Planning Around Appliances

I asked architect Doug Walter of Doug Walter Architects in Denver why he cares about appliances, and he responded: “The layout of the kitchen (appliances) is absolutely, positively the key to making a great kitchen, and I want to explore all the options and choose the best, long before we start working with a kitchen designer.” For those architects intimately involved in specifying early in this stage, understanding the basics of functionality, the impact on aesthetics and the availability of current models with current pricing is a requirement, not a luxury. Sometimes gathering these requirements creates frustrations.

Brett Marlowe, CEO of CBI Custom Homes in Lake Bluff, Ill., says it’s important to know how to evaluate the appliances based on the commitment to eco-friendliness, not only in the actual product being energy-efficient and sustainable, but also in the manufacturing process. When he helps his clients, working with his architectural and interior design staffs on the ultra-high-end homes on Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive, he voices what the recent survey of AIA architects reveals that energy efficiency and sustainability are focuses of today. “Peace of mind is priceless when I have confidence that the appliance product functions well, but is also safe,” Marlowe adds.

So, how do we decipher these requirements in the ever-changing world of appliances, knowing that as home products they are some of the most important aspects of the kitchen, becoming a more important room of a home as we eat in more often?

Both professionals mention functionality. The question of the hour really is: “How do I know the accurate functional aspects of all those appliances out there and how they fit with my clients’ real needs?” Any kitchen designer could appreciate that question as well. What will it take to understand the top three or four functional aspects that seem to address most of what my clients want? The key ultimately is three-faceted: 1) You need to invest the time to see the functionality of the appliances; 2) You need to find a trustworthy resource who has more experience than you, and; 3) You need to be informed in a more timely way.

Investing the time at either an appliance distributor, dealer or manufacturer to see live equipment operating is, like Mastercard says, priceless. Watching the new electronic digital controls on a steam oven, seeing the leak-saving tray in a dishwasher, viewing the quickness of water boiling in power-boosted induction cooktops, or knowing which air-filtration technology is in refrigeration helps one understand that the technology really is different with different bands.

After demonstrating for years in an appliance distributor setting, my experience says that seeing the results is proof enough. Answering this question was easy after taking a recent trip to the BSH Gallery and Training Center in Scottsdale, Ariz. Some of you may want the excuse to go there and take in the exquisitely designed space with focused explanation on live equipment. Others can at least take the time to have a great dinner and fun-filled explanation at your own local dealer or distributor events. Everyone in the appliance industry realizes you are important and having you informed is critical to everyone’s success, including a happy homeowner. Only then, by experiencing this functionality, can you discern what is hype, what is real and what is safe (sometimes common sense rules here). Or, what discerning questions you need to ask your clients to match the function with the appropriate appliance.

Trustworthy resources are your local appliance dealer, your favorite kitchen designer (you need to cultivate this relationship for sure) or informed interior designer. Doug Walter agrees: “I rely on my kitchen designers to obsess about those details for the client and me.” That is their job. Don’t stop until you find the expert you trust and who, if they’re good, keeps you informed in a consistent, timely manner. I am talking about being informed not only about the new technologies and functions in the appliance industry, but also mechanical ramifications, aesthetic details and pricing changes.

The nature of technological advances in appliances is fast. Appliance manufacturers are notorious for adding more conveniences, so somehow receiving newsletters that highlight essential new features, events that only focus on the new aspects (with your favorite dealer/distributor), and allowing your experts to summarize for you (sometimes just a phone call can help) perhaps will help eliminate that feeling of being overwhelmed and frustrated.

Price increases, and knowing you’re specifying so early in the timeline, is a normal course of doing business. If the economy causes second thoughts from some manufacturers to instigate price increases, you may not have to deal with that as much. But when, not if, you have to allow for the price increase, an average on most mainstream appliances could be anywhere from 4 to 8 percent each year, whether it’s annually or cumulatively over two years. Choose your budget increase to allow for that and you’re covered, regardless. After all, what do you do with other products’ increases?

The motivations of any professional in residential design today are ecology, environmental friendliness, sustainability, etc. I don’t mean to belittle the movement toward this planet-saving commitment. It is now a “but of course” concept. The problem lies in weeding through the governmental vs. volunteer regulatory agencies, labels or standards. The benchmarks are expanding almost as quickly as technology is advancing. Energy Star, in the appliance world, has been accepted in the United States for energy usage for quite awhile. Water savings is another story. A four-page article might help sort through all the different labels. However, I can only recommend that your trusted resources are given the particulars on how the rating is given, what it really means, and how to decide what’s really important. Aligning yourself with those companies/brands that are aggressive in this arena will give you the head start you need.