KBDN

Smart Conveniences

As kitchen appliances get smarter and more connected, designers must educate themselves regarding the capabilities, benefits and limitations of these products so they can help their clients choose the best technology to meets their needs.

authors Kim Berndtson | April 30, 2017

At their heart, ovens and ranges still cook, refrigerators still cool and dishwashers still clean. But how they do their respective tasks is changing dramatically, as manufacturers introduce models with increasingly sophisticated technologies and capabilities, particularly those related to interactivity.

And just when consumers have begun to get comfortable with smart appliances – such as ovens that can take over the cooking process and appliances that can send diagnostic and service information to a manufacturer – even smarter, more life-changing technologies are making their way into the marketplace.

Now an appliance such as a Miele ventilation hood with [email protected] 2.0 can talk to the cooktop below, automatically adjusting blower output based on information it receives from the cooktop to optimize ventilation and eliminate the need to manually turn on the hood.

Elica also offers appliances that “talk” to each other, including the NikolaTesla, which combines ventilation and cooking into one appliance.

And that’s just scratching the surface of interactivity when considering that consumers now have the ability to control and monitor appliances remotely via apps.

“When clients ask about the newest things in kitchens, it isn’t surfaces. It isn’t cabinetry. It isn’t storage. It’s really appliances,” says Robin Rigby Fisher, CMKBD, CAPS, Robin Rigby Fisher Design, in Portland, OR.

Vanessa Deleon, Vanessa Deleon Associates, in New York, NY, is also starting to have more discussions with her clients about interactive appliances, especially after seeing those unveiled at recent trade shows. “Clients want to know what’s new and where technology is going,” she says.

SMART CONVENIENCES

App control in kitchen appliances brings the heart of the home more in line with what’s happening in other areas of the home.

“Interactive kitchen appliances are running alongside technology advances all across the board,” says Elma Gardner, CMKBD, CID, By Design Studio, in Davis, CA. “Smart home technology, lighting controls…all of these things are moving more in line with our culture, which is to control everything with our smartphones or tablets.”

Genie Nowicki, CKD, CBD, CID, CAPS, and senior designer at Harrell Remodeling, in Palo Alto, CA, agrees. “I recently completed a project for a couple who installed Ring video doorbells and smart thermostats,” she says. “He loved that he could use his smartphone to interact with anyone who comes to the door.”

“‘Smart conveniences’ are becoming options in many categories in the home to provide convenience and safety,” adds MaryJo Camp, CKD, CBD, CID, CAPS, CGP, CLIPP, DesignCamp, in Denver, NC. “Now, most appliance manufacturers are building connectivity into their appliances for the ability to be communicated with remotely, either now or in the future. Product design is enthusiastically embracing ‘smart’ as an attractive feature to enhance usability.”

With the introduction of more connected kitchen appliances, the heart of the home is catching up. “Connectivity is important in every part of our lives – your kitchen is no different,” says Nate Berkus, interior designer and artistic advisor for the development of LG’s Studio line, which includes the InstaView refrigerator. “In fact, the kitchen is the hub of most families’ homes.”

WHAT’S AVAILABLE?

In the kitchen, cooking appliances lead the way. Several companies, including Bosch, Dacor, Jenn-Air, GE, LG and Whirlpool, offer connected ovens or ranges, and some offer a smart microwave as well. Users can monitor and control appliances through their respective app, with each offering an array of functions.

As a sampling, LG’s app allows users to preheat Signature ovens and ranges remotely, ensure they are turned off, receive notifications if issues arise and even report errors. With Dacor’s Discovery iQ cooking app, consumers can customize, create and communicate with a Discovery iQ wall oven. Bosch’s Home Connect app – which can also be used with its connected built-in coffee makers, dishwashers and wall ovens – allows remote preheat and temperature adjustment of the oven as well as notifications when a meal is ready.

Jenn-Air’s app incorporates diagnostics as well as other functions that encourage exploration and control of the oven’s advanced features.

In refrigerators, connectivity often focuses on diagnostics as well, such as LG’s SmartDiagnosis technology, which alerts consumers via their smartphone if the unit needs maintenance or repair. Jenn-Air’s connected refrigerator app includes notification options – such as open-door and over-temperature alerts – in addition to features that enable remote temperature control, while GE’s kitchen app offers alerts and notifications as well as the ability to turn on/off a refrigerator’s icemaker and adjust the temperature.

Consumers can choose from several brands of connected dishwashers as well. The [email protected] app – which controls all network-enabled Miele appliances – includes program selection, program start and a status indicator for its EcoFlex dishwashers. The Whirlpool mobile app controls its dishwashers – as well as other appliances in its Smart Kitchen Suite – and, when synced with an Amazon account, can estimate when supplies like dish detergent are running low and automatically reorder. Connected Bosch dishwashers can also reorder dishwasher detergent via Amazon.

This latter ability showcases how strategic partnerships with companies such as Amazon are transforming how connectivity can further simplify consumers’ lives. Another example is offered by GE and Drop, who have partnered so home cooks can preheat and control a GE connected wall oven from within a recipe in the Drop recipes app.

Oven interaction can also be achieved through the SideChef app, which makes cooking accessible, easy and fun via step-by-step photos, instructions and voice commands.

By linking a Nest account with Bosch’s Home Connect app, consumers can set their Nest product in “away” mode and, if the Bosch oven is still running, Home Connect alerts the consumer to turn off the appliance, or switch to an energy-conserving mode. Jenn-Air also has a partnership with Nest that works similarly.

Sub-Zero and Wolf products have the ability to sync to home-automated control systems like Control4, Crestron and Savant. With Wolf appliances, consumers can view the oven’s current temperature, receive preheat notifications, timer alerts and access internal meat temperature. Sub-Zero built-in refrigeration products are also compatible, notifying the owner if the refrigerator door has been left open and allowing them to change the interior setting to the energy-saving “vacation mode” if they’ll be out of the house for an extended period of time. 

Designers indicate that some of the most revolutionary changes are occurring when appliance technology combines with devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, which allows hands-free control via voice commands.

“Voice command provides the ability to talk freely and get everything done, without having to log onto any device,” says Campion Platt, interior designer, Campion Platt, in New York, NY.

Scott Koehler, Dream Kitchen Builders, in Oak Ridge, NC, also sees voice command as being transformational. “Voice is becoming the dominant interface,” he says. “Imagine that you’re working in a kitchen and you need two hands free. You don’t want to have to reach for your smartphone. With voice commands, you can ask to turn on the water, music, hood, etc.”

Koehler envisions that, at some point in the near future, you won’t even need a device to accomplish that. “Within five years, I don’t think you’ll even see a computer or smartphone,” he predicts. “It will all be ambient computing, where the presence of a computer won’t be visible. I think sequenced commands, where you ask for multiple tasks, are coming up quickly, too.”

BIGGEST BENEFITS

Today’s smart and interactive design culture truly speaks to livability, says Kerrie Kelly, ASID, CEO, Kerrie Kelly Design Lab, in Sacramento, CA. “You’re at a grocery store and eight people for a dinner party are on their way over,” she says. “You can preheat your oven from your smartphone. Interactive features that help take care of everyday chores are what our clients are looking for. Also, appliances that can sync with other smart home devices like Amazon’s Alexa allow homeowners to use their voice for added convenience. The smart innovation occurring in today’s appliances makes life easier and more efficient so homeowners are able to spend more time with friends and family.”

Platt also sees the technology as a way to remove stress. “I call it frictionless home living, where technology can take out the daily drudgery of what we have to do every day,” he says.

According to Randall Shaw, owner of Nordic Kitchens and Baths in Metairie, LA, diagnostics are also a valuable benefit. “Even if it’s something as simple as knowing the dishwasher is jammed with an item that’s too tall, or that the temperature of a refrigerator has gone up three degrees…monitoring appliances offers a big benefit,” he notes.

Gardner agrees. “We’re out of homes so much,” she says. “In many families, both people are working. So being able to remotely monitor appliances becomes important from a safety standpoint and is a feature that people really like.”

Controlling a meal from another room, or getting needed information without being home, seem to be popular, notes Camp, who adds, “There’s a great advantage for ease of control for those with limited mobility and other restrictions, and for the convenience it offers able-bodied users as well. Anything that makes someone a better cook, or makes it easier to cook, is attractive.”

Fisher agrees, noting that, even as an avid cook, ease of meal prep is important. “There are times I want to bring home a pizza because I have kids who are running track, have a meeting, etc.,” she says. “If no one is home, I can call my oven and ask it to turn on to 425 degrees. I can leave my office, pick up the pizza and get home to throw it in.”

For Joe Heintz – who owns Universal Electric Home Appliance Center in Santa Clara, CA, with family members – technology that can help families better plan their time is especially valuable. “Sitting down to the dinner table is a lost luxury because we have such busy lifestyles,” he says. “This technology can make it easier to plan and prepare, so, for example, you can make adjustments to an oven temperature based on how your schedule goes for the day. My hope is that this technology can bring families closer together.”

Joseph Elihu, Euroconcepts in West Hollywood, CA, also sees other advantages related to enjoying family and friends. “Customers can use their tablet to monitor what they’re cooking while they’re entertaining guests, rather than being stuck in the kitchen,” he says.

Many manufacturers also take the opportunity to include more than just appliance control and monitoring with their app, often adding features that help improve cooking skills. Jenn-Air’s app allows access to its Culinary Center, an interactive, image-driven system that helps cooks achieve their desired results. With Whirlpool’s Scan-to-Cook feature, consumers can scan the UPC barcode on a food package and have directions sent directly to the appliance.

“Technology can help consumers cook more healthy foods at home,” adds Steve Joseph, chief product officer, SideChef, an app designed to make cooking accessible, easy and fun via step-by-step photos, instructions and video. “There’s been a shift toward eating out, and if we can find ways to make cooking at home easier and more convenient through technology, that is a benefit.”

OBSTACLES TO ACCEPTANCE

Of course some obstacles remain to accepting this technology. First, nobody likes to feel that they’re not in control, especially in their own homes, notes Kelly. “Without proper education, some homeowners may feel they’re no longer in charge of their appliances,” she says. “However, with the promise of ease and time given back to activities they’d rather be performing, homeowners can begin to acclimate to automation and convenience.”

Several designers cite price as another hurdle. “These appliances aren’t inexpensive,” says Gardner. “Everyone has a budget, no matter how extensive the project. For your refrigerator to be connected nearly doubles the price.”

“People may be reluctant to pull the trigger to increase their budget for appliances,” agrees Deleon. “When people look to skim fat from a budget, technology is often where they try to save.”

Privacy and hacking are concerns Camp identifies. “Many forward thinkers are still hesitant in adopting the smart home features because of the fear of hackers getting into the systems,” she says.

Koehler agrees, noting there are privacy and security issues anytime anything is done online. “I tell people to be careful and make sure they understand what they will be sacrificing,” he says. “I am experimenting with smart devices, but I’m not hooking them up casually.”

Heintz says manufacturers do take safety into consideration. “[For certain brands] you have to manually preset an oven at the control panel so no one can hack your oven when you aren’t home,” he says. “All you can do is modify an existing setting. You can’t call up someone’s oven and decide to turn it on.”

WHO WANTS THEM

Connected appliances are still in their infancy, and the level of interest varies, depending on whom you ask.

“I’m not sure how much people will want to wrap themselves into the technology,” says Judy Trigonis, showroom manager at Purcell Murray. “We have people come into the showroom, some asking for appliances with the least bells and whistles. But I do see more technology being integrated into appliances, which provides something for everyone.”

Paul Holland, Eastern Marketing, in Roseland, NJ, agrees. “Smart appliances have their place, and a segment of the market will gravitate to them,” he says. In particular, the Lynx SmartGrill displayed on the showroom floor generates attention. “It can interface with a smart device and remember how you like your steak cooked,” he says. “Some people are fascinated by that.”

Janel Campbell, CMKBD, CAPS, indicates her clients appreciate technology, but aren’t asking for interactive technology…yet. “They’re looking for quality in construction, long-term durability and a brand name they can trust…then come bells and whistles,” says the Portland, OR, Neil Kelly Co. designer. “I do see technologies such as having a camera inside a refrigerator as being useful so you can use your smartphone to see if you are out of milk, so is being able to use your phone to check the temperature of a roast…anything that can help better plan your time.”

Several designers agree that it will generally be younger consumers who are most interested, although Camp sees early adopters of all ages getting onboard. “I have run into millennials who say they don’t want things happening in their home automatically, and I’ve seen baby boomers who are all in,” she says. “It seems to be attractive, with some hesitation, with all generations.”

While there are admittedly some hesitations, the genie is definitely out of the bottle.

“Interactive technology is already going on in Europe, and there’s no doubt it will hit us, too,” says Shaw. “It’s just a matter of when.”

“There are incredible benefits on the way and groundbreaking changes are taking place,” adds Koehler. “Just like everything else that is this dramatic, there are good and bad things. I do think this technology will change kitchen design and kitchen designers. A lot of what we do is in ergonomics… in prep areas, work stations, human tasks, etc. When you start to think about automating those things, it changes the way you live and function in the kitchen.”

Platt agrees. “Connectivity will change how a kitchen looks,” he says. “You can sit in your living room with a glass of wine in the front of the fireplace and get alerts about your meal. You don’t have to hover over a stove waiting for something to be done. It’s a whole new world, and it will be an interesting time for the kitchen business.” ▪

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