Little things may mean a lot, but the race for ever-larger luxury home appliances shows no signs of slowing.
More than 40 compact cars are expected to be on the market by 2010, as rising fuel costs convince drivers to trade in their hulking, gas-guzzling SUVs.
While the road to the future may be small, the hallway to the future appears to be nothing but big. Massive, in fact, judging from some of the newest appliances being shoehorned down hallways into the hearts of homes.
The reign of the king-sized bed as the ultimate in household heft is long gone. Home opulence is reaching new heights – and widths – all through the house. All hail the double-wide refrigerator, commercial-sized range, side-by-side dishwashers, and walk-in wine coolers.
A Coldwell Banker 2005 survey showed that home theaters and gourmet kitchens trailed only landscaping among amenities high-end homeowners planned to put into their home.
Kitchens, especially, are getting bigger these days.
More square footage in homes is being devoted to kitchen space, according to the 2006 Home Design Trends Survey, a recent report by the American Institute of Architects. And big appliances are one way to fill that space.
“Kitchens are getting so much bigger than ever before,” says Pat Tellini, a kitchen designer who owns DesignWise Studio in Ashland.
Many whole-refrigerator or whole-freezer units offer as much space as traditional side-by-side or top-bottom combos. Paired side-by-side, they provide double the space with the same effect.
“Refrigerators have increased in size steadily since the early 1990s, says Allison Eckelcamp, a program manager for GE Consumer & Industrial, which recently rolled out the 72-inch Monogram bottom-freezer refrigerator, providing double space in one unit.
“They are definitely building bigger kitchens in this area, and we’re seeing more of a market for what we call commercial-size appliances,” says Matt Dumas of West Coast Appliance Warehouse in Medford. “People are installing stoves and refrigerators that you might see in a restaurant, but which are built to be used in a home.”
Some people, instead of buying a big double-sized refrigerator-freezer, are buying an 84-inch tall freezer and standing it next to an equally large refrigerator, Dumas says, creating the effect of a single side-by-side unit. “They’ll put the refrigerator on the right and the freezer on the left so they open like a side-by-side.”
Kitchens in the Rogue Valley are not just getting bigger, they’re being filled with high-end accessories such as wine coolers and beverage centers, Dumas says.
Among the Coldwell Banker survey regarding high-end home amenities, just missing out on the Top 5 was an in-home wine cellar. While some imbibers may be happy storing a bottle in a cupboard or in an on-the-wall rack, some take it to the next level with in-home cellars that will store anywhere from 30 to 500 bottles.
For someone looking to make the transition from connoisseur to full-blown sommelier, another GE product, the Monogram Wine Vault, stores nearly 1,100 bottles and features a pre-programmed, electronic inventory system with touch-screen, bar code scanner and label printer. It’s truly for the ultimate collector who is interested in storing, protecting and carefully managing his liquid assets, says Eckelcamp.
For the ultimate in bigness, nothing compares to Panasonic's jaw-dropping 103-inch plasma TV, introduced in August 2006.
At 450 pounds, 50 inches tall and 89 inches wide, it's the current benchmark in big-screen TVs. The Panasonic behemoth may not hold the title long. This is one frontier with no limit in sight.
"How big can this thing really get? Frankly, we don't know," says Jeff Cove, vice president of technology for Panasonic, Secaucus, N.J.
The trend in TVs has always followed the "bigger is better" arc. In the past, though, there was a trade-off: A larger screen size came with a cumbersome unit and a blurry picture. That changed with the introduction of high-definition programming and flat-panel LCD and plasma displays. Flat screens packed lots of pixels into a comparatively compact unit.
"It was no longer intrusive when it got into your living room," Cove says. Not only did consumers respond to the aesthetics, but continuing price drops have made it easier for consumers to tip a little extra for some tube. "For a few dollars more [than a 42-inch] I can get a 50; for a few dollars more I can get a 58. People are stepping themselves up," Cove says.
The consumer's quest for "an immersive experience" in home entertainment means the TV size race is bound to continue for some time. "Quality television is most important," Cove says. "The living room is becoming a destination for good pictures and good sounds."