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TODAY'S KITCHENS BULK UP

TODAY'S KITCHENS BULK UP

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If you wonder what tomorrow's kitchen looks like, think stainless steel on steroids.

The trend is big kitchens full of bulked-up appliances that don't just store and cook food; they overwhelm it with their size, strength and speed.Imagine a place where vegetables are picked from a refrigerator as big as a barn door, then wokked up for dinner over a blistering 27,500-Btu burner; a place where a laser oven roasts an entire chicken during the commercial break; a place where guests help themselves to perfectly chilled bottles of wine from a 6-foot-tall, glowing glass-front cooler that could floor Hulk Hogan any day.

And when it's time to clean up in tomorrow's kitchen, dishwashers reel open in drawers on each side of a triple sink, which itself is large enough to wash the car.

Despite studies that show families are shrinking and eating fewer home-cooked meals (hmm, could there be a connection?), Americans are pumping their kitchens up for serious culinary action.

Bring it on, iron chefs.

The muscle-kitchen and other home-design trends were evident at the recent Western Building Show in San Francisco. More than 17,000 builders, architects, designers and other tradespeople attended the four-day conference. A highlight was the exhibit hall, where about 450 companies spread five acres' worth of new home products over Moscone Center.

TV's tireless Martin Yan amused crowds speed-cooking chicken while, across the room, visitors took turns bashing burglar-proof windows. Amid the carnival atmosphere, vendors and builders talked numbers and gave the booming industry another boost.

Here are some of the noteworthy gadgets headed for homes soon:

Double refrigerator. When one enormous icebox isn't enough, get two. Viking, Sub-Zero, KitchenAid and GE all boasted these across-the-wall sets. Each version features two 36-inch-wide refrigerator-freezer units married so that the handles meet in the middle. A 72-inch strip over the top of both finishes the look. ``His and hers,' as one observer put it. Price: $10,000 will get you a lovely pair.

Laser ovens. GE turned heads with its new Advantium oven that uses ``Speedcook' technology. Simply put, the oven's ``light energy' cooks food four times as fast as a regular oven, appealing to feed-me-now families of the millennium. Easier still, the ovens can be programmed to cook 80 of your favorite meals. Price: $1,299-$1,499 for an over-the-cooktop model; $200 more for an in-wall unit.

Satin-finish faucets. People couldn't help petting the new brushed-metal bathroom and kitchen faucets at the Delta, Moen and Kohler booths. In shades of pale silver, dark nickel, bleached gold or black (depending on the company), the faucet bodies can be trimmed with contrasting shiny silver or gold handles, rings and spout tips. Price range: a bit more than polished-metal faucets, they cost about $225 for a small bathroom faucet, up to $400 for a large kitchen unit.

Wine coolers. GE, KitchenAid and Viking all sported various sizes of these glass-front wine lockers you can build into your cabinetry. But Sub-Zero topped them all with an entire arena of wine coolers that store between 46 and 147 bottles in separate, racked chambers you custom set for each wine types (colder, of course, for champagne). Some models sit atop refrigerator drawers, another stands alone at 80 inches tall. Price: $200-$4,500.

Decorative sinks. Kohler's creamy-yellow Sunlight is the new buzz word in bathroom and kitchen fixture colors. The company also led the pack with new Artist Editions sinks and accessories - in fishing, nautical or water-lily motifs - and its commercial-size stainless-steel kitchen sinks with not two, but three basins. There was also an intriguing odor-eating toilet, but many exhibitgoers steered clear of its misting, swamplike bowl.

Wok stove. Btu-obsessed Viking introduced a 24-inch gas wok burner that, at 27,500 Btus, cooks three times hotter than most gas ranges. Price: $2,000.

Ultra-wash, bacteria-free dishwashers. GE's new Triton has three wash arms that clean at five levels, promising dishes that are clean all over, no matter how badly you stacked them. The dishwasher has a 100-percent filtration system that whisks food particles wash away early in the wash. In addition, certain models come with the new ``Sani-Wash' feature that sterilizes items. And its Quiet Power III feature makes it virtually silent while running. Price: $399-$549.

``Smart home' systems. With its Home Director package, IBM Corp. is among the companies offering home-wiring systems that builders install in new homes to link computers, telephones, stereos and other appliances. Price: roughly $10,000 per home.

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