Whether entertaining, raising a family or using the home as a weekend sanctuary, today’s upscale consumers are all about enjoying a lifestyle that promotes luxury, comfort and convenience. So it’s no surprise that appliances that add value to the home experience are being viewed as hot, hot, hot.
Indeed, nothing adds sizzle to the home environment like specialty appliances. After all, a multi-zone wine chiller, built-in coffeemaker or pizza oven not only adds upscale appeal and convenience, it also helps to create uniquely personalized design, cooking and entertaining options.
Specialty appliances are all about having something special. Designers have long known that consumers will pay for the little luxuries that make their life easier and their home life more enjoyable. But today’s specialty appliances go beyond the products themselves to incorporate a whole new trend that promotes design flexibility, inhibits clutter and promotes entertaining in the home.
According to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, consumers want options when it comes to their appliances. It’s those options that help define a home and the lifestyle within.
“Specialty kitchen appliances are often considered entertainment or lifestyle appliances that are generally new to the market and targeted for consumers who know what’s right for their lifestyle,” says John Swenson, director of brand marketing for the Electrolux Group in Augusta, GA. These may have to do with the type of product (a built-in espresso machine) or a new take on an old product (an in-sink or countertop dishwasher, a microwave tucked into an oven drawer).
Jeff Wimberly, director of sales and marketing/residential products for Perlick Corp. in Milwaukee, WI, takes it a step further. Wimberly believes that a specialty appliance is one “you wouldn’t normally see in a kitchen.” He adds it’s “an appliance that can be customized to fit the needs of the room, such as a two- or three-door [refrigeration] unit with multiple temperature zones, or an appliance with features such as martini glass chilling racks in a freezer.”
Of course, specialty appliances are most popular in the kitchen, but demand is also increasing for them in entertainment and family rooms, in master bedroom suites and in outdoor kitchens. Swenson adds that specialty appliances are “often the fast-starters in trends.” Why wouldn’t they be? They add value: form, function, convenience and fun to any design theme.”
Why So Special?
Just what exactly is driving the demand for specialty appliances? It seems that everyone these days wants to make a statement. Wimberly thinks that among upscale consumers, “there is a desire to have what nobody else has.” That theory fits the profile of the design-conscious consumer. It’s the savvy upscale consumer who also wants to customize, individualize and personalize. And these consumers rely on savvy design professionals to bring them the newest, most innovative products to create truly unique spaces that work for the way they live.
“Consumers,” says Chris Kaeser, president, sales/marketing for U81/Ariston Appliances in Las Vegas, NV, “are looking for better, more beautiful ways to conquer their desires and needs.” Kaeser adds that competition is driving manufacturers to be innovative in meeting these needs. “Increased offerings by new manufacturers that offer new opportunities and styles that the typical brands do not” are helping drive demand, he adds.
According to Gerry Reda, senior v.p./sales for AGA Appliance Group, in Cherry Hill, NJ, people are more involved in home-based activities these days. This, she says, “is manifested by elaborate kitchens, outdoor living areas and entertaining areas in the home. Specialty appliances made for a specific purpose or application support these home-based activities. Most homes have at least one area devoted to home-based activities and many have three or four.”
As a result, these spaces become higher priorities in terms of both design and function – and unique appliances that meet both needs will continue to win favor among today’s sophisticated consumers.
Swenson also sees consumers’ outside interests impacting this trend, noting, “Upscale consumers with access to wine tastings and gourmet cooking classes are demanding specialty appliances that will allow them to bring that lifestyle home for intimate entertaining of small groups.”
Likewise, just as the desire to bring commercial experience quality into the kitchen has impacted cooktops and ovens, so too, do consumers desire the other little extras that create the high-end restaurant experience, according to Wimberly. This is part of why upscale coffeemakers and multi-zone wine chillers are becoming so prevalent.
Swenson also points to the “mega-trend of kitchen and household remodeling” as a driver for the growth of the specialty appliance market. He says, “Consumers are updating and upgrading their kitchen and living areas, influenced by design professionals and finding many different appliances [beyond just the standards] are available.” As the demand for individuality continues to grow, so, too, does the search for specialty appliances that help to personalize the kitchen.
Versatile Trend Setters
Versatility is one of the trends building huge momentum in the kitchen right now, with designers and consumers alike rethinking the traditional, tried and true ways of handling appliances. Just as the classic work triangle of old has evolved to encompass a broader array of choices (from separate work zones to multiple work triangles), so too has appliance placement evolved to allow for more diverse and personalized options.
One of today’s hottest moves, according to Wimberly, is “getting rid of the upright refrigerator and going to multi-door/multi-zone undercounter refrigerated cabinets that have the ability to be configured to meet the needs of the homeowner.” He adds that “people want more options than the standard stock upright refrigerator. They want the option to be able to put in 24", 48" or 72" undercounter units with any combination of drawers, refrigerators or freezers.”
Swenson continues, “Specialty kitchen appliances are also versatile, allowing consumers to use them in areas not traditionally known for appliances – whether it’s different types of appliances under the counter or appliances in other rooms of the home.”
Placing plumbed coffeemakers or microwave drawers in the master bedroom suite is just one example of the ever-expanding uses of these specialty appliances. Other rooms such as an entertainment center might have a beverage refrigerator and a microwave, and the outdoor kitchen has limitless possibilities.
Another specialty appliance that’s gaining ground both for its luxury appeal and its versatility is the built-in coffeemaker. Offering homeowners the ability to have that perfectly brewed pot of coffee (or espresso, latte or cappuccino) upon demand is hard to resist – and creates a sense of luxury that appeals to consumers at all different price points. Additionally, it offers versatile appeal, since it can be situated in the kitchen, bedroom, dining room or family room.
There is no doubt that specialty appliances are moving out – out of the kitchen, that is. Wimberly says, “We are seeing the demand for specialty appliances all over the residence, from extra refrigeration in the butler’s pantry to wine refrigeration in the dining room to beer dispensers and beverage centers in the home theater. And, of course, we’re also seeing them in outdoor kitchens and bar areas.”
Specifically planning every room in the house to entertain or meet certain expectations opens up new avenues of delivery for specialty appliances. “Master bedrooms and game rooms are really expanding the base for specialty appliances,” says Rian Cain, senior v.p./appliances, for Mahwah, NJ-based Sharp Electronics. “Comfort in the home used to be about a family room or a den. Now every room has the opportunity to provide comfort and convenience,” she adds.
Brian Wellnitz, product manager for Broan-NuTone Kitchen Ventilation in Hartford, WI, concurs. He says, “There has been an evolution toward more modular kitchens with a broader array of appliances in different places. Kitchen appliances are in more than one place in the house, and some are heading outdoors.”
According to Swenson, a recent report done by Electrolux Home Products “identified that not only the kitchen could have high-performance cooking equipment, but one can add a wine cellar, warming drawers and a dishwasher to the dining area. These items are unbelievably quiet, won’t disrupt the group while eating and will keep the host or hostess together with the group.” He adds, “People can also move built-in microwave ovens to the family room for convenience.”
Drawer units are another huge trend in the specialty appliance arena. Although warming drawers have been around for a few years, their popularity is increasing. Likewise, dishwashing drawers have also enjoyed increased sales, as they offer energy savings, increased flexibility in customer use, and a greater array of design possibilities.
And then there’s the microwave drawer. According to George Simadiris, v.p./engineering for Diamond Bar, CA-based Dacor, the microwave drawer’s popularity is just exploding. Although it operates similarly to the original, the microwave drawer is “typically located as an undercounter application,” explains Simadiris. The location eliminates the need to reach up or lean into the appliance and makes it all but disappear from sight, tying into the “clean and uncluttered” trend that has been increasingly prevalent in the kitchen in recent years.
As an added bonus, drawers also save counter or wall space. And most microwave models come with a child-safety feature as well, making them safe as well as fashionable.
Another increasing trend is a surge in customized kitchen ventilation. “Designers are putting unique personal touches on kitchens by creating their own custom design hood using our inserts,” says Wellnitz. “These hoods,” he adds, “reflect the unique tastes of both the designer and the homeowner.”
Wellnitz also says there is a growing demand for trash compactors, “especially in communities where consumers are being restricted or penalized for trash removal.” The compactor, typically located in the food clean-up area, “provides a convenient location to store trash between removals,” adds Wellnitz. He also says that the latest in technology allows for a reduction in sound and odor, making this specialty appliance particularly attractive.
One of today’s trends with specialty appliances is to minimize clutter and maximize visual impact. Cain says that this trend toward “clearing up and cleaning up the sight lines throughout the kitchen” is a powerful one.
Cain explains: “What we are seeing is a custom homeowners who have invested thousands of dollars on a kitchen and do not want to clutter their beautiful countertop with a traditional microwave oven. We are also seeing the condominium and town home market scream out for more space in and around the kitchen.”
Electrolux’s Swenson also points out that one of the “biggest trends in specialty kitchen appliances is premium appearance with superior performance.” When it comes to appearance, Kaeser says, “the style tends to be clean lines, square without rounded edges.” He adds that stainless or other high-fashion colors are the trend. Simadiris agrees that stainless steel is still popular, but he’s starting to see more colors such as slate green and blue water. He adds that black is always popular, as it remains classic and elegant. Wimberly also adds that the latest technologies allow the use of “color-infused finishes, such as amethyst and copper,” for those looking to jazz up the kitchen with a splash of color.
Helpful but Easy
It’s important to remember that “specialty” doesn’t mean that consumers want complicated technology. “Technologies that reduce complexity and make cleaning or maintenance easier are highly desired,” says Wellnitz. Smart technology that assists, but doesn’t frustrate, the consumer will also continue to be popular, he believes.
Wellnitz points to kitchen ventilation as one area that has improved technology and function. He says, “Particulate sensor technology that provides automatic operation, ambient light sensors that allow for automatic night time light operation, evolution baffle filters that create a more effective filter, specially coated steel to make surfaces easier to clean and air refresh features that automatically remove stale air from the kitchen are all very innovative features.”
Dual-control refrigeration is another example of technology that is popular. Reda cites the example of the dual-zone beverage refrigerators and wine chillers that have the appropriate temperature for different types of wine, or wine and other beverages that require colder temperatures, as key items.
Simadiris recognizes that consumers are becoming more computer and technologically astute, and designers are specifying products with this in mind. As a result, he believes that consumers will be looking for more control over their appliances, and this will also allow designers more flexibility in how and where these appliances are used. But, he warns, designers have to keep in mind ease of operation, as consumers will likely not warm to high-tech appliances unless they are simple to operate.
Location flexibility is stacking up to be one of the more innovative advances in specialty appliances. Imagine the possibilities when a refrigerator/freezer can be installed together, separately or in multiple locations throughout the kitchen (or house). Coffeemakers installed and plumbed at the consumer’s preferred location, warming drawers, pizza ovens, wine coolers and dishwashers so flexible they can be placed on a counter or in the sink, and alternative refrigeration options are all creating design options never before imagined.
Today’s specialty appliances are clearly adding value to the upscale consumer’s home. Consumers are enjoying and responding to the many options, advances in technology and the versatility of specialty appliance products – and designers benefit from the chance to create more flexible designs with interesting, upscale additions that add value to the home – as well as upselling options.
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