Beyond the Basics

Just as the kitchen has gotten increasingly personalized, so, too, have appliances. Specialty appliances, in particular, appeal to those seeking out ways to customize their kitchen to meet their specific needs, interests and passions. From specialty coffee aficionados to fine wine collectors to gourmet chefs, consumers want appliances that can help them transform their homes into places that speak to who they are, and how they live, prepare meals, relax and entertain.

Of course what works for one client, or one design, may not work for another, which is why flexibility – in both appearance and function – remains key.

Manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News say the key driver for the specialty appliance market is the need for appliances that work for how consumers live.

“A major consideration when designing appliances is to ensure they fit into consumers’ lifestyles rather than consumers altering their lifestyle to fit an appliance,” says Scott Davies, product manager for Fisher & Paykel Appliances, Inc., in Huntington Beach, CA.

Jennifer Uihlein, president of the Milwaukee, WI-based U-Line Corp., agrees. “Today’s homeowners want their homes to fit their lifestyles. Extra amenities are being incorporated throughout the home to make living and working in every space more convenient, more comfortable and more enjoyable. Specialty appliances provide the added convenience of cold beverages, snacks and more anywhere inside or outside the home where you might entertain guests or spend time with family and friends,” she says.

“The need to add just the right specialty appliance is often based on the aspiration to create a better living environment,” says Gerry Reda, senior v.p./sales for Marvel Industries, in Richmond, IN. “People enjoy creating an ideal lifestyle, one that balances comfort with entertainment. Consumers, and the professionals who design for them, are consistently seeking something better, the design ideal, that wonderfully meets both family and entertainment needs.”

Lifestyle choices are also affecting the outdoor segment, manufacturers say. “We’ve seen a tremendous growth in our outdoor refrigeration business and I think that is because people want to live their life outdoors as well as indoors,” says Jeff Wimberly, director of sales and marketing for Perlick Residential Product, in Milwaukee, WI.

Pete Georgiadis, president of the Chicago-based Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, agrees that the demand for true outdoor kitchens – and by extension, outdoor kitchen designers – is rapidly growing. “There is a huge increase in outdoor cooking and entertaining. In the last five to 10 years, you’ve seen a lot more people spending a lot more time outdoors, and entertaining a lot more at home,” he says.

These lifestyle trends, and the interests of the end user, help determine which products are most in demand, say manufacturers.

“Clearly our coffee systems are directed at coffee lovers, but our steam ovens are great solutions for anyone with a healthy lifestyle mentality,” says Matthew Kueny, senior manager of product development at Miele, in Princeton, NJ. “Steam cooking provides great results without oils and fats, and can be a great tool for people concerned about their health and well-being.”

Drawers are also still in high demand, whether it be dishwasher drawers, refrigeration or warming systems. “The clear ergonomic benefits of drawer systems create a lot of demand for these products,” says Davies, adding that for many manufacturers, this is new territory for appliance design. “Having been manufacturing our drawer dishwasher for over 11 years now, we are able to learn from our experiences and incorporate these ideas into future drawer products,” he says, using as an example the firm’s new CoolDrawer, which can be changed at the touch of a button to operate as a freezer, chill drawer, fridge, pantry or wine drawer, therefore adapting to the client’s lifestyle.

“Drawer appliances are very well and uniquely suited to prep areas,” says Reda. “Food is usually stored there for shorter periods. When drawer appliances are located in the right spaces, they reduce the walk time that comes with kitchen prep, such as the back-and-forth trips to large refrigerators. They free up room in the large refrigerator.”

Function and Style

Adding stylish appliances that serve specific purposes helps consumers get the most out of their kitchen, manufacturers agree.
“The use of these [specialty] appliances is being driven by consumers looking for something unique to define their kitchen but also something that performs up to their expectations,” says Kueny. “In some cases, a product like the speed oven can solve a design problem by providing two fully functional machines in one space,” he adds.

“In the kitchen, specialty appliances help improve the organization and work flow of the overall design,” says Uihlein. A number of U-Line products do just that, from built-in refrigerator drawers to the Wine Captain wine preservation appliance, which stores different types of wine at their optimal serving temperatures.

Marni Hale, of BSH Home Appliances, in Huntington Beach, CA, details three core features that she sees as a must – quality, variety and convenience. BSH, through its four premium brands, offers several products that speak to this demand. One of the newest, which capitalizes on the coffee craze, is the Tassimo by Bosch hot beverage system, which will be available in September. This countertop appliance offers single-serve hot beverages, including real milk cappuccino and latte, espresso, chai, hot chocolate, and, of course, many varieties of coffee. It heats just enough water for whatever beverage is desired, which reduces the wait time for the user.

Davies agrees that convenience is a top demand. “The features we incorporate into our appliances have real benefits for the consumer. As we operate in the ultra high-end sector, clients have a high expectation for feature levels, including ice and water dispensing, fully multi-functional cooking and easy-clean appliances,” he says.

Versatility is also important, and the undercounter refrigeration by Perlick offers units as small as its new 15" series or as large as 72". This allows the flexibility of a small unit to augment the upright or a large unit to replace the upright altogether.
Another product Bosch is introducing is a 30" five-burner cooktop. Since most 30" models have four burners, Hale says, “You're getting the performance of a 36" cooktop in a 30" package.” This, along with the firm’s 18" dishwasher and refrigerator/freezer columns, almost caters to a smaller kitchen, says Hale, offering high performance quality in a smaller space.

The demand for highly functional appliances carries through to the outdoor kitchen, and appliances that expand the capabilities for outdoor cooking are important, says Georgiadis. Two of the products from Kalamazoo that offer unique features to help users cook and entertain are a hybrid grill and an outdoor pizza oven. The hybrid grill allows cooking with charcoal and wood at the same time as gas in the same grill. This type of grill is popular, says Georgiadis, because it gives all of the benefits – in particular the flavors – of charcoal and wood cooking, but none of the headaches.

The pizza oven offers an alternative to the more time-consuming traditional Italian hearth clay oven. The countertop model runs on gas, but has a smoking tray to give the traditional wood flavor.

The Personal Touch

As varied as the lifestyles of consumers are, so too is personal taste. When designing a space, the ability to customize to the specific desires of the client is key. “With kitchen and bath design professionals, the challenge is to deliver personalized solutions that help differentiate their business and add strong value to their projects. Products that enable designers and consumers to meet specific needs and easily customize individual spaces are key to the success of specialty products,” says Reda.

“As the kitchen develops even further as a main living space in the home, our products become increasingly important as machines such as our coffee systems, steam ovens and speed ovens make a statement for those consumers,” adds Keuny.

“One of the underlying concepts of our latest appliances is that of customization – which in turn creates individuality. This customization is expected at this end of the market,” says Davies.

Reda agrees. “The desire for customization and individuality certainly defines the trends. For example, the Dual Zone Wine Cellar was born of the need for point-of-use wine serving – it’s having wine at serving temperatures ready to serve anytime by providing two temperature zones that can keep whites and reds at the proper serving temperature for immediate use. This product is essentially a wine cellar customized to meet a need.”

Another aspect of customization is being able to fully integrate appliances into the design of the kitchen and the home. “[Consumers] want their appliances to blend into the surroundings and be virtually invisible,” says Uihlein. “U-Line’s Échelon Series products offer overlay models that will accept full overlay door or drawer fronts so that the appliance face looks just the same as the existing cabinetry.”

Hale agrees that with custom paneling for refrigerators and dishwashers, as well as custom hood inserts, “you almost won’t see any appliances in the kitchen, unless you have a cooktop. Otherwise, you wouldn’t even know you were in the kitchen.” She adds that a new recirculation downdraft module by Thermador lends itself to customization by allowing the possibility of configuring it directly into an island for a sleek, seamless look. At the touch of a button, the ventilation rises up, but when not in use it is almost flush with the island.

Georgiadis says that it’s important to help personalize specialty appliances to the individual using them. “At Kalamazoo, we will develop a personal design for an outdoor kitchen for a client. Our dealers can sell a design service that we as a manufacturer provide and we will design the personal outdoor kitchen that fits the consumer’s needs,” he says. The firm can also personalize grill surfaces according to what the consumer cooks most, adding elements such as wok burners or lobster pot burners, or even customize it a bit more by adding initials, logos or a family crest.

Beyond the Kitchen

Appliances that may have previously been reserved for use in the kitchen are showing up all over the home, as well as outdoors. One of the most notable trends is the rise in outdoor kitchens.

Uihlein says, “Not only are appliances migrating from the kitchen into other rooms in the home, they are enjoyed outside the house as well. Outdoor kitchens are becoming very popular, and U-Line offers a complete line of six stainless steel models designed especially for outdoor use.”

Outdoor cooking has moved far beyond a simple grill for the patio. Georgiadis says, “In the last few years, there has been a huge expansion of outdoor cooking and entertaining products truly pushing the capabilities and the variety of what’s available outdoors. It’s gone from traditional charcoal and gas grills in the 1980s to significantly more sophisticated products today that allow you to cook in every technique that you could possibly imagine.”

Additionally, appliances are showing up throughout the house – particularly refrigeration, coffee makers and drawer appliances. “The trend of finding appliances throughout the home is based on the simple fact that appliances continue to become specialized and better able to deliver on the promise of that specialization,” says Reda.

Wimberly sees smaller refrigerator units being placed at the point of use – in butler pantries, dining rooms, finished basements and master bedroom suites.

Uihlein adds, “Wine captains and beverage centers are ideal additions for a bar, butler’s pantry or in an entertaining area of the home. Satellite kitchens in game rooms or home theaters that play host to large groups are great spots for undercounter refrigerators and ice makers that keep beverages cold and snacks ready for the crowd.”

Hale has seen other uses for specialty appliances throughout the house, including warming drawers for heating towels and refrigerator columns for makeup and medicine storage in the bathroom.

Coffee systems are more often showing up in the master suite, as well. “No more walking to the kitchen for the first cup of coffee,” says Kueny. “Frequently, these machines are paired with one of our Slimline dishwashers so that cups don’t need to be transported back and forth to the kitchen for clean-up purposes,” he adds.

Strong Finish

Manufacturers agree that when it comes to appliances, stainless steel is still by far the most popular finish, but there is an increasing demand for fully integrated overlays as well. “Demand for stainless steel is still very strong, since it has a timeless look of quality that will never be outdated,” says Reda. “The demand for overlays is strong too; again, as part of the trend that enables individual customization, leaving no small detail in the room design unexamined.”

Hale says that stainless still remains the popular finish, but custom paneling is also prevalent in the premium segment. “It goes back to that variety and choice, people wanting it to be their way,” she says. “You can do that by putting a custom panel on the front, whether it matches your cabinetry or not.”

While Wimberly agrees that “stainless is still king of the road,” he adds that Perlick has launched a new series with convertible doors that can be changed from stainless to an overlay door simply by taking off the stainless steel covering and putting on a wood overlay. “You can remodel without changing all of the equipment,” he says. In addition to the convertible doors, Perlick also offers color-infused stainless steel in copper and amethyst to add a decorative twist to the finish.

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