Innovating for Smaller (Much Smaller) Kitchens
posted on June 05, 2013 at 09:12PM by Paul Storch
My wife and I recently visited a lesser known attraction in Manhattan, The Museum of the City of New York. I was drawn there to view an exhibit called "Making Room : New Models for Housing New Yorkers." The exhibit is the culmination of a design competition organized by NYC Mayor Bloomberg, who challenged architects to address the crisis in affordable housing for the rapidly growing population of singles. His idea was to create much smaller apartments that were attractive and functional. The highlight of this exhibit is an actual innovative studio apartment in 325 cubic feet (with a full bath, eat-in-kitchen, and a general purpose room that converted in seconds from a living room to an office, den or bedroom). To see it is to be "wowed" by the design. (As an unrelated aside, I would rate this museum as a real gem.)
One of the product lines our company has long focused on is the smaller kitchen. But our industry's working definition of smaller (20 inch ranges instead of 30 inch and 24 inch wide refrigerators instead of the new generation of behemoths) does not address these "micro-apartments." And, the need for space to serve multiple functions adds a new dimension to the design challenge.
At this time, the market for micro-apartments in the US does not commercially exist. NYC zoning (and the zoning of many other cities) does not allow living spaces this small. In many cities, new construction requires handicap accessibility, which further contraindicates the construction of these apartments. But the growth in the single population is predicted to continue. New York has the largest number of singles in the US, though 10 other major cities have a higher percentage of single people living alone, with Washington D.C topping the charts.
New York City is working with a number of designers and builders to build a few prototypes of micro-apartment buildings, granting waivers from zoning and other laws. It will be a few years until they are complete and probably a few more until the success or failure can be determined. But along the way, much will be learned.
Whether or not micro-apartments ever become widespread is uncertain, but only hints at some underlying trends. There are 80 million baby boomers starting to retire and perhaps downsize their living spaces. Another 80 million millennials are less likely to form nuclear families (definition: mom, dad and 2.3 kids) than their parents did. This means that housing stock, appliances, and much else will change. And while these two groups may end up with similarities in the number of single or twin households, there are likely to be large differences in products that will appeal to the two groups.
At Felix Storch, Inc., we have long been focused on the smaller kitchen. Our roots and operations in NYC allow us a vantage point close to the action. We are already developing new and innovative products suited for smaller kitchens. Many of the ideas come from our customers, and their customers who cannot find appliances with a specific size. More specifically, we have recently introduced built-in refrigerators and wine cellars in 15 inch and 18 inch widths. Frost-free freezers in both sizes are coming shortly. Our cooktop line in gas and electric and our European hood lines have expanded to meet the needs of smaller kitchens.
In the New York City design community there is excitement over this trend, especially as the City experiences higher and higher rents and some shortages of conventional apartments. But today, even if we construct the micro-apartment of tomorrow, we will likely fill it with the appliances of yesterday. And there is always the danger that the trend will be too small to attract the investment needed to truly innovate.
Felix Storch, Inc. will sponsor a competition later this year, in conjunction with a New York City school of design to develop innovative kitchen designs. We hope to further develop the utility of micro-kitchens. But even now, we would love to hear of our readers' challenges of small kitchens (whether designing them or using them). Take this opportunity to put on your forward looking lenses, and tell us what you think appliances for the "micro-apartment" will look like.
I welcome your feedback,
-Paul Storch, CEO