For the past two decades, stainless steel has absolutely dominated the appliance market. Almost every new home or kitchen rebuild features the popular finish. But could the era of stainless steel finally be coming to an end?
Twenty years ago, when stainless steel was first breaking the black and white appliance mold, the surface was featured on high-end designer appliances and quickly became the aspirational finish for anyone looking for a kitchen that says, "I made it."
Since then, stainless steel has littered the market and some designers feel it's a tired and overused material, while consumers complain that stains are hard to clean and scratches are hard to remove. The smudgy fingerprints that decorate many such appliances are so difficult to remove that they make the name "stainless" steel seem a little ironic.
"I'm seeing more and more black appliances these days," Kit Hale, a broker in Roanoke, Va. told Consumer Reports. "Like stainless steel, it goes with a lot of things, but it doesn't show fingerprints as much."
Despite alternative offerings over the years, no other finish has been able to unseat stainless steel -- or is likely to eclipse its popularity any time soon.
But appliance manufacturers are certainly offering other options.
Earlier this year, Whirlpool -- the largest appliance manufacturer in the world -- introduced its newest line of black and white kitchen appliances dubbed the Ice Collection.
The company called White Ice "the new stainless steel" in a release and seemed to take a cue from Apple's simple design scheme, opting for clean lines, a glossy finish and stainless steel accents.
General Electric also announced its line of slate-colored finishes and Jenn-Air introduced its Floating Glass series. Both companies pit the collections against stainless steel. Jenn-Air advertises Floating Glass as "a sleek alternative to stainless steel finishes." The company also offers oiled bronze, which is similar to stainless steel but in a dark brown color.
General Electric really takes on stainless steel with Slate, calling it the "new, fashion-forward finish" and "a color that is just as stylish and sophisticated as stainless steel but with a strong, earthy feel." The company immediately points out that the finish is fingerprint-resistant and easy to clean.
And if you're one of those homeowners looking for something out-of-the ordinary, there are vinyl covers (which can actually recreate the look of stainless steel on the cheap), custom cabinetry covers to hide a big fridge, or retro appliances, which comes in a variety of colors and styles if you're aching for the blues, greens, oranges and browns of yesteryear.
Stainless steel is a safe bet and few would argue that the finish will look dated any time soon. Homeowners are still buying it in droves and it remains the top finish, with black trailing just behind it.
There's always been a dominant color scheme in kitchen appliances, but with new, modern offerings, we may at least see the market scatter across several looks.