Size does matter … but not only size

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The time when the majority of people lived in relatively large houses which could accommodate many appliances designed for a single purpose is becoming history. Homes, in general, are getting smaller and kitchen space is at premium. This is related to a number of socio-economic trends.

The market

A large proportion of the anticipated growth in households in England over the next two decades will be accounted for by single-person households. According to projections published in 2007 by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, out of 209,000 new households constructed each year, 150,000 (72%) will be single person households. Just a quarter of the increase in single person households will be in the 55-64 age group.

Also the average size of the UK household is shrinking; in 1971, it was 2.91 people but by 2007, this was reduced to 2.35. During the same period, the proportion of families headed by a lone parent grew form 8% to 24%.

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of working adults living on their own has doubled since 1971 – to 12% of the population. And for the first time ever, the number of pensioners is greater than the number of children in the UK.

Local authorities are encouraged to offer pensioners everything from cash incentives to help with removals in order to help them downsize to smaller properties and move close to their families. The developers and planning authorities are also encouraged to prepare for an aging population – building more accessible and better equipped houses – which are more economical to run.

There are other factors too. “Later marriages, increased divorce rates, the widowed and pensioners have all contributed to the growth in single person households,” comments Guy Weaver, chief executive at Premium Appliance Brands Limited (PAB).

“City centre living has proven to be particularly attractive to young professionals, offering them proximity to the city for both work and socialising. It’s all about convenience and flexibility and they are looking for an interior space that reflects that,” adds Steve Dickson, commercial manger for Belling.

At the same time, 35% of people participating in recent market research from Whirlpool UK said that they spent more time at home at the weekend than they did several year ago. “That means greater usage of appliances such as the fridge (to store more food), the oven or microwave oven (to cook the greater amount of food eaten at home), and the dishwasher (to wash up all the extra crockery and utensils). This could affect both smaller and larger households, so appliances may take more of a hammering than previously,” explains Ray Isted, head of training at Whirlpool UK.

Since, however, the ONS figures show that nearly a third of young men aged 20-34 are now living at home with their parents (around 3 million people), the average age of a first time buyer is around 34. Therefore “it is likely they have experienced some of the finer things in life before purchasing a property. As current property prices are still too high for ‘key workers’, the type of person who can afford a city-based apartment tends to be working in the private sector or increasingly from foreign climes,” says Richard Walker, sales and marketing director, De Dietrich Kitchen Appliances.

The solutions

All these factors have resulted in a number of fundamental changes in the usage and design of domestic appliances and the living space overall.

Kitchen and dining rooms have become integrated into the home living space. Not only in the smart loft-style apartments but in the majority of homes “kitchen appliances manufacturers have had to consider, as never before, issues of noise, extraction, size and design, as their products are constantly on show in an often finite kitchen area. Purchasers are increasingly savvy, and when supply is becoming greater than demand, it is no longer advisable for developers to market a ‘luxury apartment’ while featuring non-branded or ‘specially branded’ products within, explains Richard Walker. “Extraction is a more important issue in a kitchen-diner and the standard canopy hood will do the job but it is not designed to impress.”

Flexibility – all important

In modern, particularly smaller, homes flexibility – in relation to functionality and design – is key. “A great way of maximising space in small kitchens is to buy an appliance that combines all of your needs in one compact machine.  Combination microwaves, ovens and grills are a key appliance for small kitchens, and are very popular for single occupiers where kitchen space is normally at a premium,” says PAB’s Guy Weaver.

Mike Jarrett, sales director of Neff, also supports the argument for flexibility in the kitchen although from a different perspective: “And size really does matter: the kitchen needs to be large and full of the latest and practical equipment.  That’s why multiple cooking appliances in the form of coordinating ovens, steam ovens, microwave ovens and warming drawers are now so in vogue and will continue to be in demand in the future – even after the recession is over.”

Examples of such flexibility are multifunction ovens which also incorporate steam and microwave functions (such as De Dietrich’s Compact 38 collection). Similar merits has Samsung’s Dual Cook oven which “has a unique design which allows users to split the internal cavity and cook at two separate temperatures at once with no transfer of heat of smell, removing the need for two separate ovens,” explains Andrew Jones, product manager for home appliances at Samsung.

Furthermore, real cooking flexibility is provided by modular hobs, such as De Dietrich’s collection of 38cm hobs which include induction with an unique Continuum zone which can accommodate up to five pans or a large fish kettle. Whirlpool’s gas Filo range, which includes three 40cm models with different burners, that can be combined with an induction hob, offers similar flexibility.

Smaller households, especially single person homes, where meals may come from the supermarket, are equipped with microwaves. Although there are plenty of basic models on the market, Whirlpool’s JetChief JT369, a 31-litre combination microwave with steam injection (the Which? Best Buy in February 2009) stands out from the crowd. Where there is limited worktop space, built-in microwaves are the best solution, such as the PAB MUMW17SS which can be installed into a standard 60cm wall cupboard.

As the population ages, a growing number of smaller homes are occupied by older people. “The ‘grey pound’ has become a major force in the electrical industry, and appliance manufacturers need to continue to develop new products and technologies to better meet the needs of these customers. Examples of this are easy to read controls as well as ergonomically designed control knobs,” says Bill Miller, sales director of Gorenje UK.

Clever refrigeration solutions

The flexibility required by smaller households has been addressed in several ways in the area of refrigeration.

Firstly, there are physically smaller appliances. “We know that buyers are looking for style, functionality and the effective use of space, therefore we have invested in and developed our 50cm product range, adding two new fridge freezers to the offering.  Although demand for 50cm wide products has remained strong amongst consumers in recent times, a number of major players in the sector have left the market, resulting in a real shortage of 50cm wide frost free products,” explains David Garden, commercial manger for Lec and New World.

Amica’s Elegance freestanding cooling range incorporates 122cm high models which are proving very popular. “It is due to a number of factors,” explains Simon Freear, country manger for Amica in
the UK. “Younger single people, in particular, don’t store loads of fresh and frozen foods – they tend to ‘pop’ to the shops more often than families or those with children, who are likely to plan, and shop larger and less regularly. Those with space constraints like the slimline 55.8cm width of these models, and will often stand a microwave on top to save valuable work space. Those with mobility issues sometimes find the doors on a smaller appliance easier to open, and since it is only 122cm tall, everything, including the controls, is easy to reach without stretching.”

There are also clever ergonomic solutions which provide more space in the same footprint, such as the 70cm wide four-door Hotpoint Quadrio or Fisher & Paykel Three Door Refrigerators (that start from a 635mm width) which are equipped with an ice & water feature.

Even in such an area as wine cooling, there are products designed for the smallest kitchens, such as the 15cm wide wine cooler (BWC150SS) from Premium Appliance Brands.

More efficient laundry

Despite a growing demand for larger capacity machines, which customers associate with time and effort efficiencies, most people have room only for standard size washers. That’s why the laundry technologies have progressed to accommodate capacities of 6, 7 and 8kg washes in standard size machines.

Moreover, “in smaller homes people don’t have space for both a washing machine and tumble dryer and they may not have access to washing lines or space for clothes airers. Therefore there is a greater need for washer dryers with lots of features and larger capacities.  The new L14950 washer/dryer from AEG/Electrolux can handle 8kg of washing and 6kg dry load and operates at only 49dB, ” suggests Andrew Wasdell, category manger, Electrolux Major Appliances.

“Smaller households also mean that there is a larger requirement for more flexibility in the programme selection, ie half loads (auto half load), 3kg quick washes (lasting 30 minutes) etc. In addition there is a need to have machines which can adapt water, energy and/or wash time to match the amount of clothes in the machine,” he adds.

Some manufacturers have developed not only slimline models of laundry but have also reduced their depth – accommodating the restrictions of smaller kitchens, such as the Gorenje A-rated washing machine with is 45cm deep, or the Bosch 4.5kg model which is only 40cm deep but adjusts the amount of energy and water used according to the load size.

Convenient dishwashing

The popular misconception that the dishwasher is a luxury rather than a necessity is slowly disappearing, and even for the smallest kitchens there are many product options. There are 45cm slimline models, such as the AAA-rated 10-place setting De Dietrich model, or the Bosch 6-place setting model with all the features of a full size model. Furthermore “consumers can opt for a freestanding table top model like the Zanussi ZSF2450S or a fully integrated model, such as the new Electrolux ESL2450 or the AEG-Electrolux F45260Vi – designed to coordinate with other products in the range,” says Sophie Davidson, product manager, Food Preservation and Dishwashing Electrolux Major Appliances

There are also dish-drawers, the first of which was brought to the market by Fisher & Paykel ten years ago. The iconic DishDrawer “was designed from scratch – every part, even the motor, was developed especially. This led to a flexible engineering department and Fisher & Paykel creating their own machinery – now Fisher & Paykel Product Machinery Ltd – in order to ensure the best products can be developed,” explains Richard Bowe, general manager of UK/Europe at Fisher & Paykel.

Resource saving

People purchasing smaller appliances, perhaps even more than an average buyer, are looking to save energy by opting for products which are energy efficient or are flexibly designed to combine various functions.

Modern technologies and the application of consumer electronics to domestic appliances increasingly makes it possible to meet these expectations. An example of this is Whirlpool’s 6th Sense technology which is “used across refrigeration, laundry, dishwashing and cooking to provide outstanding performance with exceptional resource savings. It ‘naturally’ adapts every process to the size of the job in hand. The next generation of 6thSense technology on dishwashers and washing machines will result in savings up to 50% savings on time, water and energy,” explains Whirlpool’s Ray Isted.

No room for compromise

Owners of smaller households may have less room in the kitchen but they expect their appliances to be equipped with the latest features and perform as efficiently as the larger models.

“Just because a consumer is limited on space, does not mean that they are willing to sacrifice size for functionality.  As a result, retailers need to emphasise the features of smaller products and reassure the consumer that whilst the products are smaller, they are not losing out on performance,” advises Steve Dickson, commercial manager for Stoves and Belling.

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