Do domestic appliances reflect the latest style trends and customer aspirations? Does this matter, anyway, on the sales floor? asks Anna Ryland.
During the lifetime of the present generation domestic appliances have not only became super-efficient, incorporating latest technology, but they were also transformed into pieces of art in their own right, with many of them acquiring iconic status.
The leading factor in this process was the transformation of the kitchen from a back room where dirty and sweaty activities of food preparation were performed to an open-space kitchen-dinner where the heart of the family is beating and its guests are entertained.
“The openly designed kitchen-living rooms of today have impacted on the development of appliances. If the kitchen and living room are to exist side-by-side, cooking fumes must not be allowed to spread, the dishwasher must not be able to be heard, and children must be protected from burning themselves. There is also now a consumer requirement for appliances to fit and complement the latest interior design trends,” comments Neil Pooley, kitchen category manager at Miele.
Simon Freear, country manager for Amica in the UK, points out to another practical consideration: “A brand new kitchen is a major purchase made by homeowners every 15 years or so, so when they do it, they are seeking the latest technology and styling so it won’t look outdated before its time. It’s only natural, when making such an important purchase, to trade up from existing equipment, and almost ‘future-proof’ the kitchen against looking old before it’s been installed. For this, a handsome set of built-in appliances with intelligent programming and modern displays is the way forward.”
The diminishing size of our homes is reflected in the design of domestic appliances. “Our homes and the way we use them have changed dramatically over the last few years, with new studios, townhouses and apartments reducing the average size of UK properties, and recent open-plan homes impacting upon the kind of appliance design consumers wish to incorporate into their kitchens,” explains Rita Balestrazzi, marketing manager at Baumatic.
Good design is not confined to aesthetics. “As the demand for a more aesthetically pleasing appliances increases, so does the demand for better energy ratings and features of convenience. So in cooking, functions such as self-cleaning, smart programming, personalisation and induction are most desired, and the popularity of steam is on the increase because of its health benefits. Demand for appliances with these functions helped to drive the cooking market in 2011 and will continue to do so throughout 2012,” points out Amica’s Simon Freear.
A word of caution comes from Ros Collins, senior laundry product manager at BSH: “Design is often complementary to key characteristics like ease of use. The introduction of TFT screens to control panels of Siemens appliances improved visibility therefore ease of use was greatly enhanced. Whilst consumers enjoy the benefits of innovation they are also wary of over-complex functionality.”
The importance of all these considerations is addressed in the Electrolux Design Lab competition that is annually conducted by the company for the students of industrial design worldwide. They are encouraged to create new home appliance solutions that address everyday needs but at the same time inspire the users with their design.
In recent years, design became particularly important in the cooking category and refrigeration, with laundry (often relegated to the utility room) and dishwashing taking a back seat.
Design in cooking
The De Dietrich Premium Collection that “incorporates luxurious design features such as vertical and structured lines coupled with sophisticated clear and coloured glass, chrome and stainless steel with a choice of black pearl, white pearl and new trendsetting grey pearl colour lines” (Richard Walker, sales and marketing director, De Dietrich Kitchen Appliances) is a reflection of the latest trends in the kitchen design. At the same time the collection features latest multifunction oven technology and pyrolytic cleaning.
Domino or modular hobs have recently become very popular way of adding flexibility to cooking. For example, the teppan yaki plates, such as these manufactured by De Dietrich and AEG, offer the traditional Japanese method of grilling which is very healthy.
In Baumatic’s experience “40cm domino hobs have contributed to a surge in sales, offering multiple and diverse cooking methods as well as a further opportunity to make a show of the cooking process. With such models, consumers are free to design their own dream hob, choosing to purchase one domino as a single or additional mini hob, or combine it with several other types of domino model to create a giant and dynamic hob,” explains Rita Balestrazzi.
However advances in design are not confined to the built-in category. “Once the poor relation in terms of design and innovation, there have been huge developments in the use of colour and the application of leading edge technology on freestanding products. Fewer people can afford to have their entire kitchen remodelled, so freestanding cookers represent a simple way of updating an existing kitchen. However, consumers have largely been limited to black, white or stainless steel. Last year, under our New World brand, we launched Colours, a collection of built-in ovens contrasting black glass with a brightly coloured trim. The collection was so successful, we have now rolled it out across a number of our freestanding products,” says David Garden, commercial manager for freestanding at New World. The freestanding Colours cooker collection is now available in metallic purple, blue, green, red, copper, black, white, stainless steel or chrome.
More manufacturers introduced colour to their range cookers that ”have now been adapted to suit the modern day home, offering a more practical size and contemporary look”, explains Rita Balestrazzi. “Sales figures for Baumatic’s designer collection have jumped up by 12%, and range cookers now account for 11% of cooking appliances sales.”
Also Leisure launched a new collection of colour range cookers this spring, adding brown, white and red to the existing range of dual fuel and electric cookers.
“The cooking sector has been revolutionized by the development of compact appliance ranges, which offer incredible multi-functionality within small designs that can be easily fitted into any style or size of home,” says Baumatic’s Rita Balestrazzi. For example Caple’s compact Sense range, finished in black glass and steel, incorporates a number of high performance appliances, including multifunction ovens, wine cabinets and a coffee maker.
A move towards open-plan kitchen has directed consumer interest towards cooker hoods which became true design statements, often adding an element of theatre to the kitchen.
De Dietrich was one of the first brands to introduce downdraft extraction products, and for 2012 the company has the new remote controlled Updraft Extractor that presents a new design concept in the kitchen.
Also Miele has introduced two extractor concepts in 2012 employing Miele‘s Con@ctivity technology that enables hob to hood communication. This innovative system sends messages between a Miele hob and hood, allowing the extractor to be turned on, and the correct settings selected according to the use of the hob. Miele new DA2900 flush to Ceiling Extractor is available in glass or stainless steel with a DC motor for powerful extraction performance.
The company has also introduced a bespoke RAL colourway system to its extractor hoods. It provides more than 200 different colour choices, to create an eye catching centerpiece that is unique to customers’ kitchen. Customers can also specify heights to suit their room’s dimensions, as well as side connections, which allow them to position the extractor wherever they wish.
Elica, the largest manufacturer of cooker hoods in the world, constantly introduces new product innovations. For people who want minimal presence of the cookerhood in their kitchens, Elica has brought out its latest downdraft extractor, the elegant Eagle. When not in use, a slim light panel stays behind the cook top. When called on, the hood rises and curves forward above the hob and its perimeter aspiration system ensures extremely effective extraction.
Amica’s Platinum Vertical chimney hood is also a modern style statement with a hinged black glass cover that automatically opens on command by the sensor or remote control.
Smeg’s 50s style FAB refrigeration is the best example of products with immense style appeal. Even in the recession its sales have been growing.
Gorenje is also well known for its designer collaborations, including collections by Ora Ïto and Karim Rashid, which are available for those in the middle of the market. “The Gorenje Retro is ideal for those who want an eye-catching cooling product that stands out from the rest of their appliances, while the Gorenje NRK68 SYW fridge freezer, part of the new Simplicity White line, features an elegant white design that is carried across all the products in the range. The Simplicity White was developed after extensive research was carried out to determine what the consumer wants from their appliances. Key consumer requirements include ease of use and simple operation, with features and programmes that are of real benefit to their lifestyles,” says Bill Miller, Gorenje’s sales and marketing director.
Meanwhile, Baumatic’s modern Sins collection of fridge/freezers made from stainless steel and colour glass represent a break away from the retro style, which introduced colour to kitchen design.
“Quadrio has been a remarkable success story, being one of our top selling fridge freezers despite being in the 70cm-wide niche market, and at a premium price,” confirms Hotpoint spokesperson.“ For 2012, Hotpoint Quadrio has been given a contemporary design by renowned designer Makio Hasuike, featuring a flat fronted door profile with distinctive recessed vertical edges.
Whirlpool’s new range of Absolute refrigeration offers an eye-catching ultra modern stainless steel finish that adds a fashionable twist to this collection of combi-refrigeration. There are four new models featuring the new aesthetic, each with different configurations and benefits.
“LG’s ‘designer’ appliances are key to our product leadership strategy, delivering a halo effect over our entire range,” says Dawn Stockell, marketing communications manager – Home Appliances at LG. “For the ultimate in both design & eco, LG’s top of the range the GS9366AEAV has it all… With LG’s Linear Compressor, this American SBS with comes with LG’s ‘Smart Eco Door’ – this is a door within the main door of the refrigerator. By storing regularly used items with the ‘Smart Eco Door’, the consumer will not open the main door as often and the fridge will have to work less hard to keep the temperature constant.”
Even in the laundry category some brands managed to achieve instant customer recognition due to the distinctive design of their appliances. “Aqualtis has been so successful in terms of sales that it could justify itself as a brand in its own right, with a market share bigger than some well established names. The range has evolved over the years with increasing capacity and energy performance and inclusion of features such as steam and now the Titanium Drum and Fibretech tub,“ confirmed Hotpoint spokesperson.
Small and stunning
Small appliances are experiencing a design revolution of their own – single handedly changing the look of the kitchen with their modern aesthetics, explosion of colours and sophisticated finishes.
De’Longhi’s products encapsulate Italian elegance. The company was one of the first in the market to bring a colour range of kettles, toasters and bar pump coffee machines to the UK with its Icona range, and it continues to innovate with the shape and size of its appliances, as well as their features.
“Design has proved particularly important across both the coffee and breakfast set product categories. In the current economic environment when households have less disposable income, consumers are looking for stylish and high-tech appliances as a cost-effective way to revive their kitchens. As such, the design, build quality and functionality of products needs to stand out,” explains Helen Weir Willats, brand manager, De’Longhi UK.
“For Fagor, better known in the UK for making large domestic appliances, thinking ‘outside of the box’ is exactly the approach the company took to reinvent the freestanding microwave. The result is Spoutnik, the first microwave with a translucent 360º spherical dome that enables you to see what’s cooking inside,” comments De Dietrich’s Richard Walker.
Tefal’s approach to design is reflected in the aesthetics of the company’s products and their innovative functionality. In addition to Tefal ActiFry Plus – the healthy fryer that cooks 1.5kg of chips (or other food) in one spoonful of oil – the company launched earlier this years the Tefal Fresh Express that helps to grate and slice vegetables in a flash while its attractive design – with an array of rainbow attachments – could grace any kitchen worktop.
Style and substance
As domestic appliances become not only very ‘intelligent’ and efficient but also aesthetically pleasing, customers’ expectations are rising. The latest collections from the leading brands, such as Electrolux Inspiration range incorporating the expertise of professional chiefs, prove that customers don’t have to choose between style and substance.
“Products which feature exquisite design of a very high quality are becoming available further down the marketplace, making luxury appliances far more accessible to consumers at different price points,
” stresses Gorenje’s Bill Miller.
Although appliances in the premium segment, which are often regarded as investment purchases, almost always feature the most aspirational designs, contemporary aesthetics are critical to sales success at every level. “Truly innovative designs immediately date older models, making them both redundant and undesirable enough to inspire consumers to replace them, in spite of any recessionary conditions,” argues Rita Balestrazzi.