Operations Central may someday be more than the pulse of your spaceship. It may also be your kitchen. Picture this scenario: After you leave for work in the morning, your centrally controlled computer turns on the dishwasher, then recycles the water to the washing machine. Later, an ironing board flops out of a cabinet and a robot arm presses your washed and dried shirts. By the time you get home, your flounder has been microwaved and the irradiated milk in your pantry has been chilled.
There's little left to do but eat and spend a leisurely evening in the "kitchen" playing electronic checkers and catching up on some computerized banking, or watching your favorite taped daytime soap.
If the seers of our kitchen future are right, this forecast may not be so farfetched. We're already part way there. But by the year 2000, the kitchen will be a multipurpose planning and entertainment center, a compact and efficient set up of integrated electronic appliances and equipment, according to a study conducted for the Whirlpool Corp. by the University of Southern California.
In fact, says the study, the kitchen as we know it today may become obsolete. The growing phenomena of more and more single-parent households, women increasingly joining the workforce and more meals being eaten outside the home are having a profound effect on the traditional notion of the family kitchen, concludes the study. We are entering a world of smaller homes, smaller cooking areas and less and less time to cook in them.
While we may have to wait a while for high-tech electronic kitchens, some of these ideas -- down-size and integrated appliances and space-saving kitchen layouts -- are already quite popular.
It's not that futurists, interior designers and kitchen appliance manufacturers see an end to kitchens as we know them for those who love to cook. There will always be "traditional" features for those who want to simmer a soup all day or roll a pastry. But cooking may become more and more a special interest, a weekend activity. In fact, according to Ellen Cheever of the Kitchen and Bath Association, cooking may become "theater" -- joint entertainment for guests and hosts, in kitchens with work-around islands and peninsula counters.
Mainly though, the kitchen of the future will be a consolidated work and living space used for several functions and activities. Here are some of the ideas in the works and the experts' predictions:
Integrated cabinets and appliances: According to the USC study, more and more appliances will be built into cabinets, so that builders rather than consumers will take responsibility for appliance installation.
This integration concept is already being seen in the products of some companies, including Black & Decker, which has just introduced a line of Spacemaker appliances that affix to the bottom of overhead cabinets. A can opener, coffee maker and toaster oven are among the appliances that hang between the upper cabinets and kitchen counter.
Hidden features: Shelves or cabinets that open into floor-to-ceiling pantries or mini-refrigerators will give the feeling, when closed, that there's a lot less going on in the kitchen then meets the eye.
One future possibility, according to Houston architect Victor Mirontschuk of EDI Architects/Planners, is a revolving cabinet that works similarly to a lazy susan spice rack. Only this cabinet may accommodate a computer on one side; then flip it around and it's a broom closet on the other side, said Mirontschuk.
Multi-functional appliances: In the multi-purpose kitchen of the future, Cheever from the Kitchen and Bath Association envisions several combination appliances and equipment, including an entertainment bar that lifts off to become a laundry sink and a programmed microwave refrigerator that defrosts and cooks before you get home.
And Edward Cornish, president of the World Future Society, sees multi-purpose robots in the kitchen. These robots don't necessarily look like people, says Cornish, but more like computerized appliances with arms that may be able to husk corn and cut green beans simultaneously.
Without being very specific (for fear of divulging company products in the planning stages), Hal Rosenbaum, director of market research and planning at Sunbeam, says that the company is developing single appliances that perform several tasks. These are appliances that do not function by removing or rearranging parts, says Rosenbaum. Instead, different functions are performed by the flick of a variety of switches.
Modular appliances: Houston architect Victor Mirontschuk of EDI Architects/Planners has developed a prototype of the FlexHouse, a shell of a structure in which you can easily convert rooms into new sizes and uses. The kitchen, which might consist of a few modules (a seating area, a stove and oven complex), could be transferred to another location in the house or even moved to another home.
Another idea, according to Cheever of the Kitchen and Bath Association, might be "movable centers." Less frequently used equipment or work centers might raise up from the floor or drop down from the ceiling, Cheever said.
Microwaves: Practically all the experts predict an increase in the use of microwave ovens. In fact, says Rebecca Lovingood, associate professor of household equipment at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, many people will have two or three microwaves so that cooking can become even faster. To coordinate the technology, adds Lovingood, an increasing variety of foods packaged for microwave use will be developed.
Refrigerators: Some experts predict that refrigerators will be better designed to hold more frozen foods (for the microwave). On the other hand, others predict that the opposite may occur; the resurgence of fresh foods may further expand vegetable and fruit hydrators.
If and when food irradiation becomes widespread, however, refrigerators would be needed only to chill foods that people prefer cold, says the USC study, and freezers could become obsolete altogether.
Demise of the dining room: Gene Dreyfus of Child-Dreyfus, a design consulting company, figures that because of the increasing cost of construction and high interest rates, and because most people underutilize their dining rooms, it could now cost a couple about $1,000 to book their own dining room for Easter dinner. To get better use out of this set-up, the kitchen and dining room will blend into one room, containing perhaps a library and game area, said Dreyfus. And many experts predict that the home computer will be the focal point of the room, a trend that some designers and architects are seeing already.
Satellite kitchens: With projections that by the year 2000 a large segment of the population will be in the elderly age ranges, some predict the growth of communal retirement facilties, perhaps with several kitchens under one roof, or communal dining areas and separate living quarters and kitchens.
Premium appliances: There will be a continual and growing market of premium high-priced, well-made appliances, says Bunny Palmer, public relations director of Kitchen Bazaar, a trend affirmed by the USC study and Rosenbaum from Sunbeam.
Kitchens for kids: According to Cheever of the Kitchen and Bath Association, there are currently approximately 3 million "latchkey" children, those between the ages of 7 and 13 with two working parents or a single parent. And by the year 2000, more than half of young children will spend some time in single parent families, says Cheever.
As these children are becoming increasingly responsible for the dinner preparation, Cheever predicts, kitchen architects will have to cater to them by installing built-in pull-out step stools, lower cabinets and adjustable counter surfaces to make worktops more reachable.
Kitchens for health: At the same time that small refrigerators and microwaves take over the kitchen, robots may be used for fresh-food preparation, says Cornish of the World Future Society. That fresh food could be accessed via computerized distribution and delivery systems so that consumers might get food directly from a farm. Place an order on your home computer with a farmer in Frederick, Md., and it could be delivered that morning, said Cornish.
More in the immediate future: Palmer of Kitchen Bazaar says that health-conscious people want more industrial equipment such as juice extractors, coffee-bean roasters and ice-cream makers. People are willing to spend $400 on an ice-cream machine to regulate the butterfat content, Palmer said. They want more control. They want to "make sure there's no preservative in their guacamole sorbet," she said.