Stainless steel and professional grade equipment still
predominate in high-end appliances, while imaginative new
technology inspires a speed-oriented market.
By Daina Darzin Manning
Kitchen appliances have gone way beyond just being a means of
providing basic sustenance. These days, cooking is a source of
relaxation for overworked consumers, a status symbol for the
upscale and a wonderland similar to the electronics industry for
technophiles who enjoy their toys. Cooking can be an event, or a
sport or any creative thing you want it to be.
Accordingly, today’s appliance companies are working hard to
come up with innovative products to meet all of these consumer
needs and those of super-busy families who just want food on the
table fast, fast, fast, according to the manufacturers surveyed by
Kitchen & Bath Design News.
The Pro Kitchen
“In the past, there were people who were interested in cooking, but
if you asked them, ‘What are your hobbies?’ they wouldn’t say
cooking,” explains Brian Maynard, director of marketing for
KitchenAid Home Appliances, in Benton Harbor, MI. “Now, they do. We
live in an era of ‘chef as rock star.’ People are interested in
being a connoisseur with regard to cooking.”
“People are leading a double life as a cook,” notes Gary Ball,
Thermador brand manager, BSH Home Appliances, in Huntington Beach,
CA. “Weekday cooking is fast. The weekend is when they’re enjoying
some real time in the kitchen,” he adds.
Similarly, Larry Lamkins, CKD, director of product support for
DACOR, in Pasadena, CA, differentiates between convenience cooking
and cooking as a social environment. “One is fast food, get it
done, get it ready for the family,” he notes. “The other is
enjoying the way you’re entertaining your friends with the kind of
cooking you’re able to do.”
For all of those needs, the centerpiece of a mid- to high-end
kitchen is likely to be a professional or pro-look range.
Professional-quality ranges and other appliances revolutionized
the industry a few years back, as high-end consumers flocked to
commercial-grade products, and stainless steel became the
prevailing design trend.
Do people really use this stuff, or just have it for show? Well,
both. Ball compares it to one’s home, or SUV. “Do they really need
six bathrooms? Do they really do a lot of off-road driving?
Probably not,” he admits. “It’s not so much that it’s for everyday
use, it’s knowing that you can do it if you want to. Six burners
appeal to a family that [knows] that for entertaining and holidays,
you can really get things going.”
Today’s consumers also do much more research about products to
make sure they’re getting the latest technology, he adds. “They
want to do everything right,” he notes.
“Right” these days means professional appliances with style,
manufacturers agree. Professional appliances didn’t have a lot of
sophistication when compared to products originally targeted for
the residential market, says Ball, who notes oven features such as
better lighting, cleanability and convection capability as consumer
desires. “Manufacturers didn’t get too involved in electronics and
advanced features,” he elaborates. Now, however, professional-grade
appliances are adding these features, as well as snazzier
“We’re seeing a really strong acceptance of our designer line,”
notes Dale Persons, v.p./public affairs for Viking Range Corp., in
Greenwood, MS. “People say, ‘I want performance and quality and
rugged durability in construction, but I’d like a sleeker
“For several high-end appliance manufacturers, sleeker means
coordinated, with handles and other details of ovens and
dishwashers maintaining a uniform look a strategy that not only
gives the kitchen a more elegant, integrated feel, but inspires
brand loyalty, notes Persons. He points out that many manufacturers
provide good products, and a uniform look can inspire a customer to
buy an entire kitchen from one company. “If I’m selling BMWs, and
you’re selling Lexus, I couldn’t say, ‘if you buy a Lexus, that’s a
terrible car,'” he analogizes. “They’re both good cars. Customers
make a decision not strictly on performance they make it on a
number of things, including styling.”
“We’ve seen consumer interest in a look that’s professional but
not commercial,” confirms Maynard. He sees a more rounded,
ergonomically designed, comfortable feel as hot right now. “Retro
is back, and that rounded look is more from that era,” he
The predominant design trend in kitchen appliances is steel,
steel, steel, manufacturers maintain. Stainless steel is the “new
neutral,” and everyone surveyed says it’s here to stay. “Stainless
is almost a no-color color. It’s very universal,” says
Ball points out that while consumers admire adventurous picks in
magazines and showrooms, they buy the tried and true. “It’s kind of
like porcelain bath fixtures,” he notes. “Everybody loves to see
red or black, but when they actually buy, they buy
But, as stainless steel becomes more and more available at lower
price points, upscale consumers will be more likely to consider
“I believe you’re going to see other types of metals,” says Ball,
“softer looks that aren’t quite as shiny.” He points out that
copper has always been a kitchen mainstay, while aluminum a
lighter, more matte steel-like look is currently hot in
“It’s a very sophisticated finish, it looks very classy,” says
Bettina Walcher, marketing manager for Gaggenau North America, in
Huntington Beach, CA. “People like the sleek design; it looks very
contemporary and light.”
Lamkins predicts that appliances will take their cues from the
plumbing industry in imaginative applications of colors with
metallic surfaces. Ball points out that black appliances are having
a bit of a resurgence, while white is losing steam; Lamkins cites
black chrome as an up-and-comer, while pewter shades are also a
Maynard predicts growth in copper, aluminum and textured metal
finishes, adding that, inspired by the iMac series of
brightly-colored computers, small appliances are now available in a
wide range of colors and can be used as an accent in
Toys in the hood
The preponderance of professional ranges has made the high-end vent
hood an essential part of kitchen design. In fact, the hood is
often the focal point.
Alex Siow, director of marketing of Zephyr Ventilation, in San
Francisco, CA, points out that the vent hood is at eye level,
prompting it to be the centerpiece.
“We have a lot of consumers who start building their kitchen by
first picking out the hood, then picking the designs around it,” he
“We see a lot of consumers who are designing kitchens around the
hood,” agrees Maynard.
Stainless steel is still the primary hood color, adds Siow, but
brass and other metals, as well as glass hoods, provide an edgy and
beautiful new look.
“They look cleaner, you’re able to do a lot more curves and
higher- end design elements by using hand blown glass,” he
However, many designers note that the trend for vent hoods is to
have them hidden behind wood that complements kitchen cabinetry for
a homey hearth look, especially in more traditional kitchen looks.
But kitchen manufacturers have also come up with elegant new styles
to provide an alternative to your basic, stainless steel industrial
“The true commercial look continues to be very popular for the
purist,” says Viking’s Persons, “but I think there’s a styling
component to ventilation that we’re trying to expand. The hood in
many cases makes a styling statement of its own.”
Walcher adds that the noise of a vent is increasingly an issue;
consumers have also begun to realize that bigger isn’t necessarily
better. For instance, Gaggenau’s pop-up vent arm (part of its
mix-and-match cooktop series) draws vapors right at the source,
making it more efficient and quiet, she notes. “Quiet venting is
the trend of the future,” she believes.
Similarly, Maynard cites hoods with dishwasher-safe filters and
custom finishes as popular choices.
Lamkins believes that “where the industry has lagged in
ventilation is downdrafting, not updrafting.” He points out that
cooktops are often located on islands, and room design doesn’t lend
itself to an overhead vent. “The visuals and space beg for a
no-hood environment, and there’s no approved down-draft ventilation
systems for a commercial-style cooktop,” he notes.
Walcher also notes a new sophistication when it comes to
lighting. “With overhead hoods, the lighting system is important,”
she elaborates. “It’s nice to have halogen lights so you have good
illumination of the worktop.”
Want an oven that can tell exactly what it’s cooking, picks the
best way to cook it, and does so in minutes instead of hours, then
magically deposits the finished product on the dinner table
complete with garnish?
It’s not possible yet, but almost. Technology has made huge
inroads in the kitchen appliance market, aiming to make cooking
faster, better and more convenient.
“Electronics are allowing appliances to do what they do better,”
says Kim Freeman, program manager at GE Appliances, in Louisville,
KY. She cites her com-pany’s Artica refrigerator, which has both an
express chill and express thaw feature, as an example of this. “You
don’t have to think days in advance what you have to have for
dinner any more,” she explains. “And it’ll chill a bottle of
Chardonnay in 17 minutes.”
Technology can also make the cooking process better as well as
faster. For instance, Gaggenau now provides an oven that enables
the user to utilize steam in cooking at various levels. Walcher
says it’s great for bringing out the flavor of food without adding
fat. “It’s healthy cooking,” she says.
Energy efficiency is also a growing issue that prompts consumers
to make different choices in appliances, says Freeman, who cites
more stringent regulations on refrigerator energy output as an
issue impacting appliances on the market today.
Additionally, modular drawer systems such as Fisher &
Paykel’s dishwasher drawer have addressed space concerns, showing
that dishwashers don’t have to be huge, clunky items.
And now, there’s even a countertop model dishwasher, reports
Atul Vir, president of Equator Appli-ances, in Houston, TX. “People
think it’s a toy, but it’s a real dishwasher in a compact size,” he
says. The countertop model, which can wash eight full sets of
dishes, appeals to a number of markets: people who live in older,
big-city apartments whose tiny kitchens don’t have the space for a
built-in; those who like to entertain and need a second dishwasher;
singles who have small loads of dishes, and offices that need a
more thorough and sanitary way of rinsing coffee mugs.
Conversely, people with huge kitchens are leaning toward
multiple full-size dishwashers, says Maynard. He notes that
dishwashers are cheaper than cabinets, and some consumers have two
and use them as perpetual storage. “One [batch of dishes] is clean,
and then you start putting dirty dishes in [the other dishwasher].
You just go back and forth [without ever putting the dishes in a
One product that has been available in the high-end market for
years, but has just become available in lower price points via the
GE Avantium oven, is the high-speed microwave combination, which
mixes microwave and conventional cooking for high-speed but crispy
“That trend is growing more at a mass level,” says Maynard.
“People who buy premium brands typically want to have more
involvement in their cooking. [High-speed cooking] products have
not reached the point where the consumer has as much control over
them as I think most consumers would like.” He thinks the price
point of the combo high-speed microwave will go down still further,
leading to mass acceptance.
But Persons warns that, when it comes to technology, it’s
possible to have too much of a good thing.
“I don’t think the super high-tech stuff is what people are
looking for,” he believes. “Cooking is not strictly goal oriented.
The quality of the food is part of it, and I know people are in a
rush, but I think [cooking] is their relaxation, too. It’s their
way of maybe slowing things down.”
He likens cooking as a hobby to the guy who spends the weekend
working on a special car. “He could get somebody else to do that,
but it’s his relaxation.”
People who cook for fun enjoy simplicity, like good old primal
flames from a gas range, rather than a high-tech oven with multiple
But Gaggenau’s Walcher insists that customers just need the
benefits of a high-tech product like steam ovens explained to them
carefully in order to capture their interest. She says, “You have
to demonstrate it, and then people love it.”
What’s next for the upscale consumer who already has the perfect
kitchen, with all bells and whistles firmly in place?
Persons predicts strong growth in the upscale outdoor kitchen,
which aims to do for the backyard barbecue what professional ranges
did for indoor cooking improved performance plus status. He notes
refrigeration, warming drawers and beverage dispensers in addition
to a top-of-the-line grill as components of the outdoor kitchen,
and adds that the trend isn’t limited to warm climates.
“The deck has really become an extension of the kitchen,” agrees
Wine coolers are another growing trend, with upscale products
leading the way. “The new luxury is being a connoisseur,” says
Maynard. “People want to store their wines properly. They want to
be an expert.”
Lamkins predicts the need for small wine coolers, perhaps as
part of a refrigerator drawer system. “Unless you’re a wine
connoisseur who drinks a lot of cold wine, you don’t need a huge
storage area,” he says. “The industry will be looking for a
convenient way to store six bottles at the right location instead
of 30 at the wrong location,” he believes.
Ball points out that the wine cooler isn’t necessarily a
high-end item. “Best Buy is selling wine coolers that are imported
from the Far East at some very attractive price points,” he
explains. “So the [mass] public may not be aware of $5,000 built-in
wine coolers, but when they see a $400 wine cooler that looks like
a dorm refrigerator, they think, ‘hey, I’m really getting into
wine, this is affordable, this is kind of neat.’ There’s a real
Whatever the configuration of a kitchen’s appliances, they’re
likely to be more stylish than ever before and the range of
products offered will only increase. Maynard points to the
proliferation of larger retailers, as well as media outlets,
devoted to style. He concludes, “It’s cool to decorate now.”