Imagine a refrigerator that reminds you when you're running low on orange juice, a microwave oven that responds to voice commands and a dining table that converts into a stove, allowing you to cook, eat and socialise simultaneously.
It might sound like a scene from The Jetsons but kitchens such as these, with hi-tech, multi-purpose appliances designed to make life easier, are just around the corner.
Some of the biggest names in white goods such as Siemens, Miele and Electrolux are turning out ever more futuristic kitchen appliances, hoping to tap into what appears to be a burgeoning interest in the area.
Some of the most technologically advanced products are not yet in production, although prototypes have been made.
Electrolux, for example, recently held its Design Lab 2009 in London, where it demonstrated appliances its designers were capable of creating. These included the Volare, which is, improbably, a mini kitchen disguised as a piece of art. Designed for small spaces, the flat, linear piece unfolds into an induction stove, dispenses ice, makes espresso and more - all at the touch of a button. Also from Electrolux was the Rendez-Vous, a gleaming, long black table, the surface of which is powered to charge any electrical appliance and can be tucked away beneath the table.
Electrolux says these appliances have been designed for consumers who want to perform as hosts. Although they are not yet in production, other manufacturers are forging ahead. Siemens, for example, recently launched its KG28FM50 coolMedia refrigerator, which combines a fridge/freezer and television. The surface of the three-door fridge contains a high-definition LCD flat screen. If friends are in the living room watching a DVD, you can do the same in the kitchen through a USB interface that hooks up the coolMedia with other entertainment units in the house. The 'intelligent' component of the refrigerator extends to a 'moist zone', where fruits and vegetables are stored, and a 'dry zone' for meat, fish and cheese, which can extend the lives of these perishables by up to three times. The product is on sale in Britain and other parts of Europe for about GBP2,000 (HK$24,700).
Cooking tables appear to be the next big trend. Austrian company Edelweiss Industrial Design (edelweissdesign.at) offers the Flamma, a sleek black glass table with electromagnetic induction cookers under the glass. Guests can help prepare and cook the food on the table or just watch their meals take shape, then enjoy the meal without having to move after everything has been switched off. Similarly, German design company Alno offers the Long Island and Liberty Island cooking tables; the former has an induction stove attached to one end, the latter splices the cooking element with a smooth wooden table. Both were designed to combine 'the hearth and kitchen table as the focal point of home life', says the company.
Induction stove tops are in the vanguard of innovative kitchen design. Siemens' stove top produces no flames; heating elements are placed under its black surface. Its smooth finish makes it easy to clean.
Another European maker, Kuppersbusch (kueppersbusch.de), offers a glass and ceramic cooking surface that can be assembled in different configurations according to what and how the user likes to cook.
For those who just want their appliances to look cool, designer Karim Rashid has teamed up with Slovenian appliance maker Gorenje to create a line of refrigerators, ovens and cooker hoods called The Touch of Light. What makes them unique is that they can be changed to a different colour by touching an LED strip that runs along the surface.
Although refrigerators that let you know when it's time to go grocery shopping are still in development, Brazilian line Brastemp has a model called the Inverse Frost Free that adjusts temperature automatically depending on what it contains, and signals when something is adequately chilled for serving. That's one less thing for a party host to worry about.