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The kitchen is a key part of any home and right now significant changes are taking place, from smart new appliances to sleek trends in design.

Systems are important, so are efficient easy to use appliances. At the same time designers are taking a fresh look at kitchen functionality in an effort to get the best of both worlds, smart appliance integration and great looks.

With the shift towards open plan living, consumers are demanding their kitchen appliances and fittings not only act smart but double as feature pieces reflecting the overall design of the household.

Katherine Watson, designer, Poliform Australia, says that there is a trend for people to treat the various elements of the kitchen as pieces of furniture, opening up demand for chunky bench tops in stainless steel or stone.

“With appliances there is a tendency to go more integrated, concealing the fridges and dishwashers behind the cabinet doors,” she says.

Colin Kippax, principal designer at A La Carte Design – importers of Poggenpohl Kitchens – concurs that design of the kitchen is becoming increasingly important as a reflection of its new role as an entertainment area.

The company is currently seeing increased demand for large island benches made of quality durable materials, which serve as a centrepiece of the room. Large, simple cupboards fitted with an interior system for ease of access and organisation are also in vogue he says.

Rudolf Niemoeller, product manager of domestic appliances at Miele, thinks that consumers are looking for products that offer a combination of functional design, simple and self-explanatory controls and low maintenance.

Cafe culture and lifestyle aspirations is having a profound influence on the expectations that contemporary Australians have of their kitchen and associated appliances, explains Richard Hoare, head of design at Breville.

As a result, consumers are demanding appliances that emulate the performance and the style of commercial grade appliances. “Also, they don’t want to have to shut away after use so it’s essential that they are designed as ‘stand alone’ statement pieces for the kitchen bench top,” he says.

 

One former commercial cooking style that has made inroads domestically is the steamoven. Kippax estimates that they are now incorporated into about a third of the kitchens that A La Carte Design installs, going from a novelty to reasonably standard in two years. Some people are seeing them as a healthy alternative to the microwave.

The two suppliers locally are Gaggenau with its ED220 $8599 CombiSteam system and Miele’s DG 155 steam cooker, shown above, available in stainless steel for $2799 or aluminium for $2999.

Cathy Quinn, marketing director, International Appliances, concurs that steam-ovens are the product of the moment and that aluminium is starting to gain popularity over stainless steel as a finish, possibly because of the increased range now available.

Inner-city apartment-style living is also influencing demand for more compact appliances such as the Miele washer-dryer, slimline dishwashers and multifunction-combi ovens, which combine oven, grill and microwave functions all in one unit, concedes Niemoeller.

Neff has also taken this trend into account with the compact B1881N2 for $3199, a ‘slide and hide’ oven designed specifically for smaller spaces.

Induction cook tops are becoming more popular. They work on a magnetic field only heating the area where the metal is in touch with the element providing a safer energy source.

Miele has recently expanded their range of induction cooktops for the Australian market to three models including the KM 490, a 60cm unit for $3199 operated via sensor controls in the glass ceramic surface, and the larger KM 493 at 75cm for $3499.

And Gaggenau has released two snazzy induction hobs, the C1380 for $4599 and the smaller V1230 for $2599.

Additionally, rangehoods are now par for the course, particularly with the move to open-plan living. At the top end of its range, Gaggenau has introduced an extractor hood with a Coanda effect, the AH360 $6399 in glass 36 shot aluminium, which ensures that cooking vapours are extracted almost completely.

Designers are also turning their attention to the refrigerator. Electrolux Home Products, owners Westinghouse have released the Alu.Design range in January, starting with the release of four aluminium-based fridges. At the time, brand marketing manager, Ken Harris, claimed the Alu.Design range not only addresses open-plan living but ‘celebrates’ it with fridges that are “too stylish to hide in the kitchen”.

A key feature is an interchangeable panel that can be customised to your kitchen. Ovens, cook tops and dishwashers will also be released in this range.

Gaggenau has upped the stakes in refrigeration with the release of its combination fridge-freezer, the SK270 for $8499 which includes chiller zones for delicate foods, wine racks and a large format digital monitor providing updates on the interior temperature.

With health and fitness becoming increasingly integral to the lifestyle and dietary choices, appliances such as juicers, health grills and woks designed to produce fresher, healthier meals have become a priority for Breville, says Hoare. For example, the new generation juice fountain the JE95 for $199.95 which features a two-speed, quieter operation with transparent juice jug and fruit processing compartment.

 

Digital revolution

Then of course, there is the digital revolution. In anticipation of this shift, clients are starting to request television screens incorporated into the design of the kitchen, a feature Kippax expects to become standard by 2005.

At the forefront of the digital push in Australia is LG, which has been running a huge consumer- based advertising campaign. The LG Internet Refrigerator, for example, has an in-built computer, which can be accessed via a 37-centimetre touch-screen LCD monitor mounted on the fridge door.

Users can watch TV, listen to MP3 music, take and store digital photos, make a video phone-call, use the fridge as a digital message board, or surf the web. Other features include VCR and DVD ports, a microphone and speakers.

Information about food in the fridge can be stored and a map of the fridge allows the owner to keep an inventory of what foods are in each section and how long they have been there.

Electrolux Home Products has a prototype model of the Screenfridge on the company web site. The product is yet to be scheduled for production but has similar features including the ability to communicate with family members via email or video mail, surf the web, recipes for food that is in the fridge, tips on how to store food correctly, a TV and radio and connection to the home security system for surveillance.

Electrolux is investigating alternative business models to bring the product to market such as lowering the price in exchange for displaying banner advertising.

What else can we expect in terms of the kitchen of the future? Hoare expects that they will become even more streamlined emulating a cross between a commercial kitchen/cafe bar/fine-dining scenario. “Well designed appliances will continue to perform a vital role, allowing the user to create ‘comfort foods’ despite diminishing bench space and limited time for preparation,” he concludes.

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