At Home: Cool contraptions for kitchen convenience

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal Uclick

Oh, those millennials. While they might not have the deeper pockets of baby boomers, they most certainly are influencing the gizmos, gadgets and small appliances that are winning the hearts and dollars of the housewares industry.

The Dutch manufacturer Brabantia declares it wants to "make waste beautiful," and it certainly elevates the trash can, with ergonomic benefits. This one, made of steel and plastic, has adjustable legs -- black ones -- and a red body (also available in yellow, gray and black). Available in two sizes, just under 3 gallons and about 6 gallons in capacity, the soft-touch open and close make for easy disposal.

"Influencing" is a key word here. Because so much of what is trending plays out in social media -- on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest -- more and more manufacturers are tuning in. In fact, influencers are beginning to snag major partners, like Gemma Stafford, host of "Gemma's Bigger Bolder Baking" (with Good Cook). This also is happening in home furnishings, with product line launches. And now, with mobile video potential, just wow.

Spiralizers? Curly ribbons of veggies? Fun. InstaPot. Yes! Love all those functions in one. Craft beer making? Cheers! Fermenting? Natural probiotic. The best portable clothes washer in the world. Wait, what?

So, there have always been gadgets, designed perhaps to make our lives easier (but also claim lots of space and eventually get lost in our kitchen drawers). With "avocado hand" so much in the news (to wit, "The View's" Joy Behar's emergency room visit because she stabbed her hand while slicing an avocado), the facilitators are getting touted. Some split, pit and slice. Some professionals may roll their eyes.

But earnest innovators will not shrivel. The corner at the International Housewares Show held each spring in Chicago is filled with hopefuls. Some present their inventions in "Shark Tank"-like venues. And when they've made it (sometimes even with a real "Shark Tank" backer, such as Lori Greiner), they're shown off in a special exhibitor section along with other "as seen on TV" products. Success is spelled HSN and Bed, Bath and Beyond. One introduction this year was a container with a lock, devised to deter food thieves in the workplace.

Eating healthy and cooking with fresh ingredients has triggered a renewed interest in growth herbs and veggies. The Aspara Smart Veggie Grower, from Hong Kong's Growgreen Ltd., features LED grow lights and 10 smart sensors to detect air and water temperature, relative humidity, and water and nutrient levels. It will alert you when the reservoir needs filling. At the biannual EuroCucina show in Milan, one strong trend was the integration of plants in the kitchen, often on long shelves with integrated LEDs above islands.

Steaming, air frying and sous vide cooking (cooking in water in a vacuum sealed bag) have been the beneficiaries of the healthy trend, which in Milan went beyond countertop to sous vide built-ins. Wolf's new multifunction cooker has a sous vide function. And the crazy success of InstaPot has led to serious competition with rice makers that dish yogurt, saute, bake, roast, stew, steam and slow cook. According to the NPD market research group, in the 12 months prior to December 2017's holiday shopping spree, U.S. shoppers had spent nearly $380 million on multicookers.

Gourmia one-upped its own range of multicookers with a new feature: keeping ingredients cool until you're ready to cook. The ad's message: "It cools. It cooks. So you can chill." The cooker is IoT-integrated ("internet of things") with the Gourmia mobile app for anywhere-control, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa compatibility, and A.I. to control cooking from anywhere at anytime. 

Another huge introduction comes from a company called Frigondas. It's a Spanish-designed, Korean-made product that combines flash freezing with microwave technology, previously only available commercially at costs of up to $50,000. The name actually comes from the Spanish "frigorifico" (refrigerator) plus "microondas" (microwave). 

The piece looks like a slick microwave, a black-matte box on small, squarish feet, with a single dial. When it's available, it will sell for about $1,000. You can freeze blast raspberries and watermelon, then defrost them, and they reportedly taste as fresh as if they just came from the farmer's market. Defrosting minimizes evaporation while maintaining taste, shape and texture. Want a cold brew from that warm six pack you just brought home? Six minutes. 

And a Belgian company called Sanodegusto boasts plates that keep food warm or cool for 30 minutes. Their TempControl does the trick, heating to 131 degrees Fahrenheit and chilling to 39 degrees.

Always a hot topic in cookware is a practical one: how best to store it. To that end, a number of manufacturers like Farberware have perfected nesting solutions. The Neat Nest rests pans and lids snugly using an interlocking handle system, creating a small footprint. 

Color also continues to be a big story in cookware (the best way to spice up white kitchens), and one of the freshest introductions is a shade of green called basil. It was introduced as part of the Ayesha Curry Home Collection for Meyer. Curry took her cue from last year's Pantone Color of the Year, Greenery. The cookbook author and Food Network personality, who is expecting her third child with her husband, NBA star Steph Curry, announced in June that she will host a new show called "Family Food Fight" for ABC, where families will compete for $100,000.

Le Creuset's newest color evokes Provence in lavender. A limited-edition companion au gratin dish and Dutch oven called Applique actually features sprays of the aromatic herb lavender that look hand-painted. There also are mini cocottes with flower knobs in pale yellow, lavender and pink.

As in home furnishings, Scandinavian-influenced pastels have become a force in housewares -- utensils that pair wood and silicone tips, dinnerware, insulated water bottles and even small appliances (such as ice blue toasters at Smeg, or blue-green air fryers from Dash). 

And all-blue hues have been popular in furnishings, tableware and housewares, often in allover patterns reminiscent of vintage tiles, like those from Casafina. And while we may expect watercolor looks, stripes and polka dots on ironing board covers, it is startling in toasters. The fashion brand Dolce and Gabbana dressed toasters, espresso and juice makers, with hand-painting of traditional Sicilian motifs in a bold palette in its Sicily is My Love collaboration with Smeg.

Even one of the most familiar brands, Thermos, has jazzed up its solid hue offerings with a colorful collection of beverage and food containers with lively color and patterns in a co-branding with Patina Vie. 

Warm metallics remain popular, just as they are in interiors. In cookware, handsome teamings -- like Staub's black-matte cast iron with gold knobs -- spell elegance. Copper cookware (both smooth and hammered) is strengthening, and copper also is being used as contrast -- e.g., tops and knobs on Gotham Steel's air fryer. To celebrate the 100th birthday of design legend Achille Castiglioni, Alessi produced a limited edition (999) of his 1995 footed fruit bowl in gleaming copper with stainless steel colander. In a burnished finish, copper lends a quiet, elegant touch to a salt and pepper grinder from Epare.

Of course, balancing all the bright silicone and shiny metallics is wood, from light to dark finishes, with a variety of handsome utensils, cutting and cheese boards, and trivets.

A growing number of utilitarian products are getting style points because of their form as well as their color. The Dutch company Brabantia is known for clean lines -- especially its simple, tall cylinders to hold trash -- in a range of appealing colors. Its newest model is a standout (literally) as it stands up from the floor on straight black legs. Available in red and yellow, as well as a warm gray and black, it's advertised with the tag line: "Make Waste Beautiful."

Some inspirations come from existing popular products. Debra Walker, for example, eyed the Keurig coffeemaker and daydreamed about how cool it would be to create a cocktail equivalent. That's how Bibo Barmaid was launched. A packet, a liquor and a touch of a lever are all you need for faves like mai tais, rum punch and margaritas.

An easy way to pass Mixology 101.