Designing Point-of-Use Appliances

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Although the cabinet system is typically the kitchen specialist’s largest profit center, many clients first focus on the appliance package for their new dream kitchens. By expanding your knowledge about appliance engineering innovations, and moving beyond predictable equipment placement recommendations, you can “outsmart” less professional – more cost-conscious – competitors who pay little attention to appliance details.

Homeowners who love to cook may highly value units that offer a specific function. Over the past few years, a dramatic explosion of options in all appliance categories has led to these “point-of-use” offerings. Being familiar with these appliances, and able to present them as part of your proposal (or as options to the proposal), is a great approach for planning kitchens for 2011 and beyond.


Changes have taken place over the last 10 years around what families need to refrigerate or freeze. For many busy families, a weekend cooking extravaganza can result in carefully preserved meals for weekday dinners that need to be frozen.

There seems to be an explosion of the types of beverages families keep on hand. Additionally, trend watchers have commented on younger families’ interest in buying local, fresh products.

These cooking and food preference changes have led to the development of separate “tower” refrigerator and freezer appliances, as well as a wide variety of specialized equipment designed to be placed under a worktop counter.
Yet, many designers disregard these new products and simply include one tall 30″-to-48″-wide multipurpose refrigerator/freezer appliance. Here are some ideas that might add a spark of ingenuity to your plan.

Consider separating the refrigerator from the freezer, or prioritizing one so that only the most important food preservation appliance is within the heart of the kitchen. A smaller all-refrigerator appliance combined with an under-cabinet drawer-type freezer might be ideal in a small kitchen.

When suggesting secondary under-counter refrigeration systems, find out if the family has a single type of item planned for this new appliance, or if they might be better served by a “multitasking” appliance. For example, is a wine storage unit the best choice – or is a more flexible refrigerator unit a better idea?

Help the client balance capacity expectations with flexibility. Is the goal to store several varieties of drinks/wines in an under-counter refrigerator, with no need for ice production? Or, is ice important to the family?

Suggest to the consumer that a separate area (oftentimes called a “wet bar”) might be more versatile if it becomes a “hospitality center.” If a sink and faucet are planned, consider adding a built-in coffee maker and an under-cabinet refrigerator (with or without ice). Adding sturdy storage for normal food stuffs, as opposed to fancy glasses, might turn this area into the breakfast bar or the children’s refreshment area.

From a design standpoint, pay particular attention to the door swing and exterior finish appearance (some under-counter wine storage units cannot receive a panel), and think about the elevation alignment between the refrigerator door/drawer appliance and adjacent cabinetry.

The Cooking Center

New touchpad control panels, time-saving heat transference systems, cooking appliances that combine convection/microwave energy with induction cooking and specialty appliances such as steam ovens that focus on healthy eating are just a few of the new options you need to be familiar with.

As demonstrated in the chart at right, there are many choices for you and the prospective client to sort through.

Asking questions about the family’s planned activities in the cooking center is a good place to start.

For example, in addition to asking if more than one person cooks, find out how each cook operates within the space. If there are several individuals who cook together concurrently, this means people will be moving around one another in the cooking center at the same time. Traffic patterns and door opening swings become an important consideration for this type of “team” cooking. Separating “point-of-use” equipment will help separate the cooking activities.

Alternatively, when a prospective client says, “My husband and I cook,” do they really mean that one adult is the helper who does not enter the cooking zone nor use the cooking appliances? In such a situation, the cooking center is really serving only one cook – so “point of use” appliances should be grouped together.

Find out if non-cooks need access to some heating appliances. For example, a microwave oven drawer that is placed at the edge of the primary cook’s triangle can provide accessibility to children or other family members not actively involved in cooking – but who require access to a reheating or warm-up appliance. Similarly, locating a warming drawer at the edge of the primary cook’s work triangle makes good sense. Warming drawers should never be installed below a double oven! Placing such an appliance just below a countertop makes it much more accessible.

Rethink the traditional cabinet configuration of a “tall oven cabinet.” Placing different types of ovens adjacent to one another, or above and below one another in a mid-height cabinet 48″ to 72″ tall might be a far better solution.

Try to avoid using an “over the range” microwave/hood combination whenever possible. This may be the only solution in some small spaces – but it is far from safe, or accessible for most users.

When working in small rooms, make sure your client understands the second oven capabilities of a microwave/convection oven. A full-sized oven combined with a microwave/convection oven can minimize the space required, while delivering “Thanksgiving” capacity heating power.

Reintroduce yourself to alternatives to overhead ventilation systems. Downdraft ventilation has been dramatically improved over the last several years. The elimination of an overhead hood might be an excellent ventilation solution to specify for a second cooking area. For the primary cook, downdraft units provide a clear sight-path and eliminate the danger of “head hitting” hood edges.

Do not forget about the newest appliance in the kitchen: a flat screen serving as a computer monitor and a television!

Depending on your clients’ height, housing one or more small appliances (think toaster oven, microwave, TV) in a wall cabinet that extends to the countertop might be a solution. Alternatively, a 39″ to 48″ base pedestal cabinet might be a good spot for those appliances.

The Clean Up/Sink Center

A broadening of choices in dishwasher configurations, as well as sink and faucet design, has also occurred over the past several years. The concept of a second sink being a “vegetable sink” or “bar sink” is a bit obsolete.

Today, kitchens seem to have two sinks: One is a primary clean-up with the dishwasher(s) close by, with a second sink being the prep sink. The division of labor between sinks will continue as homes become smaller and one general space (the 2011+ “Great Room”) grows in importance. Separating the clean-up function from the prep function means we can shield those stacks of dirty dishes from view!

Designers across the country tell me that they are installing two dishwashers in many kitchens today. Make sure you are familiar with dishwasher drawer features and benefits vs. normal 24″-wide single door units.

Although not requiring electricity, an important new part of the food prep/clean-up area is a carefully detailed recycling center. Our consumers’ interest in being responsible resource managers, as well as living a life focused on wellness, is leading to an increase in fresh food/produce being part of daily meals.

Lastly, sink designs have changed dramatically over the last several years. They are now total systems for food preparation. Manufacturers are providing a wide variety of chopping and draining surfaces with blocks, containers and racks. To expand your horizons beyond the typical sink that you have been specifying, study all of the new product introductions over the last two years. Designers, beware: A larger sink cabinet may be required, with specialized storage underneath for these accessories. Additionally, the countertop cut-out is slightly different. The sink rim needs to provide a ledge that serves as a “running channel” for these new accessories.

While the basic functions of a kitchen’s three primary centers have not changed since early research was conducted in the mid-20th Century, the choices in equipment awaiting your client’s perusal have dramatically increased. With careful questioning when gathering information from your client, you will be better able to help the prospective client sort through all of the choices – narrowing down the list to what will support their specific family style and cooking preferences. This type of personal attention to the planning process will surely lead to more signed contracts in 2011…and beyond!

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