Cooks of the house want small appliances that are easy to use, easy to clean, and easy to look at. With that market research in mind, engineers are redesigning countertop accouterments for efficient manufacturing and in the end more efficient brewing, stirring, heating, and chopping. By answering the call for appliances that clean up without difficulty, designs with clean lines and smooth surfaces have evolved lending an air of elegance to the small kitchen appliance. And designing appliance collections with a common design theme adds to their cummulative aesthetic appeal.

Paddling ahead
Sunbeam Corp., Del Ray Beach, Fla., and Fitch Inc., Boston, have taken the traditional electric slow-cooker appliance and resurrected it with a more contemporary design. The Sunbeam Slow Cooker design was inspired by the simple aesthetics of soup urns. The Slow Cooker has a removable inner serving/cooking vessel and a self-stirring mechanism borrowed from another appliance, the breadmaker. Stretching completely across the bottom of the inner vessel, the stirring mechanism uses a paddle to gently stir food, even chunky vegetables and meat, for more consistent and efficient heating. It also prevents food from sticking to the sides and bottom of the vessel so clean up is easier.

When the paddle hits an obstruction, the synchronous motor powering it stops and then reengages going the opposite direction. A hollow cavity on the bottom of the vessel traps hot air keeping the food warm when it is set on the counter or table.

By using all-plastic materials such as thermoset polyester and polypropylene, the appliance weighs less than the competition’s slow cooker. The lower weight and handles made from a softer textured plastic make it easier to transport food to social events. The polyester cooking vessel has virtually the same thermal characteristics as the versions in traditional cookers and it eliminates weight.

Using injection molding makes for a simpler assembly. Conventional slow cookers, on the other hand, use wrapped and riveted silk-screened sheet metal fastened to a separate base. Even the Slow Cooker’s handles are molded into the housing. Having the handles integral to the housing leaves one less place for food to collect and gives the final product a sleek appearance.

A lock on flavor
The Crystal Arome Time coffeemaker from Krups North America Inc., Closter, N.J., purifies water prior to brewing and “locks in aroma and flavor.” The Crystal Clear water-filtration system in the Crystal Arome Time coffee maker uses a vegetable-based, charcoal filter that destroys up to 82% of the chlorine passing through, according to Krups. This prevents bitterness and removes minerals such as calcium. An indicator on the coffeemaker keeps track of the number of cycles and signals when the filter should be replaced.

The hermetically sealed Krups carafe with a bulbous shape has a small opening with an airtight lid and is claimed to keep coffee hotter 20% longer than other carafes. The lid snaps into place and has small holes near the spout in which water droplets collect. The droplets form a seal, but escape if excessive pressure builds up. A 24-hr programmable timer, stop-and-serve, and hidden-cord storage are available on the Cafe Arome Time. The Krups Premium also has a hermetically sealed carafe. It has an antidrip steel spout that wraps the entire parameter of the carafe to prevent spilling when poured at any angle.

The Premium has a front-fill water reservoir and a removable, swinging filter holder. Double-wall construction on the filter holder prevents heat from escaping.

Two in one
Engineers and designers at Toastmaster Inc., Columbia, Mo., took two medium-sized kitchen appliances, the toaster oven and breadmaker — both infamous for hogging countertop space — and bundled them into one in the Model 1139 Oven/Breadmaker. A glass door in front swings open to fit a customized horizontal loaf pan. But remove the pan and insert racks, and it doubles as an oven with a temperature range of 100 to 500°F.

The pan includes a stirring mechanism with a removable paddle to kneed dough. It has a delay timer and keep-warm feature. The 1139 breadmaker bakes a traditional horizontal 11⁄2-lb loaf, while Model 1193 makes a 2-lb loaf. It’s basically a standard toaster oven, except the base of the loaf pan meets up with the motor at the bottom. The breadmaker has 10 preset programs, and also can be used to make dough for pizza or dinner rolls.

Another two-in-one product, the five-cup compact food processor from KitchenAid U.S.A., Benton Harbor, Mich., is a hybrid between the food processor and mini chopper. With its larger bowl, it can accommodate a five-cup food-processing job, such as slicing vegetables. And with its smaller bowl and blade, it can handle jobs such as chopping fresh herbs. The appliance features full power in a compact size with a multipurpose blade that chops, blends, or emulsifies food. A reversible slicer/shredder disk is included as well. The base has a seamless, three-button membrane touch-pad control with a pulse feature, and an electronic sensor monitors speed and processing consistency. Everything except the base is dishwasher safe, though the base has a sealed housing for easy cleaning and reduced motor noise.

Coordinated kitchen
Kitchentool appliances from Black & Decker, Shelton, Conn., and ZIBA Design Inc., Portland, Ore., were created with simplicity in mind. The idea behind these award-winning designs was to develop a premium-quality line that is simple to use, easy to clean, and eye-catching amid competition-stocked store shelves. The appliances work as a system and maintain continuity — forsaking the days of mixed-and-matched appliances.

The appliances are color and texture coded for intuitive use. And oversized buttons and handles maintain ease of use. Designers considered the value of kitchen counter space when determining the footprint, and took full advantage of the standard 18 vertical inches between the countertop and cupboard bottom.

The designers wanted appliances attractive enough to leave out on the countertop after use, which inherently means they must be easy to clean. Edged surfaces that can collect food are avoided. Instead, rounded, easily wiped-down corners are used. The curved lines and flared sides become distinctive features recognizable throughout the line. Most of the appliances have a “cord garage” and the hand mixer and food processor have storage areas for accessories.

Sanyo plugs into cordless market
Sanyo Fisher Co., Chats-worth, Calif., has developed a full line of battery-powered appliances for folks on the go. The Ni-Cd battery pack lets cooks use the Cordfree Collection, including appliances such as a cheese grater and hand mixer, outside or from kitchen to dining room without a restricting tangle of cords. According to Sanyo, the battery-operated line has the power to chop, mix, and so forth.

The batteries have “floating-memory logic,” so when the battery is only partially depleted, it can be recharged, completely drained, and then recharged to full capacity. When other batteries are charged before completely drained they, “remember” how long they were charged. And the next time they are charged, they replenish only that “remembered” amount. For example, if a 50-min. battery were to be charged after only 10 min. worth of power was used, and then completely drained and charged again, the new charge would only give 10 min of power, even though it is a 50-min. battery.

The battery is designed to be switched easily from one product to another. The 5-in. cylinder slides and clicks into place on each appliance. The appliances use more efficient motors than plug-in appliances and run on less power. Plug-in appliances that run off a wall outlet simply don’t need to have as efficient motors.

The batteries are recyclable, too. The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp. has set up drop-off sites for Ni-Cd batteries, which are used in phones, computers, and power tools, as well as in the Cordfree Collection.

The handheld appliances are compact enough to slip into a drawer. In fact, when standing together, the entire line takes up less than 1 sq ft of space. In addition, the potentially dangerous appliances, such as the chopper, have a safety switch that must be activated before use.

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.