Food

A $2,000 Dishwasher Will Never Impress Me

There's a reason people want their dishwashers to be unseen and unheard. Go back to not thinking about them.

Pfffffft.

Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

I have fairly strict requirements for my kitchen, and I’m willing to pay for the extra quality I demand. For example, I like the shelves of my kitchen cabinets to be supported at all four corners, rather than three, 1 and I would prefer that the cabinets themselves stay fastened to the wall. The people who redid our kitchen in 2004 opted not to splurge on such details, and it’s funny how you really miss those little extras. So yes, it’s time for a renovation.

I have thus spent the last few months immersing myself in the principles of kitchen renovation. I have dithered over the eternal metaphysical quandaries (“Is the white kitchen really ‘a timeless classic’?”) and the competing theories of layout geometry (triangles, rectangles, zones, hyperbolic paraboloids, Poincare disks). I have engaged in multiple Oxford-Union-level debates on a single proposition: “Resolved: We shall have a wall oven.”

There are other appliance propositions to be debated. Refrigerators: counter-depth or regular? Microwave: built-in or countertop? Vent hoods, trash compactors, and where, oh, where, shall we store all our kitchen electrics if we use up extra counter space on a wall oven?

But there is one element of the kitchen which has absorbed exactly 0 percent of my consideration: the humble dishwasher. And if you think about it, that’s kind of strange.

I don’t want to demean any other hard-working members of the kitchen staff, but your dishwasher probably puts in the most labor. Once or twice a day, you stuff it full of filthy, greasy tableware, and it uncomplainingly labors to deliver you clean dishes. Much of the rest of the time, it suffers silently as the family fights over it. (Marrying couples are solemnly told to make sure they are unified on questions like children, finances, religion and other crucial questions of values, and yet no one ever warns them that before they are ready to tie the knot, they must settle the question of which rack to put the cereal bowls in.)

And yet what do we do, when we go shopping for a new kitchen? We fret over the relative merits of fancy ranges; we wonder whether it’s really worth the extra money to get a Sub-Zero refrigerator. And then we get around to the dishwasher and what attributes do we consider? The styling on the door. And how quiet it is. Message to dishwasher: We forgot about you. We want to forget about you again. Like a Victorian child, it should be neither seen nor heard.

Sub-Zero, apparently, thinks this is a shame. The company has spent 10 years trying to get the dishwasher right. Its new model, called Cove to evoke “a tranquil bay of water,” has three racks, space for a fleet of wine glasses, and over 200 possible settings.

Sub-Zero is, after all, the brand that turned the home refrigerator into a fetish object. And I confess, when I read the Wall Street Journal’s article on the Cove, I kind of wanted one. But I also knew that Sub-Zero wouldn’t be getting my money.

Partly that’s because I have a somewhat eccentric perspective on kitchen renovation: Unlike most people, I really don’t care if my appliances match, and I won’t spend extra for upscale unless I can see a clear utilitarian benefit. (Impressing visitors doesn't count as a utilitarian benefit.) The wall ovens, if we get them, will be the proletarian Samsung, not highbrow Wolf or Miele. The dishwasher that could get me to spend $2,000 would have to not only clean my plates, but also collect them from the dinner table, and stack them neatly in the cabinets when it was done.

Even for consumers who value flash more than I do, I’m not sure anyone can turn the dishwasher into a sexy appliance. The reason the dishwasher gets so little attention is not that no one has thought it through carefully enough; the problem is that the dishwasher already works too well.

Dishwasher technology is already pretty good. Yes, we haggle over which things should be loaded where. And then we close the door, and some time later, open it again to find our dishes clean. It’s a miracle. Miracles are not ordinarily subject to major technical advances.

But there’s another sense in which dishwashers are too good to be made sexy, a more important one: Dishwashers do the whole job of, you know, washing dishes. There is no scope for the chef’s skill. Your refrigerator holds your culinary creations as they await unveiling; your range midwifes the moment of transformation under your careful control and with your vigilance. Even those who don’t spent a lot of time putting fabulous meals together often entertain extensive fantasies about being the sort of person who does. And express those fantasies through a $10,000 steel box.

No one fantasizes about being the sort of person who puts plates away. And because even basic dishwashers are so efficient, they kill any fantasies we might develop about buying a lavish model so that we can be known for our sparkling-clean tableware. The dishwasher offers us many hours of extra leisure, but no scope for imagination. And so after the argument is over, and the dishes are put away, it retreats to the back of our mind. It can stay there.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

(Corrects name of company in seventh and eighth paragraphs.)
  1. This is not a joke, which is why one-third of my upper cabinet space contains nothing heavier than Tupperware.

To contact the author of this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net

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