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Forbes Feature / In Lockdown Era, Kitchens Grow In Import, Spur Interest In Imports

Pandemic-era lockdowns have heightened homeowner interest in highly customized kitchens featuring Italian craftsmanship.  ITALKRAFT

With COVID-19 forcing folks to hunker down over the past two months, kitchens around the country have become more than ever the heart of the home. They’re the focal point not just for cooking meals but for school work, Zoom meetings and spillover offices, to name a few. The longer they have lingered in their kitchens, the more many families have begun giving serious consideration to upgrading this room at the hub of every home. An era of rampant job losses and eviscerated stock portfolios isn’t usually a climate that sends folks rushing out to tackle ambitious renovations. Yet for some who have long dreamt of a new kitchen (or a fresh bathroom), a number of pandemic-fueled factors could make this the ideal time to finally take the plunge and turn a lemon of a lockdown into lemonade.

Sizing up dwellings

Months of lockdown can greatly hike homeowners’ familiarity with the pluses and minuses of their home surroundings. So to a much greater extent than ever before, those intent on remodels have had long, lingering opportunities to size up their dwellings, deciding what about them they’d like to change and envisioning every detail about their new spaces. Beyond that, the Federal Reserve has droppped interest rates to zero, making this an ideal time to borrow funds for a serious renovation or undertake a cash-out refinance to obtain both lower monthly mortgage payments and the greenbacks needed for some major work. There may not be another opportunity like this one for years or decades to come. Those benefiting most from this post-pandemic scrutiny are firms providing customized kitchens and baths. That is because the trend is toward detailed customization. So says Alex Xakoustis, founder of a company handling custom-designed kitchens, baths, cabinetry and closets called ITALKRAFT. Xakoustis says homeowners opting for renovations are increasingly seeking a high level of customization. They want to select and weigh in in on every element of their projects. They also may want to evaluate options not found only in modules. The bottom line: They want quality, advanced technology and also an additional layer of customization that makes the result distinctively their own. His team found renovation-inclined homeowners were hestitant to move forward at the pandemic’s onset. Greater clarity about the direction of the economy and stock market was needed. As the latter swiftly rebounded and a new normal was established, many decided to act. “We had clients wanting to visit the showroom and set up virtual appointments to discuss designs for upgrades and revisions to their kitchens and offices,” says Xakoustis, whose company recently opened an interactive showroom in Manhattan’s Flatiron district. “People were and still are eager to get moving again and renew what they have.” Kitchens have drawn considerable interest from shelterers, who suddenly were more likely to prepare their own meals. Xakoustis came to understand those with great kitchens and home offices were more comfortable in quarantine. “People are altering their lifestyles – cooking more and ordering in less – so therefore people are looking at their kitchens to see if they are really working for them,” he says. “Everything should flow smoothly and bring you happiness . . . People are realizing there may be a need for upgrades.”

Eyes toward Italy

Through the shelter-at-home era, interest in custom-crafted Italian interiors never declined and likely increased, Xakoustis says, noting his firm has gained from the reopening of Italy following its own deadly health crisis and lockdown. While some of the company’s work can be done by local shops and manufacturers, Xakoustis says, much of the really detailed craftsmanship must be undertaken in factories located on Italian soil. “Our Italian factories and manufacturers have a level of machinery that can’t be matched, and the quality of the material is held to the highest of standards,” reports Xakoustis, who adds his company is the only Italian design company that allows clients to fully customize designs. “For example, when working with metals, we look to our advanced machinery to create a product with no movement, something reflective of a mirror with no imperfections. To produce that locally would be difficult.”

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