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What the future may hold for kitchen design and appliances

What comes to mind when you think about the kitchen of the future? Robotic servers? Automated cleanup?

Sci-fi imagery aside, the kitchen is likely to keep its status as the household gathering space and hub for entertaining. But certain elements will trend toward personalization, and we’re likely to see both expanded and more specialized roles for appliances.

We recently spoke with two kitchen designers, Loretta Willis, Principal of Loretta’s Interior Design in Alpharetta, Ga. and Andrea Edwards, owner of CRP Design in Oklahoma City, to peer into the future and speculate on what the future might bring for kitchen design and appliances. Here are some of the trends they expect to see, both in the near and more distant future:

Personalization: Certain elements of the kitchen will be customized for very specific uses, depending on daily habits. That might mean a pull-out refrigerator drawer for certain easy-to-prepare breakfast or lunch foods, for example. It could become common to see more than one of certain appliances in kitchens, all part of a trend toward kitchen personalization. “Under-counter refrigerator drawers are a big trend,” Willis says. “It’s convenient and you don’t need to have everything in one place. Let’s say there’s a zone for food prep and cooking. You might have an under-counter drawer for things you tend to prepare daily. You might have a refrigerator drawer that just has water, soda or juice. The kids can go there—it’s so convenient. You still need your large refrigerator, but it doesn’t have to be the all-in-all.”

Specialized cooking: Some consumers are looking for ovens that do more than just bake. They’re also looking for the speed and look of commercial appliances. “I think people want the appearance of a professional kitchen,” Willis says. Right now, that look is primarily seen in high-end kitchens, but Willis sees the potential for mid-priced appliances to offer a professional kitchen look, even if they don’t offer all of the same features as their high-end counterparts. Edwards is seeing interest in steam ovens and a decline in built-in fryers, which were popular several years ago. Pizza ovens are also drawing interest. “I‘ve had a lot of specification requests for pizza ovens,” Edwards says. “I could see more of that, a combination oven with a pizza oven integrated.”

Extra, smarter dishwashers: People who like to entertain or who tend to use a lot of dishes might consider installing more than one dishwasher. “I’ve had some clients that had two dishwashers,” Edwards says. “I’ve done some recently where we have one in the kitchen and one in the butler’s pantry. I think we’ll see more of that.” Willis sees potential in dishwashers that automatically adjust to the appropriate cycle, depending on how dirty the dishes are. “I don’t think we’ve imagined, yet, all that can be done. I think we’re definitely going in the direction where one day you might just turn it on and it will choose the cycle.”

Refrigerators doing more: Do you like to listen to music while you cook? Edwards anticipates growth in the popularity of refrigerators with built-in speakers. Screens in refrigerators could also catch on. She also sees the trend toward more refrigerator doors and compartments continuing. “Having more compartments is a big deal,” Edwards says. “The pull-out doors on the bottom are big, and I think that will continue.”

Space built-in for portables: Portable appliances that get heavy use are being built into kitchen designs. “Open shelving is a real trend right now as far as storage of portables,” Willis says. “It’s creating a more open look.” But storage and display of portables will remain dependent on the client’s needs and choice, she says. If you’re going for an open storage plan, Edwards recommends choosing appliances whose colors coordinate with your kitchen.

Coffee stations: Coffee makers are beloved appliances in millions of kitchens. Now, some coffee lovers are expanding their devotion to the caffeinated beverage beyond a coffee maker into an all-encompassing coffee station. “We’re at a point where we’re seeing more coffee stations built in,” Willis says.

What would you most like to see in your kitchen of the future? Share your future kitchen visions in the comments!

Room air cleaners: Your ally against allergens

The spring weather is always a welcome change. Spring allergies, not so much. Depending on where you live, you might be dealing with any of a number of types of pollen, road dust or other allergies. The coughing and sniffles will put the brakes on even the most intense case of spring fever.

You might not be able to get rid of allergies completely, but a room air cleaner can help reduce certain allergens from the air in your home. Room air cleaners certified through AHAM’s certification program will display a label listing the room air cleaner’s efficiency in reducing three common household particulates from the air: tobacco smoke, dust and pollen. The numbers displayed on the label are known as the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR). The higher the CADR rate for each of the three particulates, the faster the air cleaner filters the air.

How it works: AHAM certified room air cleaners are tested in independent labs and exposed to specific quantities of smoke (the smallest particulate), Arizona road dust (which has fine particles that will eventually settle) and paper mulberry pollen (chosen for its similarity in size to common allergy-triggering pollens).  Before the air cleaner is activated, the amount of contaminants in the room is measured.   The air cleaners are then run for a specific period, and the amount of particles that have been removed from the air are measured. Testers take into account the amount that is likely to have settled on the floor of the walls of the room (known as the “natural rate of decay”).

Based on the results, testers are able to determine how effective the room air cleaner will be in cleaning a room of a certain size.

What it means for you: Before you shop, know the size of the room or rooms where the room air cleaner will primarily be used. Shop carefully for one that’s appropriate for that room size.  We recommend following the “two-thirds” rule when it comes to the first rating: Choose a unit with a tobacco smoke CADR at least 2/3 your room’s area.”

Like some vacuums, many air cleaners use HEPA filters to remove allergens from the air. It’s important to change the air cleaner’s filter regularly. The air cleaner’s use and care manual will recommend how often the filter needs to be changed, but it also may depend on the air quality where you live. A dusty environment may require you to change the filter more frequently. However, the filter may last longer if the room air cleaner is being operated in an area relatively free of smoke and other pollutants.

The room air cleaner isn’t the only appliance that can help you kick allergies this spring. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters, air conditioners, dehumidifiers and washing machines can be valuable allies as well.

History Comes Clean: Laundry through the centuries

More than three decades ago and fresh off retiring from his career teaching electrical engineering, Lee Maxwell and his wife climbed into their new motor home and headed east toward Maine for a vacation. Halfway through Iowa, they decided to stop for lunch and came across a farm auction. An antique washing machine was up for bid. Maxwell, now 87, raised his hand and made the purchase that would chart his course for the next 30 years.

Maxwell and his wife returned from that first trip with 13 washing machines, an interest Maxwell attributes to a “mechanical fascination” with the appliances. He began scouring antique shops and auctions for more models and added a trailer to his motor home to transport his haul. His collection has since grown to more than 1,400, which Maxwell displays at Lee Maxwell’s Washing Machine Museum in Eaton, Colorado.

“They turned out to be quite odd things, and something you’d hardly ever see, even though there were plenty around,” Maxwell said during a recent phone interview. “I’d bring them home and tear them apart, clean them up and put them back together. It started in my garage. It moved to the barn and now, over the years, I’ve had to build buildings for the darn things.”

The oddball museum has become a regular stop for tour buses and people looking for a tour of Maxwell’s collection, which he books by appointment only.

After decades of collecting, it is only natural that Maxwell would become a historian both of the machines themselves and of society’s laundry habits. He has even written a book on washing machine history, “Save Women’s Lives: History of Washing Machines.”

“I’ve collected old advertisements and patents,” Maxwell said. “I’ve downloaded 23,000 patents for washing machines, dating from the 1700s to about 1960.”

Most of us are used to simply dropping the clothes in the washer, turning it on, and returning when the cycle finished. You might not even recognize many of the items as a “washer,” like the washing bat, which Maxwell says is still the most common “washing machine” in use in the world today.

Then there was the dolly stomp. “You stomp up and down on those pegs, wrap the clothes around them and drag them back and forth through the water,” Maxwell says. “They started clear back when clothes were invented and were very common tools up until the 1920s. In Europe, they were used later than that.”

There’s a chance you might recognize the “vacuum stomp,” which can still be purchased new today. They were typically used for smaller loads.

At one point in the 1800s, Maxwell says, more than a thousand companies in North America made washing machines. That’s also about the time electric machines started showing up, but customers had to purchase the electric motor separately and attach it to a manually operated machine. Around 1907, The Nineteen Hundred Corporation began shipping a machine with a motor already attached.

“That’s a historic moment in washing machine development,” Maxwell says. “Prior to that, machines were mostly hand-operated. You had some animal and water-powered machines prior to that. But this was the first time the company thought to make it a little easier to do the wash. The company, Nineteen Hundred, changed its name around 1951 to a name you probably recognize: Whirlpool.

Laundry has changed over time as well. Clothes are a lot cleaner than they used to be, and laundry—once an occasional community event in some places—is done more frequently.

“I can remember my grandfather wearing his overalls until they literally stood up,” Maxwell says. “Washing was washing. Today, we don’t really ‘wash,’ we kind of refresh. Your shirt doesn’t get that dirty.”

Laundry appliances have also changed how homes are designed. “Old houses never had a room dedicated for washing machines,” Maxwell says. “The washing was done outside, on the back porch, or more recently in the basement. It was only with the advent of the automatic washing machine, right after World War II, that folks started thinking about incorporating the washing machine into part of the kitchen, or another part of the house.”

These days, Maxwell’s mission is to preserve his collection and the museum’s legacy. “Someday, I’m going to find a home for these 1,400 washing machines,” he says. “My collection is the only comprehensive collection of washing machines there is. I need to find a home for it.”

Sous vide cooking raises its profile

Over the past few years, appliance manufacturers have made sous vide cooking, once the exclusive domain of high-end restaurants, available to anyone who wants to add the unique technique to their cooking repertoire. Sous vide involves sealing food in a plastic bag and cooking it in heated water. This allows the food to be cooked at a constant, precise temperature.

While sous vide is beloved among steak aficionados for its ability to produce precisely cooked cuts, it can be used on all types of foods, including other meats, vegetables, seafood, eggs and desserts.

We caught up with Derek Gaughan, who runs the product-review and recipe website Sous Vide Guy, for a talk on the growth in sous vide cooking, its benefits and how home cooks can get started.

“The process has been around for quite a long time, but for the longest time it was expensive to create and use,” Gaughan said. “Since about 2012, competition has been increasing, with more manufacturers coming out with products, prices going down, and features increasing.”

These days, sous vide cooking at home is most likely to involve one of two appliances: an immersion circulator that keeps water at a precise temperature, or an all-in-one sous vide machine that holds both the water and the food.

“The all-in-one machines take up a little more space, but you have everything you need,” Gaughan said. “The immersion circulators can fit right in a drawer.” However, you’ll also need a container for the water if you opt to use an immersion circulator. Gaughan recommends polycarbonate containers. When choosing a container, keep the size of the meals you’ll be preparing in mind.

Food is cooked in a sealed plastic bag, which allows it to hold on to its natural juices and flavor. While many opt to add a vacuum sealer to their sous vide toolbox, Gaughan says a heavy-duty sealable freezer bag will do the trick.

So what’s a good food to start with for those looking to dive into the sous vide pool? “You have to start with steak,” Gaughan said. “When you cut into the steak, it’s the same color throughout. My particular favorite is tri-tip. It’s usually cheaper per pound because it’s a tougher cut, but sous vide makes it more tender.”

The rise in popularity of sous vide has given way to new appliance features, including Bluetooth connectivity. “You can start cooking, turn on the device and monitor the temperature from your phone, look up recipes, or instantly set the temperature according to the recipe,” Gaughan said. “Some people fill their water bath full of ice in the morning, then turn their device on through WiFi when they’re about to leave work.” Other sous vide devices are now integrating voice controls, Gaughan said.

What’s the best way to get started? “Grab a cookbook,” Gaughan said. “When you first get a sous vide device, it’s odd, because you’ve never cooked something by just placing it in water. Read up on it before you do it. Read about the pasteurization temperatures. It’s a lot easier than you think.”

The Sous Vide Guy’s recipe for corned beef is a great way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Have you tried sous vide cooking? Let us know your favorite dishes to prepare.

Counterfeit water filters: Your health and property on the line

Not all replacement refrigerator water filters are created equal, even those that may appear from the outside to be exactly alike. Unfortunately, many counterfeit and deceptively labeled water filters manage to find their way into the U.S. It’s a stretch at best to call these knock-offs “filters,” and the tests show it. If you’re wondering what’s inside the phony filters, it varies. Some contain no more than shredded newspaper.

 

As part of AHAM’s Filter It Out campaign, experts conducted tests of legitimate replacement water filters versus a counterfeit. This photo hows the results of the testing, which was performed by NSF International.

Why it matters: The blue dye present in the water after it was run through the counterfeit filter represents the contaminants that would have made it into your body had the counterfeit been installed in your refrigerator. Those could have included lead, mercury, herbicides, pesticides, asbestos and pharmaceuticals. As if the risks to your health weren’t enough to worry about, the filter, since it wasn’t designed to fit your refrigerator, could also cause leaks, which can lead to serious and expensive property damage.

The good news is that since many of the counterfeits are sold online by independent sellers, you can reduce the likelihood a counterfeit water filter will end up in your refrigerator by purchasing your replacements from reputable sources. And remember to replace your filter every six months with a model from a manufacturer who will stand behind its products.

A spring cleaning appliance checklist

It’s tough to imagine tackling the various spring cleaning projects around your home without essential cleaning appliances like vacuums, washers and dryers. In fact, some of your appliances are so essential to keeping your home clean that it’s easy to forget that cleaning your appliances should also be part of the annual springtime ritual of scrubbing, polishing and purging. These regular maintenance steps are also essential for keeping your appliances in top shape. Here’s a quick checklist of spring cleaning tasks that will keep your home sparkling and your appliances in top shape:

  • Refrigerator coils: The dust, dirt and debris that builds up on your refrigerator coils can make the appliance use more energy to keep what’s inside cool. A coil brush and vacuum will help you with the coil cleaning and removing other dirt that has accumulated behind or under your refrigerator.
  • Clothes dryer: Your interior venting system, or the material that leads from your dryer to your dryer vent, should be cleaned once a year by a qualified service technician. Blockages can lead to longer drying times. Also, check behind your dryer and remove any trapped lint and debris, and remove lint from in and around the drum.
  • Oven and range: Spills and built-up residue can hinder your oven’s performance and affect the flavor of the foods you cook. Refer to your oven’s use and care manual for specific cleaning instructions, but warm soap and water or vinegar and water are unlikely to damage any finish.
  • Vacuum: Replace bags and filters and check your vacuum’s use and care manual for guidance on belt replacement.
  • Water filter: Replace your refrigerator water filter every six months, or on the schedule recommended by your refrigerator’s use and care manual. It’s extremely important to purchase replacements only from reputable sources to reduce the chances you’ll end up with a counterfeit model.
  • Indoor air: April showers may bring May flowers, but with those flowers, buds and blossoms come less welcome allergies. The EPA estimates that indoor air may contain double to five times as many pollutants as the air outside. Room air cleaners, vacuums and washing bedding in hot water can help you fight the main indoor allergens: pollen, mold and mildew, animal dander and tobacco smoke.

Expert tips on refrigerator organization

You know the routine: Open the refrigerator, put the item wherever you can find enough space, then quickly close the door. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It’s how many people organizetheir refrigerator. While that may work just fine for some, it’s also a recipe for scattered meal planning and potentially wasted food. And the cost of food waste adds up, with a recent estimate by the American Chemistry Council putting it at $640 per year, per household.

Organizing your fridge can make sure more of your food ends up in your belly instead of in the trash. It also means less wasted money on food you aren’t eating. We reached out to Becky Rapinchuk, the cleaning and organization guru known on the Web as Clean Mama, for her tips on organizing the fridge.

The most common mistake people make in refrigerator organization is putting food where it fits instead of a space that makes sense, Rapinchuk says. She recommends putting food that’s already opened in the front of the refrigerator to make sure you’re using the oldest food first.

You have a number of options for storing food in the refrigerator, but clearly label what you’re putting there. Rapinchuk prefers glass containers for leftovers and labels them (using freezer or washi tape and permanent marker) with the date they were put into the refrigerator or freezer.

Rapinchuk, who’s a mom of three, makes a weekly meal plan and shops on the same day every week (Friday is her preferred day.) Shop according to what you have planned, and prepare what you can in advance. Before she leaves for the grocery store, Rapinchuk straightens up the refrigerator and wipes down the shelves. The refrigerator gets a thorough cleaning once a quarter.

There are other benefits to organizing your refrigerator. If you make it easy to find the food you’re looking for, you’ll be less likely to get frustrated and order takeout instead.

How do you keep your refrigerator organized? Share your tips in the comments!

Kitchen redesigns: Appliances, Cabinets and Space

During a redesign, your appliances, cabinetry and counter space work together to create a balance between function and style. Choices like the size of your range and other appliances can directly affect cabinet space, and choosing more storage or counter space could mean you’ll have to make concessions elsewhere.

Kitchen design is a personal process, and while there are plenty of trends to go around, each design and redesign is unique and shaped by homeowners’ preferences, personality and desires. We spoke with two designers who have a combined 50 years of kitchen design experience between them. Both agreed that kitchens are built around the appliances, where any design project should start.

Paula Kennedy, Timeless Kitchen Design, Seattle

For designer Paula Kennedy, the kitchen redesign process starts with a discussion on appliances. Many of her clients are one step ahead and have already begun researching their options, but she encourages them to take their time. “I tell them to go to an appliance dealer I trust and respect, and I make sure they don’t just walk in on a Sunday when everyone else is in there,” Kennedy says. “Take some time off from work and do it right.” She’ll sometimes join her clients on a visit to the retailer or give the dealer a heads up that they’ll be coming in. “I’ll specify some things to help them avoid mistakes,” she says. If they want a built-in refrigerator, for example, she’ll make sure they’re looking at the right models. “Saying ‘built-in’ to one manufacturer is different than to another,” she says. “There’s built-in, there’s flush-door, there’s framed-door, there’s fully integrated. They don’t all use the same language.”

Your choice of appliance, particularly the size, directly impacts the cabinet design. “It’s one of the most critical points,” Kennedy says. Cabinets take time to build, and they need to be ordered early in the process. A late change can affect how the cabinets and appliances fit. Be comfortable with your decisions, because even a quarter-inch difference in the size of an appliance can have major implications on the cabinetry. Does your dream kitchen design include appliances enclosed in custom cabinets? You’ll need to decide in advance, as panels must be an exact fit.

“We often start with the cooking range,” Kennedy says. “Do you want a range vs. a cooktop? How many ovens do you want? More cooking means less storage, and everyone is just screaming for more storage. It’s a tradeoff. Clients come to me with a list of appliances. We have to prioritize their needs. You aim for function plus storage.”

For portable kitchen appliances, it’s a matter of balancing countertop space for their use and kitchen storage. “People love their small kitchen appliances, but storage for those is a nightmare. When I walk into a house and see them all on the countertop, I have the challenge to properly design space for those countertop appliances so it’s not an eyesore, it’s not cluttered, it’s functional and not taking up counter space.” Talk to your designer about storage options that make it easy to access the appliances you use regularly and store those you use less often in a way that makes sense.

Your choice of appliance finishes should fit within your overall color scheme. Stainless steel is popular, but it may not be a good match for you. “Finish is a huge factor,” Kennedy says. “It drives what color we’re choosing for the cabinets. It has to be a color you love.”

Toni Sabatino, Toni Sabatino Style, New York

Toni Sabatino of Toni Sabatino Style calls her approach to kitchen design “appliance-driven.”

“The style of the appliance, along with the architecture of the home and ventilation are really important.” Your lifestyle should determine what you need, Sabatino says. Some factors to consider are cooking habits, diet and family size.

“A family that goes to Costco and Price Club and buys 130 boxes of pasta will need more pantry space than somebody who buys fresh food,” Sabatino said. “Somebody who keeps a kosher kitchen may have two sets of dishes.” Do you do enough entertaining to warrant including a second dishwasher? Put your priorities in order and allow them to guide your decisions.

When choosing cabinetry, Sabatino encourages clients to take style cues from their home’s architecture. “If you want an old house, classic look, inset white shaker cabinets are popular,” she says. “That will pair with just about any interior because it’s simple and has a built-in furniture look. It will pair with just about any appliance style—stainless or wooden ventilation covers. That’s a timeless look.”

Even though they aren’t built-in, you’ll have to think about your portable appliances during your design as well, both those you use frequently and those you don’t. If you use many small appliances on a regular basis, think about whether an appliance pantry might make it easier to store and get to what you need. Sabatino asks clients about their portable appliances during the planning process. “Do they have a yogurt maker that’s in the basement because they don’t have space for it?”

Also think about what you’re giving up when planning how to incorporate portable appliances. If you drink a lot of coffee, you might want to reserve some space on the countertop for your coffee maker. But that also means you’ll have less counter space. Designing cabinet space especially for portables means you’re limiting what can be put in that space, Sabatino says.

Do your homework, understand your options and apply them to your lifestyle. Plan carefully and know what you want before you begin, Sabatino says. “Changing your mind can throw off everything.”

Rise of the Robots: Robotic Vacuums Now a Floor Care Fixture

Traditional vacuum cleaner with a hose, nozzle and brush versus a modern circular automated low profile unit, high angle view on a shaggy white carpet
Do robots live among your appliances? There’s a growing chance at least one type does. Sales of robotic vacuums and cleaning robots are expected to grow from $981 million in 2013 to $2.6 billion by 2020. And the innovations keep coming. New features like cameras, voice controls and improved navigation have taken robotic vacuums from a novelty to a fixture in floor care.

So what does one need to know before turning over vacuuming duties to a robotic partner? Robots have come a long way in floor care, but they’re still widely considered a supplement to, not a replacement for traditional vacuums. They can’t yet climb stairs, but they can sometimes reach areas that are hard to get to with traditional vacuums, like deep beneath furniture. They’ll take longer to clean a room—about 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the robot and the size of the room—but they can also do it on their own, whether or not you’re there to supervise.

Red robotic vacuum cleaner and smartphone. Smart appliances concept. 3D rendering image.
The hundreds of robotic vacuum models on the market offer different features. They use different methods to find their way around a room, using laser, cameras or infrared sensors. They may have different work capacities or perform better on certain surfaces. Some models use lithium ion batteries, others use nickel metal batteries.

Are you ready to welcome a robot into your home? Follow these tips to create a more hospitable habitat for your new cleaning companion:

Break down barriers: Take a look around the area you’re going to vacuum, and remove any potential obstacles. Even a sock or something smaller on the ground can interrupt cleaning, particularly if the robot tries to vacuum it. Remove any items that could get stuck in your robot’s rollers and cause an error.

Remove the cords: Just as you would with traditional vacuums, make sure the area being cleaned is free of plugs and power cords that the robot may try to vacuum.

Keep it confined: A robotic vacuum goes where you allow it to go. Close doors that might lead it to another area that does not need to be vacuumed, or use the technology features to keep it within a certain range.

Welcome it home: Many robotic vacuums will automatically make their way back to their charging station when their power starts to drop. Put the charging station in an area that’s easy for the robot to access.

Keep the robot clean: Keep your robot’s sensors and other navigation tools free of debris, as it can interfere with navigation. Empty the robot’s dustbin after every use. Make sure filters are clean and replace as necessary.

The next robotic revolution

Robots are slowly making their way beyond vacuuming into areas like mopping and air purification. Automation is becoming part of appliances, with many new models incorporating voice controls and the ability to adapt to our habits. Are there any tasks you would be happy to hand off to a robot? Let us know in the comments!

CES 2017: Speak up!

homerobot1

Most people are accustomed to interacting with their appliances through the push of a button, turn of a dial of flip of a switch. Soon, that’s likely to change to you simply telling the appliance what you need. You might talk directly to the appliance, but a number of systems at CES 2017 channeled the interaction through robots or an existing tool like Amazon Alexa.

A conversation with an appliance won’t always be one-sided. A robotic vacuum cleaner could politely ask you to move your leg if you’re standing it its way (It can tell that you’re a human.) And the system might remind you when it’s time to re-order groceries or perform another task.

homerobot2

Some appliances will also have the ability to adapt to your habits. An air conditioner could learn when more cooling power is needed based on how many people tend to gather in a room at a particular time. Your clothes washer might have the capability to add new wash cycles if none of those initially included with the machine no longer fit your lifestyle.

CES 2017 also showed that some refrigerators are becoming serious multi-taskers. Some of the models on display included touch screens to allow you to label food, track expiration dates and order new food when you need it. They’ll also provide entertainment, like music, since families tend to gather in the kitchen. Don’t worry—they’ll still keep your food fresh!