Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An "Eating" Kitchen Design

As discussed in my Cooking vs. Eating entry, there is a generational shift occurring within the kitchen. I was recently discussing a pilot we conducted with the Internet Home Alliance in 2003 with a colleague and how badly we missed the kitchen of the future. The pilot had many elements and most were focused on bringing technology to the cooking process – making mom’s tasks easier through technology. One of the elements that seemed like a great concept was the ability to control a Whirlpool Polara range from your cell phone. You could access your oven from your cell phone and program it to cook dinner. The Polara had the capability to be both a refrigerator and an oven so you could put dinner in the unit in the morning and go off about your day. This seemed like a great idea. Families were time-stressed and this could give them flexibility based on their day for dinner time. We thought connecting the oven via cell phone was critical, after all cell phones were becoming ubiquitous. The results were underwhelming for that part of the pilot. What we missed was the idea that the kitchen was changing its role and not simply in need of a technology facelift.

The part we had missed was the evolution of the kitchen, and eating itself, as a social activity with an entertainment quality. Cooking was no longer about working to prepare the family dinner in isolation but more about chatting with friends while whipping-up something on which to munch or multi-tasking to help the kids with homework while getting dinner pulled together. I found a great “Future Kitchen” design concept by Electrolux that really hits these elements. Here is an illustration of the Rendez-Vouz. As described in a cnet article, “The Rendez-vous table is designed with the idea in mind that the kitchen is a social gathering spot of the house. Large and meant for multitasking, the table is conceptualized as a wide-open induction cooktop that also would be able to power other appliances wirelessly. (Like this blender.) While the social activity of cooking and eating is highlighted, the table also would be programmed with a virtual chef, enabling cooks of all skill levels to enjoy the meal preparation. The result is a new area of the kitchen, perfect for cooking, eating, entertaining, and socializing.” Electrolux made a point that the technology behind this concept is available today so these could be not-too-distant designs.

There are a range of industries that need to be developing these concepts and products. The Rendez-Vouz would change kitchen designs dramatically affecting large and small appliances and cabinets. It will be interesting to see if these new systems can be controlled via cell phone – somehow I doubt it.

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