From touch screens that deliver step-by-step recipes to countertop herb gardens grown by LED lights, we take a look at how hi-tech kitchen design can create a healthier lifestyle. Tell us your thoughts!
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.
I recently attended the 10th annual LEDucation seminar in New York City to learn about new trends in lighting technology. I expected to hear a lot about connected homes and lighting controls, but there was one big new concept that caught my imagination.
Since the invention of the light bulb, the ability to light our surroundings has revolutionized how we live. Now, those on the leading edge of lighting innovation believe that illumination will take on a more personal role in our lives, predicting and connecting human needs with lighting systems. This new concept is called “semantic lighting.”
These new lighting systems, through the use of sensors, identify what is being lit and with the help of algorithms, why it is being lit. This “system intelligence” means that lighting needs can be predicted and adjusted automatically, making them more human-centric. And in this day of growing human-machine interactions, who wouldn’t appreciate an application made primarily for our individual comfort?
Have you heard of Universal Design? If not, you will! It’s quickly gaining ground as a major design initiative. Universal Design refers to designing products and spaces that are simple and accessible for everyone regardless of their age, abilities or limitations. In the words of Steve Jobs – one of the early adopters of the discipline – “Design is not just what it looks like. Design is how it works.” And kitchen designers today should look at a number of human factors when specifying everything from countertops, flooring and paint color to storage, lighting and plumbing.
Appliance manufacturers are also supporting the goals of Universal Design by developing products like ovens that have built-in temperature probes with large visual displays and audible alerts to insure safer food preparation; dishwashers with customizable height adjustments and full extension racks to eliminate the need to bend down; and microwave drawer ovens for ease in food loading and unloading. Additionally, details such as large handles, easy-to-turn knobs, and bright interior lighting are being designed into products.
The new Monogram French door wall oven combines design and functionality, and features one-hand opening and closing of both doors at the same time for ease of use. New induction cooktops use magnetic energy to transfer heat making them safer to use and easier to clean. Surfaces cool rapidly and surrounding areas do not get hot. And although these features are particularly helpful to those with limited abilities, they are “universal” in their appeal and usefulness.
Every year in January, KBIS (the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show) takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada. The show always features the latest trends in appliances, materials and technology, and this year was full of exciting new offerings. Everything from black faucets with hot pink handles, to barnwood cabinets, to crystal filled knobs could be found.
Building on the growing trend of creating the “Smart Home,” manufacturers from lock makers to appliance companies were promoting devices to control home automation and monitoring. Smartphone apps are used to connect consumers with various tasks within the home, saving them time, money, and sometimes, peace of mind.
Aesthetics-wise there seemed to be an emergence of “rustic modern,” using natural earthy materials in new and exciting ways. Textured wallcoverings and tiles in amorphous shapes and angles created a contemporary look that bowed to mid-century modern roots.
Cooktops featured heavy-duty metal grates in interesting patterns, and the introduction of brass burners created a great play between materials and finishes. Satin Nickel, Polished Nickel and Aged Bronze were a few of the highlighted materials. Also big this year were appliances that give users feedback – knobs that light up when in use and glow at various rates and intensities to show temperature ranges.
Overall, it showed that kitchen and bath technology is catching up with the latest in digital advances and designing them into beautiful environments.
Written by Lou Lenzi, Director of Industrial Design for GE Appliances
I recently had the pleasure of visiting UCLA’s Architecture and Urban Design (A.UD) department located at the Hercules Campus in Playa Vista, CA, the site where Howard Hughes built the infamous “Spruce Goose” aircraft in the 1940’s.
Ironically, I was invited to this cavernous space to talk with a group of post-professional Masters of Architecture students and faculty about micro-things, specifically our Monogram micro-kitchen concept for small scale homes and GE Appliances FirstBuild micro-factory.
The students are engaged in a year-long research project that explores what “community” will mean in the second half of the 21st century, factoring in rapidly changing developments in technology, communications, transportation, healthcare and other major societal forces. So it was fitting to visit and exchange ideas around the future of housing and the future of manufacturing.
As a designer, I find it beneficial to occasionally get out of the studio here in Louisville, spend time with design and architecture students and take a look at the world from their perspective. I often find myself becoming the student in these situations.
The design team here at GE Appliances is excited to see this project develop and I promised the faculty to stay close as their research project progresses. It shouldn’t be too tough to get the design staff to visit the class in Southern California – particularly during the winter months.
As an Industrial Designer focused on appliance design, I pay attention to a wide variety of consumer product design. I look at design trends in interior design, electronic products, architecture, car design and even fashion.
Trying to predict the future of appliance design, particularly of controls, is really challenging, especially as technology evolves at such a fast pace. Our goal is to be innovative but never to lose sight of the consumer’s needs as they relate to simple, intuitive interactions with machines.
To this end, I have spent the last four months with a variety of people working on a project to predict the future of refrigerator dispenser controls. So how many designers does it take to design an innovative appliance? More than you’d think! Internally, I have worked with our awesome team of designers, Consumer Insights researchers, Product Managers, Engineers, Marketing Specialists, and Technology Gurus. But we don’t stop with the internal teams. The true experts are the people that use our appliances everyday, those who spec them for their clients, and the salespeople who sell them.
To get this valuable input, we started listening. We held a design summit with top interior designers at our Monogram Design Center in Chicago. We traveled to the northeast to talk to key retailers about how they sell appliances and what their customers are looking for. And most importantly, we went into consumer’s homes to study how they interact with their appliances and ask what features they’d like to have. As we continue to move forward on this project, we will build prototypes and put them in front of consumers for testing and validation of our concepts.
In the end, it isn’t just designers who design great appliances, it takes a village!
Written by Kennedy Williams, Monogram Experience Center intern
Since 1968, the Building Industry Association of Greater Louisville has given local residents the opportunity to tour more than 800 homes. Known as the annual Homereama showcase, these homes reflect the unique talents of area builders and interior designers. Throughout this year’s Homerama homes, many interior designers used mismatched dining chairs to provide a unique look.
This shake-up of traditional design became increasingly popular in 2015 throughout the design community. Mismatched dining chairs are featured on interior design websites including Houzz and Elle Décor, and even their own Pinterest board. As you can see in the photos below, designers have also included benches as an added decorative piece to the dining table.
If the recycling option is not for you, manufacturers now offer different colored accent chair and bench choices sold with dining tables.