authors Elizabeth Richards
Appliances are the primary tools for getting work done in the kitchen. That means they need to offer practicality and convenience, while making kitchen tasks as effortless as possible. At the same time, they must add flair to the design aesthetic and cater to the lifestyle of the homeowners who use them.
“With consumers leading hectic, busy lives, they are seeking appliances that can effortlessly enhance their quality of life,” says Anja Prescher, director of brand marketing at Bosch Home Appliances in Irvine, CA. “They are looking for meaningful innovations that add true value to the home and simplify daily life through convenient and easy-to-use operation,” she notes.
“People are looking for appliances that feature a combination of convenience, thoughtful design and quality craftsmanship,” states Randy Warner, president at Dacor in City of Industry, CA. “In today’s digital age, consumers are seeking features such as remote access, which, for example, grants them the convenience of checking to see what’s inside their refrigerator while they are shopping at the grocery store. In addition, people want well-designed, beautiful products that lend their kitchens to effortlessly serve as a fun and functional gathering place to entertain. Finally, people are looking for appliances that not only deliver the highest quality performance but will also stand the test of time,” he says.
Technology is increasingly important, particularly when the consumer perceives true value. “Smart appliances have been steadily infiltrating the market over the past few years, with new technology, smartphone apps and Wi-Fi connectivity. As kitchens continue to evolve, connectivity in the kitchen is becoming more prevalent,” believes Beatriz Sandoval, director of brand marketing at Thermador in Irvine, CA.
Multiple and multi-functional appliances, striking colors, custom panels and anything that helps to create a personal experience are other tops trends for kitchen appliances, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
Manufacturers say that convenience, ease of use and high functionality are important factors when selecting appliances.
“Today’s homeowners require functionality. People still value performance and reliability most and are looking for innovative features that add value and convenience to their lives,” says Jeff Sweet, product marketing manager for Sub-Zero Group, Inc. in Madison, WI.
Multiples of the same type of appliance, or appliances that offer multiple functions, can help designers achieve the functionality their clients are looking for.
“Depending on the consumer, more cooking appliances may be desired for each function while others may look to one appliance to accomplish everything,” Sandoval explains.
Driven by a desire to be more attentive to green issues, homeowners are looking for refrigeration that offers multiple food “zones” with adjustable temperatures depending on the food to be stored, says Heather Shannon, senior brand marketing manager at Perlick in Milwaukee, WI. “Separate zones, which allow food to stay fresh for longer, can reduce food waste and make homeowners feel they are reducing their carbon footprint,” she comments.
Prescher says that heightened awareness about food waste and an interest in fresh, nutritious meals place the refrigerator in the spotlight as consumer demand for quality food storage solutions increases. “Our new freestanding French door bottom-mount refrigerators are specifically designed from the ground up for this reason, to maximize freshness and make it easier to store foods through a number of organizational solutions to answer this demand and the growing trend of farm-to-table meals at home,” she says.
“Multi-functional appliances are in demand not only due to convenience, but because they can be personalized to fit a specific need or lifestyle,” notes Sweet. For example, he says, Wolf’s new speed oven combines microwave, convection and broil technologies, which can be used separately or together.
Dacor Director of Products and Research & Development Scott Kim has also noticed a trend toward multi-purpose appliances, such as combination steam/speed ovens. “These types of appliances open up new possibilities in the residential kitchen, delivering similar performance as products used in restaurants while allowing for faster, more convenient cooking methods,” he says.
“We’re seeing people mix and match appliances to give them exactly the solutions they desire,” Sweet adds. “That could be incorporating multiple refrigeration touchpoints, like the Sub-Zero 24″ integrated refrigerator/freezer column to serve as the main unit and an undercounter refrigerator drawer to keep snacks easy to reach for children, or pairing together Wolf 15″ modules, such as the induction and gas modules, to create a custom cooktop for different methods of cooking.”
Shannon notes, “We are seeing customers buy multiple under counter refrigerators to meet different needs: a wine reserve, a beverage center, etc.”
“Another trend on the rise is installing appliances outside of their usual location for increased convenience,” Prescher points out. This might mean two dishwashers for easier cleanup, or separate refrigerator and freezer columns to allow for flexibility throughout the kitchen.
“There is a reason we offer so many different kinds of refrigeration solutions,” says Andrew Shead, marketing manager at True Residential in O’Fallon, MO. “Since the kitchen is no longer relegated to just one room in the home, and since homeowners are increasingly personalizing their spaces to fit into different prep, serving and entertaining ‘zones,’ multiple, multi-functional units in different sizes are in high demand.” Outdoor use is also on the rise, he adds. “From pool houses, bars, rooftop lounges, barbecue set-ups and even stand-alone beverage areas, homeowners want unparalleled design flexibility and performance indoors and out.”
“We’re seeing undercounter refrigeration being used more and more because it really can be placed anywhere outside the kitchen. An undercounter refrigerator can be seamlessly integrated into the living room, bar and outdoor kitchen, and is very convenient for quick access to a cold beverage,” notes Jonathan Barfell, senior marketing manager, NCSA, Refrigerators and Freezers Division, at Liebherr USA, in Miami, FL.
As more technology is incorporated into kitchen appliances, manufacturers say that these high-tech appliances need to remain intuitive and easy to use. Consumers must feel there’s real value to the added features, and they want easy-to-maintain systems that perform well.
“Technology is becoming ever more prevalent in so many aspects of our daily lives. When it comes to the kitchen, homeowners are looking for technology that is not only simple to use and meaningful, but also adds true value and makes daily household tasks easier,” says Prescher. “Smart-home features and connectivity are becoming increasingly popular, with many people seeking features such as Bluetooth connectivity and Wi-Fi capabilities,” Warner adds. “As the smart-home industry evolves, we’ll continue seeing a trend toward appliances that incorporate automated intelligence capabilities, as they remove the burdens of everyday planning so that users can spend more time experimenting in the kitchen and connecting with those they love.”
Barfell agrees: “Technology features such as Wi-Fi, phone alert notifications and remote setting options are becoming increasingly common in everyday appliances. However, these technologies have to be easy to use and understand while ultimately making the consumer’s life easier. If the technology saves you 10-20 minutes in the kitchen and you can spend that time with family or entertaining friends, people are interested in learning more.”
According to Peter Weedfald, senior v.p. of Marketing & Sales at Sharp Home Electronics Co. of America in Montvale, NJ, “Steam ovens are trending upward. A favorite method of cooking overseas, steam ovens in the U.S. had largely been the domain of restaurant kitchens in the form of free-standing combi-ovens as tall as your refrigerator and costing tens of thousands of dollars. Some built-in steam ovens have made their way to the home appliance arena, but only Sharp has the new, SuperSteam+ that doesn’t just use steam, it is the only oven that uses purely super-heated steam up to 485°F. That is hot enough to brown food, like crispy bacon and crunchy cookies.”
He continues, “Touch controls are trending in modern kitchens [with] knobs, switches and buttons fading in exchange for controls that are sleek, responsive and easier to clean.” Weedfald also cites new technology in the form of the firm’s new microwave drawer, which opens with a wave of a hand.
Some manufacturers say consumers are cautious about what technology they include in the kitchen. “Technology will continue to drive innovations in the kitchen, but it has its limits,” says Shead. Many homeowners don’t want their appliances to be Wi-Fi or camera enabled, he adds. “These types of features bring to light growing privacy issues, and integrated technology can make for unnecessarily complicated systems that are a challenge to maintain. Overall, performance, style and longevity rank highest in consumer priorities.”
Tony Dowling, v.p., Sales & Marketing at Elmira Stove Works in Ontario, Canada says that while “gadgets and gizmos” are trending in appliances, he questions how much is really needed or wanted by the consumer. “People are certainly intrigued by all of the technology and ‘gadgets’ on the market today, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but we’re also getting more and more calls from consumers who ask the simple question, ‘Can I still use it if the power goes off?’ Be it a mid-range product or a premium appliance, there is still a market for a gas range that, indeed, you can use when the power goes off. Because the power seems to be going off with increasing regularity and we don’t want to have to order out if we have company over for a big event and lightning strikes – literally,” he says.
The desire to create a look that is unique and reflects the personality of the homeowners creates demand for custom panels, integrated appliances and unique hardware options.
Sandoval has seen the trend toward customization take off over the past several years and expects it will continue to be a major force in kitchen design. “Personalization is key,” she says, adding that the company loves to see how designers create unique expressions with custom panels.
“With a growing desire for personalization amongst homeowners, we’re also meeting demand for custom front panels and hardware from customers looking to blend appliances in with surrounding cabinetry or incorporate unique color options for a more distinct look,” says Sweet.
“As consumers become more design savvy, demand for design that matches their personal style and sense of self is higher than ever,” Prescher adds. “While the general trend in finishes remains traditional stainless steel and, increasingly, black stainless steel, there is a strong
demand for sleek, integrated appliances that blend seamlessly into kitchen designs while still delivering on reliability and functionality. To that end, consumers are more frequently looking for ways to customize the look of their overall design aesthetic through custom panel appliances,” she notes.
“Another overall design trend, which also speaks to personalization, is the sought-after ‘signature look.’ Essentially, it’s adding unexpected and/or unique finishing touches to home interiors, such as through custom hardware, backsplashes or the use of an interesting mix of materials,” says Shead.
“Tired of boring plastic white interiors, people are gravitating to the stainless-steel interiors with glass/metal shelves,” Barfell says. “I think incorporating additional materials will be a growing trend as wood and stone accessories become available for a fully custom look.” He adds that hardware is disappearing as people move toward recessed and hidden pocket handles.
Shannon agrees, noting that fully integrated appliances are trending. “An increasing number of homeowners want appliances and cabinets that look hidden. They don’t want to see hinges, locks, handles, etc.,” she adds.
Personalization goes beyond how appliances look, however. Features selected must also reflect the way consumers live.
“Right now, personalization is a trend everyone agrees on, not only in terms of aesthetics but also in terms of functionality,” says Sweet. He continues: “Homeowners are increasingly moving away from the standard kitchen design model of the past and customizing the space to reflect their own lives.”
Barfell agrees: “People are seeking features that match and enrich their lifestyle, such as a party mode for deep chilling white wines or a crisper drawer that extends and enhances fresh produce brought home from the market.”
Shead believes, “As consumers spend more time cooking and entertaining at home, they’re seeking more personalized appliances. Whether it is a breakfast station for ‘build-your-own’ omelets in one of our undercounter drawer units for the ultimate host/large family, or a fridge that accommodates a commercial-sized sheet pan for the avid home chef, consumers are demanding choices that fit their lifestyles.”
Add-on features that allow consumers to give their guests a unique experience are also becoming important, manufacturers say. “In the kitchen, we’re seeing increasing sales of products that are ancillary to the core kitchen but that make [homeowners] feel more like they are creating an experience for their guests: craft brew tappers, specialty coffee dispensers, wine dispensers, etc.,” says Shannon.
Splash of Color
Although stainless remains strong, colored finishes are on the rise, ranging from gray and black to brilliant pops of vibrant colors like blue, red and orange.
Color has been slow in coming, but has come on strong in the past year, Dowling says. “While anything other than stainless, white or black was the domain of only a handful of manufacturers a few years ago, it now seems like there are only a handful of manufacturers not offering color today. The range of colors runs from bolds to pastels to richer complex tones,” he adds, noting that customized colors are in high demand. “The creeping of the word ‘bespoke’ into our vocabulary speaks to the desire of each consumer to be able to lay claim to something that is truly their own,” he says. “To that end, manufacturers are creating collections where the consumer can merge multiple modules of refrigeration units into an end product that offers several functionalities and colors.”
“We don’t see stainless going anywhere, but we are seeing more requests for colored steel, including blue, black and orange stainless,” says Barfell.
Weedfald believes, “Stainless steel is king. That isn’t changing any time soon. Although color has had great success in countertop appliances, it is very restrictive in large kitchen appliances. Gray had a moment. It may not have been exciting, but your entire look wouldn’t fall apart because your upgrade and replacement paths could be either stainless steel or black stainless. The same would probably be true with the new, white appliances with stainless steel handles and trims…you could still retreat to the safety of stainless steel.”
He does cite a growing interest in black stainless, saying, “[It] has seen a steady rise in popularity for its elegant contrast, bold statement and growing catalog.”
Within the trend toward color, another trend is emerging: consumers’ desire for a unique color that’s all their own. “One of the major trends we are seeing this year is the desire for custom-colored appliances. While in the past, appliances traditionally came in neutral colors such as stainless steel, white or black, the modern entertainer is turning to vibrant and colorful options that inject their kitchens with personality,” Warner adds, citing the DacorMatch Color System Program, which allows consumers to match any color swatch. “While people can pick from a selection of pre-determined colors, many send in swatches of fabric – such as a sample of their favorite shirt – to create an appliance that ties to their personal aesthetic,” he states. ▪