Household technology: Let's talk appliances.

Double oven? YES PLEASE!

Sheesh, we’ve covered some heavy topics lately, from the social and economic implications of hiring household help to the history of homemaking. Along the same lines, but on a slightly fluffier note, I thought it would be fun to talk about some of the most commonly-used technology out there–our household appliances.

I attended a Whirlpool event (my appliance manufacturer of choice–they are located right in my backyard and are one of the biggest employers in my small town) a couple of weeks ago and got to ogle dozens of gorgeous ranges, dishwashers, refrigerators, and small appliances made by KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Whirlpool, Maytag, and Amana. And since we bought a fixer-upper house a year ago with old, old appliances and have started slowly replacing them one by one as they die, it really got me thinking about all the different household (i.e. cooking-cleaning-laundry type) technology out there, what makes my life easier, what I’d like to have, what I can live without, and what I wish somebody would invent, already.

What I Have And Love:

  • A double oven. I mentioned this the other day, but seriously, the double oven (specifically the Maytag Gemini, which we got right before Christmas when our ancient coil-range stove died) has made getting whole meals on the table much quicker and easier. I no longer have to wait for the chicken to be done baking (at 350 degrees) before I can even start to roast the veggies (more like 425 degrees). I can make brownies while dinner’s cooking so they’re done and cooled by the time we finish eating. The double oven is a complete dinner game-changer.
  • A top-loading high-efficiency washing machine. I’m not sure why most people seem to prefer front-loading washing machines–I love love love my top-loading high-efficiency machine (mine is an older model but similar to that one). I still get the benefits of a high-efficiency, high-capacity machine, but no stooping or bending. I can just dump the basket of clothes right in. The top-loading HE machines do seem to be a little harder to find, which may explain why they aren’t as popular.

What I Don’t Have, But Wish I Did:

  • An induction cooktop. These things are crazy cool. Get this: they don’t actually get hot–some kind of mystical electron reaction between the pan (no fancy cookware needed; any magnetic pot or pan will do) and the cooking surface creates heat. The pans heat up almost immediately, but with a lot less danger to curious little fingers (and also, less danger to those moms who have a bad habit of leaving kitchen towels and pot holders sitting on the range and then turning on the wrong burner, ahem.) According to the Whirlpool folk, induction cooktops give you even more control over your temperature than a gas range does, which is good news for me as we don’t currently have a gas line running into our kitchen. Induction cooktops have been gaining in popularity in Europe for a while, but are becoming more prevalent–and more affordable–in the US. Definitely on my wish list.
  • A super-quiet (and effective) dishwasher. Right now, I can always tell when one of my boys loaded the dishwasher. Why? Let’s just say they aren’t particularly…careful about scraping and rinsing off dried-on peanut butter and cheese. Plus, you can hear our ancient machine running in any room of the house, which isn’t that big a deal, but can be a little annoying at night since our bedroom is close to the kitchen. This KitchenAid dishwasher? You literally cannot hear it running. Like, I didn’t believe it until somebody opened it to prove that it was on. Cool.
  • A washing machine that keeps clothes from going sour. I tend to do my laundry late in the evening, and sometimes over-estimate how late I’m willing to stay up to put that last load in the dryer. And then under-estimate how long I can count on Clara to sleep in the morning to switch it. And then later, over-estimate how much energy I might have for laundry after lunch. You get the picture: the load sits there for 24 hours or more, gets funky, and I have to start all over again. This Maytag machine has a “Fresh Hold” cycle that periodically tumbles your laundry and sucks out moisture with a fan. In fact, supposedly it can even dry small loads by itself–something that would finally make my decade-long dream of a washer that dries come true, even if it is only a hoodie and a pair of shorts at a time.

What I can live without:

  • A six-burner stove. From watching a ridiculous amount of Designed to Sell, House Hunters, and Bang For Your Buck, I know it’s popular these days for everyone to lust after a chef-styled range. But unless you’re actually  a chef–or regularly churning out five+ course meals for your family and friends–it seems like a bit of overkill. That said, they are lovely, and if money were no object, maybe I’d be willing to sink a few grand more into those extra two burners. But as it is, money is very much an object for me…as is kitchen space. And I have never run out of burners while cooking!
  • A washing machine with eighteen different settings. To keep things simple (and make it more likely that the kids won’t shrink all my sweaters) we mostly stick to the same cycle for clothes: cold wash, regular setting. Gentle for delicates, hot for towels and underwear, and warm for clothes that have had a serious run-in with dirt or something stinky. I only use bleach on one very specific white bedspread that I stubbornly refuse to admit was a dumb purchase for somebody with a co-sleeping toddler. I will never win an award for whitest whites, but it’s pretty low on my list of priorities.
  • An enormous refrigerator. I know, I know, as a mom of five I’m “supposed” to want as much refrigerator space as is humanly possible. But right now we have a huge disco-era fridge (it came with the house!) and the kids like to put stuff back in weird places, like one of the million hidden compartments. Or I stash that container of leftovers on the bottom-most rack and it gets shoved wayyyy back. And then I forget it’s there. And then it goes bad and it gets wasted. Rinse, repeat. The more drawers and compartments to open, the more I forget what’s in them, and the more space there is, the more chance things will get pushed into the recesses of the fridge or hidden behind a yogurt container. Also, my kitchen is like 9 X 11 feet–there’s simply no room to spare on wasted refrigerator space. Give me a smaller, sleeker fridge any day.  I shop weekly anyway, and we have a chest freezer for long-term storage.

What I Wish Someone Would Invent:

  • Affordable kitchen appliances in colors other than black, white, or stainless steel. What about blue or red or yellow? I know, everyone’s afraid of winding up with the next harvest gold or olive green, but sooner or later all appliances are going to look dated anyway. I’m totally over stainless (which may, in fact, turn out to be the next harvest gold), and would love an appliance with a lot of personality. I saw a beautiful cobalt-blue range on HGTV once, but I believe it was priced at $8000 or  more. Not gonna happen in this house!
  • Top-loading dryer: The only problem with my beloved top-loading high efficiency washer? Where are the top-loading dryers? It’s a huge pain to pull a heavy wet load of laundry out of the TOP of a washing machine, and then have to bend over and shove it into a FRONT-loading dryer. And plenty of people still use regular old top loaders so I’m not sure why a front-loading dryer continues to be the only option.

Technology is a tool. If you use it in a way that works for you and really does make your life easier–like, say, a washing machine that makes it possible to go to bed at a decent time or an oven that makes it easier to get a healthy meal on the table–great. On the other hand, if you buy a fancy range or fridge only because “the Joneses” have one and then feel obligated to throw dinner parties to show it off (and take three years to pay the credit-card bill), it’s probably not really serving you well. Of course, I know all families have different needs and preferences, and something on my “must-have” list could easily make you yawn…and vice-versa. So I want to know: what household appliance features do you have and love? Which do you wish you had? What do you wish “they” would invent? And what can you live without?

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