtz said. "Everybody wants their kitchen personalized."

One national trend catching on locally is less cabinetry and more use of floating, open shelves or exposed walls. People no longer feel the need to fill up every wall with cabinets, Gilmer noted.

Multiple finishes also are in, including choosing a different color cabinet stain for an island. Varied counters, ranging from butcher block in a prep area to marble or limestone on an island, also are catching on.

Granite remains the top choice for countertops; however; honed granite is replacing the sleek polished finish.

Polished granite is glossier and often reveals a richer deeper color. Honed granite surfaces are finished before buffing, resulting in matte look. Most granite slabs arrive in showrooms polished; having the finish removed is expensive but results in a more custom look.

"Polished granite is a good material, but it's everywhere," Kurtz said. "Some clients don't want to see their kitchen in Home Depot."

The trend toward more eco-friendly design grew last year but area designers are skeptical about a widespread "green movement" in kitchens, mainly because of cost.

"It will be interesting to see if it starts to catch on. I have clients who say they want to go green and then it got too expensive," Rodriguez noted.

"I've seen a countertop made out of recycled beer bottles. It looks great, but it's too expensive," Kurtz added.

Kurtz said the biggest innovation has been the improvement of hardware. What used to be upgrades are now standard features.

"You used to have to pay extra for little things like full extension drawers. I did my own kitchen 10 years ago and it cost me an extra $100 per drawer. Now that hardware is standard," she said.

The economy affects kitchen design choices. Even the wealthy are budget-conscious. In the late 1990s through about 2005, resale value often trumped personal desires.

"These days people want what they want in their kitchens," said Rodriguez. "They plan to live in their homes for 10 years and think, 'Let the next owners pick what they want in it.' "