Appliance Appeal

With the growing demand for customization, it should come as no surprise that the “specialty appliance” category is enormous and diverse, with products found anywhere from the kitchen to the living room to the master bath to the great outdoors.

Whether it’s a warming drawer in the bath to house towels, a built-in coffee maker in the master bedroom suite or a wine cooler in the den, specialty appliances are both luxurious and flexible – making them the perfect update for virtually any room in the home. Additionally, the trends toward convenience and healthy living continue to impact these products as homeowners look to personalize their spaces with products that reflect how they live.

“Specialty appliances enable homeowners to customize and enjoy their home to the fullest, especially as more homeowners choose to stay in and recreate a gourmet dining experience from home,” says Marni Hale, spokesperson for BSH Home Appliances Corp. based in Huntington Beach, CA.

“Consumers and designers want to place their own unique touch on their kitchen projects – the special area where their individualism shows. As more homeowners are staying put, they are renovating to make their spaces work for their specific needs, while simultaneously enhancing resale value,” agrees George Tjoumakaris, communications specialist for Miele in Princeton, NJ.

Patricio Barriga, president of Lyndhurst, NJ-based Fagor America adds that entertainment is becoming an increasingly important element in the home. “We make kitchens much more user friendly toward entertainment as a whole,” he says, noting that there is an opportunity for unique cooking spaces that cater toward new technologies and combinations of these technologies.

PERFORMANCE & FLEXIBILITY

While design is always important, first and foremost, specialty appliances must meet specific functional needs in order to sustain their initial appeal.

Flexibility and convenience are important performance aspects that affect trends in appliances. “The specialty appliance category remains strong because consumer demand for flexible products continues to grow,” says Hale.

She notes the Tassimo by Bosch exemplifies this trend. “Tassimo’s fully automatic operation allows consumers to brew premium coffee house quality beverages with the simple push of a button…without the usual hassle and mess of traditional coffee makers,” explains Hale.

Ease of use is also critical, according to Tjoumakaris. “When you are operating something new, something unique, it should be easy, intuitive to operate and easy to maintain,” he notes, explaining that Miele appliances – such as the steam and speed ovens – come with MasterChef controls that are easy to understand and food driven. “You press the type of food and within a few touches, you are on your way to perfect results.”

Appliances that multi-task are also in demand, says Tjoumakaris. He cites speed ovens as an example, or products including microwave, convection oven and/or a combination speed oven. These appliances save space and multiple appliance purchases, Tjoumakaris adds.

New technology, too, continues to drive appliance trends. For instance, the rise in the induction cooktop has transformed how people cook. Diva de Provence, based in Toronto, ON, Canada was the first to re-launch the technology in the U.S. in late 2002, according to president Thierry d’Anthenay. The product had been introduced in the U.S. in the 1980s with less than successful results due to unreliable technology at the time, making its reintroduction very difficult, d’Anthenay says. However, now many manufacturers are offering induction products and d’Anthenay expects the popularity of the induction technology to continue to grow.

Barriga, too, has seen a tremendous awakening in induction technology, noting these cooktops will be a focal point for Fagor America in upcoming trade presentations.

CUSTOMIZED CHOICES

According to marketing manager Scott Davies of the Huntington Beach, CA-based Fisher & Paykel, “Performance, aesthetics, modularity and features with real customer benefits” are the key drivers of the specialty appliance market.

“Kitchens should be built and then appliances designed to go into them. We shouldn’t be restricted by [standard sized] large appliances to achieve the perfect kitchen layout,” Davies firmly believes.

As an example of this, he cites a number of Fisher & Paykel appliances flexible enough to fit “outside the box,” such as its CoolDrawer multi-temperature refrigeration drawers, DishDrawer dishwashers and CookSurface gas-in-glass technology. “All of these products incorporate ergonomics, ease of use, innovation and customization,” Davies notes.

Products offering flexibility – such as modular refrigeration – continue to grow in popularity, Hale agrees. “Whether homeowners want to position food storage closer to prep and cooking zones for efficient meal preparation, open up a kitchen’s design so guests can become part of meal preparation or place a wine column in a family room for easy entertaining, the flexibility of modular refrigeration lets the imagination run free,” she remarks.

“We’re seeing a trend indicating people want more refrigerators in more locations,” adds Jeff Wimberly, director of sales and marketing for Perlick Residential Products, in Milwaukee, WI.

The trend toward customization is seen both in appliance selection and placement, manufacturers note. The diversity of options is also critical.

“In the appliance market, customization and individuality are embodied in the form of diversity,” explains Jaemin Kwak, national sales director for Woongiin Coway USA, in Los Angeles, CA. “Customers who used to buy one product with thorough consideration and use it for 10-plus years are disappearing. Now, consumers try the products for a trial period, and upgrade to a new model that meets their specific needs. With this trend, manufacturers have to constantly monitor the changing needs of consumers, apply them to the products and reflect value in the prices,” he adds.

Combination appliances, such as the CombiSets by Miele, are another example of customization. These cooking surfaces let you mix and match induction, gas and electric, and are custom-tailored to the customer’s cooking style and preferences, says Tjoumakaris.

Joe Hutko, marketing manager for Everpure High End Residential, in Hanover Park, IL, says his firm is seeing a demand for customized water – in particular, sparkling waters. The company’s new Exubera appliance delivers both chilled sparkling water and chilled flat water in one unit, allowing consumers to customize their experience at any given moment.

Pat Byrne, executive v.p.. of Atlantis Outdoor Kitchens, based in Roanoke, VA says the desire for customization carries over to the outdoors. “People know they are not limited anymore, and they can have the same amenities outdoors they are used to inside.”

LIFESTYLE TRENDS

With the dizzying array of specialty appliance choices available in the marketplace, it’s important for designers to delve into the lifestyle of consumers as they plan the kitchen. Those lifestyles, hobbies and interests will help to dictate the appliances consumers desire, manufacturers say.

“It’s all about the lifestyle and surrounding yourself with products tailored to that lifestyle,” says Tjoumakaris. “If you collect wine and like to entertain, you may choose a wine cooler vs. a coffee system. If you like to entertain, you might choose a warming drawer and coffee system. Healthy eaters or families who want to make whole foods quickly will choose steam ovens and speed ovens.”

Green living is another lifestyle trend having an impact on the specialty appliance market. Appliances that are energy efficient or have green features are on the rise. Consumers are interested in saving money and the environment without sacrificing performance or quality, says Tjoumakaris.

Along those lines, a greater focus on health and well being is another lifestyle trend carrying over into appliance selection. “In recent years, both water filtration systems and air purifiers became a standard necessity in every household,” says Kwak. “As more people have become concerned about overall ‘well-being’ and more health conscious, it has driven the demand for water filtration and air purifier products.”

AESTHETIC APPEAL

While top-quality performance is critical in this market, aesthetic appeal continues to play a key role in the design of specialty appliances, particularly those in living areas of the home other than the kitchen.

Within the kitchen, the integration of appliances into the cabinetry is increasingly in demand, because customers want to create a clean, streamlined appearance in the space. This involves kitchen and bath designers placing a wood panel on the refrigeration – whether it’s modular refrigeration units or a full-size refrigerator – so the appliance basically disappears, according to Wimberly. “It’s no longer a piece of furniture in the kitchen. It’s now an integrated part of the cabinetry,” he explains.

“One of the key things we’re doing at Perlick from a design standpoint is assisting in filling that need in the industry to make appliances fully integrated,” he offers.

Custom paneling also opens up options for using appliances in other areas. “While stainless steel is still a top appliance finish, custom paneling has shown to be another popular option because it allows for new applications of appliances throughout the home. For instance, homeowners can install a kitchen warming drawer into the bathroom to keep towels warm because custom paneling inconspicuously integrates the warming drawer into the bathroom’s design,” Hale reports.

Not all appliances are designed to be hidden, however – especially with so many available finish options. For air purifier products, the finishes are becoming much more diverse, ranging from white to silver, and even leather, Kwak says.

“Similar to a television set, consumers’ purchase selection criteria is no longer based on features and functions but rather on design and finishes,” explains Kwak. “Consumers are more concerned about how it will look or fit into the overall décor, since technology and performance are often hard to distinguish from [a] consumer’s eye.”

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Appliances are moving out of the kitchen, and nowhere is this more evident than with specialty appliances. Consumers want these products where they are going to use them, and often this extends beyond the walls of the kitchen – or even beyond the walls of the home – into the great outdoors.

Indeed, outdoor sanctuaries are in greater demand. “We are seeing such a tremendous proliferation of outdoor refrigeration,” Wimberly states. The trend has been on the rise in the past few years, he says, and there’s an extension of the interior kitchen to the exterior, with consumers wanting all of the same functionality outside as they have inside.

When you bring out the cooking elements, you also need refrigeration. “Outdoor freezer, outdoor refrigerator, outdoor beer dispenser for entertaining – all of those sorts of things are going along for the ride, as well,” says Wimberly.

Byrne agrees the extension of appliances to the outdoors is on the rise. “What we found is people are looking to do a lot more than just grill. They want refrigerators, warming drawers, bar units, side drawers, beer taps, etc.”

“People want the same selection and variety outside as they get inside,” Wimberly concurs. He notes Perlick has worked to ensure that all of its 15" and 24" units are outdoor rated because, as many other manufacturers agree, flexibility and convenience are key in today’s market – and are expected to remain so well into the future.

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