AS an architect, I have a weakness for high-performance anything, whether concrete blocks or dishwashers. My criteria are excellence in engineering, beauty and energy efficiency.
Engineering excellence means getting the job done right. That might even involve reinventing the way a task is approached. Beauty means that the object is greater than the sum of its parts. Easy on the eyes, yes, but informed by intelligence.
Energy efficiency is about morality and parsimony -- and in my specialty, environmental design, I encounter both. Efficient products need fewer repairs. They may cost more, but will pay the investment back sooner. I urge my clients to look for the Energy Star label, but tell them it may not address all their concerns.
Wolf's superbly engineered kitchen ranges are a good example. Ranges do not appear on the Energy Star Web site, www.energystar.gov, because there is no agreement on what to test. So while I would like to recommend the Wolf DF484F 48-inch-wide range with four burners and a French top -- concentric rings that allow infinite adjustments in temperature -- as energy-efficient, I can't prove that it is. Nonetheless, I am putty for its French top and signature red knobs, and would put it in any home that could afford it.
These are my other picks, all with the Energy Star stamp of approval:
Among clothes washers and dryers I suggest Asko -- any model, but especially the top-of-the-line W6761 washer and T781 dryer, stainless steel inside and out. Too beautiful to hide, compact (about 24 inches wide and deep), yet large in capacity, these energy-efficient machines are stackable. And their rotating front-loading cylinders never chip or rust. The washer has no agitator, reducing wear on garments. It heats its own water, and the spin cycle extracts most moisture, so the dryer needs less energy.
In refrigerators I admire the Sub-Zero 650 in platinum stainless steel, which has the freezer on the bottom. Twenty-four inches deep, the 650 is engineered to sit flush with cabinets. It is energy efficient, partly because it is well insulated and partly because it has two compressors, one for cooling and one for freezing. As for beauty, its platinum stainless finish looks like metal velvet. (I like stainless steel's restaurant-kitchen machismo, but with a velvet edge.)