Under-counter appliances can be found in an even mix of high-end new construction and remodeling projects. They give kitchen designers a larger range of placement options and give homeowners a greater array of convenience. The types of under-counter appliances now include refrigeration/freezing, microwave cooking, warming and dishwashing and provide greater lifestyle flexibility in the home.
“I think when homeowners started wanting to store their own wine collections, it sparked a lot of under-counter appliance innovations,” says Chaya Chang, marketing manager, residential and hospitality products, Perlick Corp. “As homeowners asked for wine reserves, builders then looked at other ways to save room in the kitchen and create additional counter space by placing everything under-counter.”
Some common finishes exist in the under-counter appliance market. Stainless steel is the most popular. What once was a trend in high-end appliances has now become a classic look. Almost all under-counter appliances are available in a stainless steel option. The second common finish is wood overlay. This is a popular option for kitchen designers and homeowners who don’t want to see their appliances, but would rather have them blend in with the look of their cabinetry. Most manufacturers will supply a template or dimensions that can be taken to a cabinetmaker to build the wood overlay. If neither of these choices fits a home’s decor, manufacturers typically offer black and white color options.
The circle of life for under-counter appliances begins with keeping things cold. Perlick specializes in under-counter cooling appliances from freezers and refrigerators to beverage centers and wine reserves. Perlick prides itself on some innovations such as stainless steel interiors, variable-speed compressors, full-extension shelving and RapidCool technology.
“RapidCool is similar to convection cooking, where we’re forcing air into the refrigerator to keep the same temperature from top to bottom, front to back,” Chang explains. “We have a fan on the top of the unit and an intake on the bottom that’s constantly forcing air through it to keep a consistent temperature. This is different from most refrigeration units that use cold plate technology to move coolant through a panel of coils in the back of the refrigerator, keeping it cool in the back of the unit and warm in the front.”
A key difference exists between refrigerator, beverage and wine drawers. One misnomer about beverage and wine centers is thinking they are refrigerators. Only refrigerators designed to reach temperatures in the 30s to keep food from spoiling are UL-approved for food storage. On the other hand, beverage centers maintain a temperature range in the 40s which is UL-approved only for sealed beverages, but not for food storage. Wine reserves have a temperature range usually from 40 to 65 degrees F to keep wine at its ideal temperatures.
Manufacturers are accommodating homeowners’ desires to live in smaller spaces such as luxury apartments and condos with under-counter appliances. Some under-counter refrigerators can provide up to 12 cu. ft. of storage space.
“I don’t think under-counter refrigeration will replace traditional units, but I think it gives designers and homeowners an option for different looks,” Chang adds. “Under-counter appliances are point-of-use products that can be put anywhere they are needed, and not just in the kitchen.”
Manufacturers don’t expect under-counter appliances to replace traditional stand-alone models, with the exception of microwave drawers. Sharp introduced its next generation of microwave drawers with a new 1.2-cu.-ft. capacity that has an increased cavity height. This allows for taller dishes and includes sensor technology that is programmed to cook food to the correct length of time and wattage based on the particular food in the drawer.