Stylish & Flexible

The kitchen has long been cited as the centerpiece of the American home a place where we prepare and share meals, entertain friends, spend quiet time alone or bond with family members, plan daily activities and express our individual style and personality.

Just as our kitchens reflect our innermost selves, the appliances we choose give evidence to our personal tastes, cultural backgrounds, special needs, and daily priorities. And, increasingly, these appliances act as status symbols, as well.

"The luxury market continues to expand and pave the path, raising a new bar for quality and features that allow for customization, personalization, convenience and flexibility," says Julia Uribe, strategic marketing director for Marvel Industries in Richmond, IN. Uribe explains the raising of the bar also "increases a market base of consumers seeking to achieve a betterlifestyle."

While the high-end appliance market continues to make its presence felt in the kitchen, appliances have found their way into other areas of the home, as well. According to Uribe, "Today, appliances have far exceeded their original boundaries [and are making headway] into other areas of the home, including media centers and home theaters, dens, libraries, bedroom suites, wine cellars, spas, in-home gyms, pool-side cabanas, the nursery and outdoor kitchens." The growing luxury market and the ability to hide appliances have given birth to the "satellite kitchen," she adds.

Chilling Out
There is probably no other kitchen appliance requiring more flexibility than today's refrigerator. Users are demanding a wide array of features and designs, and manufacturers are seeing an increased demand for compartmentalization. According to Jane Crump, spokesperson for Viking Range Corp., in Greenwood, MS, features such as "separate temperature and humidity zones, built-in water filters and design integration" are on the rise. Crump also points to the demand for moisture-adjustable zones that allow food storage at ideal moisture levels.

Nancy Butner, contract marketing manager for Whirlpool Corp. in Benton Harbor, MI, explains that features such as locking seals for keeping produce at the proper humidity, sensors that monitor and maintain independent temperatures, multiple-zone interiors and refrigerator models with advanced adjustable temperature controls are popular amenities.

According to Crump, "The trend is toward adjustability." Clients are looking for adjustable door bins and shelves in order to customize their refrigerators. Manufacturers are also offering adjustable bins "that put often-used jars and cartons within easy reach," says Butner.

Uribe concurs: "Flexibility and convenience are key components for decision making today. The flexibility of a particular product is just as important as the overall flexibility it lends to any room."

Aside from the growing market for specialty refrigeration, three basic choices of refrigerator/freezer models are in play in today's market: the bottom freezer with top refrigerator, top freezer with bottom refrigerator, and side by side model. Brian Hendrick, v.p./sales and marketing for Elmira Stove Works, in Elmira, Ontario, Canada, says, "Bottom-mount popularity seems to be on the rise."

Crump agrees, saying, "Bottom-mount refrigerator/freezers are gaining popularity, as they allow storage of the most commonly used refrigerated items at waist/ eye level." Crump points out that side-by-sides continue to be popular because of the storage flexibility they offer.

The important thing to note, however, is the increasing interest in a broad selection of refrigerator or freezer options. Crump explains this growing trend. "Smaller under-counter refrigeration, wine storage and ice machines are becoming increasingly important as they are used not only in the primary kitchen but also in secondary kitchens, bar areas, outdoor kitchens and even master bedroom suites."

Under-counter refrigeration offers both convenience and status, and upscale clients are finding multiple uses for these products. Jennifer Uihlein Straszawski, vice president and director of marketing for U-Line Corp. in Milwaukee, WI, says, "Under-counter icemakers and refrigerators offer many conveniences. From auxiliary appliances for additional storage space in the kitchen to the primary icemaker and refrigerator in a media room snack center, there are endless application possibilities. Such unique applications define the lifestyle trend by making living and entertaining easy anywhere in the home."

Other examples include a refrigerated drawer at the prep sink or a combo icemaker/refrigerator in the master bedroom suite.
A professional look in the kitchen continues to be in high demand, and stainless steel continues to be the front-runner.

"Although stainless steel is very important, the trend toward 'hiding' refrigerators behind panels is growing," says Crump. She adds, "People like the option of matching the refrigerator to the kitchen cabinetry and being able to install the refrigerator completely flush with the cabinetry."

Stainless steel may be all the rage, but for those looking for something unique, there are always color options. According to Hendrick, "Our color trends don't reflect the industry as a whole. We offer very unique colors." Hendrick maintains that wood panel kits designed to hide the refrigerator "may not be as popular as they once were."

Wine as Status
The wine storage appliance category continues to enjoy strong growth in its market. Straszawski says, "Demand has pushed this appliance to the forefront of the market, making it one of the hottest appliance trends today."

The recent surge of interest in wines has given a shot in the arm to this piece of the market. Straszawski points primarily to the social status associated with collecting wines. "The primary consumer is a wine enthusiast who wishes to showcase a collection where friends and guests will be impressed by his or her good taste and sophistication," she says.

While creating a wine cellar may be the best way to store wine, many clients are choosing to incorporate a more practical wine storage unit in their homes. Wine storage appliances that offer flexibility are important, as well. Multiple temperature zones are of paramount importance to the proper storage of wine, says Uribe. She adds that a variety of options with regard to capacity and shelving is important.

The wine storage unit is being used beyond the kitchen and bar areas, often being installed in the bedroom suite, library, den, home office, dining room or outdoor kitchen, manufacturers say.

Both Straszawski and Uribe agree that wine storage units are expected to convey style and uniqueness. Many of the units sold today are of a contemporary, sleek and sophisticated style. The lighting is a key component in setting the right ambiance.

Creative Cooking
When it comes to cooking, style and innovation are at the forefront. A professional stainless steel look continues to be hot, although manufacturers say that product design is beginning to lean toward softer lines along with softer palettes. Monochromatic tones in black and white are also in demand.

Bryce Wells, marketing manager for Fisher & Paykel in Irvine, CA, says, "Appliance design is moving toward a simpler style, with cleaner lines rather than the bulky look associated with traditional commercial appliances."

Although stainless still rules, Wells claims that "easy to clean and maintain surfaces are going to grow in popularity as people tire of the on-going maintenance with traditional brushed stainless steel."

Brent Spann, marketing manager for Dacor in Pasadena, CA, adds, "Glass is also trending up for its easy cleanability and for the additional colors available."

Hendrick adds, "Ease of cleaning is also important, which is why we are starting to sell more smooth-top ranges."

Manufacturers agree that consumers are looking for higher BTU output for cooking appliances and for larger burners and oven capacities. According to Butner, "Higher BTUs for cooktops are increasingly popular, but we're also finding that providing a wide range of BTU choices is a key element."

Today's consumers are showing great interest in preparing a broader variety of foods. Ethnic and gourmet specialty cooking have become popular, as the trend toward healthier eating has picked up steam and global awareness has increased. As a result, manufacturers are offering options such as grills and woks as part of the cooking appliance.

Wells says, "The increased diversity of the ethnicity of foods today is broadening the requirement from cooking appliances such as higher and lower powered cooking surfaces and increased control and accuracy over the temperatures."

In an effort to help speed things up in the kitchen, appliances are "smarter" today than ever before. However, many find the myriad electronic options overwhelming. "People have little tolerance for learning to use appliances," says Wells. He predicts that newer technology will be designed in such a way that appliances do more while being easier to operate.

Whether or not manufacturers will be able to convince consumers to use all the technology available remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Spann says, "The future looks extremely bright and intelligent for cooking appliances."

Hendrick sees induction as a technology to "keep an eye on." He says, "The technology is now here and improved, and I feel that it is about to surface into the mainstream North American appliance market in the next few years."

Uribe agrees that the "reintroduction of induction cooking" will impact the market. She also points to the "multi-function ovens, steam ovens, built-in coffee systems and the European modular cooking surfaces" as innovations that will grow in popularity.

Keeping it Clean
A number of manufacturers agree that dishwasher style is all about stainless steel and/or integration. With dishwasher options that include hidden electronic controls positioned on the top of the door, "a fully integrated custom door can be installed, blending perfectly and seamlessly into existing or new cabinetry," says Spann.

Crump believes consumers are hooked on stainless steel tanks and doors because they are the "safest, most efficient way to clean dishes because they are rustproof and ultra durable." Crump adds the full-overlay panel on the door of a dishwasher gives the unit a "sleek, hidden look that is flush with the cabinetry," making this a strong aesthetic winner as well as a functionally sound choice.

Butner, however, claims there is a "recent trend toward more vibrant color in the kitchen."

Butner further notes, "Increasing numbers of Americans consider themselves environmentalists." Consequently, manufacturers are offering water- and energy-saving options on their dishwashers."

When it comes to dishwashers, designers are finding that their clients are looking for flexibility. Quiet operation, flexible storage and speed are all important, while several cycles and choices of capacity are also increasingly becoming the norm.

In fact, Wells believes many of this amenities are no longer just desired, but expected. "Quiet operation is certainly important, though almost a given attribute [along with efficiency] in high end dishwashers." Wells also cites a trend toward increased use of multiple dishwashers in the kitchen, as well as the use of additional dishwashers placed in home entertainment areas such as the bar or pool area.

The food waste disposer market is also offering quieter products in an effort to respond to demands. "The disposer market continues to grow, as most new housing incorporates a garbage disposal as a part of its plumbing package," says Lisa Engel, marketing manager/water products, for In-Sink-Erator in Racine, WI. Engel adds that today's products include treatments to help break down food waste in the disposer and in the septic system, and an air-activated switch for island applications.

Finally, hot water dispensers are another new area of growth. "Consumers are looking for kitchen appliances that can
help them complete their tasks more confidently and efficiently so that they can have more time to relax and enjoy," says Engel. She points to a large array of possibilities for using the hot water dispensers beyond the obvious choice of hot beverages. These include cooking pasta, instant rice and potatoes, and warming baby bottles.

"Style trends for these products," says Engel, "tend to mimic those of kitchen faucets. An instant hot water dispenser complements the kitchen d├ęcor, but does not define it. So, we've seen the demand for unique finishes increase dramatically."