Let’s play a game: Guess whether the appliance in the photo above is a dishwasher, stove, refrigerator, microwave, sink, or oven. Would you believe me if I told you it was each and every one of those? Well, meet GE’s micro-kitchen, an innovative appliance designed to house all of your kitchen needs in a compact stylish unit.
At first glance, the micro-kitchen looks like it came straight out of a futuristic movie, but this appliance is no product of fiction. Rather, it was designed to address the needs of the modern consumer, and specifically the ever-increasing “small-living” trend.
Lou Lenzi, director of industrial design for GE Appliances, explained this trend is dominated by two very different demographics: Millennials and Baby Boomers. In his research, Lenzi observed that Millennials, a group of over 80 million in the U.S. population, are choosing a downsized urban lifestyle over traditional housing options. Lenzi discovered the increased attraction to urban centers has led to high-density living in these areas, and consequently, smaller and smaller floor plans. “That was really eye opening for us,” Lenzi said. “It woke us up to the fact that our appliances didn’t fit that market.”
The second demographic Lenzi considered was the Baby Boomers, who are now reaching retirement age. As such, many are looking at vacation homes, RVs, marine living, or simply downsized dwellings more suited for an “empty nest.”
“Between the two groups, it forced us to take a step back and rethink how we were designing,” Lenzi explained. The result? GE’s micro-kitchen — designed to cleverly house a full gamut of appliances in one convenient package. The first of two micro-kitchen concepts, dubbed the “monoblock,” integrates cooking, cleaning, and refrigeration in one seamless unit. The second uses a drawer-based system to house downsized kitchen appliances, like an oven, microwave, and induction cooktop.
While Lenzi’s main goal was creating a space-saving appliance, he made sure not to compromise culinary technology or style. “We didn’t want to de-feature products to fit in these small living spaces,” he said. “If you grew up as a foodie, you don’t want to give up that lifestyle in order to downsize.” So high technology was repackaged into a smaller (and unquestionably stylish) unit. Foodies, rejoice!
It’s no mystery that Lenzi keeps the end-user in mind when he designs a product. But this consideration was taken one step farther last May when GE teamed up with Local Motors to create FirstBuild, an online community “dedicated to conceiving, engineering and building the next generation of major appliances.”
In conjunction with the launch of FirstBuild, GE kicked-off the Micro-Kitchen challenge. The contest asked outside designers to create and submit a layout of their ideal micro-kitchen. While some designers focused on solving specific small-kitchen problems and others looked at the bigger picture, the results are overall incredibly innovative. You can see the 5 finalists here. “It really speaks to the idea of getting a whole community involved,” said Lenzi. “When you take the power of the community into account it does so much for creating a solution.”
GE plans to build prototypes of these designs in the FirstBuild micro-factory in Louisville, KY and begin small batch micro-kitchen production by the end of the year. The prototype micro-kitchens are projected to cost $7,000 to $15,000, depending on which components the consumer chooses. While this may be a steep price for the average downsized dweller, Lenzi predicts the innovative product will lead future kitchen design and technology. As he confidently stated, “micro kitchen has the opportunity to redefine appliance design.”
What do you think of the new micro-kitchen? Would you buy one for your home? Tell us in the comments!