The lady I met on the train is the kitchen industry’s customer from heaven. On my way back to Hamburg from Cologne not only was I putting all the impressions I’d gained in order, but all the press material too. She was telling me how she has to re-do her kitchen every five years. Everything must go. And despite her last wave of renewal being just two years behind her, she was already getting the itch, given all the wonderful new products coming from the trade fairs. She was of course familiar with Living Kitchen, the major industry event for kitchen furnishings and appliances in Cologne, even though she hadn’t actually ever been.

Today’s customers are certainly well-informed. She had been particularly impressed by the induction stove with the full-surface cooktop. "Gaggenau" presented the product for the first time two years ago and now the induction stove with the full-surface cooktop is on the point of asserting itself as the new standard in high-end kitchens. A mass of small, interconnected inductors are positioned beneath the glass-ceramic top such that the cookware is identified and heated wherever it is placed. Operated using a touch display or control button, the settings are retained no matter where you move your pots and pans on the full-surface cooktop. “I’m afraid I’m not quite up to date,” says the lady on the train.

At this very moment a show kitchen of a very special kind flashes before my eyes: The fireplace at Goethehaus in Frankfurt, known to be a post-War reconstruction. Here they used to suspend pots of food over the fire to cook. Back then cooking was an arduous chore, requiring strength and lots of hands and heads. For celebrity chefs, who even today make recourse to “real fire” as soon as they leave the TV studio, this principle still applies. Private kitchen fanatics might look to the chef as a role model, but they are prepared to put in as much effort as them on a day-to-day basis. They take their cue from the pros, transforming the shape and look of their appliances, furnishings and utensils and in doing so taking the archaic rituals of food preparation and placing them in a more “aesthetic” environment.

For those who get a kick out of new technology and continuously renovate their own kitchens by way of a hobby, over these few days Cologne became a pilgrimage site of the highest ranking. Manufacturers from the kitchen furnishing and appliance industry displayed a knack for implementing a rather profitable trio: inspiring the imagination, arousing the emotions and paving the way for purchasing decisions. At present it seems that trade fair organizers are presenting potential exhibiters with some attractive offers, such that many manufacturers made a return to the trade fair or exhibited for the first time. A total of 175 exhibitors came to present in Cologne this year with around 40 percent coming from beyond Germany’s borders. The fair was also rounded out by a line of events in manufacturers’ showrooms across the city.

The name "Living Kitchen", now firmly rooted in the design world’s consciousness but still somewhat strange, has now assumed an additional meaning: For now more than ever it refers to the kitchen as having a life of its own. If a kitchen is to be in line with the times it has to be “smart” and “networked”. A new future study by "Siemens" provides a prime example, lending new resonance to the old question of whether the light really does go out when you close the fridge door: A new iPad app affords us a glimpse into the closed fridge, telling us exactly what’s inside. The app is also designed to tell us what can be made from the ingredients hiding away in there and provide a list of what else we need to buy to make the meal complete. "Seldom" does the sense of networking, which is associated with a great deal of technical effort, become so abundantly clear where a traditional approach (a glimpse in the fridge and then a cookbook) would yield the exact same results.

The "Alno Mesa" design study is somewhat questionable – the handles shaped like coat hooks would prove a hindrance to any cook at work in the kitchen. By contrast, the modular concept for a “Bewegte Küche” (Moving kitchen), also by "Alno", aims to put technology to use to support the coexistence of several generations. Adjustable screw jacks make it easier for people of different heights and ages to get to work in the kitchen. In order to achieve the objectives set out by Christian Hartmannsgruber, project manager for Innovation at "Alno", the “Bewegte Küche” has to become a long-life product, after all, the intention is that over the course of time different IT technologies, aspects of health care and protection and communication will be integrated on the basis of existing technology. As of the fall, the “Bewegte Küche” will be launched on the market as a product by revived German brand "Tielsa".

"Warendorf" presented technology of a very different ilk in the form of the “Hidden Kitchen”, a kitchen unit that is controlled using a key and can be hidden away behind a folding, garage-like door boasting a tasteful rusted surface finish. Appearing rather modest in contrast, there seemed to have been less effort put into "Minotti Cucine"'s presentation of a kitchen made of dark-brown, oxidized aluminum, which formed the centerpiece of the collective Italian stand.

That presentation is everything was made abundantly clear by the major corporate groups and their brands. In the case of "Bosch-Siemens-Hausgeräte BSH" each of the brands came with their own stand, displaying the greatest degree of autonomy possible. While "Bosch" staged itself as a technology-oriented brand ideal for everyday use with an incidental nod of the head, as it were, to the large number of design prizes it has won recently without dropping a single name, "Siemens" played the almost reserved technology brand whose visions cannot always be described as breathtaking (see above). "Neff" grouped its products in the middle of a kitchen landscape with a particularly Mediterranean feel; a stove whose door opens in one smooth motion to be slotted in below the oven itself, for example. Having said that, the obligatory tiled floor had (in an economically and ecologically clever move) been replaced with laminate flooring. However, as with many of the products on display, this required an army of permanently active cleaning staff to keep it presentable.

"Gaggenau" on the other hand was in a world of its own. The two new oven series 200 and 400 were on display as the most significant new additions to their range. Head of Design Sven Baacke worked together with his team of five to gradually develop the familiar picture-frame theme even further. The result is that the 400 series has assumed a more sculptural appearance, protruding into the space with a slight overhang, while the 200 is fitted flush. As has been the case up to now, both the ovens are operated via the TFT touchscreen and rotary controls. Sound designers were brought in to design the doors for both series. This has paid off in the satisfying sound they make as they snap into place, as you would hear with a car door by a corresponding premium marque. The iridescent color tones are intended to adapt particularly well to the surroundings, which the rather dark stand, designed in part as a display store, did little to demonstrate to full effect.

The "Electrolux Group" showed a united front as one unit with a variety of offerings – a mixture of Scandinavian, German and Italian influences with "Zanussi", "AEG", "Electrolux" and their new line "Electrolux Grand Cuisine". The stand took the form of a sequence of sections whereby the individual brands shined the spotlight on a range of topics and themes. The one stand that sticks in my mind as the liveliest of all is "Miele". You could only enter after going through a short accreditation procedure. Nonetheless, it was extremely crowded inside. The brand presented a new fitted kitchen series and the “M-Touch” control system based on the smartphone model. These novelties were joined by a refrigerator in which each of the adjustable shelves is lit with LEDs and a coffee machine fitted with sensors that automatically identify the height of the cups placed beneath the spout.

Since emotion formed the focal point of most trade fair presentations, there was little room left for information. "Liebherr" was the only manufacturer to document mandatory information on energy consumption for individual appliances in a commendable manner; the rest stuck to the familiar A followed by one or more plus signs, which in fact says hardly anything about the appliances’ actual rate of consumption.

While many technology manufacturers concentrated on black, white and brown tones in their kitchen front designs, "Blanco" came up a range of with brightly colored sinks. Kitchens boasting more striking color schemes were few and far between, however the rough-sawn veneer presented as a surface finish by "Bulthaup" in Milan popped up again on stands by "Leicht" and household furniture manufacturer "Ligne Roset".

The "eUnits" by "Dornbracht" were one technical novelty worth a second glance. They allow the user to regulate flow and temperature to a T and, in case they don’t have a hand free, turn off the water using the handy foot sensor. Perhaps this new world of kitchens does indeed have a life of its own. And with a great deal of imagination and courageous spirit encourages potential users to experiment. Those who have always considered cooking a physical activity however might be better off heading to the gym in future.

New functionalities at “Neff“: the stove door was slotted in below the oven itself, photo © Thomas Edelmann
Take the effort out of cooking
by Thomas Edelmann
Jan 22, 2013
“Siemens“ at "Living Kitchen", photo © Thomas Edelmann
A future study by “Siemens“ networks all kitchenware digitally, photo © Thomas Edelmann
The presentation of “Neff“, photo © Thomas Edelmann
The full-induction stove of “Siemens“, photo © Thomas Edelmann
The „Hidden Kitchen“ by “Warendorf“, photo © Thomas Edelmann
With the push of a button the “Hidden Kitchen” can be covered, photo © Thomas Edelmann
The new line ”Electrolux Grand Cuisine“, photo © Thomas Edelmann
With a new iPad app “Siemens” affords us a glimpse into the closed fridge, photo © Siemens
“Liebherr“ focussed on the low energy consumption of its appliances, photo © Thomas Edelmann
The “Alno Mesa“ design study, photo © Thomas Edelmann
Rough-sawn veneer was shown as a new surface finish by Leicht, photo © Thomas Edelmann
Kitchen surfaces with rusted finish at “Warendorf“, photo © Thomas Edelmann
“AEG“ presented extensive induction cookers, photo © Thomas Edelmann
The fitting "Pivot" by Dornbracht, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
The modular concept of the “Bewegte Küche” by Alno, photo © Thomas Edelmann
Two new oven series were on display as the most significant new additions at “Gaggenau”, photo © Thomas Edelmann
Mobile kitchen “Critter“ by Skitsch, photo © Sabrina Spee, Stylepark