Though every custom kitchen and bath is unique, each is a microcosm of clients' desires. And when you have the opportunity to look at a lot of them in a short period of time, you begin to see patterns emerge. So after talking with custom builders and architects from all over the country about what their clients want in kitchens and baths and after looking at dozens of projects to decide which to feature in this issue, I feel fairly confident in identifying these as dominant trends shaping custom kitchens and baths today:

Natural beauty. Custom home owners demand natural materials to finish out their kitchens and bathrooms. And right now stone is the finish of choice. Granite kitchen counters and back-splashes, travertine floors, and shower stalls lined in either stone top the list of finishes you're most likely to find in a custom house.

Niche spaces. Kitchens may open up to a great room, and baths may be getting bigger, but both the kitchen and the bath are beginning to incorporate other, smaller spaces. Builders tell me they are including a place for a sofa, a few armchairs, and even a fireplace in the kitchen, so the family can really gather in the kitchen in comfort. Master baths are taking on some of the characteristics of a spa, with an ancillary space where the owners can have a professional massage or work out on exercise equipment. The master closet is also becoming a part of the master bath, creating a dressing room complex.

Kitchens everywhere. The possibilities of downsized appliances have not been lost on custom clients. Undercounter refrigerators; dishwasher, refrigerator, and now microwave oven drawers; and built-in coffee machines make it easy to put little kitchens anywhere in the house. Clients are asking for them in their master bath, master bedroom, guest suite, nanny's room, basement rec room, cabana, and more.

Architectural interest. Elaborate ceiling treatments and moldings are no longer confined to the living and dining rooms. Custom clients know they're going to be spending most of their time with family and friends in the kitchen, so they want it to look as pretty and prestigious as the more formal spaces.

Lifetime convenience. Builders say they're making small, subtle adjustments in kitchens and baths that make them convenient and accessible to people of all ages and abilities. For example, raised dishwashers eliminate the need for an older person to stoop to unload dishes, while undercounter microwaves are easier and safer for children to use. The cool, European look of a threshold-free shower allows wheelchair access should that become necessary for the homeowners. And shower grab bars aren't just for older folks. They're a safety feature for everyone.

You'll discover, I am sure, even more trends and ideas in the collection of stunning kitchens and baths we've assembled for this issue. Let them inspire you to create your own trendsetting kitchens and baths.