December 26, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Domestic tasks go digital

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Besides technological innovation, design-wise, kitchen trends have come a long way since the avocado-green icebox. The most popular fridges in the U.S. right now are stainless steel, but European and Asian designers and buyers are much more adventuresome. For instance, light blue is one of the most popular refrigerator colors in Korea, said LG's Kavanaugh.

"There are people who are spending a lot of money to redecorate their laundry rooms."
--Tim Kavanaugh, director of digital appliances, LG

But a color like that isn't making its way into American kitchens since its unlikely consumers would be able to find a matching oven and range, which is generally the American preference, he said. Italian appliance maker Smeg sells iceboxes in literally every color of the rainbow, including a multicolor striped model and one bearing the Union Jack.

But U.S. consumers are being more adventurous with color and technology in another domestic space: the laundry room. Kenmore sells a laundry line in bright orange and midnight blue, Samsung makes a washer/dryer combo in champagne and brilliant blue, and LG has its own cherry-red version. Suddenly, picking out a machine to wash clothes is like shopping for a cell phone--trendy colors are winning out over sedate, traditional hues.

"Thirty percent of the laundry we sell is in color," said LG's Kavanaugh. Part of that is because the washing machine is no longer shuttered in a basement or a garage, but is moving closer to the living area where it is more visible. That, in turn is because of technology that keeps noise to a minimum. "If it's quieter and more beautiful, it's nice to have closer to your kitchen?there are people who are spending a lot of money to redecorate their laundry rooms."

LG's foray into colorful and eco-friendly washing is the TROMM SteamWasher, a concept that originated in Korea. It looks like a traditional washer, but the intake water is routed into an extra chamber, where it is heated to create steam. Users can opt for a "steam-only" extra cycle, which cuts down on water and detergent use. LG doesn't cut the cost, however. The washer starts at $1,299, but for blue or red, the cost goes up to $1,599.

Electrolux is taking the no-water-or-detergent idea several steps further. Though still in the concept stage, the KaionWAVE, which doesn't look anything like a traditional washer or dryer, doesn't even use any liquid at all to clean clothes, but ultraviolet-C light and free-radical oxygen, which kills viruses and bacteria and breaks down carbon-based compounds like dirt. It's a "washing" machine made specifically for clothing hewn from nano-coated fabrics, also still in the concept phase.

The future of refrigeration technology is also bright--literally. Samsung's Wisniewski says the next consumer-friendly innovation on the horizon is a sensor that automatically turns on the fridge light as a person approaches. Consumers can also expect RFID technology in which fridges will remind them what food staples they need to refresh and if they have enough milk for that cookie recipe.

And although not nearly as exciting visually, energy-efficient technology is the more immediate goal, said Wisniewski. "It's a constant battle and effort...to get energy efficiency up and make compressor smaller and more efficient."

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