Simplicity in the Kitchen
Meet the new design trends coming to your favorite room.
Simple. Easy. Quick. These are some of the ideas driving today’s kitchen trends. Busy consumers are increasingly interested in fast and convenient cooking—witness the popularity of meal delivery cooking kits—and appliances can respond. Whether it’s an air fryer that crisps food with less oil, or coatings that make it easier to clean a refrigerator, today’s consumer demand products that make life easier. The trends are influenced by European design and professional kitchens. Convenience is paramount. In the future, there may be more high-tech help available in the kitchen, but only if consumers deem that the functions make sense.
When designing appliances for today’s consumer, there are some things to keep in mind.
“Design isn’t all about styling anymore, although that is an important component,” says James Morrow, owner of Morrow Design. “It’s understanding what kind of experience you want your customer to have, and then coming up with solutions that fit that narrative. As opposed to, ‘this is what we can make so let’s put that out there.’”
Even with all of the technology available, human-centered design should be the focus. Morrow wants designers to be aware of what people actually want rather than what the technology can provide.
What does an ideal kitchen look like? Clean, of course, and access to appliances to make healthy meals quickly. In other words, when asked what they want, consumers may not necessarily say smart appliances. It’s more what the kitchen can do, rather than how this happens. Not only that, but the kitchen should be a comfortable place to spend time with family and friends. It continues to be a place to gather as well as cook, so the social element of a kitchen should not be ignored. In addition, the look of the kitchen is changing, with appliances becoming more integrated into the layout.
The theme of simplicity applies to the smart appliances as well. Giving people more control over digital aspects of the kitchen should not make the experience more complicated. Indeed, Morrow says the goal should be “simplifying things so their experience is not one of frustration, but, dare I say, one of joy.”
Convenient, Clean and Connected
Today’s popular design look is clean and uncluttered, with devices hidden. If you can’t find the refrigerator, chances are you’re in a contemporary styled kitchen. As consumers opt for a more contemporary design, there is a push to integrate appliances, whether they are flush with the front of the cabinets, or essentially hidden behind cabinet panels. This could be done with entirely white panels or a light tone of wood, such that you’re not quite sure where the appliances are. In addition, Chris Murray, director of industrial design at Bresslergroup, noted that there has been a lot of buzz around the tuxedo kitchen, which involves a mix of strong contrasts, such as white lower cabinet and dark upper ones.
No matter which visual style is chosen, designers should prioritize simplicity and convenience in appliances.
“I think that convenience is a major driving force in the design of a lot of the products in the future of a kitchen,” says David Kaiser, president of Spark Design LLC. “Not just convenience of preparation and convenience of cleaning, but faster cooking times, healthier cooking. This drives the design of houseware products.”
New technologies and advances in materials have allowed for a range of choices beyond simply a pressure cooker, says Gregg Davis, president of the Columbus, Ohio, office of Taylor & Chu. He says faster, more precise cooking is another draw for consumers, as more options become available. “Induction is going to be hugely popular,” Davis says. “It’s going to be next wave of fascination, better than gas in terms of speed to heat up things up. It has precision controls, low heat levels like bain-marie or melt chocolate or heat milk.”
“Convection is finally going to be recognized as a powerful tool in cooking,” Davis says. “If you look at the changes that have happened, from old electric coils on ranges, big changes have already happened; I think the acceleration of changes will continue even faster.”
New cooking methods will combine with technology and services—such as meal delivery kits—to improve meals, he says. “All kinds of things converge on creating a chef experience at home.”
Talking to the Toaster
When discussing what types of connectivity to bring to home appliances, there are some options that are more appealing than others. The lowly toaster is often cited as an example of a product people are not interested in interacting with at the next level. “Do I really need my toaster to talk to me?” Morrow says.
“It makes sense for certain kinds of products; I don’t know how much it makes sense for every product. In an autonomous car, I won’t have to drive, I can read. There’s a big desire for something like that. Does my refrigerator need this? Do I want to pay to have it tell me if I need more milk?”
But the potential applications continue to grow.
“There are a lot of areas where technology is waiting for someone to harness it,” Davis says. “The Internet of Things is only as good as what it is controlling.”
He said it would be much better to cook using the Internet of Things, not only to improve the cooking process but also for safety—in other words, to make sure nothing catches on fire.
The bottom line is that consumers want to know what products can do to make their lives easier. With all of the talk of smart appliances, it’s important to be sure that these features make sense. Adding another app to monitor your appliances may not be appealing if it simply creates one more thing to worry about. But if it told you when food was going to expire and helped you cut down on food waste, it could prove its worth. Bar code scanning items in the refrigerator could help people keep track of what items are on hand, and this could be connected to a grocery delivery app set up to automatically reorder certain items. Never running out of your favorite food sounds convenient, but it depends on what customers are looking for in their appliances. The possibilities are there, but it’s important to consider the demand.
A Euro Kitchen
While connected appliances receive the bulk of the attention, there are other trends that have been picking up as well. A European element is also being adopted in today’s kitchens, both in terms of simple design and appliances with a smaller footprint, says Murray.
“Europe’s always had greater space restrictions, with smaller homes and apartments,” Murray says. But now these smaller appliances are catching on in parts of the U.S. “The appliance widths previously sold in Europe are now available in North America.”
This makes sense for compact urban kitchens where space it at a premium. In addition, the European design influence means appliances would be hidden inside cabinets instead of displayed on countertops. Kaiser also noted that consumers in Europe tend to buy higher-end products and keep them longer, which is trickling into the U.S.
Your home kitchen might start looking like a restaurant soon. While attending NAFEM, a professional cooking trade show, Murray was surprised by how many appliances had large touchscreen displays as their main interfaces since this hasn’t taken off in the consumer market. He said professional ovens seem to have shifted over to a touchscreen interface as the primary method of controlling these ovens. “It’s very different from what you expect from a professional kitchen,” Murray says. “You might expect more numeric controls. Professional products may lead the way and trickle down to consumer products.”
With some appliances, the professional look has already reached consumer kitchens.
Mixers have been designed to look more commercial grade, implying better performance, and Kaiser notes in many cases, those those products do have better functionality.
Robots Enter the Kitchen
Professional kitchens may continue to influence consumer ones, and elements from science fiction may arrive next. Robots already vacuum, but perhaps in the future they can be used to prep dinner. Having a robot as your sous chef might sound overly ambitious, but years from now, it could be standard.
A kitchen robot could arrive in ten or twenty years, Kaiser says. “I could see it eventually.” The robot could help cook, or partially cook, or perhaps wash dishes, he suggested.
We can hope.