Designer    Feature 06 Mar 2017

How is the evolution of kitchen technology influencing the overall aesthetic design of spaces?

Technology in the kitchen is evolving at a rapid race, but how are these developments influencing the overall design of the space? We asked appliance manufacturers what aesthetic and functional impact their new products are having on the creative possibilities…

When it comes to choosing a new kitchen, is it the furniture or appliances that are top of the consumer’s priority list? Well, appliances have bossed the specification decisions for a long time now, and yet we are very much talking about two sides of the same coin. Lifestyle changes among consumers are affecting both in equal – if different – ways. The desire for an open plan approach to home life shows no sign of abating which clearly places much emphasis on ensuring furniture can seamlessly bridge the gap between different parts of the home. At the same time, technological developments has seen most members of the household get used to depending on gadgets for so many aspects of modern life.

So how has the march of technology impacted upon the way kitchens are viewed – and in especially, how they are designed? Thomas Johansson, Design Director at Electrolux Group, said: “We are heading fast towards the ‘connected home’ where we will start to see electricity savings, remote monitoring of functions and appliances, control of media, house surveillance and smart shopping. This opens up possibilities of smart products, systems and solutions. People want to make their own ideas happen, create new content and share these experiences spontaneously with family and friends. Therefore, we predict that the Internet, cloud and social networks will change the way people communicate and use technology; allowing them to access images, videos and information anywhere and at any time.

He adds that the company’s vision is of a future in which appliances and new innovative solutions are connected, intelligent, and seamlessly integrated into the daily lives of users, making their lives easier; a future where the kitchen is the hub of the healthy home, promoting and inspiring. healthy and sustainable lifestyle. “We will see smart ovens, hobs and cooker hoods that can be monitored and controlled from a remote device. These will also be connected together into an eco-system using sensors and camera so that, for example, the hood nows what is happening on the hob and can anticipate through sensors when the fan or light needs to be activated. We will also see new innovative cooking technology – such as steam, sous-vide, and smart temperature probes – that will open up a world of culinary possibilities and new great taste sensations.”

Changes in lifesstyles and the way we organise our homes are key, and appliances are becoming enablers in this process. Rita Balestrazzi, brand communications manager for Sharp Home Appliances, said: “Liberating household design, kitchen appliances are now not only supporting, but also driving key trends across Europe. Responsible for the gradual shift away from the austere extremes of industrial style finishes, they have inspired the creation of a more personalised kitchen look, offering, for example, graphically illustrated LED displays as well as a wider variety of different product finishes including sultry dark inox designs. Built to content with the challenge of limited space, manufacturers are using black mirror glass designs to reflect light and open up kitchen areas.

“Appliances are now also being designed to fit into the open plan lifestyles experienced in kitchen diners. Considerations of sound are impacting design, inspiring manufacturers to push boundaries by making operational sound virtually imperceptible – even for traditional louder appliances, such as washing machines.”

Sharp has introduced what it believes to be the quietest washing machine on record, creating an 8kg model that can operate at a sound level of 39dB. Such developments enable kitchen designers to incorporate even larger freestanding washing and dishwashing products without worrying about the sound or vibration reverberating in flats and townhouses.

In other categories, such as refrigeration for instance, the importance of the balance between form and function is as important as ever. Tim Hutchinson, divisional manager UK for Liebherr, said: “In terms of fridge-freezer design then there are two sides of the market: discreet and built-in, or wow factor freestanding appliances. More often than not, it is the architecture of the home, available space and personal style preference that will influence the design and style of appliance preferred and ultimately, purchased. In a modern kitchen, the ability to conceal the appliance is unused spaces such as under the sink will ensure the most practical use of the space: ideal for apartment and open-plan living.

“Discreet modern appliances have been designed in such a way that they become almost neutral in a design scheme with a combination of glass and stainless steel, clean lines and sleek surfaces. Complicated control panels have been completely removed in favour of simple touchscreens and even handles have been removed.”

Rhys Evans, sales director UK & Ireland, V-ZUG UK, added: “If there was just one world to define what consumers are looking for in a modern appliance, it would have to be sleek. If you look at all aspects of a modern appliance’s design, it is all geared around making the appliance look sleek and streamlines. This has meant that knobs and controls have been removed and replaced by touchscreens, often with the addition of a central dial that retracts to leave the appliance looking flush to the surface. Handles have even now been addressed and you can now get models with handles which withdraw into the appliance itself when not in use.

“There are no longer strict rules when it comes to designing kitchens as to where a modern or traditional appliance naturally fits thanks for the eclectic trends that are dominating design. If anything, mixing and matching across styles has now become very fashionable. You can put modern appliances in traditional or contemporary settings; it depends upon the whole scheme being created by the designer and the tastes of the consumer.”

Neil Pooley, Kitchen Category Manager at Miele, said: “Open plan living, entertaining at home and professional inspired appliances have all had an impact on product design whether it be through the creation of a coherent, minimalistic look or through unobtrusive performance such as low noise. Colour palettes are also changing, with customers moving away from beiges and magnolia and choosing to use more fashionable greys.”

Towards the end of last year, Miele unveiled its handless ArtLine collection. “Designed to blend into modern living kitchens, the range fits flush with the cabinetry for a seamless, uninterrupted look with a sleek glass finish available in on-trend Graphite grey as well as Obsidian Black and Brilliant White.”

Controllability is always key across all appliance categories of course. Ian Johnstone, head of design at Glen Dimplex Home Appliances: “One of the more important areas for recent design development is user interfaces being built into products. Interface advances are driven principally by the way that consumers today expect to be able to use their appliances. Smart home automation and smart appliance market are being tipped for substantial growth and, in response to this, designers are incorporating smart technologies and interfaces required to support them, into products.

“For product designers, one of the challenges is how to create ‘smart’ products without over-complicating the way in which the product is used. A well designed app can add functionality, without changing the physical controls that are familiar to the user – for example, setting multiple functions to different times and remote control operation. It would be easy to clutter a control panel or fascia with additional buttons or to bury function so deep within a sub menu that the user may never find it.”

Kelly Penn, marketing manager at Hoover Candy Baumatic, believes that the way kitchens are designed has had a major effect on the types of appliances being developed, in terms of size, style, functionality and aesthetics. She said: “Open plan living has enabled freedom and flexibility of design, where surface cooking is likely to take place on an island or peninsula, while ovens and associated appliances are banked within tall housings behind. Due to the fact that many kitchens comprise part of larger entertaining spaces, appliances have in the main become much more minimalist in their styling in order to not directly affect the eyeline or interrupt the rest of the design.”

Penn adds that this is where touch control technology has come into its own, with energy efficient induction hobs, touch control multifunction oven and downdraft extractors all providing advanced technologies and multifunction cooking programmes, yet all are accessed via flat control panels.

“Consumer lifestyles also play a huge role in both kitchen and appliance design,” she adds. “And the smart technologies that are being developed right now are created to make life easier and more time-saving, but do not necessarily affect the way kitchens are designed per se. However, this is likely to change over the next five years as more on-screen and touchscreen technologies are introduced directly on the appliances themselves – putting them right back into the spotlight.”

Owain Harrison, UK head of sales and marketing at Hoover Candy Baumatic (Built-in), said: “As technology has evolved, so has the design and aesthetic of appliances. Until recently this has been confined to brown goods such as TV’s, and DVD and Blu-Ray players. A great example of technology and design working together is the ascension of the TV remote control in the 1950s. Clunky buttons were removed and products have gradually become sleeker and more streamlined over time.

“Technology is still developing, and this means that more room in the home, like the kitchen, can benefit from appliances which are not only designed to be aesthetically pleasing but also dramatically change the way in which we use them.

“Our range of WiFi enabled kitchen appliances, Hoover Wizard, was launched as a direct response to the rise of the smart phone, which has for many become the remote control to our busy lives. They have changed the way we do almost everything, including how we manage our homes and now our kitchen appliances.”

One product category that has seen this more than most is hoods. Whether it is ceiling, downdraft, chimney or island, the design of the appliance can suit all layout needs. This is important from a design point of view because, while the different hoods may vary in size, shape and sometimes material, they need to perform the same job.

Stuart Benson, sales director at Gorenje UK, said: “Efficiency is key and is something that is becoming a cornerstone of modern appliances as people become more energy conscious. Optimising efficiency is changing the way designers do their job. Functionality and aesthetics will always be important considerations when designing an appliance, but efficiency is joining them as a pivotal attribute.”

Geoff Baker, chairman of Air Uno, believes that there remains a strong trend for discreet integration as homeowners blur their living and kitchen spaces. “This has had a direct impact on the demands for integrating appliances such as cooker hoods, so they are less obtrusive and seamlessly blend in with their environment to improve the flow of the living space, whilst retaining an effective and technologically advanced means of ventilation.”

Baker believes that the positioning of the hood is one of the most important parts in the kitchen planning stages for the aesthetics and efficiency and expects the use of ceiling hoods to show good growth in 2017, with counterdrafts also starting to grow. “The production of cooker hoods that fit into the ceiling or those that can be concealed in a cupboard, enable kitchen designers to provide extraction that is discreet and does not interfere with the aesthetic of a modern kitchen. Similarly, there are the downdraft and counter downdraft models, which disappear into the base unit, again not interfering with the visual simplicity of the modern kitchen,”

Ann Onions, sales and marketing manager at Westin, believes that some of the changes in kitchen tech are indicative of a wider shift: “It is not so much about technology in the kitchen but more about technology in our homes in general and a focus on energy conservation that will affect future kitchen design with regard to cooker hoods.

“There is a general concern about spending money to heat a home and then using a cooker hood to remove all that heat to the outside. The advances in whole house ventilation systems, a focus on heat recovery and an increase in passive houses have led to a reconsideration of conventional extraction.”

She adds that kitchen trends are still minimalist and open plan which means the demand for discreet if not invisible cooker hoods continues to be the focus. “Westin’s Stratus 360 addresses all of these issues. It is a ceiling unit which provides unobtrusive views across an open plan kitchen and contains an air purification system. With this technology as well as neutralising odours, the air in the kitchen is scrubbed clean with the added benefit of removing pollutants, allergens and pathogens. As the heat and steam from cooking are gently dissipated back into the room the energy balance of the house is maintained. No heat is lost but the kitchen is odour free.”

Far from ‘designing in isolation’, appliance manufacturers have to work hard to maintain a close understanding of the lifestyle trends and factors that are shaping kitchen design to ensure that their products fit the requirements of both specifier and consumer.

Fiona Bowyer, marketing director at Franke, said: “We continually look at a variety of factors and specifically living trends to help inform our product design. These include how much influence globalisation, urbanisation and cultural changes have on our living spaces. For example, the growing trend for urbanisation has led to an increase in people living in large towns and cities, which affects the size of the kitchen, dining and living space available.

“Good kitchen design should centre on how people use these spaces and how that use differs depending on the time of day, or the day of the week. We call these living modes, and these can include cooking mode, entertaining mode, relaxing mode or weekend mode. Once you have an understanding of what happens in each, you can design the space, the products and the workflow around them to provide the best solution for preparation and cooking.”

Craig Davis, managing director of Sub-Zero & Wolf UK, added: “We are always monitoring kitchen design trends. Sub-Zero and Wolf have a longstanding relationship with the design community – specifically through our Kitchen Design Contest – and we work very closely with top designers to ensure we’re creating appliances that are visually appealing and allow for flexible design. Being attuned to each of our owners’ satisfaction is a core focus for our brands.”

Gaelle Thibaud, group marketing manager at Siemens, said: “We carry out consumer insight surveys to understand the needs of our customers better: how they use our appliances, what they look for, what is important to them and what challenges they face.

“Specifically for built-in, we have looked at the evolution of kitchen throughout the years. What started as a closed room has progressively moved forward to open plan spaces which has led to a need for either integrated appliances which fit behind the furniture for a seamless look and feel, or integrate within the worktop, or even beautifully designed appliances which become part of the overall kitchen design.”

“When it comes to design, it’s all about opting for ease of use and how it fits in with one’s lifestyle,” said Lucy King, product manager at Smeg UK. “Designers will consider every aspect of the user’s lifestyle – for example, do they entertain regularly? Do they work long hours and may need to pre-programme oven settings, ready for their return home?

“It’s the introduction of recent technologies such as these which allow designers to opt for appliances which will truly fit in with a client’s needs and requirements. Aesthetic co-ordination is still key when thinking about these aspects, however, and is a strong characteristic of our appliances.”

Published in Designer Kitchen & Bathroom Magazine