Interior designers and architects tell me the smart home is now “mainstream.” In the September/October 2017 issue of I+D Magazine, an article “Next Gen Home” said it well: “Smart designers are finding smart technology is raising the IQ of today’s living spaces.”
Technology expert Eric Schimelpfenig did a great job describing household management systems available today in his KBDN November 2017 column. For those of us who specialize in kitchen design, it is the innovation of connecting well-engineered “smart” appliances to these high-tech household management systems that will challenge our expertise and creativity in 2018 and beyond.
To design the best kitchen possible for each and every one of our clients, these new product innovations demand our study and understanding – even if we do not specify the appliance suite for the rooms we create.
Let’s concentrate on how these appliance technologies work and what the cook needs to know to use them, as well as what artificial intelligence is doing to dramatically improve the appliances’ abilities to complete tasks on behalf of the user. Even if you do not specify exact equipment by manufacturer or model, you need to know the best ways to present these equipment possibilities to skeptical prospective clients.
THREE KEY INNOVATIONS
Three innovations are leading today’s technological explosion of appliance operational expertise, and hands-free product connectivity and communications.
The Internet of Things (IoT) – The internet is able to connect things – not just people – with no hard-wiring required. Additionally, changes and upgrades are easily accommodated. Thus: a “hands free” method of control and monitor.
The Unifying Ecosystem – “Smart” often means multiple devices used by multiple people, operated by different apps, voice-control assistants or a screen.
With so many devices and ways to control them, the smart home can quickly become a tech nightmare. Experts agree the key to making all of these smart home technologies useful to people is making them easier to use. Enter the hub: quite simply, a kit of software and hardware that links all of the home’s smart devices into a single-controlled network called an ecosystem. An open-application programming interface allows outside device makers to enable their smart gadgets to communicate with the hub.
Artificial intelligence (AI) – The third important component of the smart home is enabling appliances to assist in operational decisions. This term refers to the ability of an object to gather data and then make choices or adaptations based on this information, or the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior. Appliances will be using artificial intelligence to make choices for the cook and/or to lead the cook in the decision-making process of kitchen management and food preparation.
There are many predictions about the future usefulness of AI in the kitchen:
- One manufacturer, GE, imagined a kitchen in 2025 would utilize AI to create wellness centers – an appliance that identifies the user’s biometrics and then safely delivers medicines, or reports to the family caregiver or doctor.
- That same research project suggested that the artificial intelligence of a 3-D printer could create food for pets and, perhaps, toys for these four-legged family members.
In the nearer future, the Silestone Institute – in a report titled “The Home Kitchen in the Era of Globalization” – identified Trend #1 to be the value of connectivity and smart appliances. The other top trends were:
- Sustainability: The interest in eco-efficiency and locally sourced products.
- The value of a space for personal health and well-being.
- Techniques/equipment from restaurants being specified for the domestic kitchen.
- The inclusion of multipurpose emotional spaces for family interaction and leisure.
There’s quite a future ahead for our profession. As our industry starts a new year, let me focus on useful technologies available today that make kitchen activities easier to manage and entertaining more fun for your clients.
SMART APPLIANCES AVAILABLE TODAY
First, let me stress that IoT sensing ability is built into appliances in very useful ways right now!
Here’s one example: A ventilation hood can sense the air temperature and the humidity so it can then turn itself on and off as needed in the cooking area. Such a feature is a great benefit if there is more than one person who cooks in the kitchen, and they are of different heights. It’s useful if the cooking center is in an open-plan kitchen and family members – even the primary cook – just don’t get around to turning the hood on when they should!
Here is another example: A dishwasher can sense the level of soil during a washing and then customize the wash cycle, resulting in an energy-efficient way to get a clean load of dishes every time.
One of the best uses of the connected appliance’s pre-programmed algorithms (ability to solve a class of problems) is being incorporated into ovens. An oven today can be programmed with what might be called a culinary center – where the users select an item they wish to cook from a drop-down menu, and then are guided with prompts and photographs from the preset menu of dishes to select the desired doneness of the item (by internal temperature) and the type of cooking container they have on hand for the process. The oven then guides the cooking process based on these variables. This type of problem-solving programming makes kitchen work easier for the busy homemaker, and really helps someone just learning to cook get everything just right.
Combining new heat transference technologies expands and extends the capabilities of an intelligent oven. There are special oven cooking capabilities available today that designers will find useful when facing a small kitchen space, or a large one with multiple cooking centers.
The biggest change in oven engineering is the manufacturers’ capability of combining different ways to transfer heat and then to program these ovens so the guesswork is taken out of these complicated combination processes for your client. Now this means the designer has to learn a little bit more about how these appliances work, but the return is worth the time investment. These combination units are great new alternatives that can help make the kitchen work flow just right for the client’s lifestyle.
Let me start with convection ovens – certainly not something new, they’ve been around for a long time. However, in the past, the user was forced to manually convert recipes, which was often time consuming and error ridden.
New convection cooking has been re-engineered and reimagined. Better systems use two fans, not one, to provide consistent, even cooking, so the time and energy advantages of convection cooking can be used for a wider variety of food. The ovens are now programmed with preset cooking modes, identified by the type of product being prepared. So, a convection pastry cycle is different than a convection bake, for example.
The microwave oven has also come a long way. A major change has taken place in the capabilities of microwave cooking because the liquid molecular activity in microwave cooking (which generates heat) has been combined with convection hot air movement and the inclusion of a browning or broiling element within the cavity. This means this smaller combination appliance can replace a standard-sized oven.
The last special oven growing in popularity is the steam oven. Most cooks appreciate the benefit of steam cooking for vegetables. When this heat transference source is combined with convection heat and air movement, this healthy form of cooking produces excellent entrees, baked goods, egg products – and does a great job of quality reheating.
Steam ovens are available plumbed or reservoir-based, and in both 110- and 220-volt appliance configurations. When I compared steam ovens available in 2017, the performance difference was minimal between a 110- and 220-volt wired appliance, and the cavity size pretty comparable.
For a budget-challenged project, or one with mechanical constraints, if you recommend a reservoir-based appliance (that means there’s a container for water that the user refills) and an appliance powered by a 110-volt circuit, you can place this appliance anywhere. There are no expensive water supply and drain lines to plumb, or a 220-volt circuit required.
Designers need to be aware that these microwave and steam ovens come with a series of racks that facilitate and enhance these combination cooking modes. Therefore, storage needs to be included in the plan for these oven accessories when not in use.
APPLIANCE REMOTE CONTROL AND MONITORING
Adding on a layer of convenience – that of connectivity, which allows the user to operate and control the appliance from a distance – has a profound impact on the designer’s appliance placement decisions during the planning process.
The challenge (even if designers don’t specify appliances specifically) is understanding how this connectivity is a requirement to enable designers to confidently recommend products that will enhance their personalized design solution.
From a design standpoint, this gives the designer a huge increase in location possibilities. For example:
- Cooks of different heights sharing a kitchen can each easily control the oven.
- Single ovens can be more safely installed under a countertop.
- Ovens can be located away from the primary kitchen work zone.
In the future, there are several other advantages to wireless connectivity and artificial intelligence:
- Because of current sensing abilities and the expectation of future camera and bar code monitoring capabilities – both cooking performance and food preservation can be greatly improved with the use of connected smart appliances.
- The cook can save time by being able to control appliances from a distance. For example: Perhaps as the host or hostess is driving home from work, they remember they forgot to stop at the local convenience store to grab a bag of ice for a “Happy Hour” they’re hosting that night. A connected refrigerator with artificial intelligence has an option of “max ice” that might help speed up ice production.
- On the near horizon is one of the most important benefits of connected smart appliances – the unit’s ability to self-diagnose maintenance issues, such as filter replacement needs or malfunctions about to occur. This will make distance repair or faster on-site repair service a reality for the consumer. Nobody likes to wait for the repairman!
- Equally as important, connected smart appliances have the ability to be upgraded. This should overcome the fear many consumers have about connected appliances. Will the technology become “old” fast? The prediction is that connected appliances will be able to be upgraded remotely.
Lastly, the idea of one hub controlling the entire house can take advantage of interfacing with the appliances as well. Available right now is an oven that can interface with a Nest thermostat: it can “talk” to the Nest thermostat, which will lower the temperature if the monitoring thermostat detects an increased temperature in that work space.
It should also be noted that appliance manufacturers’ connectivity systems do vary; therefore, clients in the future will benefit from purchasing a total kitchen suite of appliances from one brand, so the connectivity features for the entire suite can be managed from that one manufacturer’s app or from one online control source.
THE VALUE OF REMOTE MONITORING
Now, you might wonder – is this voice or remote control useful? Imagine your client’s hands covered in flour – they can ask their Assistant to preheat the oven. The chef and host might be enjoying their guests’ company out on the terrace, and by glancing at their hand-held device, they can check the process of the entree cooking in the oven.
If the product has reached the desired internal temperature, the hostess can change the setting to keep warm – from the terrace. I believe when control is no longer tethered to the appliance panel, the potential useful applications will grow for all appliance categories.
I commented on the value of a censoring capability earlier; let’s consider monitoring capabilities. Imagine a connected refrigerator: the consumer accidentally does not close the refrigerator door all the way. They would receive notification from their app that the door is ajar, allowing them to get someone back to the house to close the door.
THE FUTURE OF APPLIANCES
Some of you reading this article may still wonder: Are these features really of value? I think yes. The usefulness of remote control and monitoring as well as the abilities of artificial intelligence to enhance a family’s quality of life is appreciated by Millennial-aged homeowners – and, I think, much more highly valued and understood by mature consumers than many professionals realize. This technology is here to stay!
Here are some “words of wisdom” from recognized professionals that might help you introduce the idea to your next prospective client:
“To be effective offering new technology to clients who are advancing in years, I try to focus on the benefits first. For example, I might say, ‘In your new kitchen, you can reduce trips to the oven to check on the baking or roasting progress while in the midst of entertaining or enjoying other pastimes. If needed, repairs are much more efficient because the manufacturer can diagnose what’s needed and schedule a single successful repair visit, or even perform some diagnostics and updates remotely. These are just a couple of ways that connected appliances can make life easier and better for you and your family.’”
– Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS, CAASH
Mary Jo Peterson, Inc., Brookfield, CT
“It may help if you explain the connected appliance in two ways: first, the benefit of the connectivity to the family member interested in technology; and then, the ease-of-use features for the cook who is uncertain about the value of such a new feature.
“For example, with the culinary center in a wall oven, the connected advantage of remote control might appeal to one user, while the value of pre-set convection settings to ensure a perfect outcome will appeal to the cook who just wants a great new oven!”
– Pietro A. Giorgi, Sr., CMKBD
Giorgi Kitchens & Designs, Wilmington, DE
“I ask all of my clients to – at a minimum – go through a demonstration of all of the newer technologies provided by the trade partner I work with – and to do so with an open mind. They don’t need to buy the newest and best; but, at the least, I want them to be aware of what they are saying no to. The last thing I want is a client realizing in a year or two that they wish they had known about something that was available at the time of their renovation. More knowledge may not always lead to a different decision, but it does lead to a better decision.”
– Julia Johnston, CKD, CAPS
Kitchens for Cooking, West Palm Beach, FL
“First, I reassure them the appliance glass touch screen is not as delicate as their phone screen: very different product!
“Second, I share how much research and product development has gone into these new appliances. For example, how the control panel is a separate component from the cooking/cooling traditional mechanism of the unit.
“Most importantly, these new connected appliances are updatable, which is a real plus when you are looking at an appliance that will last more than a decade in these times of increasing innovation. Therefore, remote diagnostics – and even remote repair – go hand-in-hand with remote product updates.”
– Kathleen Donohue, CMKBD
Neil Kelly Designers/Remodelers, Portland, OR
It seems as residential kitchens get bigger and more complicated, the best results come from great teamwork.
I realize most designers work in a studio setting, a home-based office or a showroom space that may not incorporate appliances. And that’s a quandary – to present appliance capabilities today, the client benefits from seeing them in operation or having a demonstration of their capabilities. And the design pro needs to become very well versed in how these appliances work and what benefits they offer to be capable of recommending them in the early planning stages of the space management discussions.
I recommend you partner with your local appliance experts. Attend both in-person and on-line training programs. Additionally, visit manufacturers’ websites – they often include sections just for pros like yourself that contain very helpful dimensional detailing and mechanical requirements useful during the initial planning stages.
In 2018 – and beyond – just say “yes” to the appliance component of the design, and enthusiastically include them in your beautiful new kitchen plans! ▪
Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, is a well-known author, designer, speaker and marketing specialist. A member of the NKBA Hall of Fame, Cheever gained prominence in the industry early on as the author of two design education textbooks. She manages an award-winning design firm, Ellen Cheever & Associates, and has been part of the management team of several major cabinet companies.