| Simone Andrea Mayer |
BERLIN (dpa) – Manufacturers of modern household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and microwave ovens are taking a marketing cue from carmakers.
Their products now come with a stylish brand identity recognisable through the range, instead of the uniform finish which used to be typical of what were known as white goods or whiteware.
For many years, designers paid little attention to the appearance of the host of electrical or mechanical machines which take care of cleaning and cooking.
Home appliances now have a higher profile than it used to be and a visit to the recent IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin highlights just how much things have changed.
Take German makers Siemens. The company is seeking to banish domestic dullness with its iQ700 family of kitchen appliances. They share a sleek black front, stainless steel highlights and a touchscreen interface.
The family identity is even carried over to automatic filter coffee machines and smoke extraction hoods, so that everything in the kitchen appears flush and modern.
The unified look is here to stay, says Kirk Mangels of the AMK trade and service organisation for Germany’s kitchen industry.
More than 120 companies are AMK members, all of them brand-name manufacturers of fitted kitchen furniture, built-in appliances and accessories.
The new Series 8 oven from Bosch, which made its market debut earlier this year, is designed to blend in seamlessly with other appliances from the same maker. The hoods and hobs all have the same look.
Despite the model makeovers, ovens and refrigerators are still instantly recognisable as such – their overall appearance has not changed in decades.
“The longevity of the appliances means that consumers often miss out three to four product generations before they buy something new,” said Gerhard Nuessler, chief electrical appliance designer at Siemens.
For that reason the optical changes are usually only subtle.
Companies want to ensure that customers still recognise new products in the showroom as coming from their favourite brand.
In the case of Siemens, the stainless steel decoration is similar to the previous model although the forms and proportions have been altered slightly.
Other manufacturers like Samsung are bolder.
“When I look at whiteware in the shops, all I see are white boxes and that has not changed much in the last 30 years,” said Diana Diefenbach, the company’s marketing communication mana-ger in Germany.
“We aimed to break the mould of this boxy design,” she added.
The outcome is the upmarket Crystal Blue WW9000, which “heralds the future of the washing machine”, according to the South Korean maker.
The front-loader still features plenty of white but what stands out is the translucent, deep blue crystal finish of the door of the washing machine. It also creates a fascinating spectrum of colours when it comes into contact with light.
“We believe our new WW9000 washing machine will change the way laundry appliances are perceived within the home. In much the same way that refrigerators have become an extension of people’s interior design, we see the WW9000 following suit thanks to its simple, yet stylish design,” said Russell Owens, a Samsung executive.
The machine has an overall streamlined look with a ripple design on the pressed steel sides which is also designed to dampen vibration.
A growing number of people want their household appliances to be aesthetically pleasing. These days the machines are not viewed as mere workhorses since the kitchen is no longer purely a place of work, said Mangels.
Families come together in a large kitchen to eat in a comfortable living atmosphere. The kitchen can be the venue for a party and smart appliances are status symbols just like well-crafted furniture.
Many makers still boast that their appliances can blend in with any kind of fitted kitchen.
“Elegant and restrained” is how German company Bauknecht describes the induction ovens of its Kosmos series. The built-in ovens in the Series 8 range from Bosch create an “aura of relaxation”.
Other producers like Gorenje or Smeg are offering fridges in a range of vivid colours – ocean blue was a hit in Berlin.
“Design is being driven by new technology and use of innovative materials,” said Nuessler.
Touchscreens are also now a standard fitting for all manner of kitchen aids.
But there are limits to how far manufacturers can re-invent appliances.
Whiteware has to remain cuboid to fit in a kitchen. Samsung’s blue door exemplifies the limits of pushing the washing-machine design envelope. It has to remain translucent.
“Various tests have shown that consumers do not take very well to front-loaders without glass doors,” said Nuessler.
The shape is familiar and users feel reassured as long as they can peer through the window and see the washing water sloshing around.