Appliances Get Practical

While the way appliances are used varies widely from kitchen to kitchen, there are some common expectations, including practicality, performance and technological innovations. But while technology continues to be a hot button, it’s not just about having a lot of bells and whistles; rather, useful technology that’s simple to understand is what today’s consumers are seeking. Additionally, everyone wants appliances that offer flexibility and a stylish appearance, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Scott Davies, marketing manager, Fisher & Paykel Appliances in Huntington Beach, CA says that the premium appliance market continues to prosper and show great potential. “The global financial crisis, however, has created a savvier consumer,” he notes. “This consumer is still prepared to invest in high-end appliances, but must see true benefits in the features of these products. Using gimmicks on products is no longer accepted in the marketplace, and if these features don’t add value, then the customer will just ignore them.”

Paolo Bertazzoni, president and CEO of Bertazzoni, based in Guastalla, Italy agrees. “People are aware of what they want,” he says, adding that products are now more simple and streamlined.

Mark Russell, senior v.p./sales and marketing for U-Line, based in Milwaukee, WI sees flexibility as a growing trend, noting, “The traditional kitchen triangle is becoming a thing of the past, with walls coming down and islands going up. There‘s a big trend toward customizing the kitchen to personalize the space and create activity zones.”

Practical Components

Fancy bells and whistles are fading into the background as consumers ask for components that have practical uses and add real value to the product. Davies says features that deliver true product solutions, such as easy-to-use controls, ergonomic design, visual feedback, counter-depth design, an aesthetic fit with the kitchen and overall performance top the list of consumer demands. “These all contribute to the culinary experience in the kitchen, and strive to make customers’ lives easier with features like convenient drawer systems, touch controls and clean design lines,” he adds.

Michela Shaw, brand manager for Bosch at BSH Home Appliances Corp., based in Huntington Beach, CA says, “At Bosch, it’s not about the latest gadget and gizmo. It’s about designing the best performing machines that deliver the best results every time.” She adds that there is great emphasis put on the foundation of the product rather than on how many fancy features will be included. “We call this purposeful design,” she says.

High-Performance Appliances

A product can’t just look good – performance is key. Practical considerations are high on the list of requirements for appliances, manufacturers say.

Melissa Haber, director of sales and marketing for Edgewood, NY based EuroChef USA says, “Consumers want flexibility – a workhorse that allows for families to multi-task, even in the kitchen. Accessories and features such as steam basins, warming drawers and rotisseries allow for this kind of functionality.” She adds that, in ranges, customers often request high-BTU burners, convection ovens, heavy-duty grates and double oven configurations.

Terri Connett, senior contract channel manager for Whirlpool, based in Benton Harbor, MI says that double oven ranges have become the fastest growing category. “Occupying the same space as a range, double ovens allow homeowners to cook at two different temperatures simultaneously, with less energy consumption and decreased preheating time,” she says.

Zach Elkin, director, brand marketing for Thermador at BSH Home Appliances Corp. asserts that time-saving features are in demand, including faster pre-heat options. Flexibility is also key, he says, both in design and in the cooking itself.

In dishwashers, says Shaw, “quietness continues to be the number one feature that consumers are demanding.”

Quiet operation is also important in ventilation says Brian Wellnitz, marketing manager, kitchen ventilation for Broan-NuTone in Hartford, WI., along with the ability to remove smoke and odors, and features that make it easier to maintain the product. Consumers are also looking for external mounted blowers to reduce sound level, he says.

For refrigeration, Russell says there’s a trend toward modular units that are easy to integrate and install into existing spaces. “Customers look for timeless, elegant design, convenience and functionality,” he notes. “They want precise temperature settings that allow for maximum preservation of food and beverages.”

Drawers are still important in the appliance category as well, according to manufacturers. “Drawer appliances – including dishwashers, refrigeration and freezers, microwaves and food warmers – are still in demand and wonderfully universal,” says Connett. “Because they’re right under the counter, they provide easy access for children, seniors or people with mobility problems. For the most part, there are no knobs to turn and controls are at the front where they are easiest to see and access.”

Davies adds, “The ergonomic advantage of drawers is obvious and continues to represent a huge growth market for Fisher & Paykel.”

Elkin notes, “The luxury kitchen appliance market will always have a demand for built-in products, making appliance drawers an even larger necessity.”

Technological Enhancements

Convenience, speed and easy-to-navigate controls are all essential in the kitchen, and for that reason, advances in technology continue to be important in appliances, manufacturers say.

“The evolution of technology into our daily lives has impacted customer expectations, and it has also improved what we can do with our appliances,” says Russell. “Our engineers have integrated new technologies that allow optimum airflow and preservation,” he points out.

Haber says, “Technology continues to improve the speed and quality of cooking in domestic and professional kitchens.”

Shaw states, “Technology that enables homeowners to do more is extremely popular right now.” Induction cooking is beginning to gain traction in the U.S., she adds, due to its speed, efficiency and ability to deliver even results.

Bertazzoni agrees. While induction cooking is not new, he says that it is offered more and more due to an increased awareness and understanding of the advantages by consumers. He adds that digital controls are also becoming more sophisticated, with user friendly interfaces.

Fisher & Paykel’s Davies notes, “Electronics, including smart chip technology, play a huge part in our appliances – creating more easy-to-use benefits and performance features as well as streamlined design.”

Touch technology, similar to that employed in tablet computers and smartphones, is increasingly common for appliance controls as well. “As culinary enthusiasts get increasingly savvy in the kitchen, technology certainly begins to play a role,” says Elkin.

“The touch screen trend in electronics has migrated into the kitchen,” says Connett, adding that, “Touch screen controls are popping up on the faces of appliances.”

Technology comes into play in ways that aren’t specifically integrated into the appliance as well. Blake Woodall, v.p. at Vent-A-Hood in Richardson, TX says, “For us, the iPad has been a remarkable tool for presentation. We have developed multiple apps that enhance our capability to show our new EZ Clean process along with our Whisper Technology.” Additionally, Vent-A-Hood is developing an online model for designing hoods, called Build-A-Hood, to allow the customer to feel more involved in the design process.”

Wellnitz adds, “Trends in connected appliances will have an impact on the way range hoods communicate with other appliances as well as with other systems in the home.”

Color Coordination

Appliances in high-end kitchens have long been popular in stainless steel or integrated into the cabinets. Now, however, designers are making a splash in the kitchen with color.

“Consumers seem to be less afraid to use color in the kitchen for major appliances,” says Haber. “While color was just taking off a year ago, we now see it as a standard in orders.” She adds that EuroChef has seen a big demand for the Midnight Blue ranges, as well as True White and Matte Black, which she says fit in nicely with a trend toward a white kitchen.

Connett has seen a move toward white as well. “Depending on your style, white surfaces can be made to either blend in with kitchen cabinetry or stand out in distinct contrast with rich wood tone cabinets,” she says.

Ramona Panus, v.p. for RangeCraft Manufacturing in Fair Lawn, NJ adds, “Since RangeCraft range hoods have a distinctive Old World, we tend not to see the ‘cookie cutter’ trends.” While she says stainless steel and copper are the most popular metals, decorator colors are also very popular this year. “We can color match any paint or wallpaper colors with just a color swatch,” she adds.

Woodall states, “We are seeing new finishes: For example “Non Directional Stainless” and “Hammered Copper” are impacting the marketplace [and] oil-rubbed bronze powder coat finishes seem to be growing.”

Though color may be trending upward, other manufacturers contend that stainless is still the tried and true choice for high-end appliances. “Stainless steel is a timeless and neutral color that always has been the top choice among designers and customers,” says Elkin.

Style Spectrum

While appliance designs seem to be moving toward more minimalist design, there are always exceptions, and the demands of one consumer can be quite different from the next.

Wellnitz sees a demand for discreet designs that allow the room or vista to be the central focus. “There is still a large demand for designs with organic shapes and curves both in metal and glass,” he says. “And there seems to be a growing desire for minimalist designs with a European focus.”

Panus, on the other hand, says, “Consumers want options to match their design style and give their hood a unique look to create the ‘wow’ factor as [the] focal point in the kitchen.”

Haber says EuroChef is seeing a trend toward customization. “Whether it’s a unique color or trim choice, or optional backguard and handles, customers are seeking out ways to customize and make ranges unique to their own kitchen,” she notes.

Woodall says that though the desire for professional equipment has maintained its preferred status, design styles within this category are changing. “We are seeing a move toward both contemporary sleek styling and heavy baroque styling. It is unique that there is this divide,” he remarks.

Appliances, Great and Small

While many manufacturers see a growing demand for larger appliances of all types, there are those who have also seen a need for appliances designed specifically for smaller spaces.

“Today, homeowners are looking for bigger kitchens, no matter how large – or small – their homes are,” says Elkin. “The kitchen, more than ever, is becoming the hub of the home, so larger appliances are in demand.”

Connett says, “Homeowners are entertaining more in the kitchen instead of a formal dining room, so they need the kitchen to be larger, more open and as stylish in design.” She adds that as refrigerators become more energy efficient, larger refrigerators with more interior space are becoming a must. However, “The design of the kitchen and the homeowner’s specific needs are what really dictate the size of appliances.”

Shaw says that Bosch continues to see a growing demand for appliances that are designed for both small spaces and unconventional uses.

Panus says that hoods are trending toward larger sizes as well, with over 70 percent of Rangecraft’s recent orders for hoods larger than 54".

Efficient Equipment

Appliances are used daily, often multiple times, and it’s only natural that energy efficiency should be taken into consideration. “Every day the consumer becomes more and more concerned about energy efficiency, not just for the sake of the environment, but also for the cost saving associated with it,” says Haber.

“In general, the trend of energy efficiency is driving range hood manufacturers to find more efficient motors and lighting systems to reduce run time energy use,” adds Wellnitz.

Bertazzoni believes that the trend towards less consumption and a greener attitude must be seen as standard, not just something to base a sales pitch on. “We need to do it because it’s ethical to do it,” he says. “Every time we can save on energy consumption or on the way that we manufacture product or the way product will be dismantled at the end of its life cycle or to extend its life cycle is very much appreciated by the customer.”