- The Washington Times - Friday, January 15, 2010

In keeping up with the latest cooking, storage and cleaning trends, more manufacturers are creating stylish appliances focusing on flexibility and energy-efficiency. This is especially important as the kitchen has evolved into the family hub and is one of the main attractions of a home when it comes time to sell.

Surveys have shown that homeowners look for their appliances to both perform well and look good. When making selections for a new kitchen or updating an older one, experts say homeowners want their major appliances to be as aesthetically pleasing as their counters, cabinet and flooring choices.

Performance remains the most important consideration for consumers in the market for appliances, according to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by Whirlpool Corp. The latest technology and features were ranked second and the look and feel of the appliance ranked third.

“Kitchen appliances continue to utilize technological advances in their design, particularly advances from the consumer electronics industry,” said Monica Teague, senior public relations manager with Whirlpool.

Refrigerators are one of those appliances that have become more spacious and multifunctional over the years. Some companies make refrigerators with built-in television screens and others recently have started selling refrigerators with iPod docking stations.

While experts say the two-door, side-by-side refrigerator is still the best-selling model, three-door and even four-door refrigerators are quickly picking up steam.

“The French door refrigerator with two doors on top and the freezer on the bottom is replacing the side-by-side one,” said Ryan Turner, purchasing manager for Bray and Scarff, a chain of kitchen appliance stores.

He said the French door model has a lot more usable space than the other models.

Refrigerators today range in size from sleek, contemporary models that fit in tight spaces to massive 42- and 48-cubic-foot refrigerators with roller glides on drawers, integrated storage for gallon containers in the door, portable ice buckets and touch-pad controls.

As far as major kitchen appliances go, Sam Gregory, vice president of sales and marketing with Appliance Distributors Unlimited, said, “For the past five years, the French door refrigerator has been the hottest, next would be the induction cooktop. There are more manufacturers in this business today than ever before.”

Mr. Turner agreed and said that a lot of European technology, including the induction cooktop, is gaining popularity.

Known for their safety, energy-efficiency and ease of cleaning, induction cooktops use electromagnetic fields that transfer - or induce - energy into the pots and pans, causing them to generate heat directly and cook the food. Mr. Turner said induction cooktops can boil water in half the time of traditional cooktops.

“Convection cooking in ovens is still hot,” Mr. Gregory said, adding that the 30-inch range with a microwave oven over the range is still a popular choice.

Mr. Turner said a lot of today’s customers are interested in energy-efficient appliances. He said 60 percent of the appliances on his showroom floor are energy-efficient.

“The Energy Star system is the most recognizable label that guarantees that the appliance is energy-efficient,” he said.

Dishwashers are another must-have kitchen appliance for many buyers. Mr. Turner said that the dish-drawer style of dishwasher hasn’t been as popular for about 10 years and is gradually fading away. The most tremendous change in dishwashers in the past decade, he said, has been in energy savings and a reduction in noise level. He said Bosch makes dishwashers that produce only 41 decibels, which is slightly louder than a whisper.

“There are also new types of filtration systems and a dishwasher that can wash with as little as 3.5 gallons [of water],” Mr. Turner said.

“Manufacturers are designing new products and promoting new lines every day,” Mr. Gregory said, “so there are a lot of products that are outdated, but the new ones do the same - cook the food and store the groceries.”

One of the most common signs of a dated appliance can be the color. Mr. Gregory said that while white can be ordered, bisque is out and black is still a good choice. He said while some manufacturers, such as Viking and Dacor, have tried to introduce new colors, they only account for 2 percent to 3 percent of sales.

While Mr. Gregory said stainless steel is still buyers’ top choice, Robbi Kimball, a Realtor with Long and Foster in Takoma Park, has noticed a trend of buyers moving away from stainless steel.

“Clients tell me that they are tired of constantly wiping away handprints,” she said, adding that they also feel stainless steel makes the kitchen seem dark.

“Every person has a different appliance style,” Ms. Teague said. “So what might be considered outdated by one person could be considered retro or funky by another.”

She said appliances should reflect the homeowner’s style, not necessarily what others might deem as stylish.

And when choosing appliances, owners shouldn’t count on high-end appliances as an investment when it comes time to sell. Ms. Kimball said the value of the appliance should be commensurate with the price range of the home.

“For example,” she said, “putting a Viking stove into a modest home may please the owner, but it will have little impact on future buyers or the appraisal.”

She added that the downward price impact of older appliances is more striking than the upward price impact of high-end appliances.

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