Stainless Steel is Still the Champion in Kitchen Design – Slate Options

Stainless Steel Kitchen Design

Whirlpool wants to encourage creative design ideas with its new “White Ice” collection. The white finish is trimmed with streamlined stainless steel handles and mirrored glass.

Stainless steel kitchen appliances have been sizzling hot for decades. But stainless steel’s dominance is being challenged by new colors and finishes, as appliance companies suspect consumers are tiring of stainless steel.

Whirlpool is hoping to get folks to think outside the stainless-steel box with its “White Ice” collection. White Ice has a white finish, trimmed with sleek stainless steel handles and mirrored glass. Normally, white appliances have white handles, black appliances have black handles, and the same with stainless steel. So the steel-on-white is a bit of a twist.

Slate Kitchen Applicance“Slate” is what General Electric calls its newest finish for kitchen appliances. Slate is a warm gray metallic with a lower gloss than stainless steel. The appliances are accented with bold, brushed metal handles and knobs.

Wolf recently launched the E Series Black Glass Oven, pronouncing that “black is the new stainless steel.” The luxury ovens feature highly reflective black glass.

These new finishes aren’t a radical change from stainless steel. They’re meant to bring the same modern feeling to a kitchen and, like stainless steel, blend seamlessly with popular kitchen decorating materials, such as granite, natural stone and bamboo.

“We wanted these appliances to match that kind of decor,” Lou Lenzi, GE’s director for Industrial Design Operation, says of the slate collection. “As people transition their kitchen appliances over time, it was important to us to find a finish that is timeless and harmonious, yet distinctive.”

But new finishes could be a tough sell because most appliances are purchased individually to replace one that has died, rather than an entire set in one fell swoop. Given that, the White Ice customer likely is either remodeling a kitchen or purchasing a home.

“New homes and renovations were in our minds as we were developing the collection,” says Whirlpool’s vice president of global consumer design Patrick Schiavone, who spent two decades as a car and truck designer at Ford Motor Co. before joining Whirlpool in 2010. “Thinking this way helped to crystallize our ideas and not compromise the design. We were not overly concerned with replacement purchases because we knew that we would still be offering the all-white option.”

Lenzi says GE’s slate was designed not only to complement materials that are popular in modern decor, but also to mix easily with other appliance finishes such as stainless steel, black or white as appliances in those colors are replaced. What’s more, slate is warmer than stainless steel, and customers might find that refreshing, Lenzi adds.

Stainless steel reflects, so to speak, the contemporary, upscale lifestyle portrayed in cooking and interior design magazines. In many new homes and others being renovated, cavernous kitchens have become the space where families hang out.

“Until the industrial age, the kitchen was central to the home,” Victoria Matranga, an industrial-design historian and program coordinator for the International Housewares Association, told the Wall Street Journal. The kitchen lost that role as kids went to their second-floor bedrooms with their own TVs, she says. “Now there’s a movement to get people together again in the kitchen.”

Appliance experts say stainless steel is holding its own for several reasons. For one, it’s sturdy and durable. Secondly, it’s at the intersection of these high-tech influenced times and interior design, in that it blends with the flat-screen televisions and pads that have become part of the kitchen scene in some homes.

If there’s any grousing about stainless steel, it’s that it’s hard to clean and magnets don’t always stick to it very well.

“Slate takes magnets so your kids’ pictures can appear on the fridge,” Lenzi jokes.

The American appliance market has been stagnant along with the housing market, so to fire up sales, appliance makers have been trying to tempt consumers with new finishes, says Don Cochran, appliance manager for Babin Kitchen & Bath. For example, Jenn-Air introduced a finish called Oiled Bronze.

“It didn’t go anywhere,” says Cochran. “People vote with their wallets.”

But you can’t blame appliance companies for trying.

“The U.S. appliance market could use some revitalizing,” Cochran says. “But new housing applies to less than 15 percent of the appliance market. The appliance market is overwhelmingly retail replacement,” he adds, and people don’t want to end up with a kitchen full of appliances with different finishes.

John Hall of The Hall Design Group in Chagrin Falls says Sub-Zero launched a platinum finish to lure customers away from stainless steel.

“It’s gone,” Hall says of the platinum. “The only thing that has stuck is stainless steel. It’s timeless.”

Stainless might have reached a plateau as an edgy kitchen fashion statement, but consumers apparently are still loving it. Says Cochran, “I’m not going to be changing my displays anytime soon.”

Stainless steel, still the champion in kitchen design, has new challengers |

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