In the home-building industry, everything makes its debut at the high end. It can also disappear up there, if it doesn’t meet expectations or creates headaches, warranty issues and service calls for the manufacturer and builder. But, if a luxury item survives the initial vetting process of the marketplace, it will eventually reach the majority of consumers, though this can take years and the product may be considerably modified.

What aesthetic or technological innovations may be in the pipeline for you? At this year’s Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas, held in May, I saw some interesting developments in ranges, cooktops and cabinetry.

About 30 years ago, Subzero slimmed refrigerators down from an industry standard of 30 inches to 24 inches. With this shallower depth, a kitchen could have a sleek, streamlined look without a big clunky box intruding into a designer’s vision. Since then, however, clunkiness has returned in the form of six- and eight-burner professional ranges that can be, like those old refrigerators, as deep as 30 inches. To bring things back into aesthetic balance, De’Longhi, an Italian appliance manufacturer, now offers a professional-feature range in a slimmer, 24-inch depth.

The smallest, slim-line De’Longhi range has a 24-inch width (4 burners with gas, electric or dual fuel – gas burners with electric oven for $1,800). That may interest downsizing baby boomers who have said they want smaller houses with smaller kitchens, but just as many perks.

The larger ranges are gas-only. The 36-inch-wide model (5 burners, $3,000) and the 48-inch-wide model (6 burners, $7,000) have two ovens so that two ovens, so that you can broil or roast your dinner in one while you bake the dessert in the other. The gas ovens on all the ranges have an infrared broiler feature that sears meat during the initial 60 secondsof cooking, retaining all the juices in it and producing a steak that tastes as good as the one in your favorite restaurant.

The De’Longhi gas ranges also have a larger 16,800 BTU burner (the largest unit has two) for wok cooking or boiling large amounts of water for pasta or lobsters. Like all new gas ranges and cooktops, each burner has an electronic ignition instead of a pilot light. In addition, the De’Longhi models have a unique safety feature called a valve shut off. Without this feature, the gas keeps flowing if the burner is turned down very low and the flame goes out. Some gas units have a re-ignition feature. But when the flame goes out because a window is open and a breeze is blowing, for example, the burner continuously re-ignites and the gas keeps flowing until you shut the window or manually turn it off.

It will take a while for the features on the De’Longhi ranges to migrate to the mainstream, but at least one revolutionary method of cooking is already there. I saw induction cooktops offered by luxury manufacturer Diva de Provence (5 burner cooktop for $3,600) and Sears Kenmore Elite(4 burner cooktop for $1,500).

What is the radical departure here? A conventional gas burner, electric coil burner or a halogen electric burner generate heat. This warms up the cooking pot, which in turn heats and cooks the food. With an induction burner, an electric coil below the glass top generates a small electromagnetic field instead of heat. When a pot containing iron is placed on the burner, this energy agitates and excites the iron molecules in the pot. The agitated molecules give off heat, which cooks the food.

The induction method of cooking is extremely efficient. About 90 percent of the heat produced is utilized to cook the food. With gas, only about half the heat generated actually is used to cook the food; the rest goes out into the kitchen, which is one reason it can get unbearably hot during the summer. With electric burners, summers aren’t quite as bad – only 35 to 40 percent of the heat generated diffuses into a kitchen.

Because the induction method is very efficient, it cooks the food faster. It also cooks faster because a burner can operate at a high temperature almost as soon as it is turned on. For example, with the Sears unit, a quart of tap water reaches a full boil (68 to 212 degrees F) in 98 seconds. The Sears unit has 16 gradations of heat from high to low; the Diva de Provence has 12 gradations, many more than most chefs ever use, both manufacturers said.

Another advantage of the induction burner is that the stovetop itself does not get hot. Food spills do not cook on, so the cleanup is easy, and household members will not get burned, a great safety feature.

The only downside to induction cooking is that you can only use cookware with iron content; the unit won’t operate with aluminum or glass pans. To make the switch to induction easier, Diva de Provence includes a 5-piece set of All-Clad Metalworks cookware .With a purchase of the Sears unit, you get a griddle.

The Sears unit will be available in September; the Diva de Provence unit is available at independent appliance dealers.

Another potential sea change noted at KBIS – the slick look of European-style cabinetry, which has been exclusively a high-end product, is now an affordable proposition for a much bigger segment of the market. Sensing that many consumers are ready to be stylistically adventurous, Kraftmaid – a mid-priced, semi-custom cabinet maker known for a traditional look with the highest cabinet sales in the United States – has broken the aesthetic glass ceiling and developed an entirely new Venicia line that verges on edgy.

For the “I want something that looks traditional but with a difference” homeowners, Kraftmaid offers the Venicia-Natura collection. The doors are wood with raised or flat panels, but the detailing for the beading and stiles are unusual.

For the “I want something definitely different” group, the cabinet maker offers the Venicia-Lustra collection. The doors are finished with a top grade of thermofoil that looks and feels like lacquer (an expensive finish that is only offered by custom cabinet makers). The door styles include a severe flat panel for both the door and drawer front which is common in Europe but unusual here. The colors range from stark black and white to metallic gray and one that looks like an exotic African hardwood.

For the “I want something really different” crowd, Kraftmaid offers the Venicia-Mirra collection. The doors have a heavy acrylic lacquer finish that’s so glossy you can see your own reflection. Two of the four flat-door styles have continuous polished aluminum pulls (the pulls run the full width of each drawer and cabinet drawer), and two door styles have metallic gray edging for both the cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

The cabinet boxes and drawers in the Venicia line are also new. The cabinet boxes are frameless, common in Europe but unusual in this country and a first for Kraftmaid. With frameless cabinets, the cabinet box has three sides instead of four, and the doors are hinged to the sides instead of the front. Without a front frame, you gain three inches of width in each cabinet, and you don’t have to reach around a center stile when taking things in or out. To give the Venicia kitchen a more unified look, the cabinet interiors match or blend with the door color for the Lustra and Natura collections. For the Mirra group, all the interiors are gray.

The Venicia drawers also have new features. The drawers can be either gray metal (Kraftmaid calls this the Contempo drawer) or wood. With both you can purchase wood or metal dividers and customize your drawer storage to a remarkable degree.

The Venicia line will be available in independent kitchen and bath dealers and Lowe’s by mid or late July.

Web information:

De’Longhi: www.delonghimajorappliances.com

Sears Kenmore induction cooktop: Information will be available on Sears Web site, www.Sears.com, in September when their induction cooktop is available for purchase.

Diva de Provence: www.divadeprovence.com

Kraftmaid Venicia: www.kraftmaid.com

Questions or Queries? Katherine Salant can be contacted at www.katherinesalant.com.

***

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