Damn, I had no idea how huge this show is. It’s like a marathon every day. But here are a few highlights. (One caveat about my list: I’m a functionality geek. I get way more excited over a new drawer slide than a pretty new faucet or lighting fixture. Also, I ignored most of the bath stuff and concentrated on kitchens.)
Modernism goes red-state
If I had to pick one overarching theme of this show, it’s the trend towards modern design. Sleek, clean-lined fixtures and cabinetry abounded. And it wasn’t just the presence of a large Italian contingent. Even Ohio-based Kraftmaid was showing off its new line of European-style frameless cabinets – complete with shiny red laminate doors and metal drawer boxes. Happily, the operating-room modernism of the past seems to have been supplanted by a warmer sensibility, incorporating sensuous textures and a lively mix of materials.
Hot and steamy
Appliance makers have to keep up with the Joneses (or, in this case, the Mieles), so most of the higher-end lines were touting their new built-in coffee makers and steam ovens. But the steam that really got me excited was Kitchenaid’s steam-assisted oven. It’s not a steam oven like Miele’s, but a regular oven that can inject a little steam when needed. Serious bread bakers will love this – no more convoluted tricks with ice cubes and plant misters. KitchenAid says the steam assist is also great for roasting and and baking custards (that means cheesecake, fellas!). The feature will debut on their ranges sometime this year, and then will migrate to their wall ovens. Maybe I could be a beta-tester? Do appliance manufacturers do beta tests? Message to KitchenAid: Call me!
I also got a bit excited with the space-age double oven from startup TMIO. Sure, it’s nifty that each oven cavity can refrigerate as well as cook (a nice feature which should make it easier to get dinner on the table before American Idol starts). But the real story is that TMIO had the only menu-driven oven on the show floor with a decent user interface. (Apologies if I missed any others, but I doubt it).
And now, let the rant begin: I found the control panel designs of most of the new ovens astoundingly, shockingly, scandalously bad. Never mind scaring grandma – these things scared me. The badness was nearly universal, but I’ll single out the Dacor oven because it’s the only one I spent much time with. And because I nearly plotzed when the Dacor guy tried to sell me on this revolutionary capability: users can change the color scheme on the oven’s control panel display. Mind you, these are fabulous ovens as far as functionality goes. But the low-res LED readout, with big chunky capital letters, abbreviated words running together, and confusing sequences were enough to make me want to give up completely and just rub two sticks together.
Enter the TMIO oven, which has a larger, high-resolution color display – kind of like a big PDA screen – and uses a Windows-style menuing interface. It’s familiar, it’s well-designed, and it makes sense. In other words, it’s user-friendly.
Message to appliance manufacturers: you need to redesign your oven interfaces. Call me!
GE is the latest maker to introduce a double oven range. Alton Brown showed it off, which of course makes me biased in its favor. Unlike the Jenn-Air and Maytag versions, the GE oven puts the smaller oven on the bottom. Pick your poison. In other GE news, the Advantium built-in wall oven is now available in the 120 version in addition to the 240.
While we’re talking heat, I must give props to MTI Whirlpools. Their Radiance warming system directly heats the surface of their shower floors and tubs, concentrating on the feet, back and, umm, buttocks. When I couldn’t get into one of the massage chairs on the floor, the MTI heated tub was the next best thing. I also loved the glass wall-mounted towel warmer from Engineered Glass.
I’m a little obsessed with refrigerators, at least the ones that cost less than a small car. I didn’t see any major breakthroughs at the show, but I did see an expansion of options that will help out many a picky homeowner and kitchen designer. I got my first look at the Liebherr line, and I’m impressed. They’ve carefully thought through every detail, and come up with a few innovations. The coolest (no pun intended) is their fully-integrated model, which actually fits inside regular old kitchen cabinetry, and opens when you open the cabinet door. Translation: good-bye appliance panel specification insanity!
French door fridge aficionados will be happy to learn that LG will now make its version in a 32” width. This will be the only one on the market at that size, as far as I know.
There were a few interesting appliance finishes on the show floor. My personal favorite was Jenn-Air’s new “Floating Glass” finish in white under glass. Very iPod, very elegant.
Dacor has redesigned both the interiors and exteriors of many of its wall ovens, with options that aesthetically rigorous designers are sure to like. True to their high-end audience, they’ve introduced several new colors with the muted elegance of an Armani suit.
Fisher+Paykel was touting their iridium finish, which is like a deeper, matte version of stainless steel. It’s lovely, and (according to the salesguy) you can get a full kitchen suite in this finish. Also of note: the redesigned front of the dish drawers. I don’t usually get excited over dishwashers, but the new look is gorgeous.
The most exciting countertop on the show floor, hands down, was in the display which Nicole Miller (yes, the fashion designer) created for Electrolux. Her countertop featured a beautiful print fabric sandwiched between two thick sheets of glass. It stopped nearly everyone dead in their tracks. The grinches in the Electrolux booth wouldn’t let me snap a photo, so you’ll just have to imagine how gorgeous it was.
Interesting uses of glass and resin abounded at the show. I can’t remember any of the company names, but I’ll post them as I start receiving stuff in the mail.
The other big – if a little old -- news in countertops is that quartz countertop makers have been breeding like bunnies. I lost count of manufacturers at around 10. A few, like Okite, showed off some interesting new textures, but mostly they’re variations on the usual theme.
Silestone introduced a new matte finish for their quartz surfaces, which they’re calling “leather.” (Leather?!? I guess their marketing gurus identified a big untapped potential in the S&M kitchen market.) As for the future of this new countertop finish…I (gasp!) don’t have an opinion. My first impression was disappointing; I felt the matte finish makes the quartz look more like acrylic and less like natural stone. But I reserve the right to change my mind when I’ve seen more of it.
In the Dumb Factor category, Thermador celebrated the 50th anniversary of the built-in oven by introducing a mirror-finish wall oven. I guess it’s for people who are so gorgeous they just can’t stop looking at themselves. With this new finish, you get to see every fingerprint, smudge, and speck of dirt – not just once, but twice!
It’s not that sexy, but, really, where do you put your TV if you don’t have a giant monster-home kitchen? Sharp showed off a new range of retractable under-cabinet TVs that are a little sleeker than those I’ve seen before. And Whirlpool showed a prototype microwave with a flat-panel TV in the door. It’s not in production, but they’ve got my vote.
The “D’oh!” factor
There were a few new products that were so obvious, I thought “D’oh! Why didn’t someone think of that before?” These included:
Kohlers’s new kitchen sink, which attempts to solve the “one bowl or two?” dilemma. It has a double bowl, but the bowl divider is only a few inches high – meaning you can use it as either a double bowl or a single bowl sink. (Well, sort of; you still have to decide which side to put the garbage disposal on.)
Salice, the Italian company that invented the European cup hinge (or so they claim), showed off a soft-close cabinet door hinge. Drat! Now I’m gonna have to find something else to slam when I’m mad at my husband.
Fisher+Paykel’s updated fridge makes it easy to remove the crisper drawers even if you can’t open your fridge door all the way. The drawers slide side-to-side in addition to in and out. D’oh!
What’s up with the cheesy floor shows? Don’t people know better than this? Kohler had boring dancers doing tap dance and chorus-line kicks. Thermador had anorexic models dressed up in ill-fitting clothes as glamorous ‘50s/60’s housewives; at least they passed out slices of cake to make up for the cheese. At Price Pfister, there was a stage, and something going on with a ball, and someone doing a split, and, well…I need to just block the whole thing out of mind. In addition to looking stupid and cheap, the floor shows effectively drowned out any possible conversations about the products. Sigh! I guess wannabe performers who can’t make it on the Strip need work, too. At least everyone was fully clothed.