During this holiday season, the appliances in the finest Maryland kitchens will do more than just routinely cook, clean and chill for the family feasts and celebrations. They'll do it better, faster and quieter - and they'll do it with style.
One look inside these kitchens leaves little doubt that form and function are on equal footing in upscale appliances. Sleek, built-in stainless steel refrigerators keep food fresher. Dishwashers tucked discretely behind wood cabinet fronts clean plates with barely a whisper. Powerful, professional-looking ranges serve up meals in a fraction of the time.
"People are not just looking for the standard everyday appliances anymore," said Katie Boyce, account representative for custom builders and remodelers at Design House Kitchens & Appliances in Savage.
"Over the past five years, they've started to look more at the quality of workmanship," Boyce said. "They're demanding better quality, and they're willing to spend the money to get the quality and features that they want."
What many consumers want when they build an upscale new home, remodel or house hunt are high-end appliances that look as good as they work. Ranges, refrigerators and dishwashers now have an aesthetic role in addition to their utilitarian function in the all-important kitchen environment.
Some homeowners are even creating outdoor kitchens to enhance pool decks and patios. Others are installing second refrigerators, dishwashers or ovens for convenience.
Appliances have assumed a role of greater importance not just in upscale housing. Hints of the latest trends are showing up in more modestly priced kitchens. It's evident in the latest color choices, such as stainless steel, white and black, and in a commercial look for less costly refrigerators, dishwashers, cooktops and ranges.
But to take the leap to a more sophisticated kitchen, be prepared to pay. An outdoor barbecue is $1,500 to $5,000. Residential professional-style ranges are $2,500 to more than $8,000. A warming drawer could be close to $1,000. A wood-burning pizza oven is $3,000 to $7,000.
Expect to pay $3,500 to $6,800 for a top-of-the-line refrigerator/freezer, $1,500 to $3,000 for refrigerator and freezer drawers, and $700 to $4,500 for a wine refrigerator. A dishwasher could be $1,200.
What can be achieved is a homespun warmth combined with an Emeril - of Food Network fame - flair.
At the forefront in the upscale kitchen is a slick, professional look for home appliances. Stainless steel finishes lead the way, followed by black and white. Also popular is bisque, or biscuit, a softer, creamier tone of almond that complements wood hues.
More unusual colors are also available, including burgundy, plum, graphite gray, lemonade, mint julep, cobalt blue, hunter green and empire red.
If homeowners desire, appliances can disappear behind custom wooden doors that match cabinets.
"People are putting an awful lot of time and effort into choosing their appliances," said Jennifer Connelly, director of the Kitchen Arts Center in Baltimore. "And they really like having a lot of options. But stainless is far and away the most popular. It's in to do a commercial-looking kitchen."
At the heart of today's fashionable kitchen are sleek, professional looking high-end gas ranges such as those from the Viking Range Corp. These contemporary ranges may be as wide as 60 inches - as compared with a traditional 30-inch width - with up to six burners. With a hotter flame, the burners can boil water almost twice as fast as the traditional range and provide a great simmer.
Another popular choice is the Thermador residential professional range with its gas stovetop and electric oven. Also generating heat in the kitchen is the GE Advantium speed-cooking oven, a timesaver that uses halogen lights to cook meals up to eight times faster than a regular oven.
"It's amazingly fast," said Natalie Durkee, project manager for Ilex Construction and Development in Baltimore. "It's a whole different way of cooking."
Convection wall ovens and ranges also accelerate cooking time to accommodate hectic schedules. Convection ovens have a fan built inside the oven cavity, which circulates heated air throughout the oven and around the food.
"I expect to see more and more speed-cooking items," said Patrick Mister, manager of Appliance Distributors Unlimited in Linthicum.
For homeowners who love to cook, there's no need to stop with a range and a wall oven. Consider a gas wok cooker. Or a commercial-grade wood-burning pizza oven, which will also bake bread, whose exterior can be encased with stucco, brick or stone for a rustic look indoors or outdoors.
There are electric smooth cooktops with sensors that automatically turn off burners when a pot is removed and adjust the burner to fit the size of the pan.
One can add a cooktop to the island or beside the sink, and a down-draft ventilation system that pops up out of the counter and retracts after each use.