Electrolux Design Lab 2008 winner Stefan Buchberger displays the Flatshare refrigerator, which has separate drawers for each user. Individual users can personalize their drawer with a colorful "skin."
Electrolux Design Lab 2008 winner Stefan Buchberger displays the Flatshare refrigerator, which has separate drawers for each user. Individual users can personalize their drawer with a colorful "skin."

An inventive modular refrigerator by Stefan Buchberger from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria, beat more than 600 entries to win the Design Lab 2008 competition held by Electrolux Appliances. Designed for people who live with several roommates, the Flatshare fridge consists of a base station and up to four individual stackable modules that allow each user to have his refrigerator space. It can be customized with a variety of colorful skins, as well as with add-ons such as a bottle opener. Handles mounted on the side make it easy to move the modules.

“I got the idea to create the Flatshare fridge because in many shared flats there is a problem with the refrigerator,” Buchberger says. “It gets filthy because no one person feels responsible for cleaning it.” For his winning design, Buchberger received a prize of approximately $7,000 and a six-month internship at one of Electrolux global design centers.

Buchberger’s design won over the judges for its fresh interpretation of the fridge, but also because it has practical application in the real world. “This is a very relevant concept, with design solving ‘stackability’ and the ‘multiple-user use,’” says Yves Béhar, founder of the San Francisco-based Design Studio Fuseproject. Béhar adds that it "stood out in color as well as design, and the fact that you could personalize your Flatshare modules added an interesting emotional value.”

“I like the idea of having a private space in a shared space, to avoid the conflict before it happens,” adds fellow judge Jiao Mo, founding partner and design director of Axis FormLAB.

Henrik Otto, senior vice-president of global design at Electrolux and chair of the jury, calls the design a great idea that was also well-executed. “A fridge is a tricky thing to reinvent,” he says. “Flatshare, however, manages to be new in a fun and expressive way. A shared refrigerator is also very relevant from a consumer-insight perspective, managing to resolve the needs and wants of the target group.” He continues, "It has form and function as well as purpose. But most importantly, it has passion, poetry, and humor in its design. It makes me smile.”

In its sixth year, the Design Lab is an annual Electrolux competition that the company uses for discovering new talent, but some of the concepts’ features and solutions may be used as inspiration for future product development or incorporated into the company’s product innovation process.

“Design Lab is an innovation incubator,” says Bob Martin, director of design for Electrolux Major Appliances North America. ”Working with young designers provides inspiration for future home appliances and solutions, helping to ensure that we are always offering our retail partners relevant, cutting-edge, consumer-inspired products that really answer a need in the marketplace.”

The 2008 competition challenged undergraduate and graduate industrial design students to look two to three years into the future and create home appliances for the Internet generation. The competition's entries were to target brand-conscious, busy young professionals between 25 and 35 who are independent, concerned about the environment, and whose lives are intertwined with technology and online social networks. Concept products were to address food storage, cooking, and washing.

The program yielded such designs as:

  • Sook, a social networking recipe generator with electronic tongue by Adam Brodowski, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Ga.;
  • Stratosphere, a sanitizing clothes rack/valet, by Atilla Safrani, Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design Budapest, Hungary;
  • Vesta, a foldaway cooktop with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology scanner, by Matthias Pinkert, HTW Dresden (FH) University of Applied Sciences, Germany; and
  • Drawer Kitchen, a desk-drawer hotplate and fridge, by Nojae Park, Chiba University, Japan.

The award for second place went to iBasket by Guopeng Liang from Tongji University, Shanghai, China; third place went to Coox by Antoine Lebrun from L’Ecole de Design Nantes Atlantique.

”While Flatshare is purely a concept at the moment, it is a great idea for this generation and showcases the consumer-driven insight that we think is so vital to any successful appliance design,” says Blythe Reiss, vice president of communications for Electrolux Americas.

Nigel Maynard is senior editor, products, at BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.