Flexible Functionality, Customized Style

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Appliances are designed to make kitchen tasks as easy as possible, but they must also bring a certain amount of style or flair to the overall design in the kitchen.

“An appliance’s major task is to help people in their everyday life,” says Valentina Bertazzoni, brand manager for Bertazzoni, based in Guastalla, Italy. “Our homes are full of appliances because we buy the big potential they have to make our life simpler. Saving time, eliminating the uncertainty of results, making work more enjoyable or less heavy – these are just examples of the reasons why we love them,” she says.

Current trends call for appliances that offer flexibility, customized design and functions, technology the increases convenience and efficiency and options geared toward healthy living and responsible energy use. That’s according to manufacturer’s recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

“We are observing that the current trend of fully customized kitchens that incorporate a mix of textures and finishes is becoming extremely popular in home renovations. 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.

“More consumers are making the kitchen the focus of the home,” adds Zach Elkin, director, brand marketing for Thermador and Bosch at BSH Appliances in Irivine, CA. “Over the past two years, the largest increases in budgets for kitchen projects have been for major appliances.”  In these appliances, he says, consumers are looking for options that fit their personal style, in terms of both design and performance.


Flexible and Functional

For consumers to have the exact culinary experience they desire, appliances must be flexible, with features that provide both convenience and maximum functionality. Versatility is key, according to manufacturers. Designers must take into account the varying needs of the homeowner, and identify specific appliances that best accommodate those needs.

“Appliances had to adapt significantly in the recent past to our new lifestyle that is faster, more educated and extremely demanding,” says Bertazzoni.  “Flexibility is the best feature you can give to today’s users. Why should I choose between gas or induction if I can have the two in the same cooktop? Why should I pick between microwaves and electric when I can have both technologies in one oven and use one, the other or the two combined together according to my needs?” she asks.

People are looking for convenience and smart design in their appliances, says a Colleen Kasel, a spokesperson for Perlick Corp. in Milwaukee, WI. Consumers are looking for quality, but also expect appliances that conform to their lifestyle. Perlick’s under counter refrigeration solutions, offered in a variety of sizes, fit the bill, the company notes. This under counter refrigeration can replace upright units to add stylish and convenient refrigeration throughout the home.

Modular refrigeration means that appliances can be strategically placed throughout the space says Diana Franklin, brand marketing for U-Line Corp. in Laguna Beach, CA. “This increases kitchen choreography and the overall efficiency of the space,” she adds.

According to Juliet Johnson, manager of brand experience for Jenn-Air, based in Benton Harbor, MI, appliances are also helping to reshape the kitchen. She explains, “The demand for specialty appliances is impacting kitchen designs. As consumers request steam ovens, microwaves with speed cook technology, built-in coffee systems, warming drawers, etc., it impacts the layout of the kitchen, the work triangle, etc. 

She adds, “There's a growing demand for point of use appliances. Built in coffee systems near the breakfast bar or dining room, wine cellars and beverage centers near the Great Room or TV room, refrigerator drawers placed out of the work triangle to allow children to grab their after school treats, second dishwashers in the bar area, etc. 

 “New appliances are being introduced in the marketplaces that offer real innovations for real cooks,” says Elkin. “Culinary enthusiasts want appliances that can fulfill their every cooking need all in one appliance,” he adds, such as the Thermador Pro Grand Steam Range, which features six Star Burners, a griddle, convection oven, steam and convection oven, and warming drawer. Unique options from Bosch include perfect symmetrical horizontal oven installation, and SideOpening ovens that create a flush line that works in any design style, he says.

“Performance features that effortlessly assist consumers in the kitchen are of high value,” says Michele Bedard, v.p./marketing for Sub-Zero and Wolf, citing the 10 cooking modes offered on Wolf ovens, and the dual refrigeration technology on Sub-Zero refrigerators as examples.  She also says that as technology becomes more advanced, appliances follow suit. “We believe “smart” appliances will continue to grow in popularity as time progresses and as long as the technology meets a real consumer need,” she states, adding that Sub-Zero and Wolf products have the ability to sync to home-automated control systems like Control4, Crestron and Savant.

“The luxury segment of the appliance marketplace demands high performance combined with beautiful design,” notes Johnson. She cites Jenn-Air’s new refrigeration with an Obsidian interior is an example of a product that offers this combination, along with the firm’s 24" built-in coffee system.

Melissa Haber, director of sales and marketing at EuroChef, USA in Edgewood, NY, says that consumers are “sizing-up” and making more room for their cooking appliances. “We continue to see huge sales in 36" and 48" ranges. Consumers want more oven capacity and additional burners to prepare their meals than the old standard 30" options offered,” she says. They also want their appliance to work for them, as much of today’s technology does. “The more function an appliance can offer, the better,” she notes.            

Electric ovens are also being re-vamped, Haber adds, as this technology becomes more efficient and powerful. EuroChef just introduced four new high-power electric cooktops and six new electric built-in ovens. “We are finding that improvements in electric power sources allows for the same power that can be found in gas sources, with additional benefits such as convection, self-clean and rapid cooking options,” she says.

Indeed, technology is evident in everything from smart ovens to induction cooktops to refrigerators that can call the repair center when they’re malfunctioning.


Integrated Options

With more and more kitchens opening into other living spaces, homeowners are often asking designers to help their appliances blend in with their surroundings.   

It is essential to offer the option to seamlessly integrate appliances into the cabinetry, says Franklin. “Consumers want the option to have their appliances ‘disappear’ in their space,” she says.

Steigmiller states that new technology and techniques allow refrigerators to become virtually invisible in what he calls “a big leap forward” in built-in refrigeration. “Cabinetry panels discreetly hide these appliances, allowing the room's style to take center stage,” he says.

Elkin agrees that custom cabinetry and appliances that virtually disappear into a kitchen design remain prevalent. The Thermador Freedom Collection allows cold storage to disappear into custom cabinetry, taking on the look of a beautiful piece of furniture rather than an essential appliance, he notes. The new Thermador frameless Freedom Induction Cooktop with a solid black surface also supports this trend.

At Perlick, the company finds that disappearing kitchens or kitchens that feature white, flat cabinetry without hardware are very popular. The company’s units, with zero-clearance hinging and fully integrated depth, allow a flush fit with surrounding cabinetry.

Johnson says that warmer colors and softer finishes are trending in kitchen design. “Soft, matte black, rose gold and champagne gold are the latest fixture offerings for those who are exhausted by the sea of stainless steel and brushed nickel options that currently dominate in the kitchen,” she says. Driving this trend for warmer colors is the desire for seamlessness and comfort, she adds. “With more emphasis on open-concept kitchens, appliance become better integrated with the cabinets. As the kitchen truly becomes the hub of the home, colors that install a sense of comfort help us feel more connected to each other and our surroundings,” she says.


Distinctive Style

On the flip side, there are those who would like to see their appliances “pop” in the design, rather than demurely blending into their surroundings. This desire for a customized experience drives choices in colors and finishes, manufacturers note.

“People like perfectly integrated products but still [want products that are] distinctive,” says Bertazzoni. She notes that many consumers want appliances that stand out from the cabinetry with elegance and make the statement: “In this home lives someone with culture and a passion for design and cooking.” Bertazzoni achieves this with the Colors of Italy that the firm uses to paint its ranges in bold, statement-making colors.

While stainless steel remains a popular choice for appliances, manufacturers are also seeing a rise in demand for a variety of colors, along with a more contemporary look.

“Consumers want the option to put any custom panel on their appliance and they want to do it easily,” says Franklin. Rather than requiring kits and accessories, they want the product delivered ready for simple panel installation. “This gives the consumer the option to add whatever finish they choose,” she notes.

Elkin says, “Designers and clients remain concentrated on the timeless look of stainless steel, especially with bold stand-out appliances that take center stage.” He adds that custom-panel options are also highly desired. Bosch is adding additional options in custom panels for refrigerators and dishwashers to meet this increase in demand, like the firm’s recently introduced pocket handles, available in black, white and stainless steel. “This new design feature will further meet the demand for personalized design that fits the style of the end consumer,” he says.

Haber says that while white kitchens were trending last year, color is more in demand now, with a focus on gray – a color trend that has already had a huge impact on the kitchen cabinet market.

Today’s consumers want unique looking appliances, she says, and color brings a different spin to the standard stainless steel options. “Rather than a stainless steel range that blends in, consumers are choosing colors such as Midnight Blue, Burgundy and Matte Graphite and making the range the focus of the kitchen,” she says. When consumers do choose stainless, she says they are doing so to coordinate with other appliances and the chrome hardware used in many kitchens, rather than to simply “blend in.”


Social Considerations

Important social issues also have an impact on the trends in appliances, such as a focus on healthy living, energy efficiency and sustainability.

A growing desire for healthier lifestyles has brought increased interest in steam ovens. “Steam ovens are relatively new to the American market, and offer something that other traditional thermal and convection ovens cannot – a way to retain moisture, flavor and nutrients typically lost through other means of cooking, and therefore less need to use unhealthy additives such as oil or butter,” says Elkin. Thermador offers three different steam oven designs, and earlier this year, Bosch introduced the Benchmark Steam Convection Oven for the premium market. “This trend will have a huge impact on the way we cook food, especially with the added emphasis on healthy eating,” said Elkin.

Bedard adds “More people are also learning about and becoming more interested in cooking with steam because it is incredibly versatile. Moisture, heat and airflow work in concert to create delicious results, while preserving foods’ natural nutrition and deliver delicious tasting meals.” 

This focus on health also finds consumers looking for refrigerators that incorporate long-term food storage features, says Steigmiller. “Consumers recognize that proper food storage can help preserve food quality, including nutrients, flavor and texture. Additionally, homeowners can make the most of their food dollar by preventing spoilage and save time spent at the grocery store,” he says, adding that Liebherr’s patented BioFresh drawers are designed for maximized food preservation.

Socially responsible designers and consumers are also paying attention to energy use and sustainability when looking at products.

Steigmiller says,With the increase in social and environmental consciousness, many consumers are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment. The rapid growth and widespread support for this green movement will have a major impact on manufacturers, utility companies and the environment.” 

“Sustainability is extremely important,” agrees Bertazzoni. “We have an opportunity not only to save money, but to reduce our impact on the environment as well.” 


Consumer Confidence

As the economy has stabilized, home renovations have seen an upswing, bringing a new surge in demand for appliances. “Homeowners are investing in their homes as the economy thrives and they are seeking out the best appliances that they can find to enhance the spaces they are building,” says Haber.  

Steigmiller says that at Leibherr, they’ve found that appliance sales are directly related to consumer confidence, which has a direct correlation to home remodeling. “In fact, 2013 saw some of the highest consumer confidence levels since pre-2007 which in turn has shown an increase in home remodeling,” he says.

Elkin adds that with consumer confidence hitting its highest point in more than six years in June 2014, U.S. businesses are projecting continued sales growth and profits in the coming years. Last year’s strong gains in the home improvement sector translated to great growth in the home appliance market, he says. “Over the past two years, we have seen that the largest increases in budgets for kitchen projects have been for major appliances. It’s a great time to be an appliance company,” he adds.

At the same time, consumers are seeking quality and durability more than ever before says Bedard. “At Sub-Zero and Wolf, we strive to deliver a high-quality product that will last for decades, not years. That is why consumers invest in our products, because they can be confident they are buying a beautiful, intelligently designed appliance that lasts,” she says.



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