By Emily Williams
For some, the kitchen is the most important room in the house. Other people don’t care as much. But it cannot be denied that the kitchen is at the heart of technological advances being made in homebuilding today.
If technology is supposed to make our lives easier, what could be better than coming home to a fully cooked meal, prepared by the simple touch of a few buttons on your cell phone?
We aren’t quite there yet but, according to appliance expert Mindy Stokes, we are well on our way.
Stokes is a salesperson for AllSouth Appliance in Homewood. Before her 10-year tenure in appliance sales, she worked in the industry in roles including instructor at The Viking Cooking School in Franklin, Tennessee, and a demo representative for the German appliance company Miele.
“In my 25-year career, I’ve really gotten to know the ins and outs of the industry,” she said. “Whenever a company comes out with a new product, the first thing I say is, ‘Prove it to me.’ If they can’t back up what they are selling, then I can’t tell someone to invest thousands of dollars on that product.”
Equipped with a discerning eye, Stokes has found many products that live up to their promises and offer smart technology features to ease the lives of homeowners.
The trend is moving toward making cooking as hands-free as possible, most notably through the growing number of Wi-Fi connectable appliances that can be managed from a smartphone.
“With your oven, you can preheat it from your phone while you’re out and there are fridges with cameras that you can access from your phone to see what you need while you are out shopping. There is virtually no planning on your part. You don’t need to think before you do anything,” Stokes said.
Not only are Wi-Fi-adaptable ovens on the market, but Stokes sees potential in a new product offered by a few vendors – an oven that promises to be two-in-one.
With a divider in the middle that presses against the oven door when closed, the top portion can be set to one temperature and the bottom portion to another. Stokes sees it as a great space-saver for homeowners who don’t have room for two full-size ovens.
“Refrigerators are also getting more versatile as far as cooling,” she said.
Much like the dual oven, Samsung has a fridge on the market that houses two separate freezer compartments that can be set to different temperatures. The appliance has a larger French-door refrigerator above and then a set of French doors below for the dual freezers.
“We’re also starting to see different colors for the interior,” she said. “KitchenAid has a platinum interiors and it just makes your food pop.”
For refrigerators, it doesn’t stop there. Smart technology abounds with a Samsung model that comes equipped with a screen on the door and cameras inside.
If you don’t feel like trekking to the grocery store for a few ingredients you need for a specific recipe, your fridge can generate a list of recipes you can make with what you have.
Not only that, it has a calendar feature that remembers your schedule and a weather update, and some even connect to your cable so you can watch TV.
In addition, Stokes noted that many manufacturers are using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity to pair with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant devices. When at home, you can tell your assistant device to change the oven temperature, and the assistant will tell the oven.
The New Standard
With booming technological advances, Stokes notes that many newer features have become standard.
“Quiet dishwashers,” Stokes said. “They’re all quiet now, and they had to be because they are all competing with each other. Back when Bosch came out with the quiet dishwasher, they were the only one; but now it’s just standard.”
Another industry standard for energy efficiency has been around a little while longer than many may think.
“The funny thing about energy efficiency, though, is that appliances had to have an energy star rating way before the ‘green’ trend started getting involved,” she said. “That’s what the yellow tags were for, they were all government-rated.”
According to Stokes, politics is present even in the world of appliances, especially regarding the environment.
“When everyone started marketing more energy efficiency, it was around the time that front-loading washers were becoming popular,” Stokes said. “Front loading washers don’t use as much water as top loading and that changed the standards that the government placed on energy efficient washing machines.”
Top loading washers were forced to use less water and remove their agitators, which resulted in white streaks on the clothing at the end of a cycle. To combat this, many top loading washers have settings compliant with EPA standards and “deep wash” settings to combat streaking.
Today’s laundry market finds a variety of top and front-loading washers, and some that have both.
Samsung is at the forefront of technology with its new FlexWash and FlexDry appliances, she said. Both can be connected to your phone, on which you can schedule and monitor cycles and receive an alert when a cycle is complete.
The washer has a front-loading higher-capacity washer, a top-loading section for small loads, and a steam setting that promises to remove stains without needing to pretreat the fabric.
The dryer incorporates a large capacity front load tumble dryer with steam technology and a top-loading delicate dryer for a faster alternative to rack drying.
“Samsung has all of the ideas and the technological advantage. They are definitely the ones with the new and innovative ideas,” Stokes said. “I still need them to prove it to me, though. I think what we’ll see are more of the industry standard brands perfecting these ideas.”
The Future of the Home
With all of this new tech taking the weight of many everyday chores off of the homeowner, what will the future look like in the kitchen?
According to Stokes, it will be nothing short of what was depicted decades ago on The Jetsons.
“Things will cook themselves – and, virtually, you have that now,” she said. “Wolf has a steam oven and you just put a probe in the meat you want to cook, you tell it what temperature you want it and then tell it that you want it at 6:30 p.m. So, the machine does everything for you.”
Instead of simply managing your appliances from your phone, Stokes expects to see more appliances that think for their owners, and she’s seen that in her own steam oven at home.
“For Christmas, I cooked a beef tenderloin, which is a pretty expensive cut of beef; and I told it what temperature I wanted and tried to punch in 2:30 and it told me that it wouldn’t be done until 2:38. It knows how long it takes to get to that temperature and can override you,” she said.
Though GE is introducing an oven that cooks quickly with halogen, Stokes prefers to put her seal of approval on steam-cooking technology. With her background as a cooking instructor, she noted that she has never seen a more perfect bake on a cheesecake or tasted a better piece of leftover pizza than from the steam oven.
“This is really a great industry to be in and there is so much out there and it’s almost as if money is no object,” she said. “Luckily, people can pick and choose what is most important to them, whether that is a refrigerator or their oven.”
Though there is a trend away from cooking, Stokes said the kitchen still is the room in the home where she sees customers spend most of their budget.
“The kitchen is the most important room in the home,” she said. “You start your day in the kitchen and you end your day in the kitchen. Life happens in the kitchen.” ❖