By Jennifer Shapira
The kitchen. It’s still where meals are prepared. But to fit our daily lives, kitchens are wired to take care of business and help us enjoy entertaining. Appliances are required to multitask.
We’re not in the kitchen anymore to be sequestered away performing sweaty chores, sleeves rolled up scrubbing grime from pots and pans. We’re not simmering over hot stoves; induction cooking has cooled down kitchen temperatures. Convection and steam ovens reduce cooking times and produce tastier meals. And gone are the days of dealing with the odors of past-cooked meals; highly efficient above-range hoods do a serious job of ventilating, and at a hushed decibel level.
No, today we let appliances do our dirty work. And they don’t complain either. Instead, they are the quietest dishwashers on the market. They are the smartest ovens with touchscreens that function with the swipe of a finger. Not home? They can be switched on via smartphone or tablet. We don’t even have to turn on water-saving faucets; they’re hands-free and power on with a wave of a dirty hand or the tap of an elbow. We don’t need cookbooks; instead we can just scroll through the oven’s own library of digital recipes. These are not the appliances of the future; they are here today.
Multitasking is crucial to our daily lives—appliances need to be smart and high-functioning, often so we don’t have to be.
As a result, the kitchen has evolved, says Cathy Holt, a kitchen designer at Lowe’s in Alexandria. Once “a place where you used to cook, it’s now a hub—one of the most important places of the whole home—and you spend more time in there. People want to be able to come and go to the kitchen,” she says.
They want to do their work on laptops, watch TV, send emails and grab a bite. In short, she says, our lifestyles have prompted the kitchen to morph into a new breed of family room, where food preparation and WiFi coexist—sometimes with a little push and pull—which might mean having to set some family ground rules.
That said, “People don’t want to have to go and get food, then go to another area to do work,” says Holt. “They want to be able to handle all of it in the kitchen and be relaxed.” The smart kitchen provides a single solution to work/eat/entertain/family-together-time.
So, what about the look? Whether modern, traditional or transitional, Holt says in this area, when it comes to a kitchen renovation, homeowners express three musts: a system that looks good, is tailored to the home cooks and is convenient. Within the classic work triangle, she says stainless steel appliances still rule. But she has also noticed a growing interest in the number of requests for counter-depth appliances, resulting in a more polished, finished-looking kitchen, where no appliances protrude into the work space.
In fact, according to the 2014 Kitchen and Bath Trend Design Report from the National Kitchen and Bath Association, interest in built-in cabinet-depth refrigerators and freezers is projected to grow in 2014. The report also states that the French door refrigerator is the No. 1 style homeowners want in their kitchens for function and ease of use; the only knee- and back-bending involved is in opening the freezer below. And in terms of cooking appliances, NKBA says that microwave drawers, convection ovens and gas cooktops are on-trend for increasing in popularity; it also states that two-thirds of its kitchen designers incorporated docking and/or charging stations in kitchens.
But what about some of the smartest appliances on the market? Mark Wentsel, a Richmond-based appliance specialist for Reico Kitchen and Bath points to a number of high-end specialty beauties that just may be all about kitchen convenience and improved quality of life.
Wentsel cites a pair of innovative appliances from Dacor. “They have a series of wall ovens that they call Discovery iQ, and these are the industry’s first Android-operated wall ovens,” he says. “They’re designed to sync with your Android device so that while you’re out and about, you can turn on your oven—program it to do whatever it is you want it to do—all from your smartphone or tablet.” The WiFi integrated oven allows the user to save and select custom pre-set cooking modes, all with the swipe of a finger on the seven-inch LCD screen.
And while the Dacor version may be ultra-high-end, Wentsel says a Reico showroom favorite is the Jenn-Air Culinary Center wall oven, which shares some of the same features, albeit at a more affordable price. Page through pre-programmed recipes on the oven’s LCD screen, and follow step-by-step directions on how to cook almost anything.
For example, if you’re cooking prime rib, make that selection, then “up pops a very realistic picture of a cooked prime rib,” he says. Then it asks: How do you want to cook it?
“Do you want it: rare, medium rare, or medium? And then you choose different cooking temperatures. You can actually see the center of the meat change. So if you pick ‘rare,’ it’s going to show red in the center, on the LCD,” says Wentsel. “It’s incredible. With this oven, just following the steps, you’re going to be a gourmet cook.”
And while a number of high-end appliance manufacturers have wine storage products on the market, Wentsel likes Dacor’s Discovery Wine Station. The built-in storage system chills up to four bottles in their upright position. Inside the external glass window, each bottle has its own spout for pouring wine by the glass. Touch-screen features include safety locks and pre-set temperature control, and the system allows the user to program set pour sizes, from a big glass, to just a taste.
But while these appliances may fit into the nice-to-have category, an absolute kitchen renovation must is a powerful microwave. Taking its place securely below the primary oven, microwaves are studies in the convenience of speed cooking.
Sure, they’re great for reheating that cup of coffee, or last night’s leftovers, says Wentsel, but today they are capable of so much more. Ultimately, they function as secondary ovens that can broil and convect with high-quality results.
Like most of the appliances in today’s kitchens, it’s true that the microwave has received an industry makeover. But in terms of technology and convenience, we’ll happily enjoy the fruits of our culinary labors, especially the faster they cook and the better they taste.