Serve and Conserve

Economic challenges continue to impact the appliance industry, creating greater demand for energy-saving, value-priced appliances. But that doesn’t mean designers or consumers are willing to sacrifice high style – or technology. Indeed, sleeker and more colorful designs, technological advancements and environmental concerns are key appliance trends right now. As a result, metallic finishes, warmer tones, touch-screen technology and Energy Star appliances abound in today’s market (see The Selection Process).

“Consumers are looking for features that increase performance, make appliances easier to use and maintain, and offer energy savings,” stresses Steve Joseph, v.p. of marketing for Dacor in Diamond Bar, CA.

There has also been a shift from high-end to mid-range appliances by consumers who are still looking for upscale styling, according to Brian Wellnitz, kitchen ventilation marketing manager for Broan-NuTone in Hartford, WI.

“Consumers are looking for quality and long life in their appliances. A few years ago, appliances were considered disposable; now they are viewed as an investment,” he comments.

Clean and Simple

There has been a move away from ornate and over-the-top designs, according to Bill Stanisci, owner, Stanisci Design and Manufacturing in Romeo, MI. “Consumers are going to cleaner, transitional looks,” he says. “For us, that translates to less ornate, transitional wood range hood designs to match the kitchen.”

Sara De La Hera, v.p. of sales and marketing for Fagor America in Lyndhurst, NJ has seen an increase in the demand for high-end European-sized (24") appliances. “Since urban kitchens are often space challenged, they give the option to have sleek, upscale appliances that integrate beautifully into tight spaces,” she explains. “You get the compact appliance that still has all of the same technology and style elements of the larger, standard-size counterparts.”

More and more, designers and consumers alike are looking to integrate their appliances into the kitchen design, according to Paul Leuthe, product marketing manager, Sub-Zero/Wolf Appliance in Madison, WI. “While there will always be the demand for stainless steel refrigerators, consumers in greater numbers want to have things cleaner within the kitchen space,” he says.

The cleaner, sleeker look has impacted the exterior and interior alike, according to Leuthe. “People like simplicity and organization,” he says.

Color My World

The use of cabinet panels on appliances has been one way to get around the cold, commercial look of stainless steel, but the result can be a less than exciting wall of wood. In addition, cabinet panels cannot be used on heat appliances, which leads to the use of stainless anyway.

These limited options have led to the creation of a more colorful selection of kitchen appliances. While Tracy Frye, contract senior marketing manager for Whirlpool Corporation in Benton Harbor, MI, concurs with Leuthe that the classic look of stainless steel will never go out of style, “there is a trend toward appliances in more metallic finish options.”

“Appliance design is due for a major change after 20 years of the stainless steel look,” adds Paolo Bertazzoni for CEO, Bertazzoni in Emilia, Italy.

Whether it’s subtle tones or something a bit more brilliant, today’s consumers can find almost any appliance they need in a color that will coordinate with their kitchen design.

De La Hera acknowledges the huge surge in the offering and demand for color appliances. “In particular, black appliances are hot again right now,” she says. Fagor’s Black Art refrigerator modernizes the black concept with a “slick Zirkonium reflective finish,” she notes.

While Joseph agrees that black appliances are seeing a comeback, designers and homeowners want more design options, and are looking to the next great thing beyond stainless. One reason, he says, is that stainless no longer has the high-end appeal because the finish is available at almost every price point.

“The kitchen can be immediately transformed by simply adding one colorful appliance,” says Arcadio Lainez, director of marketing for Zephyr in San Francisco, CA. “We’ve seen a lot of deep red appliances that give the kitchen a dynamic look, and the color is a great complement to cool stainless steel.”

Lainez says the color trend is also hot in ventilation hoods. “We’re seeing more color, fashion and technology,” he says. “Consumers are making a bold statement in their kitchens, with colors and customized designs to match the existing cabinetry and kitchen décor.

The trend toward additional finish options isn’t limited to the super premium market, notes Frye. “Even affordable design has caught on to it,” she comments. “Amana’s newest refrigerator color – Midnight Blue – and the Quick Tap entertainment refrigerator, offered in red or silver, help add more personality to the kitchen.”

“There is also a trend toward glass,” Joseph notes, pointing to the interest in Dacor’s Preference line, which features color-infused glass-front panels in six neutral tones. “It’s a nice finish, very easy to clean and doesn’t scratch.”

The Entertainer

The current economy has spurred an interest in remaining closer to home. That trend, in turn, is driving the rising demand for appliances that increase convenience for home dining and make entertaining a lot easier.

“For many homeowners today, entertaining is all about preparing a gourmet meal at home in a well-appointed kitchen,” says Marni Hale, spokesperson for BSH Home Appliances in Huntington Beach, CA. “The dinner party is the main event, as homeowners invite guests into the kitchen and involve them in the process of preparing food.”

As informal entertaining grows in popularity, open-plan kitchens are gaining momentum, notes Frye. “The open plan allows people to move from room to room more freely,” she explains. “Better kitchen ventilation helps when cooking meals such as fish in an open-plan kitchen, as the smoke, steam and odors are captured and removed.

“Downdraft ventilation is an appealing option, as it eliminates the need for an overhead hood, clearing the way for more innovative kitchen plans and making island and peninsula installations easy,” Frye continues. Jenn-Air recently introduced a duct-free downdraft cooktop, which brings downdraft ventilation technology to high-rise apartments, condos and households unable to run ductwork or vent smoke to the outside.

Drawer appliances are on the upswing due to their ease of use and assimilation into the design, and drawer dishwashers provide flexibility when cleaning up. “Two-drawer dishwashers allow for two dish loads to be cleaned simultaneously at different cycle settings,” explains Frye, “so fine china can be cleaned in one drawer and pots and pans in the other.”

Technically Speaking

The sleek and modern design with cutting-edge technology that has been part of the consumer electronics market is beginning to be seen in the kitchen appliances arena, believes Lainez. He points to induction cooktops as an example, which he says are much more minimal than traditional ranges and complement a modern kitchen layout as a major technological advancement.

“The speed and energy savings with induction cooking is changing the way consumers cook, giving them more control with their temperatures and faster cooking time,” he remarks. “Overall, this is an easier and more efficient cooking experience – from the heating to the cleaning.”

Thermador’s new line of induction cooktops features Sensor Dome cooking technology, which brings cookware to an ideal temperature and cycles on and off to maintain the precise temperature.

Gas, of course, remains a popular choice, and Fisher & Paykel’s CookSurface incorporates new technology that makes it more user friendly, according to Scott Davies, marketing manager, Fisher & Paykel Appliances in Huntington Beach, CA. The gas cooktop features trivets and sensors that retract into the ceramic cooktop when not in use, making it seamless and easy to clean.

And, ordinary cooks can mimic gourmet chefs when using some of the more advanced ovens, many of which feature touch LCD screens.

“The integration of touch screens in the kitchen is changing the environment, making it more connected to the outside world and making activities not only easier, but also more enjoyable,” says Wellnitz.

On Jenn-Air’s latest wall ovens, the screen provides access to a variety of food-specific convection modes that can help users decide how food is prepared by scanning on-screen pictures of various foods and pan and rack suggestions. Cooks can even specify the desired “doneness” of the food, taking meats from rare to well done and cookies from chewy to crispy.

Electronic control panels with smart technology such as the Discovery Controller on Dacor Wall Ovens help make the cooking experience more enjoyable and easier for those who may not have mastered all of their favorite recipes, according to Joseph. The internal software operates a pre-programmed guide with 100 cooking modes, so users only need to know what they are cooking; the controller tells them the precise time and temperature needed to cook their food.

With technology, Lainez believes that, over time, the market will have more appliances with internal computers that are accessible via the Internet. In fact, microprocessors are so powerful and reliable that manufacturers are continually finding new ways to use them.

For example, Sub-Zero’s wine unit can be connected to a home security system to detect problems when the homeowner is not around. “In our refrigerators and cooking equipment, we have microprocessors that can ‘talk’ to technicians via a PDA that enables the technician to make the correct service decisions,” reports Leuthe.

Sub-Zero has also embarked on a new line of refrigeration that “scrubs” the air through the action of a cartridge and the use of a light bulb and glass pieces coated with titanium dioxide. “This process has been used by food handlers to extend the life of produce after it has been harvested and during shipment,” explains Leuthe.

Green Day

While consumers are still very interested in creating four-star meals at home, they are also focusing on creating four-star meals in Energy Star homes. Consumers are exhibiting growing concern about the environment, including energy and water conservation.

“While in part this has to do with rising energy prices, there has also been a general increase in the concept of sustainable living,” says Hale.

In a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by Whirlpool Corp., 72 percent of respondents note that they actively look for the Energy Star label when making purchase decisions. The survey also found that, when asked what would be a part of their dream kitchen, eco-efficient appliances beat out other items as the top choice.

Energy Star is a big part of the technology equation, stresses Joseph. “We are toughening the standards on refrigeration to ensure that we meet the new lower standards; 15% DOE this year is 20% below [previous requirements], and adds a level of complexity to the product to try to retain the same features but reduce the usage.”

“Designers and clients alike have come to expect products that are as eco-efficient as they are innovative and reliable,” says Frye.

But its more than appliance design and the energy output of product, according to Joseph. “Consumers are also looking at how environmentally friendly corporations are – how they operate, and how they dispose of waste and energy that is consumed on a corporate level.”

“Today’s manufacturers realize that making their products and businesses more sustainable isn’t a sacrifice – it’s an opportunity to innovate, save resources and better meet client demand,” adds Frye.

“Consumers are increasingly demanding energy efficient home appliances that not only cut down on their energy costs, but also are not harmful to the environment,” says Davies, who notes that Fisher & Paykel’s commitment to environmental practices is not a new concept for the firm.

“This is extremely important, and a lot of companies are just beginning to decrease their carbon footprint, so essentially this is just the start,” notes Lainez. “We will most likely see more incentives from manufacturers to replace their old appliances for more energy efficient and Energy Star rated products.”

“I truly believe that people have begun to embrace the fact that energy efficiency and conservation is not a ‘trend’; is it a way of living,” says De La Hera. She notes that these factors are becoming ever more focused upon by the government. “Basically, between regulation and consumer awareness, the environmental movement now affects product development as it never did before,” she concludes.

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