For the folks at FirstBuild, GE Appliance’s microfactory, tomorrow's kitchen isn't about gimmicky Jetsons futurism. Instead, it's about living well—and living practically—in smaller spaces.
“Standard size appliances don’t look like they fit in these environments,” said Lou Lenzi, design director for GE Appliances.
To integrate compact refrigerators, ovens, and dishwashers in small kitchen spaces, GE sees an opening to create a suite of appliances sold in modular units—a “monoblock” that FirstBuild began working on in May 2014.
We got to see the first iteration of this concept at the Dwell on Design conference just a month later, and the GE team has been taking feedback since then to refine the product.
“In our discussions with the developer community, the refrigeration module caused a lot of debate,” recalled Lenzi. “How much storage do you need in a 400- to 600-square-foot apartment?”
For its latest prototype, seen at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) this month in Las Vegas, GE settled on side-by-side fridge and freezer units, each 42 inches wide, and also opted to separate the cooking and cleaning module from the refrigeration block.
“We think we need to get some learning under our belt, so that’s going to continue to evolve,” explained Lenzi.
The company had originally considered a drawer-based solution for the dishwasher, but it has evolved into a standard compact dishwasher in the latest model. For cooking, GE stuck with its Advantium Speed Oven, and induction cooktop. Next to the dishwasher is a sink with Delta touch faucet, and the backsplash has a task light, USB hubs, and a track for adding future accessories.
The price point for the suite of appliances is projected to be $15,000, which keeps it out of the hands of most modestly furnished apartments. Lenzi says that GE purposefully targeted its micro living concept to the higher end market to set a roadmap for development.
“We can always wheel back at a lower price point, but we didn’t want to introduce this as a basic, basic model at $8,000 and miss the opportunity to address the higher-end market.”
The monoblock's modular design also makes it easier—and therefore less expensive—for builders to install in new construction.
GE’s FirstBuild microfactory is located in a 35,000-square-foot former warehouse on the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus. The microfactory creates an environment for the company to expedite the design and manufacture of niche products, without the cost and risk of traditional mass manufacturing, which might require expensive overhauls to existing factories.
FirstBuild taps engineers, designers, and enthusiasts from around the world—plus students and faculty from the university—to identify market needs and participate in product development. The most viable products move on to production, and prizes and sales royalties are awarded to community members who make significant contributions.
The micro kitchen is just one facet of FirstBuild’s initial focus. Watch for GE’s micro laundry options, coming right around the corner.