Around the Kitchen

Experts weigh in on the latest and greatest countertops, cabinets, floors and appliances.


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Abc's of Appliances
So you don't know how to roast a goose. So what. Miele's new MasterChef wall ovens are all about a "menu-driven system," says Dan Saunders of S.K. Lavery Appliance in West Hartford and North Haven. Simply select "goose," says Saunders, and the oven's high-tech inner chef will select the correct temperature, cooking mode and amount of time needed to turn it into your Sunday-supper pièce de résistance. Don't look now but your appliances are getting smarter.
But, then again, so are we-or at least Stowe Kitchen's Karen Roy thinks so. "Kitchens are still all about stainless-steel professional-look appliances," says Roy. The difference is that now "people are getting savvier," she says. "The appliances are no longer purchased as status symbols, people are actually using them-and getting more discriminating about what works best for their own particular needs."
Perhaps you're in a bit of a hurry? TurboChef recently introduced the 30-inch Single Wall Speedcook oven, whose "Airspeed Technology" is touted to cook foods 15 times faster than conventional ovens. Looking ahead to next month, a 12-pound Thanksgiving turkey roasted in a conventional oven would take around four hours. In TurboChef time it would take 42 minutes-and the sweet potato soufflé, baked acorn squash, herbs de Provence biscuits and apple-cranberry pie to go alongside, just 6, 10, 1.5 and 16 minutes, respectively.
As for speed on the cooktop, the recent response to induction cooking "has just been tremendous," says Saunders. Unlike traditional gas or electric elements, induction employs magnetic energy: elements beneath the cooktop's ceramic-glass surface generate a magnetic field that reacts with ferrous metal cookware, i.e., iron or steel, transforming the pot or pan (and not the cooking surface) into the heat source. "We already love gas for the precise control it offers us," says Roy; induction is "faster, more energy-efficient and even more precise. It's just awesome."
With so many new options out there, it's no wonder "people are all about getting as many appliances as they possibly can into their kitchens," says Klaff's Annette DePaepe. One way this is being accomplished is via à la carte pieces (drawers or columns or secondary units all together) built into staging areas around the kitchen. Fisher & Paykel Appliance's new CoolDrawer, the world's first variable refrigerator in a drawer, enables consumers to choose between refrigeration modes that including standard freezer, chill drawer and wine drawer at the touch of a button. Then there are Gaggenau's way-cool modular refrigerators, freezers and wine-storage units that can be combined in different sizes (18, 24 and 30 inches) according to your needs. Viking has just added a built-in undercounter 24-inch "DrawerMicro" oven to its lineup of Professional and Designer Series products. Kenmore Elite's Drawer Dishwasher comes in snazzy single- or double-drawer models.
Uh-oh. We may just need a bigger kitchen.

Step lively
Hardwood floors are hardly new. Oak, maple, cherry . . . they've been underfoot for centuries-and the 21st is certainly no exception.    
Here in Connecticut, experts like Blanco estimate that more than 70 percent of the kitchen floors installed today are of none other than wood, glorious hardwood.
"It's a look that's integrated with the plan to open up our living spaces," says The Kitchen Company's Gail Bolling. Call it an "open-floor policy," with wood carried throughout the entire home and "kitchen central" the living space around which our life revolves.
Of course, that doesn't mean we're not willing to get creative. "Fashion is becoming much more a part of flooring," says David Baker of Floor Coverings International in Stratford, and as such the selection of hardwood types, colors and sizes more varied than ever before. Yes, oak "strip" flooring is still the standard. But then there's fashionable hickory and cypress; up-and-coming exotics like Brazilian cherry and Santos mahogany; bamboo (yes, technically it's a grass-but this highly renewable grass can grow more than a foot a day and makes for floors comparable to hardwood in both strength and durability); wide-width planks that add substance; and hand-scraped specialties that mimic the look of a reclaimed floor.
The  key to remember for your revolving-door kitchen is that "the strength of any wood is the finish," says Baker, and "prefinished wood is going to be at least seven times as hard as anything you can get custom finished in your home."
But what of your other options? Cork, like bamboo, is increasingly popular among those looking to beautify and, at the same time, commit to the common good. Available in both tongue-and-groove panels and tiles, it's a natural beauty that is cushy on the feet, antimicrobial, and made from bark stripped from the cork oak tree, which naturally regenerates itself and comes to no harm. Happy trees, happy people, happy planet.
Concrete is also one of the fastest-growing trends. Colors, textures, finishes . . . your options are unlimited. Color can be mixed right into the concrete and specialized stamps used to create different patterns and/or textures, or you can turn to companies like Greenwich's Ann Sacks, with concrete tile collections that span the design spectrum. Two recent introductions include vibrant Paccha, with its echoes of Morocco, and already popular large-format Aeon tiles that could not be more chic and clean. Each, says Ann Sacks' Emily Bolls, combine "durability with a modern aesthetic."
Finally, if you prefer a more traditional tile, whether a luxury natural stone like tumbled marble, travertine or granite, or a durable ceramic (whose varieties seem to get better looking each day), keep in mind that "bigger" is definitely viewed as "better" these days. Think in terms of 18 by 18, even 18-by-36 big boys for an expansive, finished look with fewer grout lines.

Around the Kitchen

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