With the fall remodeling season well underway, the design media have now turned their attention to handicapping the hot design trends for the year ahead.

In recent weeks, several reports have been released that provide insights into consumers' and designers' emerging preferences and priorities in kitchen and bath projects. While they range from the modest to the luxurious, a common thread runs through them, emphasizing function, practicality and simplicity.

Perhaps reflecting a somewhat more conservative attitude toward consumption, consumers are gravitating toward a kind of pragmatic elegance, featuring clean lines, classic styling and neutral palettes. Within the past year, the trend in color has been to move away from the more austere whites and blacks or industrial reds of the post-recession era toward warmer, less saturated shades of gray, beige and blue.

According to National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) data, gray is the fastest-growing shade for the bathroom. Similarly, an article in the Hartford Courant cites Consumer Reports that more designers are employing gray and beige, or "greige" (a combination of the two), in the kitchen, such as combining gray walls and countertops with wood cabinets. They are then livening things up a bit with cheerful accents, such as brightly colored backsplashes, lighting fixtures and appliances.

Gray is the fastest-growing shade for the bathroom, according to the NKBA.

As the kitchen continues to evolve into the social center of the home, homeowners are looking to balance the increased activity in the space with more minimalist and functional design. They are opting for clutter-free clean surfaces, simple lines and easy maintenance, states the latest trend report from paint manufacturer Dunne-Edwards. That may help to explain why, according to HomeAdvisor, a website that connects consumers with contractors, the most popular kitchen improvement in 2014 is updating countertops, followed by updating kitchen cabinets.

Keeping with this trend is the growing preference for open shelving, says the Dunne-Edwards report, as it is both highly functional and visually appealing, creating interest and giving the space a more homey feeling. Other functional additions in high demand, according to Consumer Reports, are charging stations for mobile devices and beverage centers that allow guests to help themselves to their quaff of choice while chatting with the host who is busy preparing the meal.

Kitchens are where family members gather, but bathrooms are where they go to get away from it all. Consumers who can't afford a full-out spa bathroom are updating to walk-in showers with multiple flow and temperature controls, adjustable and rain showerheads, personalized lights and music, reports HomeAdvisor.

Those with a bit more to spend on their private retreat are opting for luxurious soaking tubs or minimalist wet rooms. Also popular are crisp, white ceramic fixtures set off against elegant, shiny black tiles, says Huffington Post; or bold, colorful mosaic tiles, notes Dunne-Edwards.

For a certain segment of consumer, green features have great appeal. The Dunne-Edwards report points to a trend it calls "rustic utilitarian," which incorporates eco-friendly products and along with natural surfaces with a stress on functionality. Consumer Reports states that natural wood is becoming the flooring of choice for kitchens, with reclaimed or distressed wood especially in demand.

In the bathroom, designers are using wood walls and living walls to bring nature indoors, says Dunne-Edwards. Adding live vegetation to the bathroom is not only aesthetically pleasing and soothing, but also helps to improve indoor air quality, regulate air temperature and reduce carbon footprint.

Today's consumers want their homes to be havens, and part of that trend is a yearning for more simplicity, order and connection to nature. They spend their days preoccupied with all sorts of devices that are inundating them with data and demands. They see their home as a place where they can interact with family and friends, minimize the distractions and unplug for a while.

For kitchen and bath designers in the digital society, less is more.