Double Take

Kitchens are no longer just for moms. They have become the family gathering place. And moms are not the only cooks in the kitchen. With more than one family chef, the new home kitchen requires several locations for food preparation. This has led to an evolving trend where refrigerators and other appliances are showing up two or three times in the same kitchen.

In the world of kitchen appliances an age-old question comes to mind: Which came first, the lifestyle need or the technology? Look at the use of cellular phones for instance. Remodelers used to spend a lot of time going to jobsites to check in on how the work was progressing. Now with mobile phones, a work crew is just a phone call away, modifying the work dynamic. Much is the same with kitchen design as its technology continues to change, increasing options and putting more focus on the way in which homeowners utilize their kitchens and what they want in them.

“Kitchen appliances are going the way of the television,” says Mike McDermott, GE Consumer & Industrial general manager of merchandising. “Twenty years ago many homes had one TV, and now people have TVs in almost every room.”

Mc Dermott indicates that the consumer market is currently polarizing between the needs of the wealthy and everyone else. “The middle of the market is declining in a significant way,” says McDermott. “They’re the mass market that does most of the spending, and instead the low and high ends are the areas now gaining ground.”

According to GE research, McDermott says that in 1998 the middle group of consumers controlled about 47 percent of the spending on household appliances vs. about 32 percent in 2005. That puts the low-end spenders around 21 percent and shows us that high-end consumers are now the larger group spending money on household appliances.

“Investing in new product development can be costly and generally only benefits the high-end appliances at first,” says McDermott. “But the features and benefits eventually migrate down the line as time goes on.” In 2007, in order to get the trickle down effect moving for their appliance lines, GE plans to launch 145 new product platforms.

Whirlpool and KitchenAid are seeing two big trends that are leading to appliance multiplicity in the home according to Mark Johnson, manager of architectural and design marketing for Whirlpool Corporation and also an expert on KitchenAid’s development of kitchen stations or “zones.” The first trend is point-of-use convenience. This includes multiple appliances with similar functions in the same kitchen. The second trend is multiple cooks in a household who don’t want to be stepping over each other as they head to the fridge or sink.

“There is so much more flexibility in kitchen design with so many new appliances,” says Christine Lewis, Sharp Electronics Corporation consumer electronics marketing group. “Just look at over-the-counter vs. drawer appliances.”

New Drawers of Opportunity
“Walls are coming down as kitchens become the focal point of a home,” says Lewis. “With less wall spaces, under counter modules are really taking off.”

More and more companies are now offering drawer appliances and modular units that range from cooking drawers, refrigeration/freezer drawers, warming drawers, dishwasher drawers, ice drawers and trash compacting drawers. This paves the way to easy multiplicity of kitchen appliances and designing a kitchen to suit homeowners’ needs and uses. It also avoids scenarios like two refrigerator elephants in the kitchen if all you need is a little more space.

“Figure out what you want to use your kitchen for and how you want to use it,” Lewis says should be told to clients. “If it’s been a while since they updated their kitchen, they might be shocked by what is all out there like all the energy-saving, space-saving and multiple-functioning appliances.”

This year Sharp Electronics will further drawer technology by introducing its Microwave Drawer in a variety of configurations — as part of Insight Ranges, 24- and 30-in. stand-alone units and a unique cooktop and drawer combination unit.

“The microwave drawer keeps the microwave off the counter and at the cooking station,” says Lewis. “Even above-stove microwaves can be a problem for older Americans or families with children who are reaching over the stove to get to it.”

Refrigeration has been popping up around the home in places other than the kitchen. For the home mechanic, refrigerators have become a staple in many American garages. Basements, family areas set away from the kitchen, home bars and cellars are also popular places to have an additional full refrigerator, under counter or drawer model or even a wine cooler.

“Refrigerator doors are being placed on islands as crispers because that’s where most people are doing their chopping and food prep,” says Patricia Davis Brown of Patricia Davis Brown Fine Cabinetry, Vero Beach, Fla. “Dishwasher drawers are also changing the design options, allowing them to appear in other parts of the kitchen where they are needed.”

“Any decentralized locations in the home are seeing more multiplicity of kitchen appliances,” says Johnson. “A morning kitchen in a master suite generally contains a coffee station, undercounter refrigerator and microwave. Guest suites may contain a kitchenette, or a butler’s pantry may have a dishwasher or dishwasher drawers to avoid hauling dishes all over.”

Kitchen Zoning
One of the areas that is pushing appliance multiplicity in the home is the idea of kitchen zoning. This takes into account the kitchen triangle paradigm that first started appearing in homes in the 1950s. This kept the essentials of sink, stove and refrigerator all within a few paces of each other to make the kitchen more efficient. And while zoning takes off, it isn’t replacing the kitchen triangle; it’s just adding more triangles to the mix.

“As far as kitchen zoning, the island is still king,” says Lewis. “Prep areas vs. cooking stations are the two biggest zones making their way into kitchens.”

In order to understand what a consumer will be happy with, Whirlpool indicated that it is important to know what their kitchen lifestyle needs are. “Asking them what types of functions they might want helps the consumer understand what they are looking for and prioritizes them,” says Johnson. “Most homeowners turn out to have two to four zones that they actually want to focus on with their kitchen.”

“Baby boomers will be retiring with more disposable income,” says McDermott. “It’s a matter of figuring out what their needs are now and their future needs as they age in place.” GE has put more focus on ADA and design changes in products to address people with disabilities, including putting temperature controls at the front of refrigeration units instead of stashing them toward the back.

KitchenAid has broken down the kitchen into seven zones: baking, cooking, prep, staging, cleanup, entertaining and kids’. Some of these zones have a basic setup while others push as far as the professional kitchen. KitchenAid is by no means the only company thinking in terms of kitchen zones though. Some designers encourage use of zones and include others like a dry-food storage zone, miscellaneous equipment zone, canning zone and a meal-planning zone, while others simplify this to the wet zone, dry zone and hot zone.

Zoning is becoming a bigger part of the modern kitchen. On display at one of the stations in the Concept Isle at K/BIS this year will be KitchenAid’s The Cook’s Kitchen tool. This tool is a five-minute survey that helps consumers really understand what they want in a kitchen. By asking the homeowners a series of questions targeted at different possible zoning areas, it helps them prioritize and identify their ideal kitchen before going to a remodeler.