BERLIN - Nowhere does high-end industrial design and smart consumer technology come together better than at IFA, the international trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances here in Berlin that finished its run on Wednesday.
And, yes, those two product categories really are on equal footing at the International Funkaustellung event, often married at the hip.
This visitor first started thinking "hmmm, time to remodel" after exposure to the ultra-sleek, countertop-mounted induction cooktops, woks and burners that Euro marketers call "hobs." In KitchenAid's Domino line (costing 1,000 to 2,000 Euros a piece/$1,120.20 to $2,240.40), these "hobs" are so finely finished you'd be happy to pull up a stool and eat your food right off them. (Easy with induction cooktops, always cool to the touch.)
Many exhibitors at the Messe Berlin Fairgrounds were talking smart and connected appliances. But in Germany, where more than 30 percent of electricity is generated with alternative fuels - solar and wind power, mainly - companies such as Bosch are really putting their tech resources where their public relations mouth is. The company showcased a new laundry pair and dishwasher (available 2016) that take operating cues from connected solar panels on the homeowner's roof, starting up when the sun's rays are brightest or when off-peak grid rates prevail.
Minimizing soap pollutants, water consumption and energy use is the pitch of new washing machines such as the Miele Twin Dos and Bauknecht Premium Care that assess the load before adding soap (pre-installed in large quantity for multiple runs). Plus, the washer communicates instructions to the dryer. So all you have to do, wash attendant, is move wet clothes into the dryer and hit the start button. And if the Miele senses and sends an app alert that it's running low on soap, three clicks will order you more.
While most European appliance designs emphasize sharp edges and high-end materials, a few happily go the retro route, with equally dramatic and whimsical effect. Modena, of Italy-based Bompani, showed a flat black-finished refrigerator, its door doubling as a chalk board for art work and messaging.
Fellow Paisanos at ILVE (based in Padova, near Venice) tickled our heart with the Majestic line of "Cooking Blocks." These are chunky stand-alone stoves that would look at home in an old country farmhouse, yet mix/mingle whatever modern elements you desire - a cooktop with induction, gas or frytop elements, front oven compartments with gas, rotisserie and/or microwave chambers. A small family operation, ILVE also offers custom enamel paint finishes and relatively fast delivery to the United States through the Long Island, New York-based distributor Euro Chef USA.
Even Asian appliance makers now know to make their products prettier and better for the European community, which collectively takes industrial design "much more seriously than you Americans do," we heard time and again. Yeah, there's a reason U.S. makers (and retailers) call our boring appliances "white goods" (yawn).
LG and Haier were touting "Twin" and "Duo," respectively; vertically stacked washing machines allowing for safe, separate and simultaneous laundering of colors and whites. Samsung showed a skinnier and taller line of fridges for Euro consumers.
Gizmo Guy saw a big bunch of fridges with new technology that supposedly extends the shelf life of items left inside. Sharp does the trick with patented air ionizing. Siemens "Hyper Fresh," Bosch's "Vita Fresh" and Beko's "Ever Fresh" purportedly suck the humidity out of the air to keep fruits and vegetables edible for "up to 30 days."
Haier, a Chinese appliance giant best known in the U.S. for wine refrigerators, showed a new model that chills with just a tiny solid state module ("thermochemical CO2/H2O Heat Pipe technology"), rather than a clunky motor and compressor. As a reward, the wine is "no longer disturbed" by motor vibration or wavering temperatures, a demonstrator said. It launches stateside early next year, priced around $1,500.
Also catching our eye are wall-recessed and free standing steam ovens that work great with the sous vide (vacuum bag-sealed meat/veggie cooking) process.
And what's not to love about Euro-chic, over-range exhaust hoods that recess into a trim, triangular package?
Fittingly, the appliance makers' booths are fantastic, too. They are so expensively finished it's cheaper for some exhibitors to just leave them in place year round at the Messe Berlin Fairgrounds.
Next week: the out-of-kitchen IFA experience.