Appliances shrink to match condo sizes

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      Forget a double-door fridge in a 500-square-foot condo: as homes are getting smaller, appliances are too. With so many first-time homebuyers, downsizing baby boomers, and carless professionals flocking to condominium living, makers of everything from ovens to dishwashers are proving that bigger is not better.

      “With the urban influx to Vancouver, there’s a big demand for European space-efficient appliances,” says Sylvia McDonald, designer sales associate at Midland Appliance. “We’ve come a long way from the old 30-inch fridge sticking out into the room.”

      A width of 24 inches is now more common for refrigerators in small spaces. Ranges used to come strictly in a standard size of 30 inches wide; now 24-inch gas or electric cooktops are available. Add cabinetlike fronts, and you’ve got a fully integrated look and a highly functional space that belies the confines of a cozy condo.

      “If you put panels on the front of your 24-inch refrigerator, it looks like millwork; it doesn’t look like an appliance,” McDonald says. “You can completely hide your appliances. You can have a kitchen that really looks more like a dining room. That makes a huge difference in a tiny space.”

      Liebherr features a refrigerator with pull-out drawers, pictured with AEG’s “tower” of appliances.

      AEG, Miele, Blomberg, Liebherr, Electrolux, and GE, with its Loft series, are some of the brands manufacturing new models for modern spaces. The appliances aren’t just more slender versions of the standard ones; in some cases, they have a whole new design. Twenty-four-inch stacking washers and dryers, instead of 27-inch side-by-side ones, are the microsuite norm, while combination washer-dryers—both in a single unit, common in Europe—are also an option. Under-counter refrigerators have one or two pull-out drawers rather than a swing-out door. Dishwashers, some as small as 18 inches wide, are also coming with single or double pull-out drawers and concealed control panels.

      “You could have a single-drawer dishwasher with a storage drawer below,” McDonald says. “The door doesn’t flop down toward the floor, so it doesn’t take up as much space.”

      All of these more compact units offer more than space-saving efficiency, however. They’re getting smarter, too, by conserving energy.

      Induction ranges, for example, rely on an electromagnet to heat pots and pans. They lose less heat in the cooking process than gas or electric ranges and cook food faster. They also give off far less waste heat, which is an important factor in a home the size of your grandma’s living room.

      “Twenty-four-inch induction cooktops are fantastic for apartments because they’re clean and sleek but they also don’t need a lot of ventilation,” McDonald says. “With gas, you need a lot of ventilation and it really heats up your space. You still need to have a hood fan, but it doesn’t have to be as high-powered.” (Those hood fans, too, can be fully integrated into the entire kitchen design or installed as a pull-out unit.)

      Multifunctional combi-steam ovens save energy as well as space. You can steam veggies or fish but you can also use one for baking; its design ensures precise heat circulation and exact temperature control.

      AEG stacks together sleek luxury appliances in this condo kitchen, offering everything from a wine cooler to a coffee maker and a high-tech oven.

      “The AEG model is really efficient with the convection fan because it’s a perfect cube,” McDonald says. “The convection fan moves air around really efficiently, much more efficiently than a big 36-inch oven. It comes from the restaurant industry and is becoming super popular for residential units.”

      New dryers also leave a smaller carbon footprint. Many are condenser dryers, and some have heat pumps, which don’t require a vent outside. Condenser dryers extract moisture before draining it away as water, so they don’t pump humid air back into the laundry area. Heat-pump dryers recycle heat in the process of extracting moisture, resulting in energy-efficiency ratings of up to six stars—the highest possible.

      Then there are “lifestyle” appliances, like wine racks, that are being designed with condo living in mind. They are, typically, 24 inches wide, but new ones are as small as 15. Built-in espresso makers are getting sleeker too.

      McDonald points to AEG’s “Tower of Power” as a prime example of just how much you can do with smaller items. It has three 24-inch-wide built-in appliances: a microwave that contains an infrared grill, a coffee-maker, and a combi-steam oven with 17 cooking functions. It also has a warming drawer.

      With that kind of functionality, tiny appliances don’t need to be restricted to small spaces.

      “You could have two 24-inch Liebherr fridges side by side for 48 inches, which is more efficient than a standard fridge,” McDonald says. “You could stack two 24-inch wall ovens on top of each other if you have a big kitchen and a big family for twice the cooking power, with a really flush look, more versatility, and a smaller footprint than a regular oven. You can really think outside the box.”

      Follow Gail Johnson on Twitter @gailjohnsonwork.