Itty bitty kitchens - and millennial ways - demand tiny appliances

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Last year, General Electric Appliances unveiled its modular kitchen at a design competition held at its experimental factory in Louisville, Ky. The complete kitchen (refrigerator, cooking station, cleaning depot) fits in a six-footlong series of modular units that aesthetically recedes into decor.

The gourmet kitchen, with custom cabinetry, gooseneck faucets, and a granite-topped island as big as Texas, has been a gleaming status symbol for many Americans.

But for the 20- to 30-year-old urbanites who stream Hulu and share Indego bikes, kitchens are getting smaller - in fact, sometimes, no bigger than a walk-in closet.

Blame the developers seeking to offset land and construction costs as the reason young people are forced to choose smaller quarters.

But the shrinking kitchen has as much to do with millennial tastes as it does higher-density demands.

Young city dwellers ages 18 to 34 favor Blue Apron for its fresh food kits, and GrubHub and Caviar to summon restaurant delivery. When they do cook, they spend on average about 30 minutes preparing meals, experts say. And should they get a place of their own, they want it to be efficient so they aren't spending all their time on improvement projects - most of the action is happening outside their doors, after all.

Manufacturers are hearing the call of the crammed kitchen and responding with products that fit.

In June, KitchenAid will start selling the Artisan Mini Stand Mixer for about $400, 20 percent smaller and 25 pounds lighter than its bigger, instantly recognizable mixer. Analysts also foresee future kitchens being stocked with cordless blenders, food processors, mixers, and coffee grinders that will draw power from resonant chargers embedded within countertops.

Last year, General Electric Appliances presented its modular kitchen at a design competition at its experimental factory in Louisville, Ky. The complete kitchen (refrigerator, cooking station, cleaning depot) fits in a six-foot-long series of modular units that aesthetically recedes into decor.

These products can work for any one- or two-person household, but it's the millennials who are gobbling up the small stuff: Of the $6.1 billion spent in 2014, the under-35 group was the only demographic that bought more small appliances than they did the year before, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm. Last year, sales of small appliances rose 18 percent in or the same group. High on the list were products such as espresso makers, rice steamers, vacuum sealers, and sandwich makers, which are favored for their sleek designs and easy instructions.

Olivia Cervasio, 23, moved six months ago into a 350-square-foot studio with a kitchen not much longer than a lounge chair. Knowing what she could afford, Cervasio says she was willing to trade space in exchange for living in Center City.

"I wanted to be in an area where I could walk everywhere and take the train to work," says Cervasio, who works for an architectural firm in Manayunk.

She and her boyfriend shop at a grocery store a short walk from her high-rise apartment and cook chicken or pasta a couple of times a week. They eat out on weekends, frequenting burger or Asian eateries.

To maximize space in her tiny kitchen, she hung shelves and a wine rack, and has a wooden island on wheels for food preparation. She eats at a table in a corner, and has a microwave, mixer, crockpot, and a simple two-slice toaster.

Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst at NPD, says younger people may eat 25 percent more fresh foods (poultry, fruits, and milk) than the same age group did 10 years ago - but they spend only a half-hour preparing meals.

"The millennials aren't top chefs, but they're making good use of their time," Seifer says.

Joe Michelini, 27, a songwriter and recording engineer, lives with his fiancée on the second floor of a redbrick building in Northern Liberties. Their kitchen is small, with space for a mixer and a toaster oven, which they hardly use and might switch out for a small toaster. "We make our own bread. We also make our own soap and laundry detergent."

Lou Lenzi, director of design for General Electric Appliances, says high-density living will remain a trend in urban areas.

"Larger homes will always need bigger kitchens. But we can't ignore the trend in urban areas. Our microkitchens will allow people to maintain a high quality of life in a small space," Lenzi says.

And small spaces aren't going away.

In Fishtown, developer James Maransky noticed during the early sales phase of the eco-friendly Icehouse complex that the smaller one-bedroom units sold out first.

He and his team changed out the plans for the next phase after more market study showed young professionals prefer quality of living space over size.

"And big on their lists were things like energy-efficient appliances and amenities like pullout trash-and-recycling compartments," Maransky says. He is applying some of the same building blueprints to rental apartments he's developing in Old City and South Philadelphia.

He's selling 14 one-bedroom units for $200,000 to $300,000 that were originally slated to be seven townhouses. The open-profile kitchens are modern, with a row of stainless-steel appliances tucked against a wall.

Stephanie Somers of Re/Max Access develops and sells properties in Fishtown, Northern Liberties, and Kensington that have small kitchens and that are affordable to young first-time buyers who have been priced out of more expensive neighborhoods. She says her millennial clients want to buy houses that are new or that have been updated with as many creature comforts squeezed into their kitchens as possible.

"They prefer the houses to be simple but functional," Somers says. "Once they move in, they want to experience an immediate social life in the neighborhood. They don't want to be doing excessive work on their houses during their free time."

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