Written by Lou Lenzi, retired GE Appliances Director of Design
This will be my last “Save Room” blog entry. After 36 years in the Design profession, it’s time to down-shift and pursue my hobbies and interests on a full-time basis. Like most designers, this will involve trying to create something of beauty, only on my time this time. I’m delighted that my successor, Marc Hottenroth, a 24 year veteran of the GE Appliances Design team, will assume the role of Design Director by the time you read this.
Before signing off, I’d humbly like to share some observations on the state-of-our-art, along with some predictions.
Technology: a Healthy Dialog
While connected appliances are in full bloom in the kitchen and laundry room, connectivity itself is still in its infancy. Yes, we’re providing new levels of convenience and performance through our WiFi enabled products, but the next meaningful wave has yet to hit the shore. That will come when we fully integrate kitchen design, rich information services, and connected appliances. What’s the “killer app”, to use an old phrase? I believe it will come in the form of quick and convenient healthy meal planning and preparation. Let’s face it, reducing the cost of health care in the US begins with our diet, and as key influencers in the kitchen, it’s time we all step-up and play a role here.
We will also begin talking to our appliances. And unlike adolescent children, they will dutifully listen and respond. The cost of voice recognition technology is coming down and accuracy is improving, helping to ease access to those amazing technologies and features we’ve been incorporating into our products. Why press a bunch of buttons or dive into a multi-layered menu system when you can simply say “heat the upper oven to 350 degrees” or tell the water heater you’ll need more hot water for the guests coming to visit this weekend. For those nay-sayers convinced we’ll never talk to machines, it wasn’t too long ago that people said we’d never read our favorite authors on a piece of glass because it wasn’t as cozy or inviting as the printed page.
The disappearing kitchen
Just as the kitchen became the focal point of our home, so too will it look less like a kitchen. Certain appliances will begin to “disappear” – first through finishes and user interfaces that blend into the surrounding cabinetry, followed by appliances that become the cabinetry. Small form-factor housing and alternative living patterns – think multi-generational households – will also contribute to us rethinking the industrial design of our products, transitioning from a machine-art to a furniture aesthetic.
The mobile home, built by a robot?
Today’s mobile workforce, coupled with our desire to sample a variety of living environments means we’ll delay owning a home and being tethered to a mortgage. That’s not to say we won’t seek out well thought-out, intellectually stimulating and comfortable communities, we’ll just rent a home in that community, then simply move on to the next experience whenever we’re ready for a change.
Home construction building methods and techniques will dramatically change. The skilled-trade workforce that home builders have historically relied upon has dramatically shrunk since the great recession and they are not likely to return to the levels necessary to support traditional stick-built style home construction. Modular and automated factory-based manufacturing processes will finally take root after many false starts, followed by the emergence of large, on-site 3D printing techniques. After 200 years, the stick-built home, along with its associated material waste and inefficiencies, may be a thing of the past.
I hope these thoughts will stimulate further discussion among the Monogram design community. It’s been an absolute joy to chat with you.