What all the best-dressed kitchens are wearing now
We may have cut back on spends, but the recession hasn't altered our taste for the finer things in our home life
Geraldine O'Donoghue of In House in Sallynoggin is a veteran of the kitchen appliance business and has probably seen more kitchen trends come and go than anyone else in the country.
"These days," she says, "it's all about simplicity. Kitchens are open-plan, so work surfaces have to be clear and streamlined. Lines are straight, everything is handle-less, extractors are silent and colours are muted and earthy. The bright white cupboards and shiny black worktops are gone. Kitchens should be a place of relaxation, so anything that reduces stress and noise is good."
Architect Ciara MacDonnell of Brazil Architects, a Dublin practice specialising in high-end residential work, says that her clients are giving more attention to detail and finishes than they did at the height of the boom.
"Kitchens got very same-y for a while," she says. "Now there is more design involved, and each one is bespoke and individual. In terms of appliances, our clients do their research; they don't automatically go for the top-end - they are looking for value for money. We help in terms of aesthetics, and make sure that the appliances selected fit in with the rest of the design."
In recent years, MacDonnell hasn't encountered many clients looking for a second kitchen, along the lines of the one Kate and William have had installed in their Kensington Palace apartment. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a private family kitchen as well as one used by caterers when the couple entertains.
"We don't see many back-up kitchens nowadays," says MacDonnell, "although we did a fair few back in the boom. But there are back up pantries, with a second fridge, a dedicated wine fridge, a baking area, and space for some of the bigger gadgets. The pantry needs to be designed well, consistent with the aesthetic of the kitchen. It's not just utilitarian."
Paula McCoy of Arnotts says that the space constraints of many Dublin homes make back-up pantries less common than they are away from the capital. McCoy has seen a huge uplift in sales of white goods.
"There's a definite increase in home entertaining and baking," says McCoy "and a marked increase in knowledge and confidence on the part of our customers. It's all about bringing the professional into the domestic setting, and brands such as Miele are driving that. The growth in technology is being seen in appliances, with sophisticated pre-programming options and smart appliances that store information about your cooking preferences. Fridges that can tell if your food is about to go out of date are on their way."
McCoy and O'Donoghue are both fans of the combi-steam oven, one of the biggest trends in domestic kitchen appliances in years.
"Once people understand what it is, it makes complete sense from a convenience and time perspective," says McCoy. "It's like a pressure cooker, you can roast a turkey in an hour and a half."
At In House, O'Donoghue is selling several large VZUG combi-steam ovens a week. Each one costs x.
"My best customers, the 55 pluses, are back spending," she says. "They've taken retirement and they are very health-conscious. These are the people who are having the extended family over for meals. Saturday night is a big night for family gatherings again as the younger generations who are trapped in negative equity can't afford to eat in restaurants."
Later this month, Electrolux will launch a combi-steam oven with vacuum sealer as a dual set of appliances that will permit the sous-vide cooking practised by Michelin-starred chefs such as Ross Lewis of Chapter One in the domestic kitchen.
Big ranges are still a popular alternative for some.
"The Aga is the ultimate trophy appliance," says McCoy, "but a big stainless steel range comes pretty close. Falcon is one of the aspirational brands." O'Donoghue picks La Canche as the ultimate range cooker, with prices starting at x.
"I love Agas," says MacDonnell. "And there are some great electric Agas now which are suitable for smaller houses. People are definitely eating and cooking more at home. You can tell that from the amount of thought that they put into the design of the their kitchen. They are inspired by what they see on television, and better educated about food because they eat out often; they want to cook quite ambitiously."
Among the current must-have pieces of kit in the well-dressed kitchen are high-wattage wok burners, chef tops with indoor griddle plates, induction hobs ('Great for melting chocolate,' says O'Donoghue), and multi-burner gas hobs. It's not a question of choosing between these cooking methods - many go for all four. McCoy says that her customers love the Fisher and Paykel refrigerated drawer that fits into the kitchen island and keeps the butter perfectly chilled during bearnaise-making. Filtered water taps are a given, and boiling water taps, 'are pretty much standard now,' according to MacDonnell. Nobody wants microwaves any more though.
Stephen Sealey, managing director of Brown Thomas, puts the lift in sales across home-ware down to rising house pric es giving people greater confidence.
"People are starting to invest in their homes again. For us, there are a couple of stand-out products. The stainless steel Vitamix is a very cool piece of kit. It costs between €600 and €750 depending on the model. What makes it different to a regular juicer is that it breaks fruit and vegetables down at a cellular level, so that their nutritional value is maintained. The powerful motor delivers a very even treatment."
If a Vitamix is not within budget, the entry-level Nutribullet is priced at a more accessible €120. "It does a great job," says Sealey, "and is really easy to clean."
For those still saving up for one of the big American fridge-freezers that were in every Celtic tiger kitchen, it's time to change tack. These days the smart money is on wide-fridges with bio-fresh technology that monitors humidity and temperature and keeps broccoli in tip-top condition for up to 13 days. O'Donoghue says that LIebherr's version, priced at around €1700, is great value. Fhiaba makes a version that is targeting the Sub-zero market, but it retails at around €12,000.
Miele's top-end fridge range is the Mastercool, which costs between €8 and €10,000, but Caroline Fleming of Miele Ireland is at pains to point out that this is a niche, super-premium product, "for the customer who wants the best of everything.
Even in the depths of the recession, loyal Miele customers were buying these products. All Miele products are premium, and what we are seeing across the board is that Irish customers are happy to pay for quality rather than luxury, for products that will hopefully still be working in 20 years."
Once the kitchen is designed and the appliances picked, there's one further essential piece of cooking equipment that no self-respecting fashionable home can afford to be without. pizzaovens4u, a family business located in Athy, is selling several outdoor pizza ovens each week. Priced at €999 and costing €300 to fit, the Valimbrosa model is favoured by the Dog House in Howth and The Tap in Delgany, as well as by celebrity chef Kevin Dundon.
"They're very cheap to run, and they hold the heat for hours," says Deirdre Walsh.
A LITTLE BIT OF KITCH’ KIT
Here are some of the key pieces to be found in this season's fashionable kitchen.
Vitamix €600 - €750
Unlike a conventional juicer, the Vitamix utilises every part of the fruits and vegetables that you put in, meaning that no nutrients or fibre are lost.
VZUG Combi-steam oven
Combines the functionality of a convection oven and a steam cooker. It can produce dry heat, moist heat or a combination of the two at various temperatures. The technology means cooking times are shorter and more nutrients and vitamins are retained when compared to traditional cooking methods.
Quookers boiling water tap €800
Immediately dispenses boiling water from a tank underneath the sink. It is available either separate from the mixer tap, or in a combined version, the Fusion. Childproof, safe and efficient, and it is set to be a real winner when those water charges come in next year.
Liebherr Wide Fridge €1,700
Super-practical food storage, with plenty of space and no more losing things down the back. It controls temperature and humidity to ensure that your fresh products last longer.
Falcon range €3000 plus
Valimbrosa pizza oven €999 plus fitting