The kitchen's cool zones are hot this holiday season. Whether your refrigeration appliances are built-in or freestanding, undercounter drawers or wine columns, now is the time to chill out and figure out a colder kitchen flow, says architect Michele Alfano, a National Kitchen and Bath Association-certified designer whose eponymous firm is based in Montebello, New York.
"If the kitchen is the heart of the home, the refrigerator is its heartbeat," she says. "Especially during the holidays, refrigerator space may be at a premium with parties and overnight guests."
As the refrigerator continues to evolve, both in form and function, what was once seen as a luxury appliance in the early 20th century is now a necessity in today's home. Even the placement of cold storage has shifted the kitchen's design, as the days of refrigerator/freezer appliances only being tethered to walls are over. "The refrigerated zones in the kitchen anchor its workflow," Alfano says. "Everything flows from the refrigerator and freezer to the sink or the stove."
There are many cool configurations available for the full-size refrigerator/freezer, says Brian Jones, Sub-Zero Group Inc. spokesperson, based in Madison, Wisconsin. Founded in 1945, Sub-Zero is an American-based manufacturer of refrigeration, freezer and wine storage products.
"Family and friends can treat the main refrigerator as public domain, placing food inside, looking for ingredients or simply getting a glass of water from the door dispensary," Jones says. "The main refrigerator requires a lot of real estate in the kitchen, and the type you have can be based on your style and space available."
The main refrigerator can span from a slim apartment-size 18-inch-wide unit or be quadrupled to 72 inches wide. Configurations can include a refrigerator/freezer combination in a side-by-side fashion or French door-style with refrigerator on top and freezer on the bottom.
"When designing a kitchen, we always determine where the main refrigerator is going to live first," Alfano says. "That's because a kitchen that really cooks uses the refrigerator as a starting and ending point. Ingredients come out of the refrigerator to prepare a meal and any leftovers are returned to the refrigerator."
A refrigerator's face can either be a standout in a kitchen design, with a factory finish in a color or stainless steel, or blend in with custom panels that coordinate with the surrounding cabinetry. Alfano's design of a Hudson Valley, New York, home's kitchen lounge has a large refrigerator unit clad in blonde wood panels, disguised as a cabinet.
"There can be a blurring of lines between the kitchen and the living area," Alfano says. "With a space designed for entertaining, a large refrigerator clad in clean wood paneling doesn't detract from the overall design, and actually, figuratively, can help warm the space."
While homeowners may be opting for the largest full-size refrigerator the kitchen space allows, supplemental refrigeration can be tucked under the counter with refrigerator and freezer drawers on an island. Instead of having a second stand-alone refrigerator stowed in the garage or basement, undercounter configurations can be stocked for meal prep or a drink station.
In what can be called flexible refrigeration, the beauty of undercounter drawers and units is that the contents can be changed out quickly. "A refrigerator drawer used to stash fresh produce can be transformed into a beverage station for a party," Jones says. "We are even seeing the use of undercounter refrigerators placed in master bathrooms or anywhere in the home where convenient cold items are needed."
While undercounter refrigerators are an organized way to store bottled beverages and allow people to serve themselves, more homeowners are raising a glass to toast their personal wine refrigerators.
Space dedicated to wine storage in the home used to be considered a status symbol for the few. But today, with better climate-control technology, wine doesn't even have to be housed in a cellar to be stored properly. Ensuring non-fluctuating temperature control, keeping the humidity level between 60 and 70 percent, and shielding bottles from light are all components of a well-made wine refrigerator.
With wine refrigerators that can house up to nearly 150 bottles, Jones says entertaining with spirits has never been easier. "For the person who entertains, a 30-inch-wide, 86-bottle wine refrigerator -- with refrigerated and freezer drawers on the bottom -- becomes an adult beverage center," he says. "With a freezer drawer that makes ice, the refrigerator drawer can cool bottled beverages and drink garnishes."
Function Over Form
While it may be tempting to focus on the cool looks of the refrigerator, there's a lot that also happens behind its closed door. Shelving units should be easily adjustable to accommodate everything from cake to kale without compromising taste and food preservation, says Jones.
"A refrigerator should prolong food freshness and prevent waste by having the proper humidity, temperature control and air quality," he says. "Having an air purification system in a refrigerator keeps ethylene gas -- naturally secreted from fresh fruits and vegetables -- in check to prevent spoilage and potential mold."
Some refrigerators come Wi-Fi ready, with internal cameras and alarms that can be linked to a mobile device. "With Sub-Zero products, you can receive alerts to your phone if a refrigerator or freezer door is ajar," Jones says. "For that upcoming party, you can also remotely program the freezer to produce more ice."
Regards to Refrigeration
-- To find a certified kitchen professional, go to the National Kitchen and Bath Association's website, www.nkba.org, and click the "Find a Professional" box at the bottom of the page.
-- MicheleAlfanoDesign.com, service area includes Manhattan, Hudson Valley and Westchester County in New York and Northern New Jersey.
-- For more information on Sub-Zero Refrigeration, visit Subzero-Wolf.com and click "Explore Showrooms" or request a free brochure.