5 smart upgrades for your kitchen

    Charging stations, easy-care surfaces, and other time savers

    Published: June 26, 2014 12:30 PM

    The kitchen has always been the heart of the home. More and more, it's the brains as well, thanks to the emergence of smarter appliances, fixtures, and design practices. Here are five upgrades to consider if you're remodeling the kitchen—or just looking to improve its form, function, and feel.

    A home for all your electronics. So-called charging stations are one of the fastest-growing features of today's kitchen—and with good reason. Think about how many electronics you're using in the kitchen at any one time, maybe facetiming on your tablet while you download the evening's dinner recipe on your laptop. We see homeowners incorporating charging stations into island countertops or tucking them into a cabinet drawer (made easier by electric outlets with built-in USB ports). There are also freestanding stations that can be kept out on the countertop, space permitting.

    Wolf CSO24 built-in oven

    Appliances that cut down on guesswork. In the last year, we've tested convection steam ovens from Cuisinart, Thermador, and Wolf. One feature we love about these appliances is their ability to cook dishes on their own, often more quickly than a conventional oven. For example, they turned out an evenly browned chicken, without any basting from our testers, in about 40 minutes, or half the time required of a conventional electric oven.

    We're also seeing more cooking appliances with Wi-Fi capability, including the GE PT9050FSSS electric wall oven. That's helpful if you want to preheat the oven from the backyard or other part of the house. "Technology is actually freeing up the cook from being in the kitchen," says Shelia Schmitz, editor of Houzz.com, a home design website.

    Granite countertops

    Countertops that care for themselves. If your last countertop was made of granite, you probably had to seal it often, or else put up with staining. That's not the case with quartz, which rivals granite's popularity—and just beats it out for the top spot in our countertop Ratings. Besides its sealant-free resistance to staining, we like quartz's diverse design options, from bright colors to lookalike natural stones.        

    Streamlined islands. Speaking of islands, they continue to benefit from design refinements and helpful accessories. In multi-cook kitchens, adding an induction cooktop to the island creates a second work station. Induction is tops for speed and responsiveness in our tests, and these cooktops are particularly suited to island installations, since their smooth tops are relatively easy to keep clean.

    One super smart (albeit pricey) model to consider is the Thermador CIT36XKB, $5,000. You can place a pot anywhere on the surface and it adjusts automatically to the pot's shape and size, accommodating up to four items—three can be large stockpots.

    InSinkErator 3N1 hot water faucet

    Smart faucets. Who knew the kitchen faucet could see so much innovation? One of our recent favorites is the Kohler Sweep Spray faucet, which replaces the familiar circular pattern spray with a wide, forceful blade of water. That makes it easier to rinse pans and other large items, in addition to spraying down the sink when the dishes are done.

    We also like InSinkErator's 3N1 hot water faucet, which gives you hot, cold, and near boiling water in a single tap. The Italian-designed faucet must be paired with the InSinkErator stainless steel Instant Hot Water Tank and Water Filtration System or a new high performance steaming hot water tank. 

    —Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on twitter)

    Kitchen Planning Guide

    More ideas and inspiration. Find the products and projects that will make your next kitchen remodel a success in the Kitchen Planning Guide.

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