The Future of Kitchen Appliances: An Interview with Thomas Johansson of Electrolux

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Shopping for kitchen appliances, as I shared last week, is an overwhelming and challenging process, full of moments that made me question the very shape and form of the appliances I was buying. Have you ever looked at your refrigerator or stove and wondered, Why does it have to be shaped like this? Why can't it be smaller? Bigger? Better-looking? As technology advances, how much of our basic appliances' forms will stay the same, and what needs to change? 

I chatted with Thomas Johansson, the Design Director at Electrolux and a judge at last fall's Electrolux Design Lab competition, and asked him what he saw in the future of our appliances. Read on for his thoughts, especially on the one appliance in the kitchen that really needs a makeover! 

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Electrolux, which is based in Sweden, is the second-largest household appliance maker in the world, after Whirlpool. They make some pretty sleek and sweet appliances (we've gushed over their modular gas hobs, black steel dishwasher, and gas-on-glass cooktops — all lovely things we saw at Eurocucina last year in Milan). I was a guest at their Design Lab event last fall, and ever since then I've been thinking about my conversation with Thomas, the Design Director of Electrolux. 

What kinds of things do you mull over when you design and sell 40 million appliances a year? What's next? Which appliances really need the most help? When I asked Thomas this, he didn't hesitate. 

"That's easy. The refrigerator!" 

"The refrigerator?" I said. "Why?" 

He began listing off reasons: "It's too big. It's inefficient. It's always on, whether it needs to be cooling something or not. It isn't flexible — what if a cook needs to use more freezer space?" 

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A modular fridge, the winner of the Electrolux Design Lab student competition several years ago

I can certainly relate to this. The refrigerator seems to occupy an enormous place in the kitchen, jutting out from inconvenient corners, humming at odd times of the night, hogging power. And yet refrigerators are an essential part of most kitchens. What would it look like to update them or improve them? 

"The fridge is the thing in the kitchen that most needs to be reenvisioned," said Thomas. So what does that look like, I asked him. 

"The fridge of the future will be a smart fridge, more sustainable," he said, explaining how he thinks that a big advance in refrigerators will come with modularity (why keep a giant box cold if there are only a few things in it?) and sustainability of parts and energy. Refrigeration drawers, while expensive now, are another modular direction and option. 

"Also, downsizing," said Thomas. "Smaller refrigerators for urban living." This is hard in America though, he admitted, when I asked him what's different in designing appliances for the American market vs. the European. 

"Bigger sizes," he said with a grin. "Bigger packages, and with materials that look robust. American consumers are very particular to materials that feel like they are of quality." 

I can't argue with him there! It's hard to imagine downsizing the American refrigerator, but he is right that the refrigerator seems the most awkward appliance in the kitchen. 

Have you ever dreamed about redoing your fridge? If you could keep your food cold in any way, what would that look like? 

Thank you Thomas! 

(Images: Electrolux)

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