5 Key Things to Consider When Investing in Kitchen Appliances

Twelve years ago, I hired a designer to help me with my own kitchen remodel (long before I became a designer myself.) At our first meeting, she informed me that she couldn’t help me shop for appliances; I had to buy them on my own. Having just moved from a high-rise apartment in San Francisco to an 1886 Victorian in Denver, the thought of researching and purchasing appliances on my own was daunting to say the least.

As an accredited kitchen and bath designer, I assist my clients in selecting their appliances early in the design process;  not as an afterthought. Recently I invited Greg Ulvedal, the affable president of  Specialty Appliance Inc, for coffee and a chat about what homeowners should consider when shopping for appliances. With two expansive showrooms and a team of highly-trained appliance consultants, Specialty Appliance encourages designers and their clients to “Buy Smarter.” Below is my informal Q&A with Greg.

Specialty Appliance Inc.

What percentage of your clients have researched appliances prior to visiting your showroom?

“Approximately 50-60% of people who come to Specialty know something about appliances; I would expect 80-90%.

“Appliances are such an important part of the kitchen, yet people don’t pay attention to them. They aren’t aware that there are so many options to consider. Take refrigerators – beyond a standard refrigerator, there are French door refrigerators, column refrigerators, refrigerator drawers, etc.”


Thermador Kitchen with Freedom Columns

Thermador was the first to introduce modular refrigeration with their Freedom Collection; creating optimal wine and food storage solutions to fit individual needs. Photo courtesy of Thermador.


Sub-Zero's New French Door Refrigerator

Sub-Zero recently introduced a French door refrigerator, offering convenient access to both the refrigerator and freezer compartments. Photo courtesy of Sub-Zero.


What are some common misconceptions about shopping for appliances?

“People think that they can’t afford a high-end brand such as SubZero or Thermador. They ‘undersell’ themselves or pigeonhole themselves into a particular brand or a budget. In reality, the prices among brands are much closer than you would think.

“There has never been a better time to buy appliances than right now. Manufacturers are offering package deals that can save you a lot of money. For example, Thermador is giving away a free dishwasher with the purchase of an appliance package. That was unheard of five years ago. However by the end of the year, I don’t anticipate that manufacturers will be as generous.”

Name 5 things that consumers should consider when investing in appliances.

#1 – “Focus on functionality; how you’re going to use the appliances. Keep in mind that a particular gas burner may work well for one person, but not another person. I really wish people would come in and cook on our appliances. A lot of them bring in their pots, pans and glasses to see how they fit in the dishwashers.”

(Many quality appliance showrooms such as Specialty have working kitchens where you can bring in your pots, pans and recipes, and actually “cook before you buy” – how cool is that?!)

#2 – “Have a somewhat defined budget.”

(Most appliance websites have pricing and information on their promotions right on their websites. An appliance specialist can assist you in establishing a working budget.)

#3 – “Consider ergonomics. For example, a range may look really cool, but if you’re 6’5” like I am, you may not want to bend over all the time. A cooktop and wall ovens may be a better option.

“We get emotionally attached to things. We tell ourselves, ‘I can make this work.” But ask yourself, how will you use an appliance as you progress through life.”

#4 – “Think about how long you plan to stay in the house. If you are going to live in the house forever, you may not need a name brand or you may wish to splurge on special appliances.”

#5 – “If you plan to sell, name brands or traditional brands attract buyers. Keep in mind that you can only really “brand” a couple of items in a kitchen – appliances and plumbing fixtures.”

Where should people save and where should they splurge?

“You can consider mixing and matching brands, especially with cooktops and dishwashers. However, due to the promotions that appliance manufacturers are offering, it might make sense to stick with one brand.”

“Spend a little less on a wall oven and invest in a good cooktop and dishwasher which are used the most. Dishwashers are key – no one wants a loud, noisy dishwasher that doesn’t work. Multiple racks in a dishwasher are big.”


Thermador Star-Sapphire Dishwasher

Thermador's Star-Sapphire Dishwasher offers multiple racks and one of the shortest wash cycles in the industry. Photo courtesy of Thermador.


What are some of the appliance trends consumers should be aware of?

#1 – “Induction cooking is big in all facets. An  induction cooktop used to cost $3,000; today you can get one for ~$1,200.00. Anyone can have one.”

#2 – “Column refrigerators are where everyone is going. You don’t need to have the refrigerator and freezer both in one place.”

#3 – “With dishwashers – quiet is huge; so is having the light on the floor. No one wants to open their dishwasher to see if their dishes are done. Dishwasher drawers have taken a backseat.”

#4 – “Steam cooking is big but very expensive. Steam cooking will become more popular as the price drops.”


Thermador Freedom Induction Cooktop

Today's induction cooktops offer instantaneous and precise cooking control, making them as responsive as gas. Photo courtesy of Thermador.


Wolf Convection Steam Oven

Convection steam ovens monitor the time, temperature and cooking environment, eliminating much of the guesswork in preparing a dish. Photo courtesy of Sub-Zero/Wolf.


Will we see more color on appliances?

“Color on appliances is a ‘fear thing.’ Some people are convinced they want it until it’s time to sign the contract; then they go back to stainless.”


Viking Color Finishes

Viking offers their ranges in a wide color palette to coordinate with personal tastes. Photo courtesy of Viking.


And finally…

“Design with appliances first. It’s easier to design cabinets around appliances than the other way around. I would love to have designers and homeowners come to the showroom with ‘plans’ that just list the walls and ceiling heights.

“In the end, we want people to have the best products for themselves, and feel good about what they paid for them.”


For more information on Specialty Appliance, visit their website at www.SpecialtyApplianceInc.com.

3 Perfect Summer Picnics from Colorado Homes & Lifestyles Magazine

With September a scant two weeks away, everyone is asking “What happened to summer?” (unless you’re a parent; then the first day of school can’t come soon enough!) Since we enjoy Indian summers here in Denver, there still is plenty of time to enjoy a late-summer picnic. My friends at Colorado Homes & Lifestyles magazine asked some of our best local gourmet food shops to create their own perfect picnic menus. Whether your tastes run toward Classic French, All-American or Old School, Updated, one of them is sure to please! Click here or on the cover below for menus and recipes. All of the mouthwatering photography is by Don Riley for CH&L.

Colorado Homes & Lifestyles magazine - August 2012 Cover

Classic French

Mondo Vino, St. Killian’s Cheese Shop and The Denver Bread Company provide epicurean essentials to residents of Denver’s hip Highlands neighborhood. Together they composed this simple and elegant menu featuring crusty baguettes, creamy cheeses, and hearty sausages and terrines. Pair it with a bottle of crisp white wine, and you have the ultimate Parisian picnic!

All- American

Residents in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood rely on Marczyk Fine Foods for all their picnic needs. This classic menu features oven-fried chicken based on a family recipe from proprietor Pete Marczyk.

Old-School Revisited

Boulder’s Dish Gourmet and Cured offer a fresh, hearty take on the classic soup, salad and sandwich combo.



Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

Chefs, home cooks, and lovers of  food and wine, all remembered Julia Child this week. The legendary French Chef would have celebrated her 100th birthday on August 15th. Her exuberant approach to cooking and passion for French cuisine has inspired legions of seasoned cooks and culinary novices. Fans can learn more about Julia by digging into Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child (Knopf, $30), a new biography by Bob Spitz. In the meantime, enjoy this video of Julia appearing on an early episode of Late Night with David Letterman. Julia’s wit was as sharp as her knives!

House Beautiful’s 2012 Kitchen of the Year (KOTY)

Every summer, kitchen designers, bloggers and design fans eagerly anticipate House Beautiful’s Kitchen of the Year (KOTY) showcased in New York’s Rockefeller Center. Internationally renowned designer and author, Mick De Giulio, took the helm of this year’s KOTY, creating a kitchen very much like the man himself – gracious, elegant and approachable. Since I wasn’t there to walk around the space and open all of the doors and drawers, I’m writing about the kitchen from a purely aesthetic perspective. All of the gorgeous photographs are courtesy of House Beautiful.

The kitchen is a spacious 1,000 SF – larger than my first apartment in San Francisco. However, De Giulio has a talent for “bringing down” expansive rooms through careful space planning and an adroit mix of colors, textures and finishes.


White Kitchens – A white kitchen is the little black dress of kitchen design. You can dress it up or keep it casual;  the possibilities are endless. However, I’ve seen white kitchens that incorporate too many “cool” finishes and remind me of a morgue. DeGiulio pairs the white wall cabinets with light gray base cabinets, grounding them with hardwood floors in a rich, dark stain. Melding Caesarstone’s Fair Lady 1650 quartz countertop with a Grothouse wood countertop provides an interesting delineation between the kitchen and the casual dining and living room areas.

The De Giulio-designed Metal Boy cabinet in walnut and polished chrome (left of the hood,) provides elegant storage for pots and pans while also serving as a foil to the light cabinetry.

Open Shelving –  De Giulio  installed glass-and-chrome shelving that “floats” on the wall and highlights the luxe Ann Sacks Davlin tile in white gold leaf. The combination of the shelving and tile adds a lightness and luster to “la mattina” (the morning bar.)

The Iron/Tone sink in Annapolis Navy is part of a collaboration between Kohler and Jonathan Adler, and adds a fun, unexpected pop of color.

Concealed Backsplash Storage – One of De Giulio’s signature design elements is adding sliding doors to a backsplash; an ingenious means of stashing countertop appliances and kitchen clutter out of sight.

Ceiling Treatments – White ceiling are just so…white. De Giulio adds texture to the kitchen ceiling with exposed wood beams. He elevates the ceiling in the butlers pantry with a pop of vibrant blue, tying it into the striking hammered steel countertop and cast iron sink from Kohler’s Colors Collection by Jonathan Adler.

Casual Living Space – As De Giulio notes, “Kitchens are the room where families spend the most time.” A casual living room with plush seating, combined with a television and fireplace cloaked in Ann Sacks Palladium Noir tile, invites guests to linger.


White appliances – Are white appliances making a comeback? Perhaps.  We’ve seen stainless steel appliances for several years now, so maybe we’re due for a change. I’m personally on the fence about them. However, De Giulio frames them in polished chrome; a clever design trick that makes them appear to be more more expensive than they really are.

The Cooking Wall – While the expansive hood is an arresting design statement, it visually overwhelms the 30″ induction cooktop. If possible, I would have either expanded the size of the cooktop, or added another cooking element, such as a wok ring.



In describing his vision for the kitchen, De Giulio observed, “Kitchens can get very complicated. I wanted to keep this simple and classic. It’s also a little bit glamorous.” And who doesn’t want that kind of kitchen?


To see the amazing outdoor kitchen that De Giulio also designed, and view past KOTY’s, click here.





Thermador’s “Ultimate Kitchen Experience”

Last week, I escaped the scorching Colorado heat to join ~15 food and design bloggers at Thermador’s Design and Experience Center in Newport Beach, CA (where it was easily 25 degrees cooler!) Over two fun, busy days, I met the team at Thermador, got to know the fellow bloggers, and learned about Thermador’s latest appliances.

Full disclosure: While I was a guest of Thermador, I am not obligated in any way to post a review about their appliances or the trip itself. As a designer, it’s important to me that share what I learn with my clients, readers, etc.

Thermador's History of Innovation

While  familiar with Thermdor’s products (I owned one of their slide-in, dual fuel ranges for 10 years,) I wasn’t well versed in the company’s history. As it turns out, Thermador was the first to introduce many of the cooking appliances that are mainstream today including:

* The first built-in wall oven and separate cooktop in 1947, forever changing how kitchens are designed.

* The  first warming drawer in 1952.

* The first self-cleaning oven in 1963.

* The first “smooth” cooktop in 1970.

* The first, retractable pop-up ventilation system in 1978.

Adding to Thermador’s cool factor is the fact that culinary icon Julia Child used Thermador appliances in her critically acclaimed PBS TV show. Her kitchen is now housed in the Smithsonian. Here is a picture of me with the legend.

Allison Bergamo with Julia Child

After our “history lesson,” we toured the design center while learning about Thermador’s new products, including:

Freedom Induction Cooktop

While induction cooktops were first introduced in the 1980’s, they are experiencing a resurgence today. Rather than relying on gas or an electric element, induction cooking “induces” heat into the cookware by an electromagnetic field. It differs from other cooking methods because the cookware itself becomes the heat source. Confused? Don’t be. Here’s what makes it cool:

* Faster cooking and same control as using a gas cooktop.

* The cooking surface stays cool since only the pots and pans used generate heat.

* Easy to clean – a cool cooking surface means no baked on pasta sauce to scrape off!

* Energy efficient – the energy used in the cooking process goes straight into the pan, not the surrounding air.

I love the fact that the Freedom Induction cooktop provides a huge cooking surface that allows you to use almost any size pan and in almost any configureation. Since you aren’t limited by the size of the a gas grid or electric coil, you can cook like this:

Thermador Freedome Induction Cooktop

Or this:

Thermador Freedom Induction Cooktop #2

48″ Pro Grand Steam Range

Thermador’s 48″ Pro Grand Steam Range is the Swiss Army knife of ranges. It combines four appliances in one, allowing you the flexibility to create multiple culinary masterpieces at once.

* A full-function, steam and convection oven

* A large-capacity convection oven

* A six-burner gas cooktop with optional electric grill/griddle

* A warming drawer

Anyone who purchases one of these bad boys will be stuck hosting Thanksgiving dinner every year for the rest of their lives! Fortunately, this range has the space, function and capacity to handle everything from appetizers to desserts.

Thermado Pro Grand Steam Oven

After our product tutorial, the Thermador team let us loose in the cooking center, where we prepared a gourmet lunch using some of Julia Child’s recipes including Lobster Thermidor, Salad Nicoise, Ratatouille, etc.

Just your normal, every day kitchen.

Thermador Culinary Centery

 With an indoor herb garden on the wall.

Indoor Herb Garden at Thermador's Culinary Center


Ashley McLauglin from Edible Perspective and I were in charge of the ratatouille!

Lunch is served! Julia would be so proud! Bon Appetit!

Thermador Lunch Buffet

Many thanks to the folks at Thermador including me at this event! It was a fun, informative couple of days. I appreciated being a part of it!