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A Heavenly Kitchen Worth $50,000 : Some Buyers Seek Unusual, Gadgety Touch of High Tech

February 11, 1988|KENNETH BREDEMEIER | The Washington Post

DALLAS — And now, here comes the $50,000 kitchen.

It's got tandem wine coolers--one for red wine and one for white; refrigerators and dishwashers on either side of the work island; a couple of ovens, one in the wall and one underneath the counter; three sinks; a microwave oven; a four-burner electric cooktop with a warming element and a couple of gas burners thrown in for good measure.

There's also built-in bench seating a step below the cooking area--all of which faces an entertainment center with a large television and videocassette recorder that can be seen by the cooks in the kitchen and their guests nearby. Included in the kitchen is $30,000 worth of cabinetry.

All of this might seem extravagant, but the $50,000 model kitchen built by Better Homes & Gardens magazine and Frigidaire Co. was displayed here at the annual convention of the National Assn. of Home Builders. It seemed to symbolize the era of gadgets and opulence enveloping much of the new-home market in the late 1980s.

Builders increasingly are constructing homes for move-up buyers--those who have already lived in another home or two and now are seeking more elegance or space or both. In many cases, building industry officials said here, buyers are seeking the unusual, the gadgety touch of high-tech or convenience.

Home-product manufacturers eagerly touted such wares over 17 acres of floor space at the Dallas Convention Center. There were a few saws and hammers, but Kent W. Colton, executive vice president of the Washington-based home builders' group, observed, "If you look around the exhibits, you see more and more gadgets, like the hand-held device you can answer the front door with while you're in the Jacuzzi."

'An Idea Kitchen'

Dick Rozic, vice president of White Consolidated Industries Inc., which includes Frigidaire appliances, described the $50,000 model as "an idea kitchen so anything could be spun off it. This would go in a home that costs $450,000 to $500,000 so you can have food preparation and entertain at the same time."

Solid disk burners on stoves now seem commonplace on new models. But Amana Refrigeration Inc. is introducing a black, flat-top cook surface in the spring with one burner that looks like a couple of brightly lit red neon tubes.

Actually the burner is a quartz-halogen element that instantly gives off high heat--or lesser temperatures if desired. The unit, first developed in Europe, produces an intense red glow. It is a completely electrically powered unit, even though the gas tubes provide the heat.

The unit is expected to cost between $500 and $600, about the same as for other more conventional top-of-the-line stoves.

Numerous manufacturers have decided that Americans want luxury bathing, which, of course, comes at a substantial price. Take Kohler Co.'s new Aventura "Shower and Soak" whirlpool. More simply, it is a shower stall with an attached whirlpool.

"Oriental tradition dictates cleansing oneself before entering the bath," Kohler said by way of promotion, "and the Aventura suggests a refinement of that practice by combining a circular shower adjoining a whirlpool bath in a single unit."

Taking a bath may take on new meaning, however, when one considers the Aventura price tag: $8,300.

A Lighted Shower Head

O'Ryan Industries Inc. of Vancouver, Wash., has a simple addition for the shower--a lighted shower head that sells for $49.95. Water running through the ShowerStar nozzle generates 2 1/2 volts of power for the small light; there is no battery or electrical attachment.

Larry Brooks, O'Ryan's national sales manager, said that "mood packs" of various colored lights can be inserted in the shower head to create the right ambiance for bathing.

"The red light is the most popular bulb with women," Brooks said. "It makes the whole bathroom pink."

Luxury hotels have started installing wall-mounted hair dryers. Nutone now offers a home model for $139 with a small hose that fits back into the unit when it is not in use.

Robert Rath, president of Elan International of San Clemente, Calif., which designed the hair dryer, said it is "rated as the world's safest hair dryer because you can put it in the sink and nothing will happen. The key element is safety and convenience. There are 50 deaths a year (from electrocutions) from conventional hair dryers. We've never had a lawsuit."

Upscale homeowners also might look for new convenience in the dressing room with the Closet Carousel, clothes racks on a moving track like the ones at the dry cleaners. The smallest model, which requires at least a 4-foot-by-7-foot space for installation, retails for $2,100. A spokeswoman for the manufacturer, White Home Products Inc. of Atlanta, said, however, "It's a luxury item, but it will come down. It certainly will be down to $1,500 in a year."

One builder was intrigued as he watched the carousel rotate, but he joked, "The problem is that you have to take a number to get your clothes off."

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