Topped off with a sprinkle of colour
It's no mystery how white goods got their name. The generic term for everyday household appliances first emerged in the early catalogues of American department store Sears and Roebuck to describe fridges, washers and cookers that, typically, had a white porcelain enamel exterior.
Not that they've always been white. In the 1950s, refrigerators came in turquoise and pink. In the 1970s, gold and avocado green appeared. In the 1980s, black appliances were considered exotic. But apart from the silver hue of secondary favourites such as brushed or stainless steel, white has been manufacturers' most consistent performer.
But designers like to push the proverbial envelope, which is why we're seeing something of a kitchen colour revolution. Take the Marc Newson range of ovens and hobs by Italian appliance manufacturer Smeg, which are available in a riot of sunny yellow, pistachio green and peacock blue colours. Smeg vice-president Vittorio Bertazzoni says the collection's launch last year was a deliberate attempt to provoke the market. 'We felt we had to be brave,' he says.
Newson, an Australian-born designer, was happy to comply. Based in London, Newson is hailed as one of the most influential designers of his generation. He has left his mark on everything from cars and planes to interiors and luxury products.
'It's not so much a question of why use colour, but why not?' he says. 'I believe it's time to challenge the monopoly of monochrome.'
But even in typically small Hong Kong kitchens? 'In the world of kitchens, everything's become so formulaic, so hyper-minimal, slick and devoid of personality,' he replies. 'Someone had to introduce something light-hearted and irreverent. I believe people will form a bond with this colourful piece of equipment and love living with it.'
But appliances last for years, while fashion is fickle. Could love fade at the whim of a trend? 'I have never followed trends in design, or in anything else for that matter.' Newson replies. 'I design with the expectation that my design will stand the test of time - that it will be classic and timeless. This is of supreme importance to me. In my appliances for Smeg; the depth of colour achieved by the enamelling process is unique.' (Smeg's Marc Newson induction hobs are priced from HK$8,300 to HK$8,800).
Some of these colourful creations are not always as they seem. An oven by Wolf Cooking, an American brand, might look all shiny stainless steel, but open the door and it's a bright cobalt blue. The Wolf is one of two ovens television chef Jamie Oliver has at home - the other being an Aga. The brand says its signature interior is about performance as much as appearance. 'The interior material is porcelain, because it helps distribute heat more evenly,' says Anita Kwok Shuk-hing, senior regional marketing manager of Madison, sole distributor of Sub-Zero and Wolf in Hong Kong and on the mainland.
'With black, as used by just about everyone else, it's easy to hide any imperfections or cracks in porcelain liners,' Kwok says. 'Blue is much brighter and Wolf, using only the very best porcelain, will reject any with any flaws.' (The 76cm wide Wolf E-series single oven costs HK$49,500.)
For its current range of food and wine fridges, Sub-Zero took another twist on colour - designing models with glass doors. 'A glass door is the best way to showcase colourful food ingredients, celebrating the luxury of freshness, bringing life to a kitchen where pragmatics come first, and adding pure pleasure to cooking.' But exposure comes at a cost: Sub-Zero's 122cm wide PRO 48 refrigerator with glass door is priced at HK$224,000.
Kitchen cabinets are adopting colour too. Del Tongo's Jolly collection offers finishes in a wide range of colours, patterns, materials and textures, along with the functional - a blackboard-like magnetic laminate finish that you can write on with chalk or felt pen.
Dora Sui Wing-sze, business development manager at Kitchens + Interiors, a Del Tongo distributor, says it's the perfect antidote to a minimalist interior. 'The trend we're seeing in contemporary homes in Hong Kong is minimalist: white and simple,' Sui says. 'Bright colours in funky, open kitchens perfectly complement this style because they give life to an otherwise dull, monotonous space. The kitchen is the area in the home where families come together, and the atmosphere should be joyous to represent this special space.'
Will Hongkongers embrace this colour cacophony? Clifton Leung Hin-che, design director of Clifton Leung Design Workshop, says he feels that Hongkongers will be cautious - and rightly so. Leung put sky-blue in a kitchen in a Happy Valley flat, but says the space (an unusually generous 300 sq ft) was big enough to take it. Leung also used the colour judiciously, balancing the blue in glass splashbacks with white cabinetry and brushed stainless steel appliances. Leung says he's a fan of colour, but worries that trendy hues may be in one season, out the next.
'If you're using it at home, you should choose something you are comfortable with,' Leung says. His blue glass kitchen works because the colour is soothing and suggests the freshness of the sea. It is also balanced in a contemporary setting. His advice is not to do too much with colour, especially in a small space. 'I'd just do one thing - a touch is fine.'