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Whether you're setting up a new apartment, getting married (or uncoupled) or just want a change as an empty nester, housewares probably are on a to-buy list. When you shop in a store or online, you'll find things you didn't know you needed, from the Lekue pan mold that forms rhombus mini pies -- or its Nut and Grain Milk Maker -- to gadgets like spiralizers to form curly strips of veggies or special slicers to prevent avocado hand.

There's a choice of low-tech and high-tech barista-worthy coffeemakers. Mills for making your own grain or kits for brewing craft beer. Smart home devices, robo vacs and massagers that help dissolve wrinkles and boost collagen.

 The housewares category has experienced a sea change in recent years, and it's not just about color -- even when it's neon.

 "We don't buy objects anymore," says global trend forecaster Tom Mirabile, who also is an editor for Pantone. "We buy aspirations. We buy experiences."

 And driving it all is lifestyle -- from Pinterest boards showing off food fads to Instagram design obsessions and influencer blogs. Manufacturers are paying attention. So much so that even the name of the 80-plus-year-old International Home and Housewares Show held in Chicago each spring is changing to The Inspired Home. The stage was set with a highly successful consumer website that explores emerging trends and eventually a journal sold at Whole Foods and bookstores like Barnes and Noble. It's chock-full of gorgeous photography, engaging products pages, mouthwatering recipes and stories like the art of hygge.

 Even some traditional bridal registries now include aspirational gifts -- like funding a honeymoon, beach vacay, Airbnb experience, SoulCycle classes or Global Entry/TSA Precheck fees, as evidenced by several websites, such as www.zola.com, which also features traditional gifting with more than 500 brands.

It doesn't mean there's a divide between design and utility, form and function. We want it all -- but with an evolved set of parameters.

 "It's an appeal to the more fluid self," says Mirabile. "To one group, I'm a baker; to another, I'm an artist. To another, an analyst. DIY now is more CIY (create it yourself) or GIY (grow it yourself) -- not just to save money, but because you're learning or experiencing something. We want products that make our lives more interesting. Products that save time and save space."

 And although analysts like to focus on demographics, charting millennial, boomer and Gen X buying habits, Mirabile says those lines now are blurred.

"People don't see themselves in those groups anymore," says Mirabile, while acknowledging that millennials have been a key influence.

 Eating habits among millennials -- like substituting two snacks for one meal, for example -- have spawned a niche for particular storage containers that mimic Japanese divided bento boxes. And keeping hydrated led to a whole new drinkware category.

Current houseware trends reflect the times.

 Wellness. Air fryers that use less oil with little or no fat remain hot, as does steam cooking and sous vide, and many brands are adding these features. Heavier duty, less noisy blenders are competing with dedicated juicers.

 Connectivity. Billed as the world's first connected food storage system, Ovie Smarterware will tell you what food you have in the fridge, how fresh it is, when to eat it, what to make with it and when to order more; it was projected to be available late summer (www.ovie.life). Blueair's Wi-Fi enabled air purifier has a built-in air quality sensor that continuously measures toxin levels in the air, displaying results on a digital panel. The TasteTro spice blending system incorporates Bluetooth technology for dispensing 100 blends, with customization on the horizon.

 All that jazz. Even familiar products can dazzle with style -- sometimes where we least expect it. Brabantia's footed trash can, for example, is all that. The design brings a sexy edge to utility, with an appealing modern form on legs, in orange decorated with a hip 1969 flower print in magenta.

Saving time and doubling down on function. Hybrid appliances combine several functions. For example, some air fryers are being combined with toaster ovens. Just make it simple, fast and easy to clean, please.

Storage. Space-saving has ramped up, from stackable cookware to stackable bins for pantries, closets and baths to modular workstations like the new Prepdeck, with bins to ban kitchen counter clutter. Thank Marie Kondo or not, we all want our spaces to spark joy.

Artisanal products. Most come either with the look of crafted or in DIY-crafted products like cheese, beer, home fermenting and kombucha starter kits for your dose of probiotics.

Color. Pastels and mellow hues are on the uptick. Le Creuset's new Calm collection offers silver or gold knobs. Gold, rose gold, bronze and copper, as in other areas of home decor, can be seen in everything from Nordic Ware fluted loaf pans to hand mixers, sous vide pots and even hair dryers. The warm metallic can adds a touch of glam.

Creating Insta-worthy meals and drinks. Pro function gives consumers the tools -- and sleekly designed beverage makers like Bartesian, Aarke's carbonator and Jura's new barista-like coffeemaker will photograph well.

Practical. Cuisivin's Snak Carafe (available on www.amazon.com), is a curved glass container (in 10 or 25 ounces) with two finger notches, tapering at the top. The clever idea is to pour your snacks into your hand instead of digging into a bowl. It also doubles as a carafe for beverages or salad dressings.

Fanciful, playful and just for a change. Zoku's Iceberg ice mold looks like a piece of cut crystal; it melts ice slowly without diluting your drink. Polka dots are fun on a toaster and tea kettle from Emma Bridgewater and Russell Hobbs. KitchenAid's limited-edition textured and patterned china bowls switch up your everyday look on its 4.5- to 5-quart mixers.

Sustainable. Asobu's stainless steel straw has a bendable colored silicone section, a reusable alternative to plastic straws (www.asobubottle.com).

So what does a trend-spotter respond to in the expanding world of housewares?

"Something different," admits Mirabile. "Just engagement. For me, it's a combination of style and color. But the bottom line is we buy what we love. Not just a suit or shoes or a bag we have to have. Now we're our own status symbols.

         "For me, the best products are about what makes life better."

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