Appliances Favor Flexible Designs, Smart Technology

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Designers are charged not only with selecting the best appliances to coordinate with the overall look of a kitchen, but also with finding top performing products that improve and simplify kitchen functions.                      

Appliances need to fit the overall design vision, and should also offer flexibility, efficiency, and take into account evolving technology, environmental and wellness issues, say manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

“As appliance manufacturers, it is important to provide consumers with compact, yet efficient, appliances that will flawlessly fit within their kitchen’s design,” says Josef Steigmiller, v.p. of Liebherr Refrigeration, The Americas, based in Burlington, Ontario Canada. “In the past, home design was driven by practicality, but now homeowners want function and design to align – and it starts in the kitchen,” he adds.

“Appliances that offer freedom and flexibility are important to cooking enthusiasts who are remodeling or building new homes,” says Zach Elkin, director of brand marketing for Thermador at BSH Home Appliances Corp based in Irvine, CA.


Blend or Pop?

The wide variety of style and finish options available ensures that hard working appliances need not look boring, utilitarian – or even, in some cases, like appliances at all. With panels that integrate appliances into the cabinetry, and range hoods that look more like art, there are looks that complement any design.

“Many brands are introducing new ‘looks’ for their appliances with fresh, new design concepts – it is creating more competition for the more specialized brands that already had a less ‘traditional’ looking appliance,” says Melissa Haber, director of sales and marketing at EuroChef, USA in Edgewood, NJ. “I think color pops and accents are in demand for kitchen appliances. Consumers and designers want appliances to shine and stand out, not blend in with everything else,” she adds.

At the same time, there is a desire for a professional look, and stainless is still a popular choice. Though Greenwood, MS based Viking Range, LLC offers 12 color finishes, Jane Crump, communications and PR manager, says color is a minute portion of the firm’s business. “Stainless does not seem to be diminishing at all,” she says. When color is used, it’s often as a focal point, particularly on the range, not on all appliances, she adds. The other appliances would then be finished to match the cabinetry, or have a stainless finish.

Kevin Henry, director of business development for Dacor in Costa Mesa, CA says, “At the end of the day, stainless steel is the great neutralizer. It goes with anything, it doesn’t have to match up, it takes on the personality of the kitchen and it has a perception of high quality. I don’t think we’re going to see too many changes in the industry away from stainless steel, because there’s just too much of a demand for it,” he notes. At the same time, he explains that invisibility, in the form of fully integrated appliances, is also on the rise, dictated by the open floor plan for American kitchens.

Michele Bedard, v.p. of marketing for Madison, WI-based Sub-Zero and Wolf says the company continues to see a trend toward chef-style, professional appliances, as well as a demand for appliances customized to blend into the kitchen décor. “Our integrated and built-in lines of Sub-Zero products can be designed to merge seamlessly with kitchen cabinetry and décor. This look remains very popular as it offers customers infinite design possibilities and complete customization,” she says.

“Given that the trend of designing kitchens that are open to the living area continues to be strong, appliances that seamlessly blend into cabinetry are important to our consumers,” adds Juliet Johnson, AKBD, CAPS, brand experience manager for Jenn-Air Appliances in Benton Harbor, MI. Jenn-Air offers a wide array of appliance options, from built-in refrigerators to wine cellars and dishwashers that offer a custom overlay design to accommodate a custom panel and handle.

One category of appliances that is more often being used as an attention getter is the range hood. Ramona Panus, president of RangeCraft USA in Fair Lawn, NJ says, “People are looking to give their kitchen a facelift and replace that boring, outdated, standard, conventional kitchen range hood with a custom decorative showpiece. Adding a decorative kitchen range hood is a popular option because it makes the range hood the focal point in the heart of the home.” She adds, “Our customers mainly want their hoods to make a statement, be very unique and show off their personal design style. Custom metal combinations including coordinating bands, trim, with rivets and buttons accomplish this.”

Streamline Hoods, based in Fair Lawn, NJ, is new to the U.S. market in 2013, and is focusing on a variety of unique products such as colored glass and photo imprinted glass hoods. “The range hoods with imprinted photos on the glass look like a piece of artwork on the wall when the range hood is not being used for cooking,” says Streamline’s director of marketing David Ryan. The variety of glass hood options offered by the company has given designers and architects more choices than the standard stainless range hood, he adds.


Advancing Technology

Technology that enhances the use of kitchen equipment is constantly changing and shifting, and designers are charged with finding just the right features for each client, without adding unnecessary complications to tasks. Advances in technology have led to greater efficiency and simpler controls, enhanced performance of appliances and greater freedom for the home chef, who no longer has to stay in the room to monitor the progress of the meal.

“There is tremendous pressure on appliance manufacturers to be first-to-market with better, faster, more cost-effective and energy efficient products. To remain competitive and to keep up with changing technologies, manufacturers must continually upgrade and reinvent their products,” says Steigmiller.

“Technology is continuing to be welcomed into the kitchen in a variety of ways, especially to improve cooking performance in appliances,” adds Elkin. One example is the Freedom Induction Cooktop by Thermador, a full-surface induction appliance with a natural-mapping user interface that recognizes cookware size, shape and position. This cooktop, he says, offers the benefits of traditional induction technology as well as added flexibility to move cookware around while cooking.

Crump says people want electronic controls, but they must not be too complicated to use or program. “People want them to be simple to use, not so complex that you have to have your book out every time you want to turn on your oven or cook something in your microwave,” she says.

Connected appliances are also on the rise, like the newly launched Dacor IQ Wall Oven, a wifi enabled smart appliance that Henry says has released the home chef from the bounds of the kitchen. The oven has a built in Android tablet that can be operated at the oven’s interface or from another device, giving cooks the ability to download recipes, check their email, or be sent updates to their cell phone so they can monitor the meal from elsewhere within the household. The embracing of enabled appliances is the future, he says. “I think we’re going to see this grow very quickly now that the technology has caught up with the concept,” he adds.

Johnson notes, “Consumers have become used to using things like touch screens and expect a user experience that is intuitive.” This has influenced some Jenn-Air appliance designs, she says, such as a collection of built-in wall ovens that features models with a 7-inch touch screen with a full color LCD display and interactive, image-driven Culinary Center to help users achieve their desired cooking results.

Technology has also contributed to a shift in the way people are cooking, including the rise of induction cooktops, manufacturers say. “Induction technology has also increased consumer perception of how quickly items can cook – some induction options will offer a 90 second rapid boil…it is changing the market and what consumers expect from their appliance,” says Haber.

Bedard is also seeing interest in induction as a method of cooking, due to performance and efficiency. “Induction cooktops are 90-95% energy efficient and, as a result, no heat is wasted because energy is supplied directly to the cooking vessel,” she points out.


Economy of Time and Energy

Consumers’ time is precious, and appliances that provide features that allow them to do things faster and with greater ease are in high demand. At the same time, there’s a desire for energy efficient, environmentally-friendly products.

Consumers who demand efficiency from their everyday products expect no less from their kitchen appliances says Haber. The expectation that they can prepare a gourmet meal in far less time than was once standard is pushing brands to new heights, and creating new and exciting trends to allow for convenience in the kitchen, she says. “Any feature that will increase the efficiency of an appliance is in demand right now – high BTU burners, powerful broilers, quick pre-heating – all will speed up cooking time while still producing professional results,” she adds. “Consumers are looking for new ways to cook that also make cooking easier: French tops, steamers, griddles, warming drawers and indoor BBQs are all trending well.”

Crump says that people want to cook quickly whenever possible, but want better results than they might get with a standard microwave. To that end, she cites Viking’s convection microwave which combines the technology of convection with microwave assist. Much like induction and the combination steam oven technology, she thinks convection microwave technology will grow as people learn more about it. “As people understand what it is, there will be more adaptation and adoption of the technologies. In the general population, I think that’s going to be a slow growth pattern,” she says.

Johnson has also seen interest in convection microwaves. She says, “While microwave ovens have been a staple in American kitchens for decades, high-end models offer not only speed and convenience, but many of the same capabilities prized in traditional ovens.” Jenn-Air has a 30-inch built-in microwave with a Speed-Cook system that can cook oven quality meals up to three times faster than traditional ovens, she says.. “By combining the speed of microwave energy with the heat of convection cooking and broiling, this cooking system has the flexibility to cook a variety of preprogrammed foods from roasted chicken to delicate puff pastry.”

Some people are looking for the convenience of an appliance that can do it all. “Convenience certainly impacts appliance trends as cooks want appliances that can fulfill their every cooking need all in one appliance,” says Elkin. He cites Thermador’s Pro Grand Steam Range , which features six Star Burners, a grill/griddle, convection oven, steam and convection oven and warming drawer, as an example.

Environmental concerns are also on everyone’s mind, creating a demand for products that are both more energy efficient and manufactured in environmentally friendly ways. Consumers want convenience along with more cost-effective and energy efficient products. We are seeing that environmentally friendly, energy efficient products continue to be a top design trend,” says Steigmiller.

Another consideration from a manufacturing standpoint, says Crump, is water efficiency. Viking strives to design dishwashers that will maintain high standards of cleaning while using less and less water, she says. “It has to make sense, and really meet the end goals,” she adds.


Healthy Habits

Health and wellness concerns also drive trends, increasing interest in appliances that offer healthier cooking options, better food preservation and antibacterial properties to prevent the spread of germs.

“A greater focus on health and well-being is one lifestyle trend carrying over into home appliance selection,” says Steigmiller. “Consumers recognize that proper food storage can help preserve food quality, including nutrients, flavor and texture.” Liebherr’s BioFresh drawers offer long term storage up to three times longer than a traditional refrigerator, he says

Henry says that convection is becoming the standard in most American ovens, and with the movement toward buying fresh and local, he believes the next big change will be an embracing of steam cooking.

Elkin says that the popularity of steam cooking continues to grow as home cooks realize the health benefits, improved flavor, look and texture of the food. Thermador offers three steam oven products that combine the benefits of steam with the power of convection, he says.

Crump has also seen a growing interest in the combination oven, which adds steam cooking to an oven or microwave. She attributes this to healthier eating considerations, and adds that in the ultra premium appliance category, customers are willing to spend more on their appliances, and are more aware of the various upgrades available.


Appliance Upgrades

As the economy continues to rebound, kitchen remodels are on once again the rise. There has been a pent up demand for kitchen renovations and appliance upgrades, say manufacturers, and consumers are ready to move forward.

“Homeowners have been in a holding pattern for several years now and have decided to move forward with updating their kitchens. As the economy continues to improve we will see more consumers more willing to open their wallets,” adds Ryan.

Panus agrees. “Many customers who put projects on hold during the last several years have moved ahead with the improving economy,” she says. “Although the housing market has improved somewhat many customers have decided to stay in their existing homes and now want to dramatically improve their kitchen,” she adds.

Haber agrees, stating that they are seeing consumers splurge on appliances as well as doing full kitchen renovations rather than simple appliance replacements. “This all means that consumers are upgrading their appliances to bigger sizes, better quality and higher performance,” she notes. “We are also seeing more upgrades in color and trim finishes, handle upgrades, as well as interior oven upgrades such as glide racks and self-cleaning cavities,” she states.

Though appliance upgrades are on the rise, that doesn’t mean consumers are buying blindly. They are still looking for high quality products and good value, manufacturers say. “In today’s economy, consumers are seeking quality and durability more than ever before,” concludes Bedard. “Consumers invest in our products because they are getting a high-quality product that will last for decades.”

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