Cooking at home has moved beyond the day-to-day need to feed a family. It’s been elevated to its own form of entertainment, and the tools a homeowner needs to carry out this task are becoming more important every day.
Cooking appliances are far more than just a cooktop and oven, with a multitude of options that provide the exact experience each individual is seeking. Designers creating these culinary centers must take into account not only the type of cooking desired, but also the way the appliances fit into the overall design of the room.
“The focus certainly has moved past the idea of saving money by cooking at home,” says Melissa Haber, director of sales & marketing for EuroChef USA. “Now we stay at home to eat healthier or to be with friends or family, and entertaining is top of mind,” she states.
Sometimes, an appliance is meant to capture the attention of guests, while other homeowners prefer to have appliances blend in and almost disappear. Whatever the preference, the appliances need to flow with the overall style of the home.
“The kitchen is becoming the new living space in the home, so we need to start looking at cooking appliances and demanding they fit in with the larger aesthetics of a home and living space,” states Bob Bergeth, general manager of contract builder sales at Whirlpool Corp. in Benton Harbor, MI.
Along with visual appeal, cooking appliances must offer variety and personalization of cooking styles and be easy and intuitive to use. Induction and steam cooking are on the rise, as are connected appliances. As people experiment with design, pops of color are also becoming more prominent in appliance design, though stainless steel remains the most popular finish. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
Everyone has their own unique style when it comes to cooking and entertaining. Multiple cooks in the same house want different cooking options when it’s their turn to prepare the meal. Manufacturers say they see an upturn in a desire for multiple choices within the same kitchen, or even within the same appliance.
“This year, Thermador is expanding its portfolio of cooking appliances as culinary enthusiasts continue to desire an array of appliances that enable ultimate personalization in the kitchen and throughout the home,” says Zach Elkin, director, brand marketing for Thermador at BSH Appliances in Irvine, CA.
Kais Zaiane, director, Gaggenau North America based in Irvine, CA, agrees that allowing people to customize their appliance is important. “You used to have an oven and a cooktop, and that was it. Now, we give them the choice,” he says. “It’s not like one cooktop has to fit it all.” Specialized appliances for each cooking trend – be it wok cooking or indoor grilling – allow for chefs and those passionate about food to utilize their kitchen in any way they see fit.
Dan Nichols, executive v.p. at Caliber Appliances based in Huntington Beach, CA, says that the firm’s focus is on the personal story behind the aspiring home chef. “We pay attention to designing a product that is elegant and [that] is seen as a partner in the process of creating special dishes for family and guests,” he says. “Caliber products are designed much like a custom piece of furniture, where the home chef can customize with an endless palate of colors and trims, including exclusive wood handles and details that make the appliance the meal is prepared with integral to the social process of sharing meals together.”
Size trends are linked to this desire for personalization as well, manufacturers say. “There is no longer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach,” says Elkin. “Culinary enthusiasts and ultimate entertainers in the luxury market are designing their kitchens and homes to be highly personalized, with as much – or as little – refrigeration and cooking space as they desire.”
BLEND OR POP
The desire for personalization isn’t just about function, but carries over into aesthetics. Some want their appliances to make a grand statement, while others are barely meant to be seen. According to Brian Maynard, director of marketing for Jenn-Air, based in Benton Harbor, MI, “Appliances are often the centerpiece of the kitchen or they may have a more subtle presence. Someone who entertains a lot may prefer a 48″ pro-style dual-fuel range with a custom hood that serves as a bold centerpiece. Another preference might be for a more streamlined look with one of our downdraft cooktops in an island, eliminating the need for ventilation in the sightlines.”
“A magnificent cooking appliance can truly anchor a kitchen, as an eye-catching piece of ‘kitchen jewelry’ ready to make a statement in the kitchen,” says Elkin. “Our Pro Grand Ranges are a great example of the ‘engagement ring’ of the kitchen. Innovative appliances can also virtually disappear into the countertop, as with the sleek solid black surface of our Freedom Induction Cooktop,” he adds.
Designers looking to make that bold statement might also integrate color into the design. “Color is everywhere, from retro grey to pop pastels as the optimism in the market is lending itself to greater customization and personalization,” says Haber. “The trend or desire for color is directly connected to consumers and designers wanting to ‘have it their way.’ No one is decorating for the resale value. They have pent-up desire to make this space a personal statement for themselves and not a conservative fixation on the next owner’s needs or making back their money on a makeover.” Eurochef has responded to this by offering new colors, including an RAL program for the company’s ILVE ranges, and expanded color options in its Verona range series.
There is greater experimentation with design, adds Bergeth, exemplified by new colors and textures on both the inside and outside of appliances. “We’re entering into an era of more adventurous kitchen design, and we believe this is largely due to the millennial generation. While good design is universal, this generation is acting as a catalyst for change in the appliance industry. They’re demanding higher performing product and a better experience. This includes more experimentation with color.”
On the other side of the spectrum are appliances that are almost hidden within the overall design. “Appliances need to integrate perfectly in the kitchen,” says Valentina Bertazzoni, brand manager for Bertazzoni, based in Guastalla, Italy. Lines, proportions and all design principles must be balanced, she says, though a touch of color can act as a focal point in the kitchen. When color is used, she adds, vibrant colors are the most requested.
Nichols has also seen a trend toward concealment of the appliance, such as a counter-depth range alongside matching refrigerator doors and drawer faces to help the appliance blend in with the overall design. As for finish, he says, stainless steel is still at the top of Caliber’s clients’ list. At the same time, he adds, Caliber offers a personalized palate of materials including various species of wood handles, choices of any RAL color and authentic solid brass, copper or polished stainless trim to create a custom product.
“Stainless steel is still absolutely dominating the market,” says Zaiane. He believes it will remain the strongest because the industry repeatedly sees trends move toward white or color for a couple of years, then back to stainless when people tire of the newest look.
While the range of cooking methods available for appliances has expanded a great deal in recent years, there are some that have come to the forefront, gaining attention from both designers and consumers. An awareness of healthy living puts steam ovens in high demand, and induction cooking is also on the rise, according to manufacturers.
Cooks are looking for features that allow them to prepare food in a healthy way that preserves nutrients, like a steam oven, says Bertazzoni.
Zaiane agrees that healthy cooking is a strong trend. “When it comes to steam cooking, the healthiest way of cooking, we’ve been a pioneer,” he says. Currently, Gaggenau is launching extra features in its steam ovens, such as a self-cleaning feature and a sous vide cooking option, which cooks vacuum sealed food at very low temperatures for a long time. “The advantage is you can put something in and leave it for several hours while doing other things, without being afraid that it will overcook,” he notes.
Elkin adds that, as cooks recognize the health and flavor benefits of cooking with steam, this method continues to grow in popularity. Thermador offers four different steam oven design options, allowing for designers to select an appliance that supports how the user cooks.
In addition to steam, induction cooktops have gained attention in recent years, a trend that is becoming even stronger in the U.S. right now. Induction offers the same benefits as gas, but with less heat loss and less time involved, says Zaiane. As people move from gas cooktops to induction cooktops, the trend just keeps getting stronger, he adds.
Haber agrees. “Induction continues to heat up for us as well. More consumers are becoming aware of the performance, energy-saving, ventilation and safety benefits of induction. It’s safe to say that this style of cooktop will become mainstream if it isn’t already.” She adds that burners that can handle a low simmer are also important for cooks, and these are what everyone is asking about currently.
Bergeth adds that induction cooking has made large inroads in European restaurant and home kitchens, and is beginning to become more common in the U.S. market. “The main advantage of induction cooking is its responsive and efficient technology,” he says.
With all of the advances in technology, simplicity is still important. Cooking appliances must be easy to use, easy to clean and offer simple ways to prepare exactly the meal the user wants.
“With all of the technology being crafted into software that drives new products, features that simplify the cooking/grilling process are at the top of the list,” says Nichols. For instance, features that promote even cooking in an oven, on a cooktop or across a grilling surface help build culinary confidence with the aspiring home chef, he explains.
“Technology that saves time and improves performance is the most important feature,” notes Bergeth. “The goal of cooking with technology is to improve the experience by adding convenience and control.” Even homeowners who cook a lot and want chef-level kitchens don’t want to wait by the cooktop for hours, he says. “We’re making appliances that don’t take away from the experience, but remove the labor-intensive process and complexity.”
Advances in technology permeate every aspect of daily life. Although these advances are sometimes more gimmicky than practical, others make the operation and use of an appliance easier, and offer a real benefit to the consumer. Digital displays, touch screens and programs that simplify the cooking process are among the technology manufacturers see in demand.
“Digital controls are helping making the interaction with the appliances easy and immediate,” states Bertazzoni. “Technology allows for better control and more sophisticated cooking techniques as well,” she adds.
“We’ve become accustomed to touch screens that are intuitive and easy to use from our connected devices like mobile phones,” says Maynard. “Since Jenn-Air first introduced our intuitive, 7″, full-color, touch-anywhere LCD display in 2010, touch screens have certainly become more prevalent on appliances.”
“In addition,” says Maynard, “the ‘Internet of things’ is top of mind in a range of product categories and we are seeing more connected appliances being introduced that enhance the user’s experience.” Jenn-Air focuses on technology and connected products that offer real benefits, such as being able to turn the appliance on or off from a connected device, or automatic registration of the appliance, Maynard adds.
“With the development of Wi-Fi-enabled devices, the technological possibilities are endless for cooking appliances,” says Bergeth. “Current technology allows for clear understanding and easier use of controls, such as the touch screen on the Jenn-Air Connected Wall Oven,” he notes. This screen has technology under glass, which allows users to slide a bar on the touch screen to achieve the desired temperatures without entering numbers. “We know people are used to sliding open their phones – why not do the same in other devices?”
Lighting is another aspect of technology that has seen advances. “With the advent of LED lighting, we can now focus design efforts on the interior of our appliances to deliver a theater-like visual experience when looking at food from inside an oven,” says Bergeth.
Technology is also important at Caliber, states Nichols, as this gives home chefs control and confidence in preparing the dish they are emulating from the cooking show they were inspired by the weekend before.
And, as an added benefit, it can also offer time savings. “On the outdoor side of our business, we’ve found that many of those who are running slow-cooked foods on appliances like our Kamado Pro Smoker are using Wi-Fi- and bluetooth-enabled probes and devices so that they can spend more time with guests and not have to tend to the dish constantly,” he concludes.