Monday, December 21, 2015

It"s beginning to look a lot like.... APPLIANCES!

Hello chickens! 

Now that you are all caught up on kitchen design and cabinetry for the time being (we will return to that soon when it is time to talk about organization), its officially time to talk about appliances.

(insert loud joyful squealing here!)

Again, this is where your Polymath strongly recommends that you have some serious conversations about your budget and how you use your kitchen.  Because the magical world of kitchen appliances will sing her siren song to you, and if you are not careful you will end up with a kitchen that costs more than the rest of your house put together.

Kitchens these days are aspirational.  The photos on Pinterest and features in design magazines can send the sanest person down the rabbit hole of gorgeous and totally impractical kitchens.   ANTIQUE ARMOIRES REPURPOSED AS CABINETS!  BLEACHED WHITE WOOD FLOORS!  ALL UNDERCOUNTER REFRIGERATION! (for funny tales of kitchen renovation dreams, with links to some of these amazing spaces, do check out the hilarious Victoria Elizabeth Barnes and be prepared for what seems like a crazy idea actually working (repurposing an antique square grand piano as a kitchen island....AWESOME!)

It is awfully tempting to go right down the rabbit hole into kitchen crazyland, and trust me, if anyone could do it, it is your Polymath!  But I am here to tell you, you want a kitchen that first and foremost addresses the following needs:

1.     It works with how YOU ACTUALLY COOK.
2.     It is relatively easy to maintain and keep clean.
3.     It provides adequate storage for what you own.
4.     It is a space that works for the needs of your particular family.
5.     It is doable within your budget.

Yes, once you make the important decisions about these five things, then you can see about design choices and the looks of things, and you will always have several options in your price range where finishes are concerned.  But if you start with some dream kitchen and how it looks, you are setting yourself for some heartbreak down the road.  

When it comes to appliances, things get tricky.  There are so many options in such a wide variety of price points (Why is this stove $2000 and this other one $60,000???).  And these days, there are so many KINDS of appliances you can find that you had no idea you might even want desperately!  (Built in wall coffee/espresso maker, in-counter fryer, teppanyaki grill....)

So how do you even start?

For many people, buying suites of appliances is definitely the way to go.  By sticking with all one brand, you can often get a much better deal than you would buying each piece individually.  The design is also unified, which works well for smaller spaces.  Be prepared to make some sacrifices on one or another feature, it is rare that when buying a suite you get every detail you want in every piece, but the value can be really good, so decide where your dealbreakers are and explore the brands that seem to get you as much of what you want as possible.

Right now many realtors and designers are promoting the “gourmet kitchen” or the “chef’s kitchen”.  Both of these tend to contain higher end luxury appliances, often modeled after commercial versions.  If you are a passionate cook, there is nothing better than the options on the higher end of the appliance spectrum.  And there are more and more brands branching into these options.  But be prepared, the more “commercial style” you get, the higher the price goes. And again, try to be honest with yourself!  Unless you are specifically designing your new kitchen purely for it’s resale value, if you are not a serious cook, dropping that kind of dough on the appliances may not be your best option.  If 70% of your dinners either come in a take-out container or out of the microwave, an eight-burner gas range is not really going to be a terrific fit for you, and will be a budget buster.

Our motto?  Is the juice worth the squeeze?  

If you cannot remember ever thinking "Boy a second oven would be really terrific right now!" then don't invest in two.  If you have never ever once used all of your burners at the same time, then don't buy a stove with any more burners than you currently have.  However, if every time you cook you set off the smoke alarm, that tells you to invest in a really high quality hood with heavy duty blower.  Is your refrigerator really just a condiment and beverage storage unit where leftover Thai goes to die?  You probably don't need the massive full wall of refrigeration.  But if you have four kids, one of whom is vegetarian and one of whom has decided to keep Kosher, all of whom require you pack all of their school lunches for the week on Sunday afternoon AND bring home gaggles of friends for snacks after school nearly daily?  You are going to want the BIG fridge and maybe an extra set of undercounter fridge drawers to boost storage.

Okay, enough practical stuff, I have done my due diligence, and now it is time to talk about how we made our decisions.

For Charming Suitor and I, we knew that actually using the appliances wasn’t going to be an issue, since we cook pretty much every day, and entertain several times a month, and I use the space for work, to test recipes for the novels and cookbooks.  And we often both cook at the same time, sort of a divide and conquer approach, especially when entertaining, which is part of why we devoted so much square footage to the kitchen to begin with.  So we knew we weren’t being (completely) impractical when we started looking at the commercial styled workhorses of the kitchen.  We also knew that the space we were dealing with was large enough that we didn’t have to worry about staying within one brand suite, we could choose each appliance on its own merits, based on the features it has and how we intended on using them.

It is important to note the following as we move through these decisions, our choices to use one or two products from one company and not their other products is in no way an indication that the other products in their line are somehow inferior.  There are five different brands of appliances going into the kitchen, and any one of those five could have done most, if not all of what we needed.  For us, the decisions came down to sometimes the tiniest details, such as how the piece worked with our layout, or how the door opened, or how it integrated within the cabinetry design.  In a couple of cases, it was simply that they were the only brand offering that particular TYPE of appliance.  But we researched extensively, and I truly would not hesitate to recommend each of the five complete product lines wholeheartedly.

Here were the parameters we set our for ourselves when it came to appliance selection:

1.     Gas Rangetop:  I’ve been cooking on electric for 23 years in this place, and the shift to gas is the single most exciting thing about the whole kitchen project.  When CS and I talked about what we wanted, the first decision was that we wanted a rangetop and not a full stove with ovens.  We wanted to do our ovens wall mounted, at counter height, for maximum ease of use.  We both have back issues, so bending over to the floor to hump the 18 pound Thanksgiving Turkey out of the oven is not something we wanted to put in the plan.  The key features we were looking for were:  a range of BTU burners so that there were really hot burners for searing meats and getting things caramelized, and at least one low BTU simmer burner for holding sauces and keeping things warm without scorching.  I wanted a French Top option, this is a large flat steel plate over a single center burner, that has zones of various temps as you move away from the center.  They are great when doing big meals with a lot of courses, since you can put several pots on it at the same time, with each in a zone that is the right temp for the contents.  CS wanted heavy duty cast iron grates that are easy to lift out and clean.  (because he lives with ME and I am a notoriously messy cook, and some cooktops have complicated nooks and crannies that can be difficult to really get clean).

2.     Wall ovens:  We wanted the option to have one gas for roasting and one electric for baking.  I wanted French doors, since my short arms make reaching over an open door to get into an oven can be a recipe for burnt arms.  We also wanted full-extension shelves (see "burnt arms" again), and a pretty decent sized capacity (see "Thanksgiving Turkey" again).

3.     Induction cooktop:  While we knew that having a second cooktop in the space would be a serious luxury, we had the space to do it, and have been very excited about induction cooking for a while.  We have chef pals who swear by it, including a three-Michelin star chef in France who has converted his entire restaurant kitchen to induction.  We also know that for big parties, it would be very convenient to have a second cooking space.

4.     Dishwashers:  We wanted large capacity washers, with internal flexibility to accommodate pots and pans and serving platters in addition to plates.  We wanted dishwashers that smartly accommodate stemware, because WINE.  And we both preferred the washers with the flatware tray at the top since the one place we tend to get things that come out with bits still stuck on them is in the silverware baskets.

5.     Refrigeration:  We wanted a 72” side-by-side fridge/freezer, deep enough to handle large platters and trays.  We did not want an integrated unit, since those are shallower, and we did not want to put panels that matched the cabinets on them.  We also wanted a simple unit, no through the door functions, no ice maker (more on that later), and we preferred the option for a glass door on the fridge side since 72 inches of stainless steel is sort of a lot, especially when you do not have the artwork of small people to display.  We also knew we would want an undercounter wine fridge for the kitchen, (because, WINE) and potentially a very small wine fridge to convert for cheese storage (more on this later).

6.     Warming drawers:  These are one of those appliances that can seem like real lily gilding, and to be sure, they are!  But everyone I know who has them says they use them all the time.  They can do everything from proofing bread dough, to warming your plates for a dinner party, to holding delicate sauces like hollandaise at the perfect temp.  For large events, especially holiday parties, you can load them up with finished dishes and keep them warm so that everything can get served at once with much better flexibility.  Ideal for potlucks when people show up with their hot dish and there is limited room in your oven to hold it before dinner.
      Steamer:  in-counter steamers are a pretty new thing, and again, sort of a bonus appliance, most people would not want to give up the counter space for them.  But we had enough counter space, and steaming is something we actually do a lot of! In artichoke season I steam them six to eight at a time at least once or twice a week.  For entertaining, I usually do some sort of steamed green vegetable as a side dish, and when CS and I are eating at home, steaming veggies is sort of a constant.  Our architects, who are also foodies, strongly recommend we explore them.  So we were intrigued to learn more, and put it in the "maybe" category.

7.     Built-in rotisserie:  Okay, this is mostly me, I have always wanted a rotisserie in my kitchen.  Great rotisserie chicken is one of our all time favorite things to eat, and is the first place we hit at a market.  This option was my total dream splurge item, and was also at the bottom of the priority list, it was only going to happen if we were really good about the budget in other departments, and could find one that we were confident would be easy to use and clean and would not require that we do any redesign on the kitchen.

     Some things we opted OUT of (I know, you are shocked there are appliances we did not buy, considering this epic list...):

      Built-in coffee station:  I not only don't drink coffee, I make TERRIBLE coffee, so I am not allowed to make coffee.  CS loves his French press, and it does a perfect job for him.  And for entertaining, neither of us was interested in having to play barrista for one or two cups at a time.  Impractical for us, but if you are a coffee aficionado, they might be an interesting option.

      Built-in microwave or microwave drawer:  We rarely use the microwave at home, sometimes going over two weeks between uses.  Our countertop model, which we have stored in the kitchen library, is just fine.

     Deep fryer:  I deep fry maybe twice a year, and for the sake of our health, really don't want to do much more than that.

     Indoor grill/griddle:  CS is a grilling purist...if there is not charcoal or wood involved, it isn't grilling, it is making lines on things that don't impart flavor.  So all grilling happens outside.  And no griddle because we are not really pancake people (see: type 2 diabetes).

Once we had our brief on each appliance it was off to the research…a combination of crowdsourcing opinions from friends and family (especially chefs and serious cooks), checking reviews and articles from trusted sources, and going to appliance stores to see the equipment in person and meet with reps to really get details about each potential item.  Since I knew we would be sharing all of this information with you, I made sure to not just meet with salespeople, but to reach out directly to brand reps and go to brand-specific showrooms to make sure that we had as much clear information as possible. 

Stay tuned, I’ll start sharing the details of what we actually picked, and why, very soon!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath


  1. You're leaving me hanging. I just put in a kitchen suite this year of LG appliances - wish I'd gone with the Bosch dishwasher - and then put in Samsung laundry appliances. For the latter, I didn't realize that the drum was so deep that I need a stool in order to reach to the bottom to get all of the wet items out. Grr.

  2. I am seriously dying with suspense over what brands you got and what your kitchen is looking like...