Personalized Design, Meaningful Connections

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Appliances aren’t a “one-size-fits-all” product – they’re personal. A number of factors including cooking styles, aesthetic preferences, the way appliances complement each other and the overall kitchen space all have an impact on current trends.
“A continuing trend is the desire to create beautiful kitchens, and incorporating appliances that help achieve this aesthetic,” says Brian Maynard, marketing director for Benton Harbor, MI-based Jenn-Air. An example, he says, are appliances installed flush with very tight gaps that fit seamlessly into cabinets.
“Consumers and designers alike are interested in appliances with thoughtful design,” says Diana Franklin, brand manager for U-Line Corp., based in Milwaukee, WI. “They are seeking appliances that offer seamless integration, making it appear as if the appliances ‘disappear’ into their kitchen design.” Features like custom integrated door and toe-kick panels that match the surrounding cabinetry are an easy way to integrate appliances in a variety of applications, she adds.
A desire to create a kitchen just right for individual clients and incorporating appliances that have high functionality are top priorities for designers, manufacturers say. “Performance and personalization continue to rule the day,” says Zach Elkin, director of brand marketing for Thermador at BSH Appliances in Irvine, CA.
“We are seeing personalization as a strong trend in the marketplace,” concurs Melissa Haber, director of sales & marketing for EuroChef USA in Edgewood, NY.
Along with personalized appliance selection that accounts for the way a kitchen is used and integrated appliances, a greater interest in induction and steam cooking and connected appliances that make working in the kitchen effortless round out current top trends in kitchen appliances. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Customized Choices
Options abound in appliance selection, and how the homeowner will use the kitchen is a critical factor in the appliances they choose. Customization is high priority, and there must be enough choices to find just the right product to suit the consumer’s needs.
“People are looking at appliances for their reliability and performance, but also for versatility in terms of space in the kitchen,” says Valentina Bertazzoni, brand manager for Gustalla, Italy-based Bertazzoni. “The use of an avant-garde appliance coordinated with elegance and substance in the kitchen is becoming more and more important,” she adds. “Consumers no longer have to decide between a kitchen range only or a cooktop with wall ovens. They can choose elements that work in synchronicity with one another, and they can choose to customize the kitchen to fit their lifestyle, which may mean a modern kitchen will include a range and a steam oven. There are no binding rules.”
There has been a shift away from the traditional singular work triangle to many different types of triangles, says Elkin. When Thermador launched its integrated refrigeration, he explains, the company thought the power would lie in the ability to separate the refrigeration from the freezer. But in the past couple of years, what has happened instead is that multiple units are being put together to create a “culinary preservation center.” Driving that is the need for a lot of storage space for cooking fresh food. “There’s an almost insatiable quest for this fresh food space,” he states.
Franklin also sees a shift toward modular refrigeration. “Modular refrigeration allows for more efficient kitchen choreography,” she notes, adding that this has become much more popular since the launch of U-Line’s 24″ Frost-Free Freezer last January at KBIS 2015.
Options are important, adds Scott Davies, marketing manager for Fisher & Paykel North America in Huntington Beach, CA. He believes that consumers prefer either a more hidden, less “in your face product,” prompting them to choose a black glass or integrated model, or they love having a “loud and proud” type of kitchen, which might mean more stainless. In refrigeration, a variety of sizes allows for greater customization.
A range of choices is important in creating the desired blended look as well. “There is a desire for kitchen appliances to become more integrated into the overall kitchen space, and with that, a desire for more color options, finishes and material advances, in order for
them to become part of the furniture as a whole instead of separate machinery,” says Jason Tippetts, design lead for KitchenAid in Benton Harbor, MI.
“Performance is also important, and those at the high end seek out features that others might not have access to,” notes Maynard. “Details from unique colors to LED theater lighting offer additional depth to an appliance’s design.”

Induction and Steam
According to Bertazzoni, “The trend is going more and more distinctly in the direction of selecting different cooking technologies, such as the use of steam to cook or the use of non-traditional cooking surfaces.” This trend, she says, has evolved in the last year, influenced by the cultural movements of food and health knowledge through television, blogs, magazines and special events.
Bertazzoni sees growth in demand for both steam ovens and induction technology, but she says that cooking culture moves slowly. “Cooking is definitively more related to tradition and habits, and our tastes rely very much on our memory. It will take time before these two technologies will reach the same popularity as, for example, gas cooking.”
 “Induction continues to grow at a much faster pace than electric cooktops,” says Elkin. Performance is the reason for the growth, he adds. While most of the firm’s target market is still focused on gas, when it comes to electric options, induction is the winner, he says, because induction offers all of the benefits of gas.
Michele Bedard, v.p. of marketing for Sub-Zero and Wolf, based in Madison, WI, also sees a growing interest in induction cooking. “Induction cooking has been used in Europe for decades by professionals and homeowners demanding the best in performance. Induction cooking is an extremely energy-efficient cooking method as no heat is wasted because energy is supplied directly to the cooking vessel.”
She adds that more people are also becoming interested in cooking with steam due to its versatility. “Moisture, heat and airflow work in concert to create delicious results, while preserving foods’ natural nutrition and delivering delicious tasting meals,” she says. The demand for the Wolf convection steam oven has far surpassed their expectation, she adds.

Blending In or Standing Out
While stainless hasn’t lost favor and probably never will, particularly with professional-style appliances, there is also interest in other options, including custom panels and colors.
Maynard says that while there is a lot of discussion around finishes, stainless steel and panel-ready units that can be easily integrated make up the bulk of the industry. “There has been the introduction of a few additional finishes like black stainless steel,” he says. But, he adds, “The next stainless steel has yet to arrive.”
“Stainless steel is a timeless appliance finish and remains a popular choice among designers and their clients,” agrees
Bedard. “We’ve also seen continued interest in black glass, which offers a more contemporary look,” she adds.
Bertazzoni notes that color is a reality in the kitchen. “A touch of color adds personality and vibe,” she says. A favorite is the super glossy finish of Bertazzoni’s Professional Series, which is automobile paint that is made by a factory that creates specialty colors for luxury cars and motorbikes in the Modena district, she notes.
With the trend toward minimalist, clean design in the kitchen comes a desire for appliances to integrate seamlessly into the overall look. In many cases, manufacturers say, these necessary units shouldn’t call undue attention to themselves, and are often hidden away behind custom panels or otherwise blended into the overall aesthetic to achieve the desired look.
“We are seeing appliance designs trending toward incorporating clean lines to achieve a modern aesthetic and seamless integration,” says Franklin. “Reducing or removing logos on appliance exteriors, thoughtful control placement and concealed and covered hinges are all elements that we are seeing trend right now.”
Tippets says that trends have shifted toward minimalist and modern design, but they also incorporate commercial-style features seen in restaurant kitchens, such as bold handle bars and cooktop dials.
Aesthetic integration isn’t the only consideration, adds Bertazzoni. “It’s a double integration: aesthetic and functional,” she says. While appliances must blend into the cabinets to create a clean and consistent look, they must also be capable of doing many things, either alternatively or in combination, so that space isn’t wasted. Specialty ovens are a good example of this, she notes. “All of these elements working together is the essence of synchronicity we’re bringing to the kitchen.”
“Integration is not going to go away,” Davies maintains. He says it’s important to provide true integrated products and be mindful of what is on the outside as well. This means not adding unnecessarily large buttons or levers, but instead having a simple lever to get water or ice, for instance. “They don’t need to play with it. All that stuff is hidden inside to provide a nice, clean exterior.”
When multiple units of refrigeration are combined, they are most often integrated into the cabinets, rather than creating a large area of solid stainless steel, says Elkin. And dishwashers, refrigeration and warming drawers are mainly going inside custom cabinetry, he adds. Elkin also is seeing more double-overlay applications, where there are two panels rather than one, making the appliance ‘disappear.’
“Everyone’s looking for really clean, integrated lines,” Elkin states. The one exception, he adds, is the pro range. “They’re not trying to hide the Pro range in any way, shape or form. They’re positioning that in the kitchen where it sparkles and shines.”

Value and Connection
Offering a variety of available features is essential to appliance design, but these options should not be gimmicks or elements that don’t offer additional function to the unit. Practical features that add value are in high demand. According to Tippets, these features include separate cooling zones in the refrigerator and more precision in cooktop/range temperature settings.
Elkin says that Thermador sees adding features as an evolution, not a revolution. “It’s the nice to have versus willing to pay, and what will it actually deliver?” When looking at adding new technologies into products, Thermador focuses on the value it will provide and the usefulness of a particular attribute, he says.
“The days of being able to put in gimmicks are gone,” says Davies. “Certainly customers are still prepared to spend a lot of money on their appliance, but they really need to see the value that money gives them. A pretty blue light that doesn’t do anything isn’t valuable.”
Bedard adds, “Performance features that effortlessly assist consumers in the kitchen are of high value.” She cites Wolf’s built-in oven touch-control panels and the company’s 10 one-touch cooking modes as examples. And, in Sub-Zero refrigeration, she says, features such as nano-coated spill-proof shelving and soft-close doors and drawers remain popular.
“Accessories such as cutting boards, griddles and more are in demand with our customers,” adds Haber. “Consumers want their pro-style range to be a focal point – and classic styling, color options as well as trim and handle options are becoming more popular. In fact, we’ve just added RAL color options for the ILVE line and a classic-styled pro range with color options for Verona.”
Wireless connections are also showing up everywhere – including in appliances. But, while there is a demand for the technology, there must be a visible benefit to the connections, manufacturers say.
“Connected appliances are gaining in popularity. However, consumers are looking for a benefit beyond simply WiFi for an online connection,” says Maynard. “Jenn-Air brand is focusing on meaningful technology and connected products that offer meaningful benefits to users.” This might include turning an appliance on and off from a smart phone, having a new appliance automatically registered or increased diagnostic abilities for service calls.
Bedard also believes that “smart” appliances will continue to gain in popularity as long as the technology meets a real consumer need. “We know that our customers are early adopters of new technology and, when buying appliances, they seek convenience in addition to top-notch quality and long-lasting performance. By integrating our appliances into these home automation solutions, our customers can experience advanced options for full control of their appliances,” she says.
Davies adds that connected appliances have a value in being able to push new software changes directly to the customer as they are developed. “We see real value there in ensuring our customers get the most up-to-date function that we put on the product,” he concludes.

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