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Flexible Function

Appliances are the workhorses of the kitchen, with new advances in technology offering improved functionality, while style, color and design options continue to abound.

authors Elizabeth Richards 

The primary function of appliances is to make kitchen work quick and easy, allowing homeowners more time to spend with family and friends. But there’s a lesser, but still important, role for appliances as well: They must also emphasize the personal style of the homeowners through flexible, customizable options.

“With kitchens being a focal point and gathering place within the home, consumers want their kitchen to be a showcase and reflect their style,” says Dirk Sappok, head of Product Development at Princeton, NJ-based Miele, Inc. “Design, in Miele’s eyes, not only relates to an object’s exterior, but also the user’s experience,” he adds. “From the appliance layout to color options and handle choices, there is no longer a compromise to be made between design and function.”

“Sophisticated powder coating and PVD technologies are providing more custom color and hardware finishes to designers to incorporate into homes,” adds Andrew Shead, marketing manager at True Residential in O’Fallon, MO. “No longer do they have to hide an appliance; it can become a major design feature of the kitchen.”

Open floor plans mean continued demand for a simple, minimalist look. Jeff Sweet, corporate product manager at Sub-Zero Group, Inc. in Madison, WI says that with less divide between kitchen and living spaces, homeowners are responding to hidden and undercounter appliances that create a clean, seamless and modern look.

Other important trends include a desire for innovative appliances that add value and additional functionality; rising interest in connected appliances, and a demand for multifunctional appliances as well as using multiples of the same appliance within the kitchen space. So say manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Innovative Function, Added Value

Designers must be aware not only of the aesthetic demands of their customers, but also of the functionality consumers require. “People are not only seeking out appliances that can be customized aesthetically to match their lifestyle and personality, but also appliances offering innovative features that add value and help enrich their lives,” says Stephanie Muraro Gust, product marketing manager at Perlick Residential Products in Milwaukee, WI. “These could be features that save them time and improve convenience or that offer superior performance, such as a refrigerator that keeps food fresher for longer, creating less waste.”

Shead believes that changes in appliances are more functional and design oriented rather than being driven strictly by technology. “Column refrigerators are allowing people to separate the refrigerator from the freezer in their kitchen layout. Undercounter refrigerators are bringing back butler’s pantries and improving dedicated bar areas. At the high end of the market, larger wine refrigerators are allowing customers to skip the dedicated wine cellar and integrate their wine storage into more functional areas of the house,” he says.

Performance is key in appliance features, manufacturers agree. “Bells and whistles are not as important as the overall look and performance. Burners that go high and low and are sealed for easy cleaning are just some of the features that are still most requested,” notes Melissa Haber, v.p. for EuroChef Appliances in Edgewood, NY.

“Consumers are looking for cooking appliances that offer meaningful innovations, add true value to the home and simplify daily life through convenient and easy-to-use operation,” states Anja Prescher, director of Brand Marketing for Bosch at BSH Appliances in Irvine, CA.

“Appliance manufacturers are developing more innovative technologies than ever before,” adds Muraro Gust. At Perlick, she explains, that means developing technologies that enhance the performance of the appliances. “With consumers continuing to focus on farm-to-table fresh, the traditional ‘cold’ refrigerator won’t cut it  – preservation goes far beyond just temperature. Maintaining air quality, humidity control and customized conditions based on the type of food all play an important role in precise preservation of fresh ingredients. Perlick’s new technologies incorporate those components to provide measurable performance that adds real value to our customers.”

Ellen Carr, director of marketing at Hestan Commercial Corp. in Anaheim, CA says innovative appliances that work smarter and more efficiently are important to consumers who are investing a sizable amount of money in their kitchens. “They want something easy to use that makes life simple, but they also want the ability to show off high-performance burners or a super-low simmer when the time calls for it,” she adds. “Products that allow this level of customization, whether it’s 11 different oven modes or the ability to transform the bottom drawer of a refrigerator to either freeze or refrigerate, are growing in demand.”

Features that help people manage their busy lives are also popular, Sappok adds. “People – now more than ever – live busier lives. They have been asking for more assistance in preparing meals. Therefore, technology has increased to offer the consumer more assistance in preparing healthy food options for an individual or family.”

According to Beatriz Sandoval, director of Brand Marketing for Thermador at BSH Appliances, “Consumers are looking for cooking appliances that are more responsive, flexible, intuitive to use and that produce chef-quality cooking results. As the Thermador consumer is especially ambitious both outside of and in the kitchen, our consumers are also looking for cooking appliances that allow for more space and flexibility in placing larger cookware on the surface. To that end, one type of technology that is continuing to increase in popularity is that of induction cooking. With faster and more precise heating, unparalleled power and standout simmering results, induction cooking is a method we can expect will continue to trend upward.”

Smart Connections

In this age of internet and connectivity, it’s no wonder that smart technology is finding its way into the kitchen – and into appliances. Manufacturers say that while there is interest in connected appliances, consumers also want to be sure there’s real value in these features.

“On the technology side, we continue to hear an interest in and curiosity about how appliances might integrate with something like a smart home speaker,” says Shead. “However, our customers still want to know first and foremost that they’re not adding something to a major home appliance that will either break or become outdated. When they hope for 20 years of reliability from something like a True Refrigerator, the last thing they want is a screen or gimmick that will be completely outdated in three years.”

While smart integration may be a future demand rather than a curiosity, Shead says they have not yet seen it reach that tipping point. “We’re currently hearing more backlash against some of the poorly executed examples of technology integration from some of the first entrants to smart appliances,” he adds.

Sandoval, on the other hand, notes, “Smart appliances have been steadily infiltrating the market over the past few years, with new technology, smartphone apps and WiFi connectivity. As kitchens continue to evolve, connectivity in the kitchen is becoming more prevalent.”

Prescher sees the connected home continuing to emerge at the forefront of the home appliance industry. “At Bosch, we believe a connected home should not only enhance consumers’ quality of life, but do so via easy-to-use, streamlined technology,” she says.

Haber, however, notes that EuroChef is updating the interiors of its ranges to make them larger and more energy efficient, rather than focusing on connectivity. “While these new technologies aren’t as sexy as ‘smart’ or ‘connected’ technologies, the reality on the sales floor is size, savings and performance. No one is really asking to turn on their ranges from another room through an app. Customers are looking for simplicity in a cooking appliance – a break from technology.”

Personal Arrangement

With the plethora of appliance options available, consumers have more opportunities to enjoy a kitchen that reflects their own personalities and needs.

Jeannine Washkuhn, Wolf product marketing manager for Sub-Zero Group, Inc. says, “Homeowners are personalizing their appliances to give them exactly the solutions they desire. We’re seeing custom size and design combinations, as well as interest in incorporating additional amenities, such as warming drawers.”

Carr agrees that the ability to customize the kitchen is a big driver when it comes to choosing appliances. “Personalization is key. Whether it’s a custom color finish that makes a bold color statement, or concealed elements that blend into a sleek, minimalist design aesthetic, consumers want options to fit their preferences.”

“Increasingly, we are seeing people mixing and matching appliances to create an experience that fits their specific needs and lifestyle,” says Muraro Gust. “For example, our customers are adding multiple points of refrigeration in the kitchen to keep perishable food and beverages where it’s most convenient for them. A column refrigerator may act as the main food preservation center, while a dedicated undercounter refrigerator offers storage for catering trays; refrigerator drawers keep ingredients at the ready in the prep area, and a beverage center keeps wine, bottled and canned beverages out of the working area of the kitchen for easy, convenient access.”

Sweet says that while traditional standalone appliances continue to play a strong role in the kitchen, their form and function continue to evolve. “Homeowners are looking for appliances that offer a wide range of applications, from preservation to different cooking methods. We’re seeing interest in multi-functional products like Sub-Zero’s new 30″ integrated wine storage unit with a refrigerator drawer and freezer drawer. The unit is designed to offer three separate functions all within a 30″ footprint.” In addition, he says, homeowners are using more than one of the same appliances to serve different purposes – such as incorporating an undercounter refrigerator drawer into the kitchen design to keep snacks in easy reach for children.

Manufacturers see demand for both appliances that can take on many tasks, and those that serve a single function.

“With the upward trend of technology in the home, it’s no surprise we are also seeing a demand for appliances that provide multi-use functions, in addition to healthier, more versatile cooking options,” says Prescher.

“Consumers are looking for versatility and innovation in their appliances, and they’re willing to pay a premium for it,” notes Carr. “Multi-functional appliances are important, but these functions have to be things consumers will actually use on a daily basis, or they don’t see the value in paying that higher price. In many luxury high-end kitchens, more than one refrigerator and dishwasher continues to be a trend.”

Haber adds, “More and more consumers are looking for appliances that multi-task – rather than sacrificing valuable cabinet space for multiple units that each perform one function. Homes are not getting larger and space is still at a premium in the kitchen. If a consumer buys a range that is also equipped with a warming drawer and allows the ability to steam and [also] cook a pizza to perfection, then they eliminate the space needed for the appliance that would have just served one function and may become obsolete as kitchen trends shift.”

Unique Aesthetics

While stainless steel remains a top choice, manufacturers see consumers increasingly looking for ways to convey their own vision, creating a move toward custom panels and unique color options.

“As consumers become more design-savvy, demand for design that matches their personal style and sense of self is higher than ever,” says Prescher. “While the general trend in cooking product finishes remains traditional stainless steel and, increasingly, black stainless steel, consumers also appreciate the ability to customize the look of their appliances to match kitchen cabinetry and their overall design aesthetic.”

“Stainless steel appliances continue to be the ‘go to’ in most kitchens, yet color options are gaining interest, allowing for a more distinctive design and differentiation from the mainstream,” states Sappok.

Carr notes that, in the premium segment, the color trend grows every year. “Even if consumers don’t want to commit to a full colored kitchen, many are going with color for the heart of the kitchen – the range – a fun place to make a bold statement,” she says.

Haber agrees that color continues to be a major trend. Higher consumer confidence in color also increases the desire for personalized color options with optional metal trims like brass, bronze or copper. And, while bold colors may sometimes be the choice, that’s not always the case. “Not every color is a bright race car red or yellow. Consumers are experimenting with finishes too, from matte to gloss, in traditional colors like black or white,” she says.

“We’re seeing a continued trend in stainless steel appliances, however more and more homeowners are wanting something truly unique,” says Shead. Custom finish options are a growing trend, he notes, adding, “Matte black, matte white and antique white have been very popular for the more classic designs, while bolder palettes are opting for more color – blues and greens.” Custom panels are also in demand, he notes.

Sandoval says that, in addition to stainless steel, metallic glass with gray or silver finishes and vibrant color displays are also showing up more frequently. “Of course, personalization is key, so we also love to see how designers create their own unique expression with custom panels,” she adds.

“Perlick’s number one request remains stainless steel, in large part due to its timelessness,” says Muraro Gust. “Offering our signature stainless steel, but with a custom option to install any panel and handle they want, gives customers design flexibility without committing to a particular look for the life of the appliance.” ▪

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