Kitchen Upgrades: Stainless is back... by Kathy Scott
According to a poll commissioned by PBS' wellknown This Old House series, nearly a third of respondents (32%) cited a high-end kitchen as their dream renovation. The kitchen is no longer the place where mom retires to cook the family dinner. Today, kitchens serve as the heart of the home, and many Americans are looking for ways to make it more comfortable.
When the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) surveyed its membership for Design Trends Survey Update, the most sought after request at 61% was the addition of an entertainment center in the kitchen. Trends over the past several years show more and more homeowners see the kitchen as a multipurpose room where computers and other home electronics figure prominently. Refrigerators and dishwashers are being trimmed with cabinetry and integrated into the woodworking design, bringing more warmth and helping to blur the boundaries of adjacent rooms.
NKBA members also cited warmth and comfort as an influencing factor for current styles, as natural and dark wood cabinets continue to be prominent choices. Decorative range hoods are increasing in popularity. Manufactured in stainless steel, copper and ceramic styles, hoods are no longer just a function of the kitchen, they are quickly becoming the centerpiece. Faucets are also breaking out into their own category. According to experts, nickel faucets have outpaced the traditional stainless as the most commonly used in kitchen design jobs.
Stainless is not "out" by any means. In fact, it's making a comeback in home appliances. A movement toward commercial restaurant appliances has spread to upscale kitchens around the country. Homeowners no longer satisfied with imitations are installing sixburner gas stovetops, four-foot-wide ranges and subzero refrigerators. Pot fillers or swivel faucets mounted over a stovetop is another device borne out of the restaurant craze as well as built-in steamers, warming drawers and stovetop barbecue grills.
Countertops have evolved over the last decade with options that include solid surface, natural stone, quartz, wood, stainless steel, concrete, laminate and more. Today, there are more than a dozen choices in kitchen surfaces with granite consistently making the top of the list. Granite like other natural stones - marble, limestone, slate, soapstone - is very durable. It is also less porous than the other stone surfaces and only requires resealing about once a year.
Soapstone was used by early New England settlers and remains a good countertop choice as well within the natural stone category. It is naturally resistant to harsh chemicals and heat, so it does not stain like limestone and marble, and yearly maintenance can be performed using mineral oil instead of sealants.
In addition, most countertop surfaces have several finish choices - high gloss, honed, flamed and tumbled. The most common is high gloss or polished. Honed and tumbled are both matte finishes, but honed is typically smoother. If you're interested in a more textured surface, a blow-torch helps to create a flamed finish.
Once you make your choice, insist on seeing the slabs selected for your kitchen. Because of the composition of surfaces like natural stone, different lots have their own distinct color. Be sure the one that is set to go on your counter is definitely the color you were expecting.
Kitchen remodeling or upgrading can be expensive, but it does have its perks. The return on investment for a major kitchen remodeling job is nearly 80%, according to the National Association of Realtors.