By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer

Every quarter, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) surveys 500 architects across the country to discover the latest design trends in kitchen and bath remodels.

According to the 2009 survey for the fourth quarter, the five most popular upgrades for kitchens are more practical than ever.

Recycling Centers,Pantries Among Top Kitchen Upgrades

Changing the lighting and fixtures in your home is, surprisingly, one of the last steps toward achieving a net-zero home.

The top feature is a recycling center, or in other words, a designated place to put those cans, papers and other recyclables. It could be in the form of a nook by the back door or even part of the lower cabinetry of your kitchen. The fact is that recycling has become a big part of people’s lives.

Understanding that remodeling is about making a home function better, it isn’t surprising that an earth-conscious consumer would include a feature that makes recycling an integral part of daily life.

The next most desired item is a larger pantry, another practical feature. If you have a larger kitchen, you may be able to redesign the space to create a walk-in pantry.

An area of about 5 feet by 7 feet makes a good-size pantry. Lining the walls of the pantry with shelves from 12 to 18 inches deep will provide storage for a lot of food and equipment. As far as shelving material goes, you have an array of options: wood, metal, laminate or wire. Don’t let cost determine your material choice. For example, while wire shelving is 10 percent to 20 percent cheaper than laminate, it may not be as convenient for storing glassware or smaller objects as a solid shelving material.

If you want more pantry space without moving walls, then you may want to consider a wall pantry cabinet. They are typically 24 inches deep and 15 to 30 inches wide. With some sort of fully extending pull-out shelves, these cabinets hold an amazing amount of kitchen or household supplies. There are many versions of this type of cabinetry that will help you better use the space in your kitchen. Meet with an architect or cabinet designer to help you decide on the products and design that are best for your kitchen.

The AIA Design Trends Survey found the next two kitchen must-haves are renewable flooring and new countertop materials.

Sustainability remains a popular attribute when choosing replacement materials in the kitchen.

There are currently many options for green countertops, which are generally comprised of different combinations of natural and man-made materials to make composite slabs. Most green countertops integrate some form of recycled waste into the mix. The compositions range from countertops made of metals, recycled glass, paper, stone, wood or a mixture of several such materials.

One company, for instance, makes a cement-based countertop from post consumer bottle glass, tempered glass, wood chips, metal shavings and shells. With the increasing demand for these products, companies are supplying more innovative, attractive and viable alternatives to the conventional countertop materials.

Flooring materials don’t have to get as creative as countertops to be considered renewable. Variations of wood, bamboo, cork, concrete and linoleum have been used for years and are considered renewable to some degree because they are all made from natural materials.

The fifth most popular feature in the AIA Design Trend Survey is a computer area/recharging station. The kitchen is not just for cooking anymore! It has become the center of the home for functions such as homework, paying bills, managing e-mail and scheduling family and individual activities. Families now also need an area devoted to recharging laptops, iPods, cell phones and PDAs while ideally hiding all the wires involved.

It was only a matter of time before modern technology pushed this one to a top kitchen design trend.

It looks as if consumers are going green — but not without their iPhones! As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

Recycling centers, pantries among top kitchen upgrades