Home & Design

Is There Life After Stainless Steel?

November 18, 2015

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SOME CONSUMERS are over stainless steel for appliances, some still crave it. But in spite of the whiny voices on HGTV’s “Househunters” (“Aw, i really wanted stainless and granite”) there are appliance manufacturers listening to what everybody has to say and scrambling to adjust.


The Black Stainless Steel Series from LG.

On the stainless side of things, the results at the moment include, depending on the manufacturer, Black Stainless Steel, CleanSteel, Graphite Black, Slate, Silver and Silver Mist. Some of these will be fingerprint-resistant finishes enameled over carbon steel.


A Viking range in classic stainless steel on the right, with a Tuscany range in cobalt blue on the left.

And then there are the attempts at reinjecting color into appliances (those of you still traumatized by Avocado or Harvest Gold may want to stand aside as this trend barrels through). The colors this time, though they include Obsidian Black, Brilliant White and even Havana Brown, are hardly basic–and most aren’t painted-looking. They have sparkle and a look of deep-down baked-enamel quality (and prices to match, it must be noted).


Radiant Orchid, anyone? This was the 2014 Color of the Year. Wonder how many ranges BlueStar sold in that color.

In its 1950s retro-style fridges, the Italian manufacturer Smeg offers ice cream sundae colors (Pastel Green, Pink, Pastel Blue) plus a vibrant Yellow, vivid Orange, Lime Green and, for those so inclined, the Italian flag or Union Jack. Big Chill fridges comes in retro styles (Retro and Retropolitan) in Jordan almond colors–Beach Blue, Jadite Green, Buttercup Yellow. You get the picture.

I would argue that the classic stainless steel range has a shelf life that has yet to expire because it calls to mind the pro kitchen, whose value- and cleanliness-minded “designers” aren’t switching materials any time soon. Stainless counters are largely seamless, leaving no crevices where bacteria can thrive. Stainless sinks can take great abuse (and pro kitchens have a small army of workers to keep them clean).


A Black Stainless fridge from Samsung.

As the owner of a kitchen with stainless steel counters AND sink, I can tell you that they’re a nightmare to keep spotless. I mean literally spotless–every drop of water, or seemingly anything, leaves a spot. Of course it’s easy to get the spot out–it’s just sitting there on the surface–but I’m just not good enough a housekeeper (somewhere Rosa is sniggering) to keep them spotless.

(If I know this awful truth about myself, why did I accept the idea of stainless counters from my architect? Because, unfortunately, he was right: The figured-wood veneer I chose for the cabinets was too lively to allow for a naturally patterned granite or a quartz. In my next life I’ll use Corian, which has a deep solidity to it in a whole host of colors, including a rich, rich white.)

But I was talking about the influence of commercial kitchens. What began as utilitarian became reverse-chic in a rather novel way. Going back some 40, 50 years, trendy couples cooking their way through Julia Child’s classic two-volume tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, began looking for cooking power, high BTUs, not available in America’s rather anemic domestic gas ranges (so that’s why all those cooking times are off!). I remember more than one household in the 1970s and ’80s that installed firebrick behind a real professional range, or had the pro appliance installed a foot away from the kitchen wall, so its uninsulated shell would not set the whole New York apartment or Dupont Circle townhouse ablaze.

Thus was born the Viking pro-style range. Fred Carl Jr., third generation of a construction family in Greenwood, Mississippi, was redoing a house for himself and his wife. But he wanted a powerful flame, and nothing short of a pro stove had the guts he had in mind. So he designed a stove and eventually found a manufacturer to make it for him. That was 1987, and you can blame Mr. Carl, if you like, for the late-20th-century stainless-steel tsunami that followed. (The pro-style Wolf range came about just as organically: Wolf was a manufacturer of ranges for commercial kitchens since the 1930s and later developed an in-home version. The Wolf Range Company returned to its commercial roots in 2000, when the Sub-Zero company acquired its residential line, still selling under the Wolf brand.)

Our friends at Houzz.com ran the story shown in our slideshow. They also ran a poll last week about the new dark stainless steel appliances being rolled out by manufacturers. You may want to chime in, but even if not, the comments from others are fun to read. Come to think of it, we’d like to hear your comments as well: Feel free to pile on! Are you pro-stainless? Anti-stainless? Just tired of it? Looking for color? Afraid of color? Don’t want to think about your kitchen any more ever again?

–Nancy McKeon




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