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Can stainless be dethroned as king of the kitchen?

Published: Friday, Dec. 28, 2012 11:27 a.m. CST

The kitchen in a Phoenix home for sale.

Not so long ago, a repairman could tell the age of an appliance by the color of its finish. If it was avocado or harvest gold, it had to be from the 1970s or early ’80s. Poppy red meant the appliance was made in the 1970s, and harvest wheat, coffee or almond meant your oven or fridge was new in the early 1980s.

Stainless appliances first burst onto the scene in the late 1980s, and they’ve had a remarkable run. But there are those in the industry who sense “stainless fatigue” among homeowners.

It should come as no surprise, then, that major manufacturers have their own ideas about the next hot appliance finishes:

Slate could be great

In September, GE introduced a new finish called “Slate” across its line of appliances.

The company’s news release about the launch details how its industrial designers spent countless hours conducting consumer research and reviewing design trends in the kitchen, home furnishings, home entertainment products, and automotive interiors and exteriors.

The result was Slate, a warm, gray metallic with a low-gloss finish that is a natural complement to the wide spectrum of wall colors, countertop materials and floor/cabinetry finishes found in today’s homes.

“As people transition their kitchen appliances over time, it was important to us to find a finish from a palette that is timeless and harmonious, yet distinctive,” said Lou Lenzi, whose team of designers created the new finish. “Slate is a universal, neutral finish that will suit consumers who want a premium finish that can complement or even replace stainless steel.”

Ice may be nice

Whirlpool Corp. introduced its “Ice Collection” of appliances in July, including a glossy white finish for dishwashers, microwave ovens, ranges and refrigerators.

“White is the new stainless,” the company’s news release said. The collection also includes a sleek Black Ice finish.

Patrick Schiavone, Whirlpool’s vice president of global consumer design, has said he “is over” stainless steel and set out to update the style and appearance of black and white appliances. The collection is defined by silver accents, elegant lines, sleek handles and streamlined controls.

Is black back?

When high-end cooking appliances manufacturer Wolf introduced its newest model in early 2012, its news release boldly proclaimed: “Black is the New Stainless Steel.”

The company’s Black Glass model comes adorned with a black glass tubular handle and cobalt blue interior. In addition to the oven, Wolf is also offering black glass trim kits for its warming drawers and convection and standard microwaves.

“Our commitment to design has always been on par with Wolf’s dedication to innovation and quality,” Michele Bedard, vice president of marketing for Sub-Zero and Wolf, said in a news release. “Introducing a new finish elevates the line and opens a whole new realm of design possibilities for designers and consumers alike.”

Can color triumph?

Viking Range Corp. offers 23 color alternatives to stainless steel in its high-end open-burner range; the company most recently expanded its palette of finishes to include Cinnamon, Dijon, Kettle Black and Wasabi.

All those choices, yet stainless steel reigns supreme.

“I’d say 80 percent of our sales are still stainless steel,” says Brent Bailey, design director at Viking Range. “I could add another 100 colors, and the percentage wouldn’t change much.”

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