There is a movement taking hold in the country towards a simpler and more sustainable way of life. And that includes smaller living spaces. We’ve gone from the era of the McMansion to the Tiny House movement. Even while the majority of homeowners are not living in what some might consider an extreme space, there is definitely a trend overall among Americans for smaller footprint homes, apartments and condo units.

Whether brought on by necessity – a tough job market over the past six years, demographics, i.e. aging baby boomers with empty nests looking to downsize – or simply a desire to reduce their carbon footprints, homeowners are choosing to make more out of less.

The 2010 U.S. Census corroborates this migration to minimization with large numbers of homeowners moving from sprawling suburban subdivisions to crowded, urban metro areas offering less space. According to the report, urban populations account for nearly 81 percent of the U.S. population, a growth of 12 percent from 2000.

This shift is not just impacting real estate companies and home builders, but custom woodworkers and interior designers as well as they look at new ways to help homeowners make the most out of less.

GE Appliances has taken note of the phenomenon and is offering an innovative approach – the micro kitchen concept.

“As we watch what’s happening in the U.S. there’s a clear trend toward smaller, more efficient living spaces,” says Lou Lenzi, director of industrial design for GE Appliances, “We can’t ignore the growing need in urban environments. GE Appliances is excited to tackle the design challenge of creating micro-kitchen concepts that help people maintain or enhance their lifestyle in substantially less square footage.”

With its micro-kitchen concepts, manufactured by its Louisville, KY, facility FirstBuild, GE has produced two product lines that are expected to be available to the public by the end of the year.

The first concept is an integrated cabinet unit that contains the stove, dishwasher and refrigerator in a single enclosure that could blend into the surrounding kitchen cabinetry. According to the company, the homeowner can pre-configure the custom-fabricated unit and have it shipped from the factory to the home or job site.

GE’s second concept produced by FirstBuild is a countertop-high, 24-inch-wide modular platform. It is a drawer-based system allowing the homeowner to choose optional modules. All traditional kitchen appliances – microwave, oven, convertible refrigerator and freezer, and dishwasher are drawer-based. An induction or radiant glass cooktop, downdraft ventilation system and kitchen sink with disposal are also part of the platform.

Micro cabinet units are also available for laundry applications, incorporating a multi-purpose countertop and cabinet front.

While these concepts were developed by GE’s industrial designers, the company is letting the online community get involved in the process.

“We launched a micro-kitchen challenge in May,” says Venkat Venkatakrishnan, director of R&D for GE Appliances. “Everyone from enthusiast to experts can join to contribute their ideas to make the concepts a reality.”

Hidden Kitchen Designs
GE is not the only company working on micro kitchens. Center Valley, PA-based YesterTec Design Co. has created a line of mini-kitchen armoires.

Owner David Beers introduced his mini kitchen line in 2004 to enhance design options in multi-functional rooms.

“Our line of Kitchen Workstation Furniture specializes in hiding all of the appliances in pieces of furniture,” Beers says. “The mini kitchen idea was a natural off-shoot of that idea, made specifically for those smaller, multi-purpose rooms that need a kitchen.”

Beers says the mini kitchen armoires uses a patented U.L. listed safety feature to control the power to the hot appliances. “When the pocket doors are stored in their pockets and the appliances are exposed only then can the appliances power up,” he adds.

YesterTec’s mini kitchens feature stained and painted solid and veneered woods of several types and can supplied ready to finish, Beers says.

The company’s stealth kitchens were featured in Wood Products magazine’s 2012 WOOD 100 for product innovation.

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