Appliances for the New Millennium

Appliances for the New Millennium

Stainless steel continues to dominate the appliance market, while new technology powers high performance cooking, and commercial appliances emerge as a new status symbol.

Want to impress your neighbors these days? Never mind the Mercedes in the driveway or the swimming pool. Instead, upscale consumers are focusing on high-performance, commercial-grade appliances as showcase items in their homes, according to manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen and Bath Design News.

Focus on cooking
No matter what else occupies a high-end kitchen, a high-performance range is likely to be its centerpiece, manufacturers agree.

"Cooking is becoming more popular, it's the 'in' thing," believes Dale Persons, v.p./market support for Viking Range Corp., in Greenwood, MS. He notes that Viking now offers a culinary arts center in several locations, with a cooking studio and high end utensil retail shop. "People want to learn," he says. "They like to invite people in the kitchen when they cook the kitchen has become a social center. It's also therapeutic people come home from the office, they had a bad day, and they dice those onions, it's relaxing and creative."

"There's still a major trend towards commercial-style, high-performance cooking," concurs Larry Lamkins, CKD, director of marketing for DACOR, in Pasadena, CA. Consumers are particularly focused on features and benefits that help them cook at different levels, he claims: "High performance in the oven generally means a lot of volume, or mixtures of products a main course, a side [dish] and a dessert at the same time, in the same oven," he explains. 

Products which point to an even more high-tech future include a range that mixes cooking types in a single oven, Lamkins continues. Broiling performance is best with gas, while electric convection is generally recognized as the best oven cooking process. It's now possible to combine the two: a high output, infra-red gas flame broiler and 20,000 BTUs inside of a high-performance, pure convected electric oven. "It's the best of both worlds," says Lamkins.

Speed cooking is another hot ultra-high-end trend of the future, notes Jennifer Capasso, senior brand manager for Thermador, in Huntington Beach, CA. Applying technology from the commercial cooking industry, it employs a combination of cooking technologies to produce extremely high-speed cooking without the "rubber chicken" disadvantages of a microwave. 

Are high-end consumers actually using their extra-fancy, new-fangled commercial range? Well, some of them are. 

"Sixty percent of the products sold [are sold] just for looks," believes Capasso. "It's a showpiece, a status symbol."

Demographically, younger buyers tend to buy high-performance equipment because they plan to cook for their families for instance, volume cooking such as baking cookies for a child's soccer team, Lamkins elaborates. Empty-nesters entertain friends, and cook for relaxation. "It's a way of entertaining themselves and their guests. They have fun with it. And then there are those who have no inclinations to do it at all," but hire chefs to do the cooking in their home, Lamkins says.

Improved technical performance is also a factor with other appliances. Ron Frantz, inside sales specialist for the Albany, NY-based Almo Distributing, which handles Regency products, notes an increased demand for stainless steel dishwasher interiors, which don't stain like plastic, and last longer. Regency's models also feature hot and cold wash cycles, which save energy and also help dissolve proteins, "for instance, eggs on a plate," Frantz elaborates. "If the initial part of the wash cycle is hot, it bakes that egg onto the plate." 

Sub-Zero has expanded into more technically advanced wine storage units which counter the problems inherent in other models, reports Steve Dunlap, v.p./sales for Sub-Zero Freezer Co., in Madison, WI. "Wine requires precise, variable temperatures depending on whether it's red, white or champagne. It requires a minimum of 60-70% humidity, a glass door that can hold the temperature precisely and also eliminate ultraviolet rays which can damage wine." 

Still, it's the look as much as performance that attracts consumers to commercial-grade 
appliances and many upscale homes don't stop with the range, notes Viking's Persons. "We're seeing the real interest in the complete commercial kitchen," he believes. "I think people want a consistency of look." 

Modular design
For other consumers, "consistency of look" means you don't see any of your appliances at all. 
"There's a significant portion of the market that's looking for a discreet, hidden look, in contrast to the people looking for a heavy stainless steel look where the appliances are going to stand out." believes Don Stuart, manager of communications for KitchenAid, in Benton Harbor, MI. "They are two aesthetic trends with different ultimate goals in mind."

"Consumers are excited about products that can be integrated nicely into kitchens, that give them a lot of flexibility and versatility in food storage," adds Sub-Zero's Dunlap. "They want appliances that look like fine furniture." Dunlap reports strong sales in point-of-use, or modular, refrigeration, specifically the company's drawer systems, which is available with stainless steel or cabinet-matching panel fronts. The advantage is "to be able to place the refrigeration unit where the consumer wants it, not have to put it where the space dictates next to a prep sink, under an island. Once you integrate the product and make it disappear into the cabinetry, it becomes less obtrusive it makes for a more functional and beautiful kitchen."

The compartmentalization trend has expanded to other appliances, as well. Warming ovens in drawers have been available for several years, notes Lamkins; Fisher Paykel's dish drawers take a similar approach to dishwashers, compartmentalizing them in different parts of the kitchen to wash glasses and pots separately, for instance. "That seems to be a trend," says Lamkins: "an expandable and contractable design application. You can get [the appliance] closer to the actual point of first use." 

Several companies are also offering less radical takes on the same concept: for instance, Larry Ferguson, director of sales and marketing for Marvel Industries, in Richmond, IN, notes "the movement to the outdoor kitchen with the large stainless grills and [outdoor] refrigeration." The outdoor models are modified with extra insulation and sealing and an electrical system approved for outdoor use, he elaborates. The refrigerator can be installed permanently, even in cold climates, though it should be turned off during winter months.

Marvel also features a built-in undercounter fridge with a forced air condenser underneath the refrigerator, so it may be surrounded by cabinetry without the airspace usually required. Meant to be used in conjunction with a full-size refrigerator, he notes that "We see it in use in multiple rooms of the house," including wet bar settings, "morning kitchens" in master bedroom suites, and as an accompaniment to a large refrigerator in another location in the kitchen. 

Despite a strong trend towards compartmentalization, manufacturers acknowledge that for many consumers, the modular idea goes against their traditional concept of what appliances should be. "People are still doing the big old refrigerator," thinks Capasso. "We're the only country in the world that has those. Everyone else has little baby things that they hide." Detractors to the module concept point out that installation is frequently more expensive; the hidden appliance also may run counter consumers' desire for "status symbol" appliances.

Almo's Frantz notes that "we're seeing more dual dishwashers, one to load and one to go." He also notes a trend towards dishwashers sitting on top of a lower bank of storage cabinets, so as to prevent users from having to bend over to reach the back racks.

Adds KitchenAid's Stuart: "The consumers will have to show, by voting with their pocketbook, that [modules are] something they're willing to pay extra for." 

Stainless steel 
When it comes to appliances, it's clear that consumers' sense of adventure doesn't extend to color. Manufacturers cite white, biscuit and black as comprising nearly the entire enamel market, though Persons notes, "We do sell some designer colors: some people want to be different." Viking has also introduced a dark, graphite grey enamel color which seems to be an up-and-coming seller.

However, it's stainless steel that's emerged as more than a trend, but rather as a new mainstay of the industry. "Stainless steel is timeless, it's like the little black dress," thinks Capasso. "Consumers were burned from the avocado and harvest gold [in the '70s]. Stainless doesn't go out of style, and you can mix and match manufacturers, and you're fine." 

Matching color is an issue, believes Lamkins: "It's not always easy to do. White from one manufacturer is not necessarily the same shade or tint as someone else. So that's been a bit of a problem. Stainless is really stainless it's such a generic color." But Stuart insists KitchenAid's new Biscuit is designed to match perfectly to Kohler and Corian's Biscuit.

Viking's Persons believes that conservatism in colors decreases in more upscale applications, because high-end consumers "are not worried because they [think], if we have to remodel the kitchen in five years because we get tired of it, we'll just do it again. We want to have what we want to have." 

Panel inserts 

Panel inserts, wherein one's appliances can perfectly match kitchen cabinets, are not a new trend, but one that's reaching the mainstream, manufacturers agree. Lamkins envisions kitchens where all the appliances will have panel fronts. "You won't even see them." 

"We don't see a lot of white [or black] on the front of our products," says Sub-Zero's Dunlap. "We either see stainless or some kind of custom wood application."

As for the future, Stuart notes other metallic looks for appliances, such as copper or brass, as a trend of the future. "I think the whole idea of metallics is very powerful, more so than manufacturers really expected a few years back." 

Overall, manufacturers agree that it all boils down making an emotional connection with the consumer. "Consumers have a very strong identification with their kitchens," notes Capasso. "[They think], 'this is a statement of me.' And that's why people are spending so much time and money on their kitchens they see it as an expression of their selves." KBDN

Appliance Trends at a Glance

  • High-performance commercial ranges and other professional equipment have emerged as status symbols and showcase items in high-end kitchens.
  • Stainless steel looks remain a mainstay 
    of today's kitchen appliances, in a variety of applications.
  • Ranges are growing even more sophisticated, featuring such innovations as a gas broiler and electric convection oven combined in a single range.
  • The high BTU output of commercial ranges is prompting the installation of more technically advanced, quieter range hoods.
  • Panel fronts which integrate appliances into a kitchen's cabinet look remain a steady trend.
  • Prompted by Sub-Zero's modular refrigerator, smaller, modular units are another high-end trend which has now extended to dishwashers.
  • Quiet performance is a high priority for dishwashers, and other improvements such as an interior light are finding their way into the market.
  • While some upscale consumers purchase commercial appliances strictly for their status value, gourmet cooking as a means of relaxation and home entertainment is a growing consumer trend that impacts the appliance market.
  • Colors for appliances remain conservative, with stainless steel, wood panel fronts, white, black and off whites like biscuit comprising nearly the entire market.
  • High-speed cooking, which combines several cooking technologies, is a trend of the future.
  • The technology for refrigerated wine storage is becoming more sophisticated, taking into consideration factors such as humidity level.
  • The outdoor kitchen is emerging as a more elaborate operation, including high-tech grills and outdoor refrigerator units.