Ten years ago two appliance manufacturers introduced products to fit the changing lifestyles of homeowners. Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer drawers and Fisher & Paykel dishwasher drawers kicked off a trend in convenience that continues with new product offerings, including microwave and wine drawers. “It started slow in 1995, but that was because of the complexity of the product and that it was so completely different, people did not get it. Now they understand the logic, it's more user-friendly and people love it,” says Paul Leuthe, corporate marketing manager for Sub-Zero.
Though warming drawers have been around for many years, it was refrigerator and dishwasher drawers that began to change the homeowner's view of drawer appliances. Today's kitchen is increasing in size and is being used for multiple purposes. Drawer appliances create different zones within the kitchen. “A drawer appliance is more point-of-use,” says Bob Lewis, Dacor's assistant vice president of product development. “It is smaller and fits into more places and blends in with surrounding cabinetry,” he says. The company makes warming drawers, but plans to introduce a microwave drawer at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show.
Chris Lewis, senior director of marketing for appliances, Consumer Electronics Marketing Group, Sharp Electronics, says that this trend is driving appliance research. “People are upgrading the kitchen by ripping out walls and adding more windows,” he says. “As walls disappear, you need to relocate products that traditionally hung on the wall and find a convenient location for them.”
Within Reach The work triangle is disappearing as homeowners increasingly want different zones for baking, food preparation, and cleanup. They also want separate areas for children and for entertaining. “More people are cooking together as family or friends. That is difficult to do in a conventional kitchen because people bump into one another,” says Mark Johnson, marketing manager of architecture and design at Whirlpool/KitchenAid.
Atlanta designer Matthew Quinn says that refrigerator drawers are being used to complement full-sized units. “Instead of walking to the main fridge, you have a drawer that holds drinks closer to the end-user,” says the co-owner of Design Galleria.
Jeremy Turner, appliance manager at Callier & Thompson's showroom, says that the company's clients almost always use a refrigerator drawer as a supplemental appliance, but a double-drawer dishwasher is often used as a stand-alone appliance.
Johnson says dishwasher drawers are ideal for empty nesters or single owners who don't need a full-sized unit. “For one or two persons, it takes several days to fill a dishwasher. A drawer unit is small-capacity, so they can run loads more frequently,” he says.
San Francisco designer Lou Ann Bauer of Bauer Interior Design says that drawer appliances are better suited to larger kitchens. “But, if you put more appliances in the drawers, you're losing cabinet storage. You really have to prioritize,” she points out.
The universal design aspect of drawers is also driving sales. “Baby boomers are aging and bending over is getting tougher, Dacor's Bob Lewis says. “Drawer appliances are convenient for everyone, but they're closer to a necessity for the aging population.” Chris Lewis says that next to the refrigerator, the microwave is the second most-interacted-with appliance. Sharp Electronics' microwave drawers provide an ergonomic alternative to over-the-range units.
Costly Slide Drawer units are expensive, so current use is focused on luxury remodels and on custom homes. “Early adopters are used to premium pricing,” Bob Lewis says.
“If you're paying $2,000 for a two-drawer unit, it is hard to make that reach,” Leuthe says. “It boils down to need. Clients have to want it — not because it's frivolous but because it works well,” he adds.
Sharp Electronics' Chris Lewis says that homeowners should also consider how well the drawer appliance integrates with a manufacturer's other products. “Our microwave drawer matches our new wall oven. If you want a microwave to be built in, it is almost a must-have because it looks so nice and fully integrates with the other appliances,” she says.
Johnson compares drawer units to granite countertops that were once just for high-end kitchens and are now prevalent in moderately priced projects. Turner says the move will take a while, citing the pattern of warming-drawer use: They have been around for at least a decade and are just now moving into mid-range kitchens.
- Before specifying and installing drawer appliances, visit the manufacturer Web site and download complete instructions.
- Drawer appliances have tight tolerances. Mark Johnson of Whirlpool/KitchenAid recommends providing cut-out dimensions to the cabinetmaker and subcontractors.
- Paul Leuthe says that remodelers need to be aware of the depth of Sub-Zero's refrigerator units. “Our units are 24 inches deep, but that is to the front of the unit. You then need a panel on there, so that makes it 24¾ inches,” he says. “If you don't allow for a 25-inch depth, the drawer will stick out.” Sub-Zero's units can be serviced from the front, so they do not have to be removed for repairs.
- Designer Matthew Quinn says the most common mistake in installing refrigerator drawers is placing the power supply too high — it should be located at the floor.
- Johnson says KitchenAid's double-drawer dishwasher unit easily fits into existing cabinetry and needs the same access to plumbing and electrical as a full-sized dishwasher. However, the new single-drawer unit only fills half that space, so designers must find cabinetry to fit below it.
- The drop-in installation of Sharp Electronics' combination microwave drawer/ cooktop is more complicated than the drawer-unit installation. “You need to cut out the countertop based on the dimensions and then the unit hangs from the countertop,” Chris Lewis says. The drawer-only units fit standard 30-inch or 24-inch wide cabinets. The power outlet should be located in the rear of the cabinet.