Is This the Refrigerator of the Future?

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I've had appliances on my mind, as you know, having recently bought an entire set appliances for my kitchen. Yesterday I shared some of my chat with Thomas Johansson, the Design Director of Electrolux, who talked about how he thinks that the refrigerator is the appliance that needs the most rethinking. Well, take a look at this idea from one of the 2012 Design Lab finalists: is this the fridge of the future? 

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Wait, you're probably saying — this is a fridge? Well, yes, a prototype of a refrigerator, anyway. It's called "Impress" and it was designed by Ben de la Roche, a student in New Zealand, and a finalist at Electrolux's Design Lab last fall. This was my favorite of all the finalists, partly because of Ben's puckish enthusiasm for his design inspirations and process, and partly because I just want one of these things in my house. 

How does it work? It's a customizable refrigeration wall, with customizable, modular sections in honeycomb shapes that can be pushed in and activated by inserting something to be chilled. These can be food containers, a bottle of wine, a bag of apples. "It cools by conduction," explained Ben, "it cools each item individually, by touch." 

I asked him what inspired this really unusual fridge concept and he laughed. "It was a toy, you know those pin toys that let you make shapes in them? Yeah, one of those." 

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"The biggest flaws in fridge design," said Ben, "is the idea of waste." Wasted energy (cooling when it's not needed) and wasted food — lost in the back of a huge box in the kitchen. Here, food is a feature; it's all open, with everything chilling and on display. 

"It's a different mindset," said Ben. "It doesn't use energy when there's nothing in it. It also changes your interaction with your food and leftovers. They're right there where you can see them." 

While this fridge is still just a prototype, that doesn't mean that he didn't give a lot of thought to how it actually works. It would cool by conduction — sound, actually, with waves in a gas-filled chamber. The immediate obstacle to production, said Ben, is this thermo-acoustic unit; how small you can get the units? Not small enough just yet, but someday! 

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Ben was one of the runners-up at the Design Lab final event (that's him there on the left). I met his mom in the audience, as she was carrying a huge sheaf of congratulatory flowers out of the hall. "Well, there's his college tuition paid for next year!" she beamed. 

Congratulations Ben, and good luck! 

What do you all think of this? Is this radically different idea of a fridge something you could see using in the future? Does it address the issues you have with your refrigerator, or does it lack something you would also want? What, to you, is the fridge of the future? 

(Images: Electrolux; Faith Durand)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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