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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stainless Steel Appliances --- In or Out?

Recently friends of mine had to purchase a new oven, and they asked me should they get stainless steel or something different? It seems like almost everybody has stainless steel appliances, but the stainless trend may be on its way out. After 15 years of stainless everything, manufacturers are now moving on to new finishes.

It is a pivotal moment in kitchen design: while stainless steel is still the dominant look, there are clear signals it has outworn its welcome, even with no clear successor in place. The appliance industry has tried to promote new looks before. In recent years, manufacturers have pitched "oiled bronze," "antique copper" and a gray hue called "meteorite," as well as aluminum and other look-alikes, but none has been able to unseat stainless steel.

Stainless looks professional, elegant, is versatile, and shows you've "arrived." However, as every homeowner with young children knows, true stainless steel shows fingerprints like no other finish.

The newest appliance colors reflect, in part, the kitchen's changing role in the home. In an open floor plan, the kitchen functions as the hub of relaxing and entertaining-a return to its historic role as the center of family life. As kitchens become "warmer" and more of an extension of the family room, many designers are finding that stainless steel feels too "cold" and modern. The new colors and materials, though not as vibrant as the avocado-green and harvest-gold of previous eras, try to blend in with their surroundings, rather than stand out like a trophy of technology the way shiny stainless steel tends to do.

As evidence of the new trend, Whirlpool stainless., the world's largest home-appliance maker, recently introduced its "Ice Collection" of appliances, including glossy white. "White is the new stainless," a Whirlpool news release says.GE is pushing a new line of metallic appliances in a muted gray called "slate."To further confuse you, Wolf Appliance says in a news release for black glass ovens introduced this spring "Black is the new stainless steel."

At the high end, Viking Range Corp., whose iconic open-burner stainless steel range was one of the first to bring pro-kitchen styling into homes, offers 23 color alternatives to stainless steel, including Cinnamon, Wasabi, Kettle Black and Dijon. However, stainless steel dominates. "I'd say 80% of our sales are still stainless steel," says Brent Bailey, design director at Viking Range.

Kitchen looks have just a 10 to 15 year lifespan, on average, according to remodeling experts. The 60s were the brown decade. The 70s, the gold and green decade. The 80s brought us black appliances, the 90s white, and the 2000s stainless steel.

However, a recent Wall Street Journal article says that despite the push to new colors, consumers continue to buy stainless steel. So if you recently switched to stainless, you don't have to worry. It's still the most popular finish. No manufacturer is writing stainless steel off completely. Yet there is a growing sense that stainless steel's popularity is on the way out. But for now it refuses to go away.

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