Designing With (or Around) Stainless Steel
You don't have to endure a cold or industrial kitchen design for the sake of going pro. There are many design techniques that allow you to mesh stainless with any style kitchen: contemporary to country.
"I really like stainless; it's neutral color-wise and style-wise and really versatile," says Mark White, a certified kitchen designer for Kitchen Encounters in Annapolis, Md. "It even makes stuff that's not pro equipment look clean and professional, since that's what we're used to seeing in restaurant kitchens."
Mark and other top designers offer ideas for incorporating stainless steel without veering into sterile territory:
Designers agree that stainless steel is gorgeous as a focal point or a fine enhancement as an accent but should never be used in both capacities.
"A little goes a long way when you're designing with stainless steel," says Michael Schwartz of 2S Designs in Grayslake, Ill. "You have to develop a fear of too much metal."
One of Mark's favorite designs paired weathered, distressed cabinets with a tapered stainless stove hood, which served as the kitchen's focal point. "The hood helped create what I'd call a European country style, which is not country in the sense of being rural," he says.
Michael has used a bit of stainless steel in a backsplash for his home kitchen and says you could do the same with metallic tiles like the Metallismo collection by Walker Zanger.
"Stainless accents are beautiful, but less is more with metal in kitchen designs," Michael says. "You wouldn't want stainless counters or small appliances in the same design with large pro line stainless pieces, unless you were going for an over-the-top industrial design."
You can soften the cold shine of stainless with granite and ceramic, says Karen Sciascia, designer for A Matter of Style in Cheshire, Conn. In a traditional or contemporary kitchen design, Karen favors cream-colored granite counters to offset the cold shine of stainless appliances. "The mica in the stone really picks up the soft gray color in the stainless," she says.
Another warm, soft touch that works well to balance the metallic sheen: textured ceramic tile forming a backsplash in back of a metallic cooktop or range. "I particularly like the designs available from Waterworks," Karen says.
Wood is always a welcome foil to stainless, particularly over pro-quality cooktops. "A stainless range like a Viking is a very commercial, very professional looking appliance," Karen says. "Pairing it with a wood hood is a beautiful look and really warms the appearance of the stainless steel."
Mark also designs a lot of mantel-style wood hoods over stainless cooktops, incorporating a stainless interior hood liner for easy cleaning. "The concealed hoods are a nice way to integrate the stainless without seeming 'over the top,'" he says.
"A stainless-steel range, wall oven or cooktop is no problem to incorporate into even the most conservative kitchens," says Karen, who designs mostly traditional kitchens for her Connecticut clients. "But a refrigerator is tough -- even one that's just 36 inches wide is a big, jarring piece of metal and most people going for the pro-quality fridge are going to want one bigger than that." She steers her clients to wood front panels for large fridges, like Sub-Zero all-fridges or all-freezers.
Mark avoids stainless-steel dishwasher fronts as well.
"In a traditional kitchen design, they don't work because the dishwasher is virtually always under the counter and flanked by custom cabinetry," he says. "Visually, stainless steel on the dishwasher tends to break up what otherwise would be the smooth flow of a continuous line, so in most kitchens I prefer a cabinet facade over the dishwasher to reduce that negative impact."
Consider Clearance and Vents
The pro-quality cooking that powerful stainless ranges and cooktops offer creates a whole other level of design considerations, says Mark. "The pro-line appliances produce much higher BTUs, so you need sufficient clearance and counterspace on either side," he says. "The design must also provide for proper ventilation and a way to protect the back wall from getting scorched or catching fire, particularly when all six burners on that pro line cooktop are working away."
Given the demands placed on the ventilator for a high caliber stainless range, you may also need to provide a louvered vent to an adjacent space for "make up air" to replace the hot air circulated out, says Mark. "When you're dealing with pro equipment like that, you should consult an HVAC specialist to see if you need to do anything special with the air," he says.