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By Design: taking the kitchen to the next level

Appliance makers blend 'smart' with stylish

If you haven't gone shopping for appliances lately, you may be shocked by the new options available. Some of us are old enough to remember the avocado and harvest gold appliances from the '60s, which returned to the earlier ubiquitous white, then black, and more recently, stainless steel. But colors have now re-emerged and technology is being incorporated at an astounding rate. Here are some of the latest trends in home appliances.

Connectivity. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are being incorporated into appliances so you can control them remotely. For example, you can now preheat your oven before you get home or turn down the heat remotely so that you don't have to interrupt your daily routine. Your dishwasher can notify your smartphone where it is in the wash cycle, and an app can keep track of your dishwashing soap automatically and order more when you're running low. Your refrigerator can alert you when the temperature is too high or too low, or when the water filters need to be changed.

If there are problems with an appliance, in addition to letting you know through your smartphone, the technology can even alert the manufacturer's service department automatically.

Some refrigerators have integrated interior cameras so that you can check its contents from the grocery store to see whether you're running low on milk.

Other manufacturers work with Amazon's Alexa and use voice-activated commands. LG makes a refrigerator that has built-in Bluetooth speakers. The Samsung Family Hub refrigerator includes a large touchscreen integrated into the door with food management, video capabilities and full entertainment features. There's no need to be bored while you cook, although I am still contemplating the potential need to reboot your refrigerator.

Cooking styles and efficiency. According to Evelyn Kinnaman, an appliance expert at Monark, a high-end home appliance dealer, combi-steam ovens, which have both steam and convection capabilities, are big sellers. Also popular are "speed ovens" which are sort of like microwave ovens on steroids, combining microwave and convection/broiler features.

Another budding trend is sous-vide cooking. This involves boiling food that is in a vacuum-packed plastic bag, cooking it without leaching out the nutrients. For this, Gaggenau makes an integrated built-in drawer designed to vacuum-pack the food. Various appliances are available to heat cooking water to an amazing level of accuracy.

Color. A veritable rainbow of colors are available for appliances these days. Kinnaman says black stainless (or "carbon" stainless) is now often replacing conventional stainless steel. This also is true in kitchen faucets as well. Viking is offering appliances in 24 different finishes. Dacor's Preference series makes six different colors coordinated with floating glass panels. Bertazzoni makes high-end gas ranges in eight different colors, including a Ferrari-matched red, as well as a bright lemon yellow. More mainstream manufacturers like Maytag, Frigidaire, GE and Electrolux are all making washers and dryers in some very unusual colors, like forest green, teal, cobalt blue and red.

Visual integration. Another trend is to make appliances flush with the adjacent cabinets, if not invisible. Protruding doors and handles are minimized. For those looking for a very contemporary kitchen aesthetic, the current choices are abundant.

Richard Morrison (aka "The Kitchen Architect") is a residential architect and interior designer with a Bay Area practice specializing in home remodeling. His website is www.richardmorrison.com.

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