Built-in versus free standing: there is no competition

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Built-in and free standing are two completely different styles, chosen by people on the basis of their house characteristics, and of their personal taste. They are not antagonistic markets and both offer a wide range of appliances.

First Candy built-in kitchen (1974)
First Candy built-in kitchen (1974)

The concept of built-in, or the integration of furniture and appliances, began in the Forties, when major appliances began to be accumulated in the kitchen. Hobs, ovens, refrigerators, and subsequently, dishwashers, washing machines, hoods, up to the modern versions of microwaves ovens, food processors and coffee makers, have always found their own space in this room, because it is here that originally were concentrated the household chores.
The increasing number of devices and the advent of sophisticated design in the rest of the house, however, led soon to the need to give order and style to the kitchen too, hiding appliances under a homogeneous furniture that would match the room and camouflage these devices, at those times often unpleasant to see.
In the Sixties, design and style were spreading in all life spheres, and larger and larger groups of the population aspired to give a distinctive touch of class to their homes. But also to make them more comfortable and cozy, covering the raw surfaces with carpets and upholstery and furnishing the rooms with colored furniture.
This process interested, in a particular way, just the kitchen more than any other place of the house, because it had to be ‘rescued’ from its former role as a servants’ specific space.
From that moment on, it became the heart of the home, a refuge and a symbol of family unity.
In this evolution, the role of the appliance industry was put in the foreground, because the manufacturers of major appliances should to respond to a growing demand for devices. They had to meet precise requirements, ensuring consumer safety and performance identical to those of free standing products.

Safety guaranteed for all the appliances
In designing and selling a home appliance, it is essential to keep in mind the technical requirements and safety regulations that govern individual devices. In the case of built-in models, the rules are the same of free standing products, with the addition of some peculiarities relating to the positioning and the environment.
Proper training on these topics is very useful for retail operators, who must help consumers to undermine any doubt.
“From the regulatory point of view – tells Cristina Timò, engineer and technical director of the Italian Electrotechnical Committee (CEI) – both types of appliances (built-in and free standing) have as a reference the specific rules for the type of equipment (ovens, hobs, hoods, etc.). In the case of built-in devices, the specific legislation, as well as considering the risks directly related to the use of the device, includes, where appropriate, the risks relating to the installation and precise specifications applicable. In particular, it defines the minimum requirements of the furniture and the maximum temperatures allowed by them, while using the product.
All electrical safety requirements of the product during installation and subsequent use, are the same for free standing products. For the latter, the law has a special focus on the risks associated with accessibility to the product”.
So, as Cristina Timò underlines, the security level of the two types of devices is the same, being governed by common rules. Considering a free standing kitchen, having an electric oven and gas hob, the level of safety of the final product is guaranteed by the requirements of the legislation that regulates the electrical products and the legislation that regulates the gas products. The appliance will thus have the same levels of security of a built-in electric oven and a gas hob.

Installing a built-in hood…
Cristina Timò, technical director of Cei
Cristina Timò, technical director of Cei
The market offers different types of built-in hoods, with different aesthetics, forms but also types of installation. The kitchen environment must therefore have the dimensions and the holes for the installation of the hood and must ensure the correct distance of the hood from the cooktop. The distances must be given in the instruction manual of the hood and may vary depending on the model but also on the type of stove, for example if the cooking hob is a gas or electric model. Other laws to be followed for the installation of the hood is the Uni Cig 7129. This regards the part relating to evacuation and ventilation systems, such as the connection of the exhaust pipe of the hood and the size of the air inlet hole, which depends on the type of hood and the type of equipment in the kitchen.

A different kind of taste
Currently there is a built-in version of most of the major appliances: cookers, ovens, refrigerators, hoods, washing machines and dishwashers are all available in both free standing and built-in models. Recently, some small appliances, such as microwave ovens, coffee machines and food processors have been realized in the built-in versions too.
Actually, however, the choice between a built-in and a free standing product does not depend on the specific device, but is usually an expression of the taste inspired by one or the other style. It is not therefore two competing markets, seeking to stealing customers to each other.
Ovens and hobs deserve a specific consideration. For several years and in several countries, they have been, in fact, the best seller built-in appliances. While free standing ovens and hobs are not so requested and sold.
Who in fact choose a built-in kitchen, always starts from this central block, to which are added not necessarily other built-in devices.
It is not surprisingly so that the most recent data, so much affected by the economic crisis, show a built-in ovens and hobs trend less negative than that of the free standing cookers.
Built-in and free standing kitchen, however, are very different markets, with different consumers targets. If, in fact, years ago it was the price to make a difference between the two types of products, there are now very high-level free standing cookers and, conversely, low cost built-in kitchens.
The choice is typically made on the basis of the aesthetic personal taste on one side and of the cooking performance on the other.
So, there are consumers who consider more elegant the simplicity of a free standing kitchen and excessive the built-in one. But there are also people who consider too much essential the free standing style and very sophisticated the built-in one.
A growing segment of the market, finally, look more to the efficiency and functionality of the kitchen, also given the enormous popularity of the culinary arts, promoted extensively by television and advertising.

The American kitchen
In 1869, in the wake of the first claims of women empowerment, Catherine and Harriet Beecher had published a volume entitled 'The American Woman's Home', which described how to revise the living spaces for make them more practical and easier to handle after the abolition of serfdom.
In this context, the organization of the kitchen was an issue of fundamental importance.
The Beecher sisters wanted to teach women how to save time and effort with the housework, and inserted illustrations in the book that reproduced the correct organization of environments. These could be optimized by allocating specific areas for each type of task and all activities related to it. In the kitchen should therefore be an area near the sink for washing, one reserved for the pantry and food storage and one dedicated to the preparation and cooking of food.
In this environment, furniture and work tools had to be placed with rationality and ergonomics, not to waste time in their search. It was the first built-in kitchen concept, which inspired the so called American kitchens, subsequently exported to Europe and all over the world.

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