4.2.2. Value Captured—Positive Aspects of the Value Proposition that Can Support Circularity
The housing developer (A) appreciates the well-established processes with all their partners. For instance, the offered services and easy communication were mentioned as key factors when choosing a kitchen producer. The kitchen producer (F) actively works towards developing comprehensive processes with key partners. They emphasise the importance of engaging early in a project and providing consulting and guidance services already in the design phase. To enable good collaboration and ensure quality throughout the whole process, there are partnership agreements in place, which describe the basic rules and requirements of their cooperation. This well-established collaboration could potentially facilitate the CE transition for kitchens.
… I think we had the benefit of having responsive customers, [and] we have had nice cooperation over the last few years, so we have put in a lot of routines that help in this process. (F1)
The long tradition of modular measurements for kitchen furniture allows for the furniture size to be easily adapted to the particular dimensions of a room. Theoretically, in a smaller kitchen, fewer modules can be installed, while in a larger kitchen, the basic constellation can be extended with extra modules. This modular concept provides variation through the same design system. It was indicated (C) that the kitchen furniture has been made with the same modular measurements over the past 40 years and has been adopted by all major kitchen producers. This allows kitchen producers to deliver for any building project and carries the opportunity to develop a product that is easy to repair, refurbish, or dismantle.
The architect designs the kitchen with the intention of creating a functional living space for the end-users. The room must be spacious enough for the household, and its furniture arrangement must allow practical workflows. The architects (B; C; D) expressed that it is their responsibility to create an apartment floorplan and kitchen that can accommodate reasonable furniture solutions. They also presented intentions to create harmony among the materials used, design features of the furniture, and the connecting rooms. One of the architects (B) added that providing proper daylight in the kitchen is also an important factor.
The housing developers (A; G) and the architects (B; C; D) regard the Swedish regulations and standards as reliable references for creating a good kitchen. They expressed that the standards create an adequate baseline for quality and eliminate inappropriate solutions. The kitchen producer (F) further underlined the importance of the standards and said that in each project, they must follow them. With respect to regulations, accessibility was mentioned as an important spatial aspect and durability of built-in materials as a crucial quality for the furniture.
Concerning the arrangement of the kitchen furniture, the different stakeholders were in consensus with one another. They agreed that the straight and L-shaped layout typologies were favourable options. The straight layout was the most preferred among the interviewees, who added that this layout is most applicable for larger kitchens, where the length of the room provides for this layout typology. The least preferred layout was the U-shaped design. One interviewee mentioned that “all corners are difficult, so the best is to avoid it” (B). The corners are troublesome because the countertop is manufactured in one piece and is therefore difficult to work with during transportation and installation. Furthermore, the U-shaped layout may feel cramped, which is not optimal when multiple people are using the kitchen at the same time. Additionally, valuable countertop surface and storage opportunities are lost or underutilised in this layout. Parallel kitchen designs were viewed as a possible alternative, but only when there is enough space designed between the parallel sides of the furniture. Choosing a built-in furniture layout that is easy to install can later facilitate effortless maintenance or refurbishment, while layout typologies favoured by the end-users could extend the product’s lifespan.
Open apartment floorplans were mentioned to be the result of compact housing designs. The efficient site use and floorplan solutions enable lower environmental impact per household. The real estate agent (E) pointed out that an open floorplan with a kitchen island is a favoured solution of the end-user since it creates a space for social activities. Although the architects (B; C; D) had divided opinions about open floorplans, they acknowledged their advantages (e.g., experience of spaciousness, ideal for socialising). One of the architects (D) cited an example project where, in half of the apartments of a building project, a kitchen island was incorporated within the open floorplans and, in contradiction to the housing developers’ initial fears, these apartments were sold first and fast. However, it was further noted that providing the kitchen islands was only possible because the apartment sizes were relatively bigger than average due to regulations of the local authorities.
There is an increasing interest in end-user preferences among the stakeholders. For instance, through the work of the interior design responsible (A1) and the customer manager (G2), the respective housing developers (A; G) intended to gain knowledge about user demands and to offer services that satisfy the end-user. The housing developer (A) hopes that they can incorporate these demands in the initial design of the kitchen layout and furniture. By creating solutions that prioritise end-user preferences, the expected use cycle of the product can be prolonged, the number of consumer-initiated radical renovation projects may be reduced, and resources would thereby be used in a more sustainable way.
Basically, whoever will live there [in the apartments] is our focus. (G1)
We also have a responsibility to ensure that the customer gets a good product. (G2)
The real estate broker (E) established knowledge about user preferences and, in rare cases, acted as an adviser to the housing developer during the design process. Both the housing developer (A) and the real estate broker (E) found that neutral colours and design solutions were preferred by end-users. The real estate broker (E) further observed that long-lasting and energy-efficient appliances are often appreciated. The housing developer (G) saw an increasing demand for more technological solutions (e.g., appliances operated through apps) among their younger clients. According to the kitchen producer (F), popular trends include drawers with soft closing systems or countertops made of stone products. Table 4
summarises the captured circular values in the stakeholder’s value proposition. These values have the possibility to support a circular kitchen and housing design.
4.2.3. Value Missed, Destroyed, or Wasted—Negative Aspects of the Value Proposition that Can Hinder Circularity
The linear business model of the stakeholders mostly ends with the installation of a kitchen. The kitchen producer (F) explains that there is a five-year warranty period while the end-users receive help with damages in the furniture. However, there is a missed circular opportunity to capture revenue from long-term, second-cycle services such as recollecting, refurbishing, and reselling kitchen furniture or recycling materials.
Furniture design examples from the 1920s and 1950s were cited as exclusive, custom made, and easy to repair. However, it was pointed out that, even if there is the possibility to refurbish older solid wood furniture, it is costly, and often, it is cheaper to replace all of it. Recent kitchen furniture is more difficult to refurbish, since fibreboards became the most common material used in the furniture industry. To enable more circularity for kitchens, it is crucial to apply materials that are easy to maintain, refurbish, and recycle. However, there is a lack of feasible, durable, and sustainable alternatives. The kitchen producer (F) also pointed out that there are risks in changing practices first on the market: There is economic uncertainty, the company might lose customers, production processes must be reorganised, and they would need to invest in new equipment, production lines, and facilities.
The housing developer aims for profitable projects, which influences what kitchen designs are realised. Firstly, extra equipment or larger kitchens than required by regulations would lead to extra costs. These extra costs could be mitigated by higher rental or selling prices, but these prices might elicit unfavourable responses from end-users. Secondly, usually, the housing developer aims to maximise their profit for each project. Consequently, apartments built today are more compact and less flexible [48
]. Thirdly, experimenting with new solutions and being innovative is a risk factor for housing developers, since untested alternatives might not sell. Architects (C; D; E) found that regulations and standards are applied too rigidly, and this leads to inflexible dwellings and a lack of innovative solutions. They also pointed out that housing developers often ask for the minimum that standards recommend. Therefore, to achieve circularity, enable long use cycles, and eliminate unnecessary renovations, it is important to balance economic gains with end-user demands.
The developer […] want[s] the kitchen to be a nice kitchen, but they don’t want to make it bigger than the standards demand so they keep it for the exact […] size for the purpose of the apartment. […] I think I am very critical to these standards because they are today used as a model, so you can’t do anything else but the standards, so that I think is wrong. (D)
Many apartments today are built with an open floorplan between the kitchen and the living room. As stated earlier, this is primarily to save space and increase profitability, but is marketed as a means to enhance sustainability by permitting dense developments, efficient heating, and opportunities for social activities. One of the interview participants from the housing developer expressed concerns regarding this practice, pointing out that “… the reason why we have these open kitchens and living room is [...] to minimise, to cut […] square metres, or […] combine the areas. So, it is a way of narrowing things, actually lowering quality in one sense” (A2). An architect (D) also remarked that the open floorplan solution was a result of more compact living spaces. It was further expressed that “if [a dwelling] has a large area, the kitchen can be large too. If it has a small area, one can, in some way, be forced into solutions for [combined] kitchens and living rooms […] to save space” (B). An additional speculation was made stating that, if the end-user could choose between an open layout or a separate kitchen (for the same price), the latter solution would be more popular.
The kitchen producer (F) and housing developer (G) pointed out that the dimensions of the kitchen predominantly determine the arrangement of the built-in furniture. In a larger space, there is more opportunity for more exclusive solutions (such as a kitchen island). An interviewee (F2) reflected that, in other dwelling types (e.g., terraced houses), there is a more spacious room for a kitchen and, hence, there is more possibility for better-equipped furniture. In connection to the modular measurements of the furniture, one of the architects mentioned that, if they design something “that doesn’t follow those modular [measures] at all, none of the big manufacturers can actually deliver anything, so it has to be all custom made and that’s not an option. […] It would be far too expensive” (C).
The infrastructure (e.g., electricity, plumbing, ventilation system) connected to the kitchen also influences the spatial design of the room. One interviewee opined (D) that the electricity was the least influential factor. The plumbing and ventilation systems play a higher impact. The age and condition of these infrastructure systems can be major reasons for fully renovating a kitchen. However, these systems are hard to modify, since they are often built into the overall building structure and are connected to larger systems.
Further difficulties can occur if this infrastructure is part of a kitchen island (e.g., sink, stove). The kitchen producer (F) also emphasised that furniture must be designed in consideration of the infrastructure. Considerations include, for instance, how to cover water and ventilation pipes. The flexibility, adaptability, and ‘furnishability’ of a kitchen is influenced by how the necessary infrastructure was installed in the first place. For example, the positions of the electrical sockets determine the appliances’ locations, and the water and plumbing system determine the location of the sink and dishwasher. Therefore, creating more flexible ways of connecting to infrastructure can facilitate various layout solutions and would not lock in certain parts (e.g., sink, oven, dishwasher, ventilation hub) of the built-in furniture.
The kitchen furniture must also accommodate built-in appliances. These appliances are delivered through the contractor, and the kitchen producer must adjust the measurements of the furniture accordingly. The kitchen producer (F) must be able to produce a wide range of possible furniture sizes, since the dimensions of appliances vary between producers. This is not a sustainable practice, since the wide range of measurements makes repairs and refurbishment difficult. Changing appliance trends were also mentioned. For example, today, the microwave oven is a standard, often built-in part of the kitchen, while the stove and the oven are not necessarily integrated into one device (B). The stove is commonly mounted separately in the countertop, and the oven is placed in a tall cupboard at a comfortable operation height. These changes reflect both technological advances and user preferences.
The end-user has a limited influence on the layout and equipment of the built-in furniture, which is finalised by the time the end-user is involved in the process. Furthermore, there are few projects that directly involve end-users in evaluating the final design from their perspective. The kitchen producer (F), for instance, solely follows trends, and they rely on their experience with private clients (mostly villa owners).
The real estate broker (E) and the housing developer (G) pointed out that the location of the housing project also has an impact on the kitchen. Depending on the area, the anticipated group of buyers might have different expectations regarding the quality and equipment of a kitchen.
summarises the identified missed, destroyed, or wasted circular values. These negative aspects can hinder the CE transition; in a future kitchen and housing design they must be improved.
4.2.4. Four Circularity Opportunities for the Kitchen and Housing Design
The circular value opportunities consist of propositions by the interviewed stakeholders and suggestions by the authors based on the identified missed, destroyed, or wasted values in line with CE principles. These strategies have been clustered into four circular opportunities: (1) Aligning spatial and product design for circular economy, (2) considering end-user perspectives and demands, (3) formulating regulations based on research outcomes, and (4) developing circular products and services through collaboration (Table 6
Circular Opportunity 1: Aligning Spatial and Product Design for Circular Economy
With respect to spatial and product design, the stakeholders had concrete suggestions for how to improve current practices. The real estate broker described that “the kitchen is a little heart of the dwelling and people are there a lot. One sits there and studies, reads, eats, and socialises, so it is very important for people. […] It should be practical, should be pretty, [have] enough […] storage, and one should be able to have their guests” (E). Additionally, long-lasting design solutions were mentioned as a value, and the real estate broker (E) indicated that enabling easy refurbishment of the furniture could encourage people to keep their kitchen longer.
There was a wish for more standardised layouts and furniture design to make logistics faster and easier (A1). This interviewee added that these standardised solutions must be flexible enough to adapt to the user needs. The flexibility of a basic layout could potentially provide a wide range of variations. A modular kitchen furniture design, where the furniture sections could be bought and installed separately, was mentioned as an example of an easily adaptable furniture concept. This concept could also allow a modular worktop solution with sealed gaps.
The interior design responsible (A1) recognised that some end-users wish to separate the kitchen from the living room. The main reason for this demand was presumed to be the end-user’s desire to have more privacy and hide the kitchen if it happens to be messy. However, the interviewee added that this trend mostly reflects the elderly age group’s wishes. The architects (B; C; D) mentioned a few examples of how to create an open but still visually divided kitchen and living room area: Placing a kitchen island between the two areas, using movable walls, or having a bar segment to divide the two.
The dimensions (e.g., height, length, modular measurements compatible with the furniture) of the space have a direct influence on the furniture design and on the workflow. For instance, in a smaller kitchen, it is difficult to fit enough working surface between the water source (sink) and cooking surface (stove) as required by regulations. Preferences for more functional layout typologies (straight and L-kitchen) intend to avoid non-functional kitchens and increase user satisfaction. The architect’s aim to create suitable living spaces contributes to social sustainability. Furthermore, the architects (B; C; D) agreed that the size, shape, and dimensions of the kitchen were influenced by the size of the apartment, “because the kitchen won’t be better than the floorplan [of the dwelling], it is that simple actually, it is connected” (B). Providing various adequate solutions (with respect to room size and shape, furniture layout, storage options, and proper workflow) is easier in larger apartments. It was suggested that, during the design phase, it is wise to plan in a spatial margin in case there is a need for more space than anticipated (A2).
One of the architects (B) mentioned an example regarding the mobility of the furniture: A mobile kitchen island which, if not in use, could be placed against a wall. Another example—where the architects consciously dealt with flexibility and adaptability—was to develop several versions of the same apartment floorplan (C). By placing some walls in different positions, the design enabled five or six different floorplans. The client would then have the opportunity to choose their preferred solution for each apartment without raising the costs of production. For future end-users, the possible variations may enable easy modification of the existing floorplan.
Circular Opportunity 2: Considering End-User Perspectives and Demands
All stakeholders expressed a wish for more direct—for instance, interview-based—feedback loops with the end-users. The stakeholders must establish new channels for gaining insight into user preferences and incorporate them early in the design process, which would contribute to the life extension of the product. A more extensive evaluation of user demands or more inclusive user involvement could lead to solutions that provide flexibility and adaptability, which would enable personalisation for various user groups and individual needs.
Circular Opportunity 3: Formulating Regulations Informed by Research
Even though stakeholders showed some dissatisfaction with regulations, they mentioned only a few possible improvements. The kitchen producer (F) indicated that new regulations demanding sustainability and circularity would accelerate the CE transition by enforcing change among all stakeholders. This would eliminate risks associated with being the first ones to implement CE. Some of the participants (A2; D) also expressed that regulations could require more generous dimensions to enable flexibility and adaptability. However, this aspiration conflicts with the economical prioritisation that the building industry is based on today.
Circular Opportunity 4: Developing Circular Products and Services through Collaboration
The participants of the study showed little ambition for transitioning towards CE. It seems that only minor changes have been considered, such as challenging the idea of delivering kitchens fully mounted or developing sustainability strategies for their respective companies. These changes are formulated and implemented on an organisational level rather than in collaboration with stakeholders along the value chain. Therefore, there is a need to align strategies and standards and to extend collaborations. Such collaborations could also enable a better understanding of long-term market dynamics.