Just two years ago there, was a color tsunami at the international housewares show in Chicago. From spatulas, knives and cook pots to mixers, blenders, irons and, of course, the ubiquitous water bottle, a rainbow of pigments electrified booths.
Now what? No longer shocked by the novelty of hip, hot hues (or even the revolutionary silicon), we can observe ever-emerging favorites (always shades of blue) and shifts in popularity -- perhaps away from neon lime (although not abandoning orange or magenta). Or take in a mini-moment for purple cookware, thanks to an intriguing speckled lavender from Paula Deen or a plum from Rachel Ray's Cucina line, both from Meyer. But we're not color blind to great form, style and design.
And more and more, manufacturers are aiming to please -- with a look to modern, simple and sometimes elegant designs -- especially targeting the millennial consumer. Crossovers from other areas of home design capture microtrends like the use of wood, wood-metal mixes, hammered and relief finishes, colors, textures and patterns such as animal prints from fashion runways.
With so many products to peruse, the show organizers divvy up the wares into categories including wired & well; dine & design; clean, contain & sustain; global crossroads. With a lens on the kitchen, dining and entertaining, here is what to expect at retail this summer and fall.
The networking of appliances continues to ramp up, as do options allowing Bluetooth connectivity. High-end appliance manufacturers such as Dacor have integrated graphic user interfaces that, for example, alert your smartphone when the roast is ready. A Samsung refrigerator features a Wi-Fi enabled LCD screen to watch TV, pull up recipes and even make or answer phone calls. There's even a "Perfect Drink" scale and app that's loaded with recipes and walks you through steps to blend a single portion or a pitcher full of margaritas and other beverages (www.amazon.com).
Thermometers for grilling and cooking can be synched up with your smartphone and whole-house devices control thermostat, garage openers, lights and locks (check out www.iDevicesinc.com for its new whole-house Switch).
One show demo dazzled, with its application of 3-D technology in the kitchen. A PancakeBot from Storebound can be programmed to produce colorful and fanciful creations -- kid drawings, butterflies, dinosaurs or even the Eiffel Tower. Save original artwork or photos to an SD card or USB, and then print your design. A "smart batter dispensing system" outlines the desired image onto a griddle. The product, which has a suggested retail price of $299, is expected to launch in early fall. Storebound gets kudos for helping inventors get products to the marketplace. This particular one benefited from Kickstarter, where it met a goal of $50,000 within the first 40 hours.
Eye on health and cooking styles
Demand for professional heavy-duty juicers like Omega and Vitamix remains robust -- high price tags notwithstanding. But the offerings (and price points) continue to expand. Salton's newest professional power blender is marketed with celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak. It can whip up smoothies, soups and even mill rice for rice flour. Best of all is a more modest price point of just under $200 (compared to $500 to $700 for others). And the Hamilton's Jamba affiliation draws that brand's aficionados to fresh squeezed juices.
One category that has taken off is slow cookers -- a blast from the past, but capturing a new generation. However healthy you cook, of course, depends on what exactly you toss in to simmer all day. Low temperature settings are said to retain flavor, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but attractive to many, of course, is the set-and-forget factor; coming home to an aromatic, ready-to-eat meal.
Steam cooking continues to attract those seeking healthier cuisine. So aside from uber-pricy, dedicated or combination, built-in steam/convection ovens, there are more than a smattering of inexpensive gadgets that allow you to adapt the appliances and cookware you already have. There are devices for the microwave and inserts for pots, with some cleverly retractable for storage.
This all speaks to added value and double duty. Dedicated appliances like rice cookers gain even more traction when they add functions, like Philips' new all-in-one multicooker, which steams, braises, slow cooks and even makes yogurt.
Practical add-ons also make sense. For example, a number of cutting boards have morphed to include storage as well. A new eco-friendly bamboo cutting board from Curtis Stone (www.curtisstone.com) includes recessed containers on top for cut up ingredients and storage drawers tucked beneath, all made from plastic BPA-free material.
One company that delivers with wit as well is Dreamfarm. Its well-thought solutions are tagged with clever names, like click-lock tongs ("clongs") or chop and sit up spatulas ("chopulas"), and scrape level measuring spoons called "levoons."
Other lifestyle trends
While single-serve coffee makers continue percolating, other methods of java brewing also are emerging. KitchenAid introduced three other coffee makers to "bring the barista home." One is a siphon brewer with vacuum technology that fully immerses grounds in water to create a more complex flavor. And French press is making a strong showing -- its simple brewing process, which measures coffee and water by weight instead of volume, is touted for its strong flavor.
Oven-to-table and serve ware
Nambe metal ware has upped the ante on stylish, sculptural pieces that can go from freezer and oven to table. And cookware manufacturers of stainless and enamel-clad pots have paid more attention to design. One standout with a modern sensibility is the Italian maker Sambonet. Its square handles and matte-finished terra cotta give it a distinctive look that handsomely transitions to tabletop.
And sturdy cast iron has been gaining new devotees. FINEX takes design to a new level with its handcrafted cast iron skillets. Octagonal lids are not only fashion forward, but they also allow easy pouring from six directions. Stylish, ribbed, polished stainless steel handles also are ergonomic, shaped to fit the natural curve of the hand. And the handsome mottled lids have brass accents.
There's an uptick in the use of wood, especially spotlighting unusual grains and inlays. From cutting boards to serving pieces for crudites or cheeses or appetizers, there's more variety in wood species as well as characteristic markings. Carving also is calling new attention to wood, as with pieces designed by Marcel Wanders as part of the Dressed Collection for Alessi.
Among the leading edge of design are Italian, Scandinavian, French and German imports. Many of these manufacturers debuted product earlier in the year in Paris at Maison & Objet and in Frankfurt at Ambiente, two important international furnishings shows.
With more and more emphasis on form and function, inspired by evolving lifestyle trends, a stepped-up focus on healthy eating as well as fashion and decor, housewares in this country will continue gain points in the style, efficiency and health arenas.
-- Alessi, available at retailers like Bloomingdales, plus Amazon.com and Lumens.com, 877-445-4486; www.alessi.com
-- Argent Orfevres, Hampton Forge, 877-423-6743, www.hamptonforge.com
-- Casabella, 800-841-4140, ext. 184, www.casabella.com
-- Cristel, 843-540-0013, www.cristelusa.com
-- Dreamfarm, 415-626-3333, www.dreamfarm.com
-- French Bull, 212-317-9646, www.frenchbull.com
-- FINEX, 503-946-1136, www.finexusa.com
-- JIA, U.S. distribution through Counterpoint, 507-280-6419, www.jia-inc.com
-- JK Adams, 800-451-6118, www.jkadams.com
-- Joseph Joseph Inc., 917-338-0900, www.josephjoseph.com
-- KitchenAid, 800-541-6390, www.kitchenaid.com
-- La Cafetiere, Lifetime Brands, 800-999-2811, www.lifetimebrands.com
-- Paula Deen, 800-388-3872, www.pauladeenkitchenware.com; Meyer Corporation, 800-298-1071 (for Paula Deen), www.meyer.com/us
-- Philips, 866-309-8817, www.philips.com
-- REO, Lifetime Brands, 800-999-2811, www.lifetimebrands.com
-- Savora, 516-740-6790, www.savorastyle.com
-- Smeg at West Elm, 888-922-4119, www.westelm.com; www.smeg.com
-- Storebound, 800-898-6970, www.storebound.com
STACK 'EM & PACK 'EM
Homeowners appreciate clever and colorful solutions to space-saving and chores. So stacking and nesting are welcome in areas where real estate is tight. And color has an added value: It can make tasks more fun.
We love multifunctional objects -- especially when they economize on footprints with retractables, collapsibles, stackables. Cristel's thoughtful Mutine cookware collection stacks and has removable handles, much easier to tuck into those deep drawers.
(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at email@example.com.)