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Report From Dwell on Design L.A.: Understated Functionality Steals the Show

Bauformat kitchen
This Bauformat kitchen demonstrates the trend to sleek flat-scapes and induction cooktops seen at Dwell on Design 2015. Photo courtesy of Dwell on Design.
Induction cooktop
Induction cooktops, like this one from Miele, are making clear inroads over gas ranges as the appliance of choice. Photo courtesy of Dwell on Design.

Hidden appliances, smart technology and muted colors stand out.

Glitz and glam were on display at Dwell on Design L.A. 2015, as celebrities from Ed Begley Jr. to Moby, and design stars Nate Berkus and Marcel Wanders, gave attendees a glimpse into this year’s hottest trends.

But in the kitchen and bath, star power meant clean lines, plenty of technology and smart appliances that don’t hog the spotlight.

Subtle is the new star

This design show had an emphasis on subtle functionality over flashy facades.

For Laurie Haefele, owner of Haefele Design, who co-hosted a panel titled “Contemporary Kitchens on Fast Forward: High Design Goes Beyond Smart,” that means getting away from imposing appliances dominating the kitchen. Instead, she prefers the European trend, quickly catching on in the U.S., of placing appliances behind sliding doors and other panels.

“The trend is to hide as much as possible, and utilize motorized and pop-up appliance bays,” Haefele says. “You’re seeing more people hide ovens and refrigerators behind large, motorized doors so everything’s on the same plane. You just touch it and it opens, or it slides back and you’ve got something that’s beautiful and sleek.”

Presenter Dan Brunn, principal of Dan Brunn Architecture who spoke on a panel titled “Negative Space and the Built Environment,” likes the absence of form that those types of design elements can enhance. He lauded appliance makers for branching out from hard-to-miss stainless steel to more subtle surfaces.

One of his favorites is Miele’s Brilliant White Plus line of painted glass appliances that includes ovens, a coffee system, and a plate and cup warmer, which can be matched with white paneling over refrigerators and dishwashers.

“With the advent of stainless appliances, the kitchen went from a very homey, domesticated space to more of a commercial, almost laboratory feel,” Brunn says. “I think there’s an opportunity with smart design and technology for the kitchen to be more domestic again, and less restaurant-like.”

Easy efficiency

The single plane flat-scape is being extended to cooking surfaces as well, with induction cooktops quickly overtaking gas ranges as the appliance of choice, even in Southern California, where gas has dominated for decades.

“Induction gives you the instantaneous cooking capabilities of gas, and it’s easier to keep clean,” says Russ Diamond, president of high-end kitchen and bath retailer Snyder Diamond and Haefele’s co-panelist. “The technology has also made it a lot more efficient in recent years.”

Smarter kitchens and baths

Integration between appliances and smart devices is becoming a hallmark of kitchen and bath design, as the Internet of Things becomes more prevalent, Diamond says.

From refrigerators that can self-diagnose and vertical spas that can be programmed while you’re still in bed to bacteria-zapping toilets that can monitor your blood sugar, these enhancements will only increase with the proliferation of technology that people carry in their pockets.

“To some degree, all of these capabilities have already been out there for a while,” Diamond says. “But they haven’t been made mainstream for the public to use because, until the last few years, not everyone had a smartphone. But now they do.”

Look for that technology to quickly meld form and function with how people live in the kitchen and bath. Just don’t expect it to stand out to the naked eye.