Style & Smarts

The kitchen has come a long way from simply being the place where meals are prepared. With the continued interest in open-concept kitchens comes the demand for the overall space to be aesthetically pleasing. Because of this, today’s appliances are selected not only for their functionality, but for how they look and work within the kitchen design.

“Consumers are looking for the value and features that fit how they are living and using their kitchens today,” says Lisa Rowland, Frigidaire marketing and merchandising manager, Electrolux Home Products in Augusta, GA.
And, while looks are important, meal preparation is still the primary function of a kitchen.

With more people entertaining at home, kitchen appliances need to be able to handle both high-volume production and provide the quality that consumers are looking for.

The products available on the market today are doing just that, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Smart Systems

Due to today’s busy lifestyles, people are looking for appliances that help simplify their lives. “Kitchen appliances are now becoming more considerate of people’s needs and actual use and behavior. Appliances today should adapt to the consumer, not the other way around,” says Steve Bashara, chief branding officer, TurboChef Technologies in Atlanta, GA. He says that technology has found a home in the kitchen, and adds that his company’s TurboChef 30" “is an excellent example where the most advanced technology – our AirSpeed Technology – cooks at up to 15 times faster than conventional ovens, allowing people to save time and enjoy family and friends more.”

Convection ovens are also a growing trend because they reduce cooking time, says Rowland. Frigidaire manufactures these ovens with an option for regular baking or convection, and the unit will automatically convert from conventional to convection. “You don’t have to sit there and try to do the math,” says Rowland. “You have automatic convection conversion, which takes care of it for you.” The convection feature also allows consumers to use all of their oven capacity rather than just one rack, because of the circulating air that evenly distributes the heat, she adds.

Paul Leuthe, corporate marketing manager for Sub-Zero/Wolf in Madison, WI, agrees that technology that increases appliance performance is what it’s all about. “People want equipment to function the way it’s supposed to,” he says.

“Consumers have accepted electronic controls as being both reliable and actually providing precise control of the cooking and baking functions the owner chooses,” says John Swenson, director of Electrolux brand marketing, Electrolux Home Products in Augusta, GA. He continues that research has shown that simplicity in design is also desired, however. Electrolux has responded by including Wave Touch technology, which is activated by a touch on a control panel, into its ICON appliances, including the wall ovens and the high-speed oven. “Program your selections and those functions not chosen or active will fade away to a dark panel in a minute, displaying only the functions you are using,” he remarks.

Style Matters

As important as function is, it, of course, isn’t the only consideration. Designers need to have plenty of appliance options, from a professional stainless steel look to appliances that are integrated into the cabinetry to splashes of bold color as accent pieces.

Manufacturers agree that stainless steel is still the top choice for designers and consumers. Danyel Tiefenbacher, associate brand manager, Bosch, BSH Home Appliances Corp., in Huntington Beach, CA, notes, “Trendy appliance colors are attention-grabbers in a retail or advertising environment.” However, he continues, “The vast majority of consumers and designers still prefer stainless steel over a trend color.”

Bashara agrees. “Even though people comment on ‘stainless steel fatigue,’ you will find that over 80% of premium appliance purchases are in stainless steel,” he says. However, choice is still important, he adds, and as a result, the company’s products are offered in six colors in addition to stainless. “We have seen consumers matching our oven door to their marble or granite countertops, tile or backsplash. The fresh colors enable designers and homeowners to customize kitchens, so the rooms don’t look like generic, high-end designs,” he says.

Leuthe agrees that people are looking for options in finishes for appliances. “They don’t want to be like everybody else,” he says. “They want their designers and their equipment to be different.”

In response, Wolf developed two unique applications of stainless steel that are also available in Sub-Zero products: a “Platinum” finish that is a softer, muted version of stainless, and the “Carbon” finish, which is acid etched to give stainless steel a muted black tone.

Jeff Wimberly, director of sales and marketing, Perlick Residential Products, in Milwaukee, WI, says that fully integrated panels are also on the rise. “They [designers and consumers] want to make the refrigerator vanish.”

Beatriz Sandoval, brand manager, Thermador, BSH Home Appliances Corp. says, “The great thing about paneled appliances is that they blend beautifully into the space, creating a seamless look that allows the consumer to truly enjoy the cabinetry. It makes for a great game of let’s play ‘Where’s the refrigerator?’ or ‘Where’s the dishwasher?’”

Tony Dowling, business development manager for Elmira Stove Works, in Elmira, Ontario, Canada, notes the company has a strong focus on color. In fact, “our retro Northstar line is all about color,” he says. Candy Red is the leader, but there are nine other standard colors to choose from, as well as the option of custom-coloring appliances.

“We are increasingly hearing from dealers, and from consumers as well, that they want something different from the stainless-stainless-stainless they see everywhere else. This is especially true if they are buying appliances for a second home or cottage. When people physically leave the city, they also want to break emotionally; the décor in their getaway home helps to create that psychological escape,” says Dowling.

Seeing Double

If one of something is good, two is even better goes a theory. And, according to manufacturers, a growing trend is the desire for duplicate appliances.

“Consumers are still considering multiples of the same appliances,” offers Swenson. “Dishwashers, warming drawers and even all-refrigerator all-freezer separate units are gaining momentum.”

Tiefenbacher agrees. “Homeowners double the dishwasher capacity by installing two units in their kitchen. This is ideal for entertaining, especially when you have a large party and need more than one dishwasher to handle all of the dishes and glasses.”

He has also seen some innovative uses for the duplicates. “Some customers are using a two-dishwasher set-up for storage: they load their used dishes into one dishwasher, while they take the clean dishes from the other dishwasher. Once the dishwasher with the used dishes is filled, they start running it,” he says.

“The premium consumer is becoming increasingly interested in multiple ovens for their home,” adds Bashara. “We are finding that many homes will have two kitchens – a gorgeous show kitchen for entertaining, and a ‘dirty’ kitchen in an alternate space where most of the real cooking takes place. Similar to a front foyer and a mudroom or potting room, there is a showplace and a workplace.”

Rowland also sees a demand for a second oven, and cites the Frigidaire freestanding range with double oven, one of which is a smaller drawer oven, as a new alternative to the double wall oven, if there isn’t space for that traditional application.

Designers are incorporating smaller versions of appliances – drawers and undercounter appliances – in many places throughout the home, tucking them inconspicuously into other living areas such as master suites and family rooms.

According to Leuthe, when Sub-Zero initially introduced its 700 Series drawer units in the mid 1990s, they weren’t very successful. “People didn’t buy into the concept of decentralized refrigeration,” he says. Now, all of that has changed, and he sees refrigerator drawers being used in many areas outside the kitchen. One common use is to put a unit by the back door for children, who can “come in, grab their treats and go outside again,” says Leuthe. In a more unique application, he saw a 700 Series unit placed under a very large fish tank to store the fish food.

“We have seen some very creative applications for warming drawers, as well,” says Tiefenbacher. “Some high-end home customers use their warming drawers to not only keep meals warm during the cooking process or for late arrivals, but also to pre-warm coffee and tea cups. I have even seen homes that use warming drawers in the bathroom to keep the towels toasty.”

Dowling says that Elmira sells a large number of retro Northstar refrigerators and microwaves for recreation room bars, boathouses, pool cabanas and even bike and hot-rod workshops. “Our Northstar microwave is a combination microwave/convection oven/grill, so it is especially well suited to applications where the need is more for snacks than meals,” he says.

As kitchen equipment permeates other areas in the home, a logical choice for those in a climate that allows is the outdoor kitchen.

“Outdoor kitchens are very popular, especially depending on the region, and you will probably continue to see consumers adding them onto their homes,” says Bashara. “Both cooking and cooling appliances are found in outdoor spaces to match how consumers work, live, play and entertain.”

“Outdoor kitchens are still a big market,” agrees Swenson. “The cooking appliances are the main featured item, and performance and durability are important.”

Design Evolution

Kitchen design has evolved from a single work-triangle concept to a series of overlapping triangles with specialty work stations, manufacturers say. “The work triangle hasn’t been replaced completely, but we see more of a variety of kitchen designs,” says Bashara.

Leuthe calls the work triangle a “multifaceted geometric figure,” and says that now that appliances are becoming more integrated, they are no longer limited to a single area. “You can put them where they make sense,” he says.

Sandoval points out that, while consumers may have the “traditional” surface cooking area (gas, electric or induction), it is not uncommon to also have a specialty station, such as a wok station or griddle with its own hood. “This allows for the separation of meals, especially if a consumer has a large party to entertain or only wants to use one area of the kitchen,” she explains.

Open floor plans also contribute to the popularity of work zones, according to Swenson. The work station idea is growing in popularity, but it has to come with kitchen remodeling or new construction, says Swenson.

Advances in refrigerator/freezer technology have brought about new design ideas, according to Sandoval. “Freestanding refrigeration and freezer columns, such as those offered in the Thermador Freedom Collection, allow consumers to place a freezer next to the oven for easy access to meats, and a fresh food column next to the sink for easy preparation of vegetables,” she comments.

Wimberly has heard from designers that, “People want refrigerators to be more horizontal, as opposed to vertical.” This trend speaks to Perlick’s specialty undercounter refrigeration products well. Units are available from 24" up to 72" wide, which allows for flexibility in design and responds to this horizontal trend. Perlick’s products are also rated for food storage, says Wimberly, which allows consumers the option of selecting them as their main refrigerator.

In addition, technology related to food preservation is on the rise. Rowland points to the Frigidaire Pure Air Filter as an industry first. This filter works 24/7 within the freezer and the refrigeration unit to filter the air that is circulating, eliminating odors. ”You open it up and it smells fresh, versus smelling like the garlic or the onion or something else that might be in your refrigerator,” Rowland says.

Sub-Zero is also developing an air purification technology designed to scrub the air of ethylene gas, a gas naturally produced by fruits and vegetables. This process will “clean ‘the box’ of some of those contaminants and ensure food stays fresher longer,” says Leuthe.

As for cooking technology, “Speed cooking has arrived and is here to stay,” says Bashara. “Speed cooking has soared commercially in the past five years,” she reports. “And, as residential trends usually follow commercial kitchen trends, we are seeing the same early signs of fast growth in the residential market. The reality is that we are all trying to squeeze more hours into a 24-hour day.”

Vanitilate in Style

Ventilation is a necessary element in the kitchen to eliminate odors and keep smoke detectors from activating. Now, more than ever, the hood is becoming an opportunity for designers to make a statement.

“Hoods are being recognized as a design element within the kitchen,” says Swenson. “We’re seeing interesting shapes in stainless steel and glass, as well as electronics that will precisely control the fan speed to better move out smoke and odor.”

James Adams, national sales manager, Vent-A-Hood, in Richardson, TX, says that, for range hoods with an exposed exterior, stainless steel is still the leader for his company, followed by white and black. He has also seen an increase in custom colors and copper hoods. “However,” he reports, “the liner insert continues to be popular for its flexibility in the design community. Outfitted to match kitchen cabinets or covered with stucco, tile or a variety of finishes, the liner remains a versatile and popular range hood to suit any design taste and style.”

Hood selection isn’t just about style, however. Function, maintenance and green features also play a role. “Range hoods continue to get bigger in order to accommodate the cooking surface, which has expanded over the years,” says Adams.

“With more burners, griddles and even indoor grills, the range hood has to have the capacity to capture the cooking contaminants from a wider and more powerful space.”

He also finds that the ease of cleaning is an issue for consumers. “The less hassle that comes from scrubbing filters or removing parts, the better,” he confirms. Adams cites Vent-A-Hood’s Magic Lung, which liquifies grease for removal, as beneficial to consumers, as well as the ability to wash the housing in a dishwasher.
But what if you want to ventilate your cooktop without a hood? Tiefenbacher says, “Downdraft ventilation is the most elegant

way to get rid of steam and unwanted odors. It is mounted into the counter behind the cooktop, and the vent surface rises out of the countertop at the push of a button.”

Energy Efficient

In the last three to five years, the focus on energy efficiency in appliances has grown dramatically, according to Rowland, and manufacturers are working hard to meet the ever-increasing stringent standards. “Green” is the big trend, and the best way for appliances to meet green efforts is to be energy efficient and water efficient, she says. “Energy efficiency may be one of the driving influences to upgrade appliances also,” she adds.

Wimberly agrees, noting that energy efficiency comes up more and more often. With builders branding themselves as “green,” they are looking for products that are energy efficient.

“Interest in environmental issues has increased to never-before-seen levels. One cannot open a newspaper or magazine, or watch television, without being exposed to this important subject,” comments Tiefenbacher. “Public awareness is now driving demand for sustainable products, with consumers now realizing that they can save money on water and electricity by selecting the right appliances.”

Tiefenbacher cites Bosch’s new EcoOption button – which reduces the temperature and prolongs the cycle time on dishwashers and washing machines – as a feature that gives consumers an energy saving option. “This feature gives the consumer the option to save more energy, if they have the time to wait a little longer for their dishes or clothes,” he says.

And though consumers are pressed for time, designers find that they are willing to wait the extra minutes when they understand they are getting optimum function and great style from their appliance choices.

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