Theyre everywherehigh-tech new appliances that serve multiple functions, from cooling and cooking to washing and drying. Theyre designed to save time and space and are targeting our consumer lifestyles with increasing specificity. They capture the attention of crowds at trade shows and showrooms. But is there enough demand for these products to survive long-term, or are they just a high-tech flash in the pan?
The Tonight’s Menu Intelligent Oven
Photo courtesy of TMIO
These days, it seems that kitchens are well on the way to running themselves. Refrigerating ovens, like the $1,400 Whirlpool Polara, can be programmed to keep your food cool during the day and have it cooked and ready to eat when you get home. Atlantans are still warming up to the Polara, which has been on the market since 2002, although it has sold well in other cities like Charlotte and Chicago, says Shemeka Wilson, selection consultant at Insperience showroom in Buckhead. The Tonights Menu Intelligent Oven (TMIO), which also refrigerates, can be controlled by phone or Internet, so if your dinner plans change, you can turn it on or off without stopping by the house. It sells for around $7,500.
Another double-duty kitchen appliance that has done well in a niche market is the Briva dishwasher by KitchenAida mini-washer that transforms into a deep sink when the racks are removed. Priced around $1,730, this sells to homeowners wanting multiple dishwashers, such as an extra washer in the butlers pantry, bar or prep area, Wilson says. Its compact and can run a complete cycle in 18 minutes.
The LG Internet Refrigerator
LG Electronics makes an eye-catching refrigerator with a 15-inch LCD television on the door and an Internet refrigerator that allows family members to surf the Web while raiding the fridge. The refrigerator-television combo sells for $3,150 at Best Buy in Stone Mountain, and The Home Depot will have LG products on the floor this summer.
Outside kitchen appliances are also becoming more convenient. Vikings C4 ceramic cooker ($2,500-$4,000) has a charcoal grill topping a gas oven that can bake a casserole, baked beans and blueberry pies all at the same time, eliminating extra trips to the indoor kitchen, says HADCO sales manager Sherri Derislinger.
EXTRA-EFFICIENT LAUNDRY ROOMS
The laundry room has not been left out of the high-tech craze. New products include the Whirlpool Personal Valet ($1,199), which helps rid clothes of stale odors by misting garments with a deodorizer. This is a good option for traveling business people, Wilson says. They can throw their suits in the valet instead of having to take them to the dry cleaner.
The DryAire drying closet, also by Whirlpool ($699), is for things you dont want to put in the dryer, such as tennis shoes, sweaters and even wet golf bags. Dont want your lingerie on a clothesline? This is speedier and much more private.
At Appliance Depot, store president Najam Hasans favorite new laundry products are the Miele honeycomb washers and dryers ($1,499-$2,199). The hexagonal-pattern steel drums have fewer of the water exit holes that can cause snags on fabric, and Hasan says theres a noticeable difference in the kinder, gentler treatment of clothes.
The ASKO WCAM 1812
Combination washer-dryers, long popular in Europe, are now selling in the U.S. as amenities for smaller living quarters like condos, apartments and boats that might not have enough room for a traditional laundry set. The combi machines, like the ASKO WCAM 1812 ($1,100-$1,500), take three hours to wash and dry a small load, but it beats going to the Laundromat.
ARE THEY WORTH IT?
While all these new appliances may be eye-catching, its hard to tell how long the trends will last. Some appliance professionals are skeptical about these multitasking machines. Hal Moore, sales associate at Sewell Appliances, says of the refrigerator-television, Its like buying the TV with the VCR in it. It may be a good TV, but what happens when the TV still works and the VCR breaks?
The Whirlpool DryAire Drying Closet
All the gadgets and gizmos might be fun to play with, but the fact remains that you should always do your research before buying any appliance. You might find that your money is better spent on two separate high-quality appliances than on one thats trying to do it all.
Westye Group marketing manager Michelle Higgins says Westyes showroom does not promote the multifunctional products. Our focus is on what is true and good in the product itself, she says, not on ancillary functions.
Its also human nature to shy away from change, and many consumers simply dont want to give up their tried-and-true refrigerators or ovens. Wilson often sees this when showing people the Polara smart oven. Were trying to get people over the fear of leaving their ovens on when theyre not at home, even though its the safest oven of its kind in the industry, she says. And while the goal of multifunctional appliances may be to simplify peoples lives, many still view them as more complicated than regular appliances. We still get so many questions on basic oven functions, says Lisa Connor of HADCO, who gets a lot of complaints that the combo-appliances are difficult to program. Lets face it, we are all creatures of habit, and most of us are looking for ways to simplify our lives rather than add new tasks to them!
Photo courtesy of Elmira Stove Works
GET THE LOOK
If you want to update your appliances without venturing into the ultra-high-tech world, try a new look. Colors are becoming something that more and more people are looking for, Connor says. They like the personal touch of using color. When it comes to style, many people are seeking a retro look right now, taking them back to the avocado greens and baby blues of the 50s. Elmira Stove Works offers appliances in fun colors and vintage stylesthey even have an antique style that will give your kitchen a 19th-century feel. Viking offers 14 different finishes for their ranges, and you can brighten up your laundry room with the HE4T washers and dryers from Kenmore in Pacific blue, Sedona orange or champagne.
For many, though, stainless steel and the sleek, clean look are still the craze. Whats selling more than anything is whats practical, Hasan says. Many people choose stainless steel, black or white so that they do not have to order their kitchen around the color of the appliance. But be forewarned: Due to the popularity of stainless steel, some appliances may be going up in price 5 percent or more to keep up with the demand.
New variations on the stainless-steel look are emerging, however, such as fingerprint-resistant surfaces, which do not require as much cleaning, and metallic finishes that offer consumers a different look from their neighbors. The dark gray meteorite surface by KitchenAid, for example, is painted on a steel door for a rugged appearance that appeals to men, particularly when combined with the heft of big stainless-steel door handles, Wilson says.
With all the gadgets, gizmos and styles available in the world of appliances, it shouldnt be too difficult to find something that fits your needs. And even if most Americans are shying away from high-tech double-duty appliances right now, Hasan foresees one bit of kitchen wizardry that may be hard to turn down. To keep up with the wave of health-consciousness sweeping the nation, kitchen appliances will one day have probes measuring the calorie counts and sodium and cholesterol levels of our food. And that may be one feature thats hard to resist.
Laura Judy contributed to this article.