Colorful & Connected

by Ashley Lapin Olian

With more and more homeowners wanting to produce top-quality food at home, there is more focus than ever on cooking appliances that offer multiple features and high functionality. At the same time, as homeowners use these appliances to create a personal statement, much emphasis is also placed on how the appliance looks.

Increasingly, the range is becoming the central focus in the kitchen, offering designers a highly stylish place to begin. As the rest of the kitchen takes shape around the range, the way these machines look can be just as important as how they work.

“The kitchen is a very tailor-made space. As a result, every homeowner has a different vision for their dream kitchen,” says Anja Prescher, director of brand marketing for Bosch at BSH Appliances in Irvine, CA. “We know that, according to the 2017 U.S. Kitchen Trends Study by Houzz, contemporary kitchen design has become the most popular aesthetic across all age groups in the U.S. As consumers become more design-savvy, demand for design that matches their personal style and sense of self is higher than ever.”

But this need for a personalized look doesn’t supersede the desire for highly functional cooking appliances. “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 for Princeton, NJ-based Miele, Inc. “Design, in Miele’s eyes, not only relates to an object’s exterior, but also the user’s experience.”

Interest in new ways of cooking and technology that provides real value has impacted top trends. Consumers are interested in color, highly functional appliances with multiple capabilities, specialized cooking options that fit individual lifestyles, and stylish, connected appliances that simplify the cooking experience and add efficiency. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

COLOR ADDS POP

Color is a great tool for creating distinctive design. While stainless steel has a firm hold in the marketplace, more and more often manufacturers see pops of color showing up, sometimes in smaller appliances. And selecting a range with a vibrant finish is one way that designers can make a bold statement.

“Adding an appliance with color to the kitchen provides a focal point,” says Valentina Bertazzoni, style and brand director for Bertazzoni, based in Guastalla, Italy. “I like to say that the kitchen is the heart of the home, and the range is the heart of the kitchen – so it’s important that this appliance truly makes a statement,” she states.

She adds that Bertazzoni Professional Series ranges come in a variety of colors, noting, “We like this range of colors because there’s something for everyone, whether the homeowner wants a bold, ‘wow’ statement, or prefers a color like white or black that still acts as neutral.”

Many manufacturers see designers using black, white and shades of gray when moving away from the shine of stainless. “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,” says Sappok. “Black, white and now Miele’s new Graphite Grey offers consumers the opportunity to customize their kitchen to their liking and not have to surrender the opportunity to have a quality cooking appliance.”

A shift toward clean design also impacts color choices. “Overall, homeowners are looking for a cleaner and sleeker design aesthetic, so while stainless steel is still dominant as the preferred appliance finish, black stainless steel has also been popular among consumers who seek a more modern finish,” says Tom Halford, v.p., premium and builder brands at Samsung Electronics America in Ridgefield Park, NJ.

Jeannine Washkuhn, Wolf product marketing manager for Sub-Zero Group, Inc. in Madison, WI, agrees. “Stainless steel is still a timeless and popular appliance finish amongst designers and their clients. We’ve also seen continued interest in black glass, which offers a sleeker contemporary look,” she adds.

Natalie Walsh, customer marketing manager for Electrolux Major Appliances North America based in Augusta, GA, says, “We also see that families on a budget – like most of us – are buying one black stainless steel appliance at a time. It is clearly working as an accent piece in kitchens or as a practical approach to refreshing the kitchen without doing a major kitchen renovation.”

This demand for black and gray doesn’t mean there’s no place for vivid colors – especially as accents – to make the appliance pop. “We’re finding that stainless steel is still king when it comes to appliance finishes. It’s durable, clean and timeless. However, we are seeing pops of color on the interior of appliances, featuring colors like a deep blue coupled with smoky black to give the product a unique design element,” notes Kyle You, managing director at Thor Kitchen in Chino, CA.

Basil E. Larkin, v.p., sales at Hestan Commercial Corp. in Anaheim, CA, adds that there’s an increased demand for bright, vivid color statements like orange, blue and red. “Stainless steel continues to rule, but colors are growing rapidly year-over-year,” he says.

Tony Dowling, v.p., sales and marketing at Ontario, Canada-based Elmira Stove Works sees many manufacturers adding color to their lines in response to the demand. “A lot of consumers are getting tired of stainless steel square boxes,” he says, and they are looking for color and unique looks, like the retro products offered by Elmira. The perceived elegance of stainless has been diluted by lower-end manufacturers offering much cheaper versions, Dowling believes.

In addition to choosing color for the cooking appliances, Dowling says there’s more mixing and matching of colors, metallic trims and textures in the kitchen. Dowling is also seeing little pops of color – rather than a whole suite of yellow appliances; for instance, a consumer might choose just a microwave or dishwasher, he explains.

Designers strive to create a personalized look for clients, and manufacturers are offering more and more options to fit this need. “In addition to stainless steel, metallic glass – with gray or silver finishes – and vibrant color displays are showing up more frequently in the latest cooking appliance innovations,” says Beatriz Sandoval, director of brand marketing for Thermador at BSH Appliances. “Of course, personalization is key, so we also love to see how designers create their own unique expression with custom panels.”

Melissa Haber, v.p. of sales and marketing for EuroChef USA in Edgewood, NJ, sees farmhouse and vintage styles trending, moving from a niche look to a major movement.

SPECIALIZED COOKING STYLES

With so many ways to cook a meal, it’s essential for designers to know exactly how their clients prefer to prepare their food. Induction cooktops are still on the rise, and healthier cooking styles – including steam, convection and sous vide – are also getting a lot of attention.

“Today’s tech-savvy homeowners want cooking appliances that offer superior performance – meaningful design and functionality that elevates the experience in the kitchen,” says Halford. “Induction cooktops are gaining more popularity among homeowners due to the advancements in cooking technology.”

 “Ultimately, it’s about the homeowner, how he or she likes to prepare food, as well as how the appliance can provide the desired results,” Bertazzoni maintains. There is a divide between those who prefer gas and induction, she adds, and homeowners are also drawn to their steam oven, which combines convection baking, grilling and steam to deliver the healthiest and most flavorful cooking results. “This is perhaps tied to a shift in popular culture that’s more aware of cooking better, healthier food at home, and understanding how the cooking appliance can play an important role in this,” she notes.

Dowling says that, among consumers who have tried both gas and electric cooktops, the more serious home chefs seem to prefer the convenience, accuracy and speed of gas. But, he adds, a lot of the choice is dictated by how strong the utilities are in the market area.

Joel Chesebro, chef at Sub-Zero and Wolf, sees more openness to new cooking technologies, especially sous vide cooking. Homeowners are interested in learning more about this newer cooking style, he says.

Sappok agrees that sous-vide style cooking is becoming more popular in the U.S. “Consumers are buying additional countertop appliances to give themselves the ability to cook sous vide. However, there are multiple devices needed to cook this way,” he states. Miele’s steam oven can prepare sous-vide food, while the company’s new vacuum-sealing drawer allows consumers to vacuum seal their food for portioning, preservation, canning and to prepare for sous vide.

Chesebro adds that there is a lot of excitement in the North American market around using steam and convection together. “You hear a lot of appliance manufacturers talking about ‘steam assist’ as though it’s the same thing, but it really doesn’t compare to true convection steam. The greater the understanding of how a convection steam oven functions and what it can bring in the way of nutrition and quality to food that one prepares, the more demand we’ve seen for that product.”

VERSATILE AND MULTI-FACETED

Whether in one single appliance, or a combination of several, consumers need their appliances to handle a wide variety of demands. “There is still a strong role for major stand-alone appliances with a specific function, but homeowners are also interested in appliances with multiple functions to prepare food in different ways,” says Washkuhn.

Sandoval agrees. “Depending on the consumer, more cooking appliances may be desired for each function while others may look to one appliance to accomplish everything,” she states. Either way, quality matters most. “Consumers are looking for cooking appliances that are more responsive, flexible, intuitive to use and that produce chef-quality cooking results,” she notes.

“More and more people are looking to eat healthier, and that means cooking at home with fresh ingredients on a regular basis, putting the appliances through ongoing, heavy use,” says You. That means that home chefs are looking for appliances with heavy-duty features.

Many manufacturers find multi-functional appliances becoming more prevalent as consumer awareness increases. “Multitasking is important for appliances as consumers are more aware of options like wine refrigerators, specialty cooking surfaces, etc.,” Haber explains. “It’s always a challenge for designers today to jam as many appliances into a space as possible – with more burners, more cubic-foot capacity and more functionality. Spaces in homes are shrinking slightly – but the desire for more features, more options is growing,” she states.

“Appliances that perform many functions are key to truly elevating the cooking experience,” maintains Bertazzoni. “For instance, we’re seeing great success with the Speed Oven, which combines convection baking, electric grill and microwave in one versatile unit, and the Segmented cooktops. By combining baking and microwave functions, this powerful oven completes cooking cycles in half the time without compromising results. This is the ‘go-to’ oven in a busy kitchen.”

Larkin believes people are looking for their cooking appliances to do more, and are willing to pay a premium for these features – as long as they are things they would use regularly, like a griddle or power burner for wok and searing. “In the oven, multiple cooking modes with easy-to-read controls are key. Standard large, powerful oven cavities with concealed elements and probe rule the universe, but the steam assist option does come up from time to time,” he says.

STYLISH TECHNOLOGY

In a world increasingly focused on technology, it follows that consumers would want the latest advances in their cooking appliances. But manufacturers say that these technological features must also have style and true usefulness, rather than simply being the latest gimmick.

“No matter what a cooking appliance has, people still will only buy something they like the look of. People want features that bring performance with technology but, in the end, these features have to be something that they would actually use on a daily basis,” says Larkin.

“Continued integration of connected technology into premium appliances has been evident in the category within the past year,” notes Halford. “Overall, these appliances must incorporate meaningful, personalized technology and beautiful design while laddering up to a connected lifestyle – this is a ‘must-have’ versus a ‘want to have’ for these digital natives.”

“Connected appliances are increasingly designed with real consumer experiences in mind,” says Walsh. “We are seeing a trend toward focusing solutions on key moments in the day where technology can help.” Examples of these moments include when consumers are on the way home, or at the supermarket, she notes.

Designers and consumers expect cooking appliances to have both the appearance and the functional features they desire. “In recent years consumer electronics have shifted away from a traditionally cold and hard tech aesthetic and become increasingly influenced by fashion and homeware,” Walsh believes. “As technology embeds itself further into our lives, we see the need for products to adopt warmer and more familiar aesthetics. Warmer colors, matte finishes, soft surfaces instead of hard edges and even textile materials are all likely developments for future products.”

“They may want a vintage looking range, but they demand a digital clock that’s easy to set. They like a big cavity to fit their turkey or roast, but they also want eco-saving features and fast preheats,” says Haber. “Consumers are first attracted to that look and, after that, the price compared to functionality. When you add too many bells and whistles, you are increasing price point at risk that [the] consumer doesn’t even want or need these functions.” ▪

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