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To Draw In Younger Buyers, GE Turns To Postwar Designs

GE's new Artistry line of appliances aims to attract millennials not with connectivity or LCD screens, but designs straight out of Grandma's kitchen.

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Conventional wisdom may dictate that a line of appliances aimed at buyers between the ages of 25 and 34 would feature high-tech interfaces and social media connections. But GE is pretty confident their minimalist, retro Artistry kitchen appliances are more in line with what younger homeowners want.

How are they so sure? They put a 27-year-old in charge of the design process.

Industrial designer Tomas DeLuna set out to create new appliances that would stand out, while remaining simple and affordable. The result is the GE Artistry bottom-freezer fridge, gas and electric ranges, dishwasher, and over-the-range microwave.

Though they're based on current technology, they look reminiscent of appliances past—with chrome handles, shiny finishes, analog clocks, rounded edges, and chrome handles. Tellingly, the stainless steel finish that rose to prominence during the housing boom isn't available, but traditional black and white are.

It's a nod to a look that faded out of fashion in the 1960s, so most millennials' connection to the retro style will come from grandparents' kitchens or I Love Lucy reruns. Even the General Electric logo that's prominently featured on each appliance was retired years before DeLuna was even born.

"Making the critical consumer touchpoints metallic, and set against either a pure, white gloss or black gloss finish, creates a look that is both familiar to our consumers, yet remains fresh and modern," DeLuna said. Indeed, though the Artistry series is retro, it's not cloyingly so, and that's important to buyers who value authenticity. "That's what makes the GE Artistry Series special; the design is authentic and contemporary with a nod to the past not currently offered in the marketplace."

Well, that's almost true. Manufacturers like Big Chill, Heartland and Elmira Stove Works already make appliances that appear to have come straight from the 1950s. But they're high-end, niche products with prices to match.

DeLuna's generation, who likely grew up around the harvest gold and avocado fridges and dishwashers in their baby boomer parents' kitchens, makes up the largest number of homebuyers today. They're also squeezed by student loan debts and stagnant wages, which makes affordability a paramount concern.

Because they're based on existing appliance platforms and sold by a mainstream brand, the Artistry appliances are extremely affordable: The whole suite's MSRP is $2,416. The fridge's $1,099 suggested retail price undercuts most traditional bottom freezers, and the same goes for the $499 dishwasher and $599 gas and electric ranges.

Compare that to the $3,699 Samsung connected fridge with apps and an LCD screen, and you'll quickly see why younger buyers may walk right past an appliance that can tweet in favor of one that looks unique.

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