Interiors: What's cooking in kitchen design
Getting to grips with handleless cabinetry and 'smart' appliances
It's hard to get a handle on kitchen design - especially when the units don't have any handles. Walk into any kitchen showroom and you'll be faced with sleek expanses of smooth uninterrupted profileless cabinetry. There's not a handle in sight and no indication of how to get the damn thing open. Everything associated with normal kitchen activity is concealed beneath an inscrutable façade.
The first purpose of handleless kitchens is to amuse bored showroom salespeople. I've seen them having a secret snigger as customers struggle to open the drawers. Then they breeze over to show them how it's done.
Some designs have hidden grooves in the cabinet door. You feel for it with your fingers and then open it like an ordinary door. Others, known as 'true handless', have opening grooves in the carcass rather than the door. These can be more expensive as the whole kitchen unit has to be designed for handless opening. And then there's the push-to-open mechanism. You'll discover this one when you lean unsuspectingly on the kitchen unit and a drawer springs open behind your knees.
All of these share the same aesthetic - a streamlined surface unbroken by protuberant knobs.
"I like handleless kitchens, particularly where a space isn't generous," says Philippa Buckley, interior designer. "In a small apartment or galley kitchen, it makes a huge difference not to have handles sticking out." She's just back from London Design Week where Miele, best known for their powerful washing machines, launched their svelte ArtLine range of built-in appliances (from €899). The collection includes ovens, combination steam ovens, warming drawers and coffee machines.
In normal kitchens, the appliance is fitted into a separate unit. With the ArtLine range, the appliance and the cabinet are combined in a single handleless object.
The technology with which they open, known as the 'M Touch display' works a little like a smartphone and can also be used to programme the device. This is a development on existing Miele designs which have a 'Touch2open' sensor within the fascia panel. When you touch the sensor it opens the motor-assisted door.
The ArtLine products won't be sold in Ireland until March 2017, but other handleless Miele products are already available, including dishwashers that open when you knock twice on the door. "It's a very useful technology for the elderly or people with disabilities who might otherwise find it difficult to open a dishwasher," Buckley explains. The Miele integrated dishwasher with 'Knock2open' technology costs €2,599. So you'll be opening your wallet a bit wider too.
At the more affordable end of things, creating the handleless aesthetic can be as simple as not putting handles on your B&Q kitchen units. This makes a cheap kitchen look much more expensive than it actually is. Or you can buy Utrusta push-openers from Ikea (€6 for two) and an electrical push-opener from the same range for €100.
Handles aside, contemporary kitchen design is bristling with cool embedded gadgets that promise to make your life easier. Some of them really do. The Bora hob has a built-in extractor that sucks the cooking vapours down into the cook top. The basic version costs €2,788. It's not cheap, but it means you won't need a noisy greasy head-bumping extractor fan. The Omni 4-in-1 tap (€1,817) from Franke offers hot and cold mains water, just like any mixer tap, with the additional options of filtered cold or filtered boiling water. It works on the same principle as an instant shower and delivers water at 100C. There's a safety clip to prevent accidental scalding.
I'm not quite ready for this one myself. The physical act of boiling a kettle is a deep-seeded symbol of Irish hospitality.
If the 4-in-1 tap becomes ubiquitous, we'll be teaching our grandchildren what we used to mean when we said: "I'll have the kettle on."
If they invent a tap that also offers sparkling filtered water, I'm prepared to change my mind.
Taking technology a step further, the Home Connect function on Siemens appliances allows you to control your appliances from a smartphone or tablet.
"It may seem like a gimmick to begin with, but there are great functions on the app that suggest recipes and programme your oven from the app to the correct function for that recipe," says Orla McNally of Kube. "And the coffee machine allows your dinner party guests to choose their coffee type using the app and then produces each coffee to order."
I've got mixed feelings about this one too. Food sharing, on some tribal level, is about everyone eating the same food. Not ordering their preferences electronically. All the same, I'd love to have a go.
Much as we enjoy looking at contemporary design, Irish people tend to prefer traditional kitchens. But even the Aga, that bastion of the farmhouse kitchen, has succumbed to new technology.
Here's why - Agas were designed to radiate heat into the rambling kitchens of otherwise unheated houses. Their proud owners tended to treat them like a family member or, at least, a very expensive pet. Now, insulation has improved to the extent that the Aga's enveloping blanket of warmth is really far too hot.
In response, Aga has come up with the Masterchef (€4,500), a cooker that looks like an Aga, but doesn't throw heat out into the room. They look the part, but that's all. Alternatively, a Dual Control Aga (from €15,000) has all the functionality of a traditional Aga but with ovens and hot plates that can be turned on and off independently.
It just goes to show that you can have it all... if you have the cash.
Philippa Buckley is at studio44.ie. See also miele.ie, kubeinteriors.com, and aga.ie.