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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!

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.”

No “nukes”: How to use your microwave oven for real cooking

Using microwave oven
Microwave ovens are in about 90 percent of American households. They’re great time savers and are regularly used to warm up leftovers, heat that morning cup of tea or defrost the evening’s main course. That’s their role in many homes. Their cooking capabilities, however, go well beyond reheating and defrosting. And if you take the time to learn, they’ll take your cooking to new levels of convenience.

We recently chatted with microwave cooking expert Jennipher Marshall-Jenkinson, chair of the United Kingdom-based Microwave Technologies Association and author of Microwave Magic: The Heart of 21st Century Cooking, to pick her brain on a microwave’s role in producing a home-cooked meal. Just as with using a range or oven, there’s a method to microwave cooking, she said. The trouble is that many simply focus on cooking time, not technique.

“The most important thing about basic cooking in the microwave is understanding what you’re doing,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “You have to understand and think about the cooking technique behind it. You don’t cook everything in the microwave oven. You don’t make roast potatoes or put a crispy edge on your chicken. But anything with its own moisture cooks perfectly. It’s the perfect environment for saving time, energy and nutrients. In minutes, you can have a proper meal.”

So how does one progress beyond popcorn, break free of frozen meals and harness the real cooking power of a microwave? Marshall-Jenkinson has some advice:

Get to know your oven: Microwave cooking is a skill, and it’s going to take time and practice to perfect. Marshall-Jenkinson recommends starting with vegetables to set benchmarks for how long it takes to cook certain portions. She’s also a big fan of microwaving all types of sauces. “If you follow the instructions, those are guaranteed to be successful.” In addition, all microwaves aren’t created equal. They vary in size and wattage, both of which have impact cooking times. Knowing your wattage will help you get a sense of your oven’s capabilities.

Watch your turns: Many microwaves have turntables to rotate food and help it cook more evenly. If yours doesn’t, you’ll likely have to manually turn the dish at 90-degree angles and stir the food during cooking.

Put a lid on it: Microwaves cook foods in their own moisture, and a lid or cover will help it retain that moisture to improve cooking. “If it’s allowed to evaporate, you won’t end up with cooked food whatsoever,” Marshall-Jenkinson said.

Make use of different power settings: Many microwave users simply default to full power for everything they cook. That’s a bad move and can result in poor quality cooking. Find out what’s best for the dish you’re preparing. “I would never cook a cake or baked sponge pudding on full power,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “I would cook that on a medium-power setting. That means the heat developed within the dish as it’s cooking has a chance to even out before you put another burst of energy in there.” Remember, you’re cooking, not just heating. “You can make a great casserole by bringing it to a boil on high and reducing the power to 10 percent and cooking at 10 percent for an hour and a half.”

Be adventuresome: Don’t be afraid to experiment with your microwave. Search out recipes and cooking techniques. “It’s there to make your life easier. Use it instead of just heating up a cup of coffee in it.”

Now that you know the basics, what should be your first microwave-prepared meal? “Any dish that is cooked for your family or makes your life easier,” Marshall-Jenkinson suggest. She’s a fan of the microwave’s ability to quickly produce baked treats. “I’m a cake lover myself,” she said. “A lovely sponge cake is going to take 3-4 minutes in comparison to 25 minutes.”

Ready to give microwave cooking a shot? This recipe for microwave mac and cheese cups (with a gluten-free option included) from MOMables will help you prepare a quick, tasty meal for the kids:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup pasta, uncooked

1/2 cup + 1/8 cup water

1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons milk

Instructions

  1. Add pasta and water into large soup bowl or mug
  2. For regular noodles: Microwave for 6 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  3. For gluten-free noodles (corn-based pasta), microwave for 5 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  4. After the microwaving is complete, add in the cheese. Stir.
  5. Microwave again for 25 seconds.
  6. Add the milk, stir and serve.

What’s your favorite microwave recipe?

Universal design: How to select appliances

Universal design started as a concept aimed primarily at creating accessible, barrier-free homes for people with disabilities. But it has evolved into the concept of creating a comfortable, accessible space for all members of the household, and there are number of reasons why a homeowner may decide to pursue it during a remodel or renovation.

“Aging in place is a huge thing,” said Chris Salas, owner of Cocina Interior Design in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and a Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer. “Multiple generations may be living in one home. You may have small children and older parents living under one roof and need flexibility in the spaces according to who’s using them. Resale is also a big factor. You aren’t ruling anybody out.”

Many appliances already incorporate universal design concepts and are easy for anyone to use, Salas said. But if you’re looking to build a kitchen that’s accessible to people of all sizes and physical abilities, there are certain features and elements you should consider when choosing your appliances. Salas, who has more than two decades of design experience, shared her insight on what homeowners who are pursuing a universal design concept should keep in mind.

Cooking

A traditional oven/range has limits to where and at what height it can be installed. Wall-mount ovens and microwaves can be mounted and placed at different heights according to the needs and abilities of the user, so they may be preferable. How the oven opens is also a factor. “Side-opening ovens are handy for everybody,” Salas said. Think about how all household members will reach the controls, not just those for cooking. For example, you may choose to put the fan control at counter level rather than at the rear of or above the range, or use a remote-operated fan. Many cooking appliances already have safety features in place that are appropriate for universal design concepts, Salas said. “A lot of cooktops and ranges have an indicator showing that the surface is still hot. Some even have a lock-out so you can’t turn on the cooktop without knowing how.”

Dishwashers

You’ll need adequate space and access to load and unload dishes as well as put them away. Salas has designed kitchens with all dish storage on the same side of the dishwasher door so those who are unloading the dishes don’t have to go around the open door. Dishwashers with single or double pull-out doors rather than a standard design may make opening, closing, loading and unloading easier.

Refrigerators

Consider the width of the door swing and whether all parts of the refrigerator are reachable. “It might be hard to get out of the way of a 36-inch door,” Salas said. “The smaller doors come in handy. The French door is probably the best invention for universal design.” Keep the height in mind as well. “The door swings may not be as big as a one-door model, but you might not be able to reach half the fridge because it’s tall.” Salas recommends testing appliances before you buy them. “Some fridges have a really good feel but may be difficult to open,” she said. “The bells and whistles might look or sound cool, but once you’re living with it, it might not add value. Get out and try these things to make sure they work.”

Outside the kitchen: Laundry

The height of the appliance relative to the user’s needs is also a factor in choosing and installing clothes washers and dryers, Salas said. “Keep flexibility in mind,” she said. “The washer and dryer can be on a pedestal. You can build them up onto your custom platform. It’s all about the user’s height. The front load is optimum for anybody to use.”

How do manufacturers measure your oven’s baking ability? It’s a piece of cake.

 

Homemade cake "Red Velvet" decorated with cream.

Your oven’s baking ability has already been tested long before it makes it to your kitchen. Appliance manufacturers put ranges and ovens through a rigorous series of tests to make sure they’re capable of churning out a steady stream of treats for you and your family.

AHAM’s ER-1 standard for household electric ranges offers a specific recipe that manufacturers use to test their baking/browning performance.
• 1 cup (185 g) hydrogenated vegetable oil shortening
• 2 teaspoons (10 cc) vanilla extract
• 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
• 4 eggs (192 g) (Note: Mix 4 eggs, but use only 192 g)
• 1 ½ cups (352 cc) whole milk
• 4 ½ cups (425 g) sifted soft wheat cake flour
• 4 ½ teaspoons (16 g) double-acting baking powder
• 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt

After providing a detailed mixing process, AHAM’s standard instructs testers to place four, 22 gauge aluminum 8 inch (200 mm) round cake pans, 7 5/8 inches (190 mm) in diameter (bottom) by 1 1/2 inches (40 mm) deep, each containing 0.8 lb. (363 g) of cake batter, in an oven which has been pre‐heated to 375 degrees. The cake pans’ surfaces should not be discolored to affect performance.

After 25 to 30 minutes of baking and 10 minutes of standing, and cooling to room temperature on a cake rack, the cake is judged not on the taste, but on the consistency of color across on the top and bottom of the cake.

A consistent and effective baking performance has a major impact on how your foods taste and look. Uniform heat distribution, which is measured as part of the standard, plays a critical role in your baking success.

While AHAM’s recipe may not result in the fanciest, or tastiest cake, it provides product testers with consistency in the testing process. And consistency, as any baker knows, can make or break a recipe.