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2021 Kitchen and Dining Trends: Think Refresh, Not Remodel

Camille LeFevre, Home Features Editor
Dec 24, 2020 ⋅  6 min read

Who isn't ready for a kitchen re-do? Especially as, in the last nine months, our kitchens and dining rooms (particularly for those with open-plan homes) have been working overtime. In addition to the three (or more!) meals a day plus snacks prepared and enjoyed in these spaces, they're hosting home offices and virtual school sessions, game nights and puzzle afternoons, impromptu happy hours, and mid-morning coffee breaks.

It's no wonder our kitchens are wearing out. But a kitchen makeover doesn't have to mean tearing down to the studs and starting over. In fact, the most sustainable approach to renewing a tired kitchen or dining area is to work with what you have—as much as possible. So, think refresh, not remodel. With these top tips for creating a more sustainable kitchen and dining room, we'll show you how as we enter into 2021.

Table of Contents

  1. What Are Simple Fixes for a Fresh Kitchen Look?
  2. Update Appliances: Go Electric 
  3. Dining Rooms: Single or Multi-Use? 
  4. Dining with Nature: Green Walls  

What Are Simple Fixes for a Fresh Kitchen Look?

A kitchen can feel fresh and new with a few simple fixes. Paint, cabinet hardware, cabinet doors, countertop updates, and a new floor are all excellent ideas to update your space's look.

Painted Kitchen. Cabinets. Photo Credit: Rafterhouse

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Paint, Hardware, and Cabinetry

Consider a new paint color for the walls or ceiling (low- or zero-VOC, of course) or updated cabinet hardware (look for recycled hardware at antique or salvage shops). These creative kitchen updates don't generate remodeling waste that usually ends up in a landfill. You can also save resources by keeping your existing cabinets while updating your cabinet fronts.

Most wood cabinetry contains urea-formaldehyde. When considering new cabinet fronts, look for solid-wood products or alternative materials such as wheatboard. Also, look for products finished with non-toxic finishes. Cabinets made with a sustainably harvested wood variety can refresh a kitchen. Bamboo, one of the world's fastest-growing plants and doesn't require pesticides. Eucalyptus is another good option.

Whether you're considering new cabinet fronts or a whole new set of cabinetry, check out local makers or craftspeople who use reclaimed, salvaged, or responsibly harvested lumber in their work.

Recycled Paper Countertop. Photo Credit: Richlite


New countertops also refresh a kitchen. While granite has been the rage for decades, the sustainable kitchen in 2021 also includes countertops fabricated from recycled paper or hemp. Both are durable and easy to clean.

Squak Mountain Stone is an innovative product that looks and feels like natural soapstone. It's soapstone- or limestone-like countertop material made out of Portland cement, waste fly ash, waste glass dust, mixed waste paper, and pigments. It includes more than 60 percent post-consumer and post-industrial waste. It also weighs 50 percent less than traditional concrete slabs of similar size but is just as durable.

Cork Kitchen Floor. Photo Credit: Forna Cork Flooring


A new kitchen or dining room floor would also give these spaces a refresh. Bamboo and cork are durable, sustainable options. Real linoleum, installed with low- or zero-VOC adhesives, is dent and moisture resistant and easy to install and maintain.

Induction Cooktop. Photo Credit: Cindy McCarley Designs

Update Appliances: Go Electric 

Another way to refresh the kitchen is to update outdated appliances, especially if they're more than ten years old. Look for the ENERGY STAR logo. ENERGY STAR models are 10 to 50 percent more efficient than standard appliances. A new, energy-efficient refrigerator might use less than 400 kilowatt-hours per year, compared to the 1,200 kilowatt-hours annually consumed by an older unit.

Consider an electric cooktop and oven. Traditional electric cooktops and ranges use 65 to 70 percent of the heat generated to cook food; gas cooktops use 40 percent. Induction cooktops, however, use 90%.

Induction cooktops use electromagnetic induction to generate heat in pots and pans. The element itself remains relatively cool to the touch. The pot or pan must be made of a material attracted to magnets, like cast iron or magnetic stainless steel. The induction process is 50 percent more efficient than gas or electric. Also, the cooktop is safe to touch as soon as you remove the pan .

Dishwashers are also great energy-saving appliances. Top-rated ENERGY STAR-certified dishwashers use between 199 and 220 kilowatts hours (kWh) of electricity per year when averaging 215 loads per year (which equates to about four loads per week). They also incorporate advanced technologies that reduce water consumption while improving the dish-cleaning method.

Dining Rooms: Single or Multi-Use? 

Trend analysts are all over the map when forecasting how we'll use our dining rooms in 2021. Whether a large and formal space or a simple and cozy nook in the kitchen, dining areas often serve multiple purposes these days. From 8-5, they're work-from-home offices and virtual learning spaces. After 5:00 p.m., they're places for happy hour, gathering with bubble-or pod-worthy family and friends, and perhaps even the spot for sit-down family dinners. 

Over the summer, many homeowners moved cooking and dining outdoors. With the cooler weather, analysts forecast that some homeowners will want to reclaim their beautiful dining rooms. Some simple fixes for an update include a fresh coat of wall or ceiling paint, new art or décor, and new table linens.

Trend forecasters also note a movement toward incorporating more niches or partitions in the kitchen and dining areas to provide zones for work, study, and private time. Mobile, modern walls are unobtrusive and create small spaces perfect for a mini-study, reading area, or nest for binging on a favorite streaming service. 

Moss Wall. Photo Credit: Planterra

Dining with Nature: Green Walls  

Natural materials—including wood, bamboo, stone, linen, ceramics, and even windowsill gardens—have long brought nature into the kitchen and dining areas. In 2021, however, design analysts are full-out in favor of not only plentiful potted plants (there's never been a rule about how many plants are too many), but whole accent walls planted with lush green vines, moss, or other greenery.

The ultimate air freshener, walls planted with greenery are works of art that bring the outdoors inside. Moss walls are fabricated using moss (make sure your source is reliable) that's been sustainably harvested, cleaned, and preserved with a non-toxic natural resin, such as vegetable glycerin. The moss can also be dyed.

Living walls, an element of biophilic design, are constructed using live plants, soil, and a water delivery system. As a result, a living wall can weigh up to ten to twelve pounds per square foot. It also requires regular maintenance. Conversely, moss walls weigh about 3 pounds per square foot. Bonus: They can also enliven shady spots in your home. Moreover, what a backdrop for your Zoom meetings!

Is the idea of constructing a whole wall of plants or mass too much? You can make an equally dramatic statement with a floor-to-ceiling palm or a striking bird of paradise. Scale back to a set of cacti or other small succulents for table or shelf decorations. If houseplants strike you like a more informal approach to dining room décor, you're not alone.

2020 changed the way we live by bringing us home to work, learn, play, and socialize. So, 2021 has us focused on creating unique, livable, functional, and comfortable indoor environments in homes where spaces have become multi-purpose. 

Photo Credit: Pure Salt Interiors

In 2021, comfort, versatility, and sustainability are the keys to creating the rooms in which we spend our days--especially in kitchens and dining areas. Brought into day-long use by the whole family, we've adapted, and continue to adapt, these rooms to our new needs and the new normal. No matter the style, colors, or accessories you choose, the sustainable goals for 2021 are efficient and responsible, fun, and functional.

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Article by:Camille LeFevre

Camille LeFevre is an architecture and design writer based in the Twin Cities.