By Steven V. Philips –
In 1957, appliance design went in a bold new direction. Rounded-off rectangular shapes suddenly got sharp angles. (Technology had arrived to accurately bend steel sheet sharply.) This bold move by Frigidare, “The Sheer Look,” instantly made everyone else’s appliance designs look Art Deco-dowdy and pre-WW-2ish. Major appliance looks changed forever.
Today, when hanging around practicing designers/trend forecasters one keeps hearing of the imminent death of stainless steel finish on appliances. Any day now. The time is now. And so on. Except that a popular TV cable channel, that rhymes with “mouse and pardon,” shows every young/old/wealthy/poor couple/single/hermit/bon-vivant salivating over stainless appliances. It is a worldwide Stainless Hallelujah chorus.
But, with my delicate shell-like ears, I’m hearing a new aria being sung in the upper air of the product design world. For example, a few months back, car company BMW’s head designer of color, finish, and materials credited Steve Jobs with the reason that white is so strongly back. Says he: “Prior to Apple, white was associated with things like refrigerators or the tiles in your bathroom. Apple made white ‘valuable’.”
Well isn’t that just avant garde – bringing back white to appliances? So you stainless groupies who mocked my retro white refrigerator but now, because it’s in “Apple white,” we’re so back baby!
Actually we elders recall when appliances were sheathed in exterior colors of Grey Poupon, aka harvest gold and pastels and avocado and some of us know that white actually never entirely went away. (Hmm. Betting you can’t keep Grey Poupon fresh in a BMW or an iMac no matter what its color.)
However, the real-real story is not just the “new” white and other hues but an updated overall design approach/appearance. While Whirlpool is announcing a White Ice color in its new Ice Collection, I’m wondering if this has any similarity to, say ah, “white”? Well wrong SVP, the Ice Collection, along with that new white, it will feature mirrored glass, and more finely detailed stainless handles and trim. And several more newish colors. Sorta.
Holy Ice Boxes Batman, the “iRefrigers v.2” are coming!
Quoted in world’s premier design publication, the Wall Street Journal, is Pat Schiavone, Whirlpool’s VP of Global Consumer Design: “In addition to the intuitive technology, this (Whirlpool) line take a fresh look at appliance design and features flawless exteriors…” So kids, if this turns out to be a strong and desirable new look, won’t it just be a bit difficult to replace only the refrigerator? Kinda makes one think that maybe they’re slyly aiming for a tide of appliance sales due to design redirects! Man the lifeboats.
Over at General Electric the color Slate appears. Wonder if more “Steve Jobs Effects colors” will show up there too? And Miele is talking about their high gloss finishes!
Anyway, while the overall designs may be a new direction, I’m guessing that the new/old colors evolving will still tend to blend in, as do stainless and white, rather than what some European manufacturers offer. Hey, SMEG from Italy has 17, yes seventeen! strong colors. Plus a striped number! AGA from the U.K. has claret, pistachio, British racing green, aubergine, heather and so on. But with kitchens in open-floor plans being part of the new living room, remember that appliances are turning into sorta living room furniture! So would a big red box with milk inside blend in?
So after 20+ years of stainless, maybe a change in both shapes and color?
But wait. In 1947, my Aunt Betty’s spiffy new Monel stainless counters were The Thing. Stainless steel counters are a hot trend again. Maybe design is more cyclical than we realize.