Hands-On With GE's New Micro Kitchen Concept

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The sleek new modular design is aimed at millenials and baby boomers.

The folks at GE Appliances brought a vision of a downsized future to Dwell on Design in LA. It's a world of smaller homes, smaller appliances, and smaller factories.

GE's latest concept kitchen, known as "monoblock," is a fully modular design based on swappable panels and 24-inch wide appliances. We got a unique hands-on tour from Lou Lenzi, design director for GE Appliances.

It's designed to appeal to millenials and baby boomers who prefer smaller spaces—whether in urban centers, in-law apartments, or even mobile homes and boats—but don't want to downgrade their kitchens.

In comparison to the entry-level kitchens we've endured in post-college apartments, the sleek monoblock is a remarkable upgrade that proves small spaces don't have to have rusted stoves, rattling refrigerators, and worn cabinets.

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The GE Micro Kitchen features swappable drawer panels. View Larger

The design is unique for a number of reasons. It's unusual to see a modular kitchen in the U.S., where customers prefer to install cabinets and appliances permanently and individually. It's also rare to find a well-designed kitchen at a relatively affordable price.

The concept on display runs for about $15,000, but GE says that the lowest-priced configuration could start at $7,000. That's not so bad when you consider it includes a countertop, sink, outlets, and work surface. Just add storage up top and you've got yourself a kitchen.

Though the six-foot prototype on display at Dwell featured sleek wood grain panels hiding an induction cooktop, Advantium speed oven, full convection oven, dishwasher drawer, and convertible refrigerator/freezer drawers, it will be possible to order the setup with any number of panel designs and appliance combinations. There's even the option to add a laundry module.

That level of customizability is thanks to an entirely new manufacturing process. While the monoblock will be built in GE's sprawling Appliance Park facility in Lousiville, KY, it won't come from a cavernous factory.

Instead, it will be the first product from GE's new FirstBuild microfactory, where products will be built largely by hand in low volumes.

A microfactory makes the design and manufacturing process remarkably nimble, allowing GE to build niche products like the monoblock without expensive overhauls to existing factories.

In fact, the monoblock was first conceived this May. After soliciting ideas from the FirstBuild online community of designers and engineers, a full prototype took less than a month to build, and the final product will go on sale in the fourth quarter of this year.