JennAir is redefining what aspirational kitchen appliances and design looks like. More importantly, they’re redefining how, and for whom, appliances work… elevating the narrative from being about colors and materials to functional elegance and personalization.

For some context, it might help to go back to the 90s.

Over a generation ago, luxury kitchen appliances came to be defined by one thing: stainless steel. The material evoked the professional-grade equipment found in every restaurant, and became the upscale alternative to the white, black, or if you’re really old, Harvest Gold refrigerators, ovens and ranges that graced every home in Middle America.

Thinking back, it seems odd that stainless steel became synonymous with luxury. It’s a material prized for its utility and ease of sanitation. It was the domain of working-class people who toiled in the hot kitchens of every kind of eatery, from the finest restaurants to the most pedestrian truck stops and diners.

Nevertheless, sometime around the Clinton administration, a stainless steel kitchen became known as an upscale kitchen. And as stainless steel appliances gradually became more affordable and invaded Middle America, designers, industry experts, and manufacturers ever since, have been looking for the next luxe kitchen material.

Perhaps they were looking in the wrong places. Instead of the superficial looks of the material, maybe they should have looked at how appliances could, and should, conform to people’s lives. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been pushing an old notion of luxury, and instead let customers take the lead.

That’s exactly what JennAir is doing. Take a look at this dramatic “brand essence” campaign…

Torching Tired Luxury

This spring, the venerable upscale appliance brand unveiled its new brand identity, which features the promise, “Bound by Nothing.” With this new brand identity, JennAir seems to understand that the alternative to stainless steel might be about more than the material itself. It’s deeper than that.

“Bound by Nothing” is more than just a clever tagline slapped on the same old products. As the stunning introductory video on the website states, “Let’s torch this tired act.”

JennAir ultra modern luxury fridgeJoe Liotine, president of Whirlpool, JennAir’s parent company, explained the new positioning. “For too long, luxury kitchens have been designed with a compliant mindset that conforms to a one-size-fits-all notion of luxury,” he was quoted as saying. “This uniform interpretation of modern luxury lacks inspiration and inhibits personal expression. JennAir exists, more than ever before, to empower designers and tastemakers to bury these blind conventions and give new life to luxury rooted in confident, bespoke, earned and exclusive tenets.”

Our translation: luxury has become boring, tired, stodgy. It doesn’t fit today’s upscale consumers, who want to express themselves… to be different and remarkable. They also want products that are an extension of themselves. Not just in looks, but also in function and configuration.

JennAir is targeting a consumer group they call “Discerning Indulgers,” people who are risk-takers and prize discovery, progress, and self-expression over an older notion of luxury.

Think of the Nest thermostats. While not a luxury product, per se, it’s aspirational in that it conforms to people’s lives. It provides the freedom that comes with products simply working “and looking the way you’d expect them to”.

JennAir is endeavoring to bring that same dynamic to kitchen appliances. For example, their new Columns refrigerators offer a striking alternative to expectations, with obsidian interiors, ecliptic lighting, cooling zones, and other innovations. Their Rise line of cooking appliances offer truly custom configurations, ovens with cinematic interior lighting (!), and user experiences that rival anything that comes out of Silicon Valley.

JennAir's Rise stainless steel modern applianceTo be certain, you’ll still see a lot of stainless steel in their product line. Hey, you’d be hard-pressed to find a material that offers the combination of practicality, durability, and good looks that stainless does.

But, that’s not the point anymore.

It’s about the experience. It’s about customization. It’s about products that work better, that challenge conventions, and that enhance – and even permit – a better way of life.

What JennAir is doing is what branding is (or at least ought to be) in the 21st Century. Consumers are driving the narrative more than ever, and that’s not going to change.

By focusing their brand and product on the customer – or the “user,” in technology parlance – JennAir is poised to be the appliance brand of a new generation. We love this bold, new direction and we can’t wait to see how it plays out in their products and their sales.