Panel Dialogue Needed on Appliance Panels

Appliance manufacturers clearly deserve a round of applause.

They've come light years in a relatively short time in terms of product innovation. They've helped revolutionize the way homeowners use, and view, their kitchens. They've brought new technology, aesthetics and features to a market that's as hungry for fashion as it is for function. They've helped redefine the traditional kitchen work triangle, and have expanded appliance use to other areas of the home, and outside the home, as well.

And their efforts have obviously struck a chord with homeowners. Shipments of major home appliances grew to record levels in 2004, and forecasts are for this year to hold even greater promise, as both the new construction and remodeling markets remain strong and stable.

But the more some appliance-related issues have changed, the more others have remained the same.

Take, for example, the issue of appliance panels.

Years ago, when the notion of integrating appliances and cabinetry first became popular, many kitchen designers reported that they often experienced varying degrees of difficulty in obtaining matching panels for the fronts of dishwashers, refrigerators and other appliances.

Some designers said they had problem understanding appliance specs, and in translating those specs to their cabinet company, resulting in costly mistakes. Others reported that appliance specs were occasionally incorrect, or that they changed rapidly with wave upon wave of product introductions. Still others noted that appliance panels could not be safely ordered until the appliances arrived on the job site, leading to delays in job completion.

Fast-forward to today.

While the kitchen and appliance industries are certainly light years ahead of where they were just a few years ago, more than a few designers report that the same issues regarding appliance panels still persist.

In some ways, in fact, the challenges are more vexing than ever.

As appliances have expanded in their range of sizes, features, sophistication and applications, their specs have also expanded in complexity. Some appliances are accompanied by specs that make it seem as if a cabinet manufacturer is being asked to produce a jet aircraft rather than a simple panel. There are cabinet manufacturers out there who cringe every time they're asked to produce a panel.

Trim kits obviously help. So does the presence of the Internet, which has provided appliance manufacturers with a medium for updating and communicating detailed specs far more rapidly than ever.

But it seems that even more can be done and should be.

Sure, appliance manufacturers can argue that designers and cabinet companies simply have to read specs more carefully in order to avoid mistakes.

And they'd be right.

And, sure, designers and cabinet companies can argue that manufacturers need to make their specs simpler to understand.

And they'd be right, too.

But, clearly, more than finger-pointing is needed if the ultimate customer consumers are to achieve the satisfaction they deserve.

One place to start could be for a group of appliance manufacturers, kitchen designers and cabinet suppliers to actually sit down and share ideas about how to make the process of specifying panels go more smoothly.

Associations like the National Kitchen &?Bath Association (NKBA) and the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) can perhaps assist in this respect, by organizing or sponsoring such a session.

So could Kitchen & Bath Design News if there's, indeed, genuine interest in conducting such a dialogue.

Talking never hurts.

And it could certainly help when it comes to advancing panel specification and construction to a point that's worthy of the innovative and stylish appliances reaching today's market.