Trends, Fads and Value

What do remodelers need to know about the world of appliances? In discussions with a number of them, three areas emerged:

  • What are the real appliance trends today?
  • How do I understand the value of each brand, quickly and fairly?
  • How do I handle any initial problems and make them go away?

Each of these areas could be the subject of its own article, but I will attempt to cover all of them within this article.

Trends are so … today. They are real. You might say, “Yes, I know that” if I were to mention a trend. Then there are fads. These come under the disguise of what’s new and may even make good practical sense, but somehow the prototypes don’t make it to the marketplace let alone stand the test of time. A trend in my eyes means lasting at least a year or longer — enough time for it to be accepted almost universally across the country.

Some of the national appliance trends today include: the stainless steel finish, the integrated look for everything, drawers for better ergonomics, French door refrigerators, wine storage everywhere, speed and steam cooking for better quality, the popularity of hoods and appliance-driven outdoor kitchens.

Stainless steel is now classic. We can argue until we are blue in the face about fingerprinting, but the consumer sees this as a natural-neutral, to be designed as sleek, sophisticated, warm or cool, offering a texture and statement at the same time.

Integration for refrigeration emerged about 15 years ago and the dishwashers, ice machines, trash compactors, wine/beverage coolers, cooktops (with some ovens) and laundry are following in its footsteps. There will be more, not less, of this phenomenon, some depending on the designer’s creativity with cabinetry.

Drawers for warming, dishwashing, refrigerating, beverage cooling and microwaving are here to stay. The pace of OEM production is lending full packages to certain other brands. As drawer appliances become more popular on the wish list of the average consumer, you can bet that the ergonomic factor is being weighed and appreciated.

French door refrigerators, being produced by increasing numbers of major brands, will be here as long as the consumer wants them. The concept of a “walk-in closet for refrigeration” is not new, and its appeal lies within customer perception, as it does with anything.

Wine coolers are a staple in so many households that even though this may be a luxury appliance to some, more people designing mid-priced kitchens see it as a necessity. With the economy where it is right now, people will simply go to the best valued product, not do away with it altogether.

Speed cooking with microwave, convection and air-assisted technologies addresses our need for saving time while not forcing us to give up our desire for quality food preparation. We are just at the next level. The consumer has to decide to learn the new(er) technology and how to operate it within their comfort level.

Steam cooking, which follows the commercial restaurant process, addresses the trend of healthy, quick and easy, but still has an operational learning curve. Time will tell how sticky this trend will be, as the price point is in the luxury market.

Having a choice of hoods, whether it is a custom canopy with a liner only, or a decoratively designed European-inspired model creating an architectural statement alone, is the driving force behind this necessary appliance. Kitchen designers and other trade professionals understand the need for better air quality, but still seem to have an upward battle explaining the ramifications of hood installation to the consumer.

Outdoor kitchens are really about the appliances — the grills, the warming drawers, refrigerators, wine/beverage/bar appliances, and specialty cooking pieces that have driven this new market. Once you find the UL and weather warranty approvals for these appliances, the conversation in the luxury market becomes one of, “But of course.” Mainstream consumers can still have a piece of it, just not with as many pieces, perhaps. A good remodeler, or collaboration with a good designer, will help the consumer prioritize their outdoor kitchen desires.

An example of a fad is a 30-in. range that could keep food cool inside before automatically turning itself on and cooking. Cooling drawers (not refrigeration), 30-in. dishwashers and the choice of 190 colors to choose from are other examples. Again, technology or design can inspire a new product, but if not embraced psychologically by the consumer as safe, aesthetically pleasing and intuitive, it will be on the short list of success regardless of the marketing, price point or amount of investment in the technology.

Value is the key word in this economy, and with appliance choices being so high on consumers’ lists of decisions to make, they are the first place of scrutiny. This means that everyone must shop smarter, from the consumer to the helpful remodeler. This also means the bells and whistles, warranties and ramifications of design vs. function need to be better explained to the final decision maker.

Today, it’s not unusual for one appliance to stand out as the splurge item, while the rest are juggled monetarily, often with pricing promotions under consideration regardless of brand. Careful questioning of client lifestyle, habits, future needs and budget can help with prioritizing their appliance needs.

Problems with installation and operation are many and varied. A simple question needs to be answered: Who is responsible for the final mechanical specs? I believe the design community needs to go further than simply providing pictures of specs to the remodeler. A stronger partnership with the remodeler and more jobsite visits are needed to confirm placement and ramifications of construction surprises.

Now, what should be done with dead-on-arrival appliances, especially when you need them for timely inspections? As Jeff Brooks of Brooks Building Group in Rome, Ga., told me, “Having an appliance dealer’s policy in place that allows a quick decision to replace or solve a problem is a saving grace and assurance of future business from me!” I couldn’t agree more!